Featured in the Rahu chapter in Agents of Evolution
The Evolutionary Path of Rahu + Going with the Flows
In her book, The Nature of Economies, Jane Jacobs looks at how Energy flows through the natural world in order to understand how economies work. (She doesn’t name it “Energy”; that’s my word for it.) The book is a fictional conversation between friends, which makes the ideas she presents far more real and less intimidating than an economics textbook. The principles she proposes point along a Rahu trajectory of understanding the flow of Energy through our world.
Some of the book’s foundational principles:
- We humans are an integral part of the natural world, rather than simply its consumers or destroyers. What we take and what we give is part of the natural world.
- “Economic life is ruled by [natural world] processes and principles we didn’t invent and can’t transcend, whether we like that or not. . . the more we learn of these processes and the better we respect them, the better our economies will get along.”
- Working along with natural principles of development, expansion, sustainability, and correction, people can create economies that are more reliable than the ones we have now and that are also more harmonious with the rest of nature.
- Money is a feedback-carrying medium, one that both reports and responds to the feedback of the system.
Since money is a medium for Energy, wrapping our heads around the way our economies currently operate is part of Rahu’s evolutionary journey. Each of our individual responsibility is part of it as well. None of us are neutral players in our economy; we are all active participants in natural world cycles of giving and receiving. That is why it is imperative we understand how we direct our Energy.
I got to know Ferananda Ibarra as a social innovator with a powerful intellect and a global reach. She is full of life and full of Energy. Her presence at community gatherings brings dynamic electricity into the room. She is the cofounder of the Metacurrency Project, which is helping to build the means (the patterns, principles, and protocols on which platforms may be built) for a new kind of economy. She also serves as the director of the Commons Engine, an organization which assists with currency design.
As I was preparing to write this chapter on Rahu, I knew I would need to tackle a subject I didn’t yet fully grok. Even though I was an economics major for two years as an under- grad before switching to music, and then to English, and even though I had worked on a documentary film all about money, I still didn’t understand exactly how any of these principles about money and currency flows applied to me. So, I turned to Ferananda for help.
Becoming Conscious Participants in Existing Flows
“Nature is not about a tree, and a bush, and the soil,” Ferananda offered. “Nature is about the interdependency between the tree and the bush and the soil and the microbiome and the mycelium at their roots that then connect and give them more Energy.” This was an “Aha!” moment for me. Fer had just dislodged a remnant from the old paradigm in my mind of seeing the tree as an object rather than as part of the same system that I am part of.
Once we had established that, she further explained how the natural world and economies are related. A natural ecosystem is an Energy conduit: “The more Energy is reused and repurposed and goes to benefit more agents in that ecosystem, the more vibrant that ecosystem is.” And, importantly, economies function as ecosystems in this same way.
My next question for Ferananda was, “What are we doing wrong? Why do we have economies that are clearly unsustainable, using up the Earth’s resources faster than the Earth can replenish?” She answered that we need to manage Energy flows better in order to stop all the dead end uses of Energy. Think, for example, of the large quantities of plastic that end up in landfills.
She elaborated, “Just look at the tropical forest and how it uses one single ray of light in incredible ways. One single sunbeam goes through the plant that through photosynthesis transforms it into sugar that goes to the mycelia, and then there’s the animal that comes and eats the plant and then goes and poops and then there’s the bird that comes and picks up the seed from the ground and then there’s that flower that benefits from the bird’s pollination. . . all these interdependencies that stem from one single stream of Energy. So, how can humans do that? How could we be better with the flow of Energy?”
In order to answer the questions Ferananda poses, we need to look at how we might become more conscious players in the flows of Energy we are already engaged in.
Ferananda and her Metacurrency cofounder, Arthur Brock, propose that part of the difficulty with more conscious participation is how opaque these Energy flows are to us still. First, we need to be able to see and identify these inherent Energy flows within all the living systems in which we take part. For example, what if anytime we bought some- thing, the flow of our consumption was made visible to us? What if when you bought an item from the store you had a visual, not just of the numerical price, but of the actual Energy flows attached to purchasing that item—from the original materials for the product being sourced; to all the hands and efforts that went into creating that product; to all the paths traveled for that product to be assembled; to the waste created in the making of that product; to how well that company treated its employees as the product arrived on the shelf?
In this hypothetical visual, you would also see the money you pay for the product, and how that money goes to the company who made it and what they do with that money. Once we start seeing these flows and connecting the dots, then we can make more conscious, more sustainable choices. Our decisions then shape the market by giving it the right signals: No, I will not buy a product whose flows are jammed up with dead end choices like poisoning the environment, because that cuts off a needed flow of Energy from the environment. When we don’t see these flows, we are more likely to resort to unconscious consumerism and its busted flows.
Referring back to the Venus chapter where I spoke about the concept of the commons, how will we design currencies that capture a more vibrant, dynamic interplay between humans and our commons? If we start with the premise that all of the natural world is a commons, what kind of a dance do we want to dance with that commons? The current economy dance has us tripping and falling down a lot. Is that the extent of our imagination? How can we design systems that will allow us all to thrive; that will allow us to live in harmony with the natural world we are part of?
This is where Ferananda’s work comes in. “The design of our social agreements, our governance, our economies, and even our architecture will create specific social outcomes. So, we need to be mindful in how we design social systems that don’t recreate the extractive patterns we currently have.” A centralized system, for instance (useful in some scenarios), gives authority to one entity, whereas a decentralized system designs for shared authority between its members, acknowledging and bringing in the intelligence from everywhere in the group, even at the edges.
Might decentralized systems be more equitable choices for social media platforms? For example, Facebook is centralized. Our data is owned by Facebook; we, the end users, have no decision-making capacity; decisions come from the top down and affect us in ways we are not aware of. A decentralized social media platform would be agent-centric, meaning agents are the focus rather than the data; the platform is governed by its users. Such a platform would theoretically be able to design for diversity, wellbeing, and healthy flows of communication and coordination a central entity is not able to capture. Decentralized systems tend to have more resilience. (Healthy ecosystems are not mono- crops, where a single point of failure can bring the entire system down.)
Holochain, one of the projects Ferananda has collaborated on, is an open-source framework for building peer-to-peer applications. Let that sink in for a minute. It means that no central entity owns the tools to the framework, and no central entity owns every user’s data. Each agent owns their own data. Holochain attempts to solve for more equitable social outcomes in harmony with the natural world. It does this through a unique “distributed ledger technology” (a kind of “post Blockchain” technology that aims for “digital agency,” putting power back into the hands of the people using the technology.) Holochain is one of many distributed, decentralized, open-source technologies coming on the scene offering us alternative ways to better design our Energy flows. Rahu would be impressed.
After my conversation with Ferananda, I felt like my operating system had just gotten a long overdue upgrade. I was excited to start applying this new-felt sense of my own participation in the flows of our economy in my own life.