What’s a Meta For? — Part Two
Longtermism, and Metamodernism, and Optimizing Twitter for a Post-Human Future

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in Medium on 28 November 2022

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Continued from What’s a Meta For, part one, which defined the concept of “going meta” on our reality, and showed how capitalism and technology both inspire an urge to “level up.”

“We are as gods, and might as well get good at it,” counterculture and technology visionary Stewart Brand famously declared in 1968. And today’s most hubristic tech bros took the metaphor literally. Like players of a video game, they seek to level-up and then lord above humanity as technocratic gods playing SimCity, writ large. They will eventually leave behind automated programs, platforms and blockchains to orchestrate whatever activity still matters down below, and in a fashion that still delivers up to them the cash and data they need to maintain their distant empires.

Yet as the techno elite seek to realize their dream of self-sovereignty by establishing seasteading nations and Mars colonies, those of us left behind will have to confront the environmental degradation and economic inequality they leave in their wake. And we will attempt to do so on anti-social, psychologically abusive digital platforms they sold us as technological empowerment. Just as we need to achieve some sort of solidarity and consensus, we are ushered into algorithmically operated Skinner boxes designed to alienate and disorient.

To the rescue come the self-proclaimed “sensemakers,” who see the fall of the neoliberal order, the climate emergency, social unrest, and — of course — crisis of masculinity as opportunities for sharing their rebellious wisdom. Many of these guys are quite smart, really do mean the best, and offer their audiences comfort, entertainment, and food for thought. Objectively, they’re just a contingent of men who go on each other’s podcasts or Substack blogs and share a common belief that we are in a crisis of meaning, lacking a narrative or metaphor through which to make sense of our experience. The best of them get on Joe Rogan.

Mixing two parts systems theory to one part (spiritual teacher) Ken Wilber, a dash of Carl Jung and a sprinkle of (masculinity poet) Robert Bly, they engage in from-the-neck-up conversations that remind me of the ones I had, stoned, in my freshman dorm room, fresh from reading Nietzsche, Deleuze, or Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for the very first time. What if humanity is a collective organism? What if technology is wiring us up into a single brain? How do we reach the Omega Point of total unification? How do I articulate the ineffable totality of being?

I can still remember the early ’90s and what it was like to believe that we could use a combination of meditation, stoicism, psychedelics, and other enlightenment technologies to upgrade humanity to its next level of awareness and coordinated functionality. And I empathize with today’s drive to visualize a Great Attractor at the end of time, as well how compelling and otherworldly this promise sounds: Just buy the supplements, do the microdosing course, pay to attend the festival, and bring yourself to believe what an almost entirely white male contingent of Dark-Enlightenment-adjacent philosophers have to tell us about the realm they are colonizing on our behalf — and that we couldn’t understand even if they had the words to explain it to us. It’s that different from and meta to everything we have ever known.

Their philosophical musings become the basis of a third liability of all this meta thinking, which is to go meta as a civilizational strategy. Rather than adopting any real theory of change, any sort of incrementalism that acknowledges the impact of a wholesale social, political, and economic transition to a new way of being, we simply reboot civilization in what meta-influenced changemakers and systems theorists call going “from Game A to Game B.” We phase change from the pathetic, over-simplified world of rules and governments and provincialism we are in (Game A) to the ineffable but superior one that can fully embrace complexity (Game B). The only question is whether we can move fast enough from Game A to get to Game B before the climate collapses. Everything up to 21st Century society is Game A, and should be discarded like the first stage of a rocket so we can quickly transmogrify to the next paradigm. And what would that look like? Well, the devil is in the details.

According to meta-thinker Jordan Hall, Game B is a pointer, a concept, that can’t actually be described. “At the center of it, as I’ve gone through the questioning of this over and over again…is coherent collective intelligence…” he explained on a podcast. “But in many ways Game B has a bit of that taoist sense to it. As you are naming it, you are importing Game A into it. So you have to do this very very carefully. It’s less about being able to describe it and just being able to do it. Talking about it is a fundamental error.” Because Game B is so complex, Hall says, “I cannot define it in any finite set of statements. If I’m describing it I have to be doing it in something that is poetic.”

Of course, my inability to fully accept the logic of meta can be chalked up to my own limited, Game A brain. I’m still stuck in the old paradigm versions of social justice, racial equality, economics, Marxism, and anarchism. I am trapped in a theory of change that occurs incrementally, with great care for the most vulnerable and a focus on exactly who is being impacted. At best, I could be called post-modern, with maybe some quaint but useless skills at deconstruction.

We post-modernists question symbol systems and metaphors because we see them as inventions of humans and susceptible to unconscious bias and omission. Like many outsiders who have been blamed for this thought crime throughout history, we are guilty of injecting ambiguity into otherwise consistent belief systems that just happen to be too multi-dimensional for direct human comprehension. And in doing so, we slow the necessary acceleration for humanity to break on through to the other side and finally reach the Omega Point.

Replacing such obsolete post-modernism comes — wait for it — META-modernism. Instead of deconstructing false narratives, meta-modernism (at least as practiced by the sensemakers who have co-opted this literary term) seeks to embrace complexity by recontextualizing indigenous, premodern, modern, and postmodern elements into one big meta-framework. Everything is abstracted into “figure” and made grist for the metamodern mill, leaving no idea grounded in its people or place of origin. It will all be part of the great fractal. So the knowledge of first people’s and wisdom of Buddha fits right alongside Thomism or Ayn Rand, so long as the unnecessarily divisive intersectional wokism of the Left is reformed and incorporated into the coming great unification. Metamodernism defies context. It is meta to all that. We just have to get there.

