Voices from the Bento Society

Ideas, research, experiences, and updates on Bentoism, new values, and other areas of interest from members of The Bento Society

Why I am a Bentoist

I am a Bentoist.

I use the Bento to expand and activate my self-awareness.

I love the Bento because it’s so simple. It’s always available and easy to access. It helps me make decisions both big and small. I’m living my most filled and expansive life thanks to my Bento.

BENTO is short for BEyond Near Term Orientation. A new way to define our self-interest:

“This wider view of our self-interest includes what we want right now. But other rational perspectives are here too. Our future selves. The people we care about. The future of our children and everybody else’s children, too.” — Bentoism.org

I have a master Bento that’s my compass for making decisions. I make a weekly Bento every Sunday to map out the week ahead. I use my Bento to guide my time and attention. I’m often surprised by what I write down.

The more I refer to my Bento, the more coherent I am at all levels of my life. What I need now, what I need in the future, what my collective ‘us’ needs now and what the future collective ‘us’ needs. It feels good to tend to all aspects of myself. My Bento keeps me aligned and accountable.

This is why I am a Bentoist.

— JK, Bento Society member

The case for rethinking self-interest

In the late 1990s, people around the world began to live in a state of rising fear of two missing numbers. 

The computer bug known as Y2K threatened to wreak havoc on the global infrastructure through the tiniest of details: computers being programmed to represent years in two digits (“99”) instead of four (“1999”). Headlines warned that systems would go haywire — crashing planes, freeing prisoners, and potentially leading to “The End of the World as We Know It?” as a 1999 Time Magazine cover posed.

We laugh at Y2K today like it was just another Skidz-like ‘90s fad, but that’s only because computer scientists successfully fixed the bug. (The immovable deadline helped: computer scientists had raised alarm over this exact issue since the 1950s but it took until basically the night before for anyone in charge to do something about it.)

Though it has yet to make headlines, our world today faces even greater threats — also because of incomplete information. The kinds of things alarmist Y2K articles warned about are actually happening right now because of it. The problem in our case isn’t some faulty code. It’s a critical, out-dated assumption. 

In the interests of self-interest

Our story begins — where else? — with the origins of capitalism and Adam Smith’s famous observation: 

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

On this point, Adam Smith was absolutely right. Expecting and encouraging people to act out of their own self-interest will produce better results than imploring them to do something for some other cause, however noble. When it comes to capturing what’s actually in our self-interest, however, this observation inadvertently inspired significant harm. 

Over the course of the 20th century, society’s concept of self-interest became more and more bound to our short-term individualistic desires. Self-interest is instant gratification — what you as an individual want right now. The wave of consumerist individualism began with the Baby Boomers (leading to the so-called “Me Decade” of the ‘80s) and Millenials are the predictable sequel.

This shift is more than a media fiction. We can track the rise in individualism in everything from the increase of singular pronouns versus collective pronouns in song lyrics to the decline of bowling leagues to the personalized feeds we spend hours in today. Our lives are becoming more atomized and our future timelines are shortening. 

Our view of self-interest has become so specific it even has a logo: the hockey stick graph. A chart where whatever we want — money, power, followers — is growing so fast the line slopes up and to the right. 

We’ve convinced ourselves this is life’s best-case scenario. In reality it’s just a small slice of a much bigger picture. When we extend both axes on the graph, a very different image emerges.

From this we can map out four distinct spaces of self-interest.

There’s Now Me. What I as an individual want and need right now. This is how we see self-interest today.

There’s also Future Me. What the older, wiser version of you wants you to do. The person you become is defined by your actions in the moment.

There’s Now Us. Your friends and family and the communities you’re a part of. Your decisions directly impact them, just as theirs impact you. 

There’s also Future Us. The community you belong to even though you haven’t met the people in it yet. Your kids, other people’s kids, the older versions of ourselves that face an uncertain future.

All of these spaces are in our self-interest. Not just Now Me. This theory is called Bentoism, an acronym for BEyond Near Term Orientation. 

Why Bentoism matters

For decades we’ve operated like Now Me is all there is. We’ve maximized comfort, pleasure, and financial gain while actively avoiding sacrifice of any kind. We’ve kicked so many cans down the road there’s now a giant wall of them that we’re barreling into head-on.

It’s not that there’s no solution. It’s that we keep trying to solve every decision according to the needs of just one piece of the puzzle. Our systems are built on models that see people as individualized consumers that reduce the range of human possibilities down to the optimization of financial value. People have built truly amazing machines to do these things. But while humanity’s Now Me is a giant glimmering skyscraper (with extraordinary amounts of homelessness), its Future Me, Now Us, and Future Us look more like the summer disaster movies we escaped into so we could tune out the bad news our disinterest further fueled. 

Despite all of this, I’m optimistic about humanity. I believe people do the best they can with what they have and what they know. The question is what don’t we know, and how can we gain it or become more aware of it?

More clearly defining our self-interest — the playing field we agree on as in-bounds for our decisions — is exactly this kind of awareness adjustment, and one that can drive fundamental shifts on both the individual and societal levels. 

This would be a big change, but changes of this level happen all the time. They just take time to happen. Thirty years, give or take. In our case, that means working to redefine our map to self-interest by 2050.

Why 2050? Because profound changes in social values happen in generational increments. (In my book I write about how everything from modern medicine to exercise to hip-hop went from nowhere to mainstream in thirty years.) The people leading the world in 2050 will be Millennials and Generations Y, Z, and COVID. Groups with very different ways of seeing the world than those now in charge. A falling empire will give the 2050 generations the unfortunate responsibility and opportunity to lead humanity’s most dramatic evolution in more than a century.

The overwhelming majority of these people recognize our current path is a dead end. What they lack is vision for what to build instead. The Bento is a map to our new world. 

Creating new systems and refactoring existing ones to reflect this new map is critical work. Here’s how I described it in my book, which closes with a snapshot from a sci-fi future:

“In 2050 a Bentoist view of value is a real thing. People better understand their values and live more self-coherent lives. Companies hold themselves accountable to a wider set of values that they take as seriously as their profitability. Slowly but surely over the course of thirty years, a belief in rational value beyond financial value becomes normal. 

“As the Bentoist approach to value emerges, talented people become drawn to its unique challenges. Using your skills to maximize financial value seems like a waste when a whole new frontier of value awaits.”

A year into the journey, this vision is starting to become real. 

The Bento Society

Over the past year, Bentoism has become more than a theory. It’s become a community of people and a laboratory for experimentation. Its name is the Bento Society. 

The Bento Society hosted more than 100 workshops for thousands of people from around the world this year, its first. One member, Julian, describes it as "a welcoming space for people to rejuvenate themselves and co-imagine the world together." 

In these sessions people actively confront and adjust how their beliefs, values, and lives come together. They push at the boundaries of their self-interest. Here’s what members say about it: 

“Ever since I created my first bento, I knew this was the community and space for me because I feel like I'm contributing to something bigger than myself. I consistently leave our time together feeling refreshed and motivated for the week ahead. Bentoism has simply beautified my life, inside and out.”

“It's helped me feel more confident and less alone when looking at the current state of the world and less stuck about certain decisions.”

“It literally changed my life. I feel like now I have a focus beyond the present. It makes me think beyond today and see life from another perspective.”

“It’s given me lots of clarity and a great framework to make important decisions that I struggle with. The interactions I’ve had during bento events have been super meaningful!”

“Bento has helped me realize that I'm not yet very clear about what kind of future image I have of myself and the society I want to live in. Bento is currently helping me to interpret this nebulous image of Future Us and Future Me and to adapt my current actions accordingly.”

“I am conscious of what I am creating in a holistic sense I am connected with the reality around me and by default am contributing sustainably. This ‘feeling a part of the whole’ is comforting and cleansing at the same time.”