Okay: So we are supposed to accelerate toward the next phase of being, one order of magnitude or “complexity” beyond our own. Most regular humans can’t even conceive of it, because it’s just too meta for our one-dimensional brains. But metamodernists, who are well versed in systems theory, claim to understand the dynamics at play.

Unfortunately, for those of us without the necessary stoicism, resilience, and self-sovereignty to have seen the light, Game B can only be depicted as metaphor. If we keep our eyes on the prize, the Omega Point, the paradigm shift, the metaverse, or Game B, we can stop worrying about conditions on the ground and just do it, if not for ourselves, for the sake of the future of humanity. But, for me anyway, this theory of change itself feels tragically oversimplified, using metaphors of future utopia to ignore real people and places at risk right now. I accept this could be my aged, postmodern GenX brain simply raining on GenZ’s metamodern parade. But something about conditions on the ground tells me they may be missing something essential. Or to use their parlance, they may be mistaking signal for noise.

For the result of all this ends-justifies-the-means idealism are well-intentioned but ultimately misguided mega-projects like Neom, a $500 billion initiative of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan to create an entirely sustainable and autonomous nation, with a constitution drafted by its investors, across 100 miles of the desert. Like other master plans for self-sovereign techno-utopia, it is filled with sensors and automation, and includes a floating city, supertrain, and vertical farming technologies to grow food in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

And again, the vision is plagued by those pesky conditions on the ground. In order to clear space for their dream of a sustainable future, the developers had to forcibly displace 20,000 Bedouins who had been living there — sustainably — for millennia. As with WEF Founder Klaus Schwab’s “Great Reset,” we are to accept the metaphor at face value, have faith that our sensemakers really do understand what they can’t articulate, and join them in hitting CTRL-Alt-Delete to reboot ourselves onto a perfect blockchain. Don’t worry: they’ve thought of everything.

Predictably enough, the folks who do take these technosolutionists, meta-modernists, and Great Resetters at face value are scared shitless, bringing us to the third and perhaps most concerning drawback of going meta: alt-right resistance. Steve Bannon regularly warns his podcast audience that the Great Reset Initiative is part of a technocratic drive toward transhumanism — an engineering project to disconnect humanity from what otherwise grounds us in nation, community, and identity. Thus, the techno-elite’s overt drive to go meta becomes the alt-right’s best evidence of a conspiracy to disconnect good folk everywhere from their own blood and soil. Indeed, Qanon theory is based largely on the belief that the technocratic elite have the capacity to rule human affairs from stations once-removed from everyday life.

Just this month, QAnon congressional candidates were claiming that Hurricane Ian was created with high tech weather machines to punish Governor Ron DeSantis, and that President Biden was building a “transhuman cyborg army using immigrants.” Meanwhile, authoritarians are winning elections in Europe by positioning themselves as our last best chance to reclaim our humanity from those attempting to go meta on the rest of us through technology or financialization.

Ironically, they lift some of the very same language about humanism and self-sovereignty we hear from the sensemakers and metamodernists they mean to oppose. The metaphors of the seemingly pro-human, nature-loving, spiritually unified, and psychedelics-inspired agenda are just as home in the campaigns of fascist and authoritarian regimes as they are in the conversations of stoned men on new age podcasts. In her acceptance speech last month, Italy’s newly elected far-right nationalist prime minister proclaimed, “When I am only a number, when I no longer have an identity or roots, then I will be the perfect slave at the mercy of financial speculators. The perfect consumer. That’s why we inspire so much fear. That’s why this event inspires so much fear. Because we do not want to be numbers. We will defend the value of the human being.” The words spread like wildfire on Twitter.

What most reTweeters missed, however, was the lead-in to that speech when she said, “Why do we spend our time fighting all types of discrimination but we pretend not to see the greatest ongoing persecution, the genocide of the world’s Christians?” But in the mix and match ethos of meta-modernism, such contexts fall away. Maybe that’s what a meta is really for.

Besides, such turbulence doesn’t appear to bother those who are most committed to going meta. If anything, the socio-political turmoil generated by all this confusion becomes a driving force for the social change they imagine. That’s what’s really behind Elon Musk and Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s purchase of Twitter, and subsequent plans to unleash the unbridled energy of its crowd. Understood through the lens of going meta and Musk’s own statements, the real objective for controlling an information environment like Twitter becomes clear.

It’s not about the profit on this level of the game. To the extent that it’s about money, it’s less about Twitter’s share price than the platform’s ability to become a currency exchange or to develop a token of its own. (Saudi Arabia has been working to undermine the US dollar as global reserve currency for a while now.) The vision is less for Twitter to be a social network or even a company, but a new operating system for society, sometimes dubbed Blue Sky. As former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained it, “In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.”

Just like Zuckerberg, Musk means to go meta on the social platform, and create an information layer one order of magnitude above the fray. Bezos is likely working on the same thing in his own way, Google must have a DeepMind AI version of hive consciousness on the production schedule, and I can’t imagine Apple isn’t working on its own pay version of a next-level metaverse for humanity.

But with all these meta-megalomaniacs competing to build the Metaverse, Game B, Great Reset, Blue Sky, or meta-modern post-human Omega point, aren’t we back in the same mess? If everyone is meta, then nobody is. Perhaps the one way to truly transcend all this meta is to stay down here in the world of atoms figuring out how to make this reality a better and more caring place, instead of competing to pre-colonize the next one.