“Being able to sit and really think about and be accountable to all aspects of my now and future selves is time I now treasure in my week. Maybe changing the world is in how we all live our lives and not the preserve of a select few.”

“Bentoism helped me begin to unearth the broader sense of values that I have that exist outside of commercial consumerism and my existence being defined by my daily career.”

Bento Society members come from all around the world and every walk of life. We are retail workers and artists. Students and professors. CEOs and customer service workers. Health care workers and filmmakers. Scientists and Uber drivers. 

The Bento Society’s Mission

As important and life changing as this work is, the goal of Bentoism isn’t just to help people better see what’s valuable and in their self-interest. The Bento Society’s mission is to redefine what the world sees as valuable and in its self-interest. Our goal is for this perspective to become the new default. 

There are three parts to our work:

1. Teach people Bentoism and create a welcoming space where they can practice, explore, and create self-coherence.

We do this now with our Weekly Bento on Sundays, smaller Group Bentos on Wednesdays, a Slack community of several hundred people, and in newsletters to a couple thousand people. This work will grow and evolve to make the Bento as useful and accessible as possible.

2. Introduce Bentoism to organizations, community groups, and other collective structures through existing members.

The next phase is the adoption of the Bento as a decision-making and priority-setting tool in organizations. The new Bentoism website has a section devoted to this with real world examples. The goal is to equip Bento Society members to shift their own organization’s maps in Bentoish directions.

3. Lead, fund, and support projects that establish a wider map to value and self-interest.

We're heavily inspired by Thomas Kuhn's idea of "normal science." That in the wake of paradigm change, new ideas become useful once the process of "normal science" happens. Kuhn defines normal science as the iterative, “puzzle-solving” work of applying a theory to individual fields of study. As individual scientists run experiments across a variety of contexts we learn how the new paradigm practically works. What had been a political debate over knowledge becomes practical and factual, and the new paradigm becomes adopted.

The Bento Society plans to push the normal science of defining new values and a larger map to self-interest. This will start with community-supported grants for projects that expand how we define value and self-interest, which we’ll announce later this year.

A map to the new world

In the lead-up to the year 2000, society became acutely aware of how dependent its systems were on faulty code. The Y2K bug turned what had been invisible and irrelevant into a major part of life.

COVID-19 has similarly made us aware of the flaws in our systems and thinking. Social distrust, active undermining of collective norms, and a weak public health infrastructure are all the disastrous consequences of decades of under-investment in Now and Future Us. The pandemic has made clear which societies are limited by short-term individualism and which are not.

The societies who are successfully navigating the pandemic are ones that have invested in Now and Future Us. Denmark put their economy and way of life into a temporary freezer at the start of COVID so it could be preserved for unthawing later. New Zealand’s high social trust has resulted in a society essentially free of the virus. In Asia, COVID has been more of a speedbump than a dramatic reset. These are the truly developed societies. These are the societies whose maps of the world remain intact.

Struggling nations like the US and UK are lost because their existing map to the world — dominated by the pursuit of financial gain and Now Me desires — has no relevance to where we find ourselves. Economic growth can’t cure disease. Public health can’t be protected in societies led by governments that believe society doesn’t exist. These old maps have even less relevance to the challenges we face in the years and decades to come. 

But we can solve this. Shifting how we see self-interest is a scalable solution. It fundamentally changes our relationships to one another without infringing on personal beliefs. It imposes no values beyond an increased awareness of ourselves and each other. Yet it dramatically changes the context and substance of our decisions.

Like Adam Smith’s OG ideas, Bentoism relies on each person looking out for their own self-interest. But it also, in the simplest of ways, expands the perimeter of our self-interest to include each other and our future selves. The Bento is a map to our new world.

Notes

  • The softcover of my book, This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World, comes out on November 19 with a new afterword and cover:
Preorder here.
  • This post makes two references to defining new values without explaining what’s meant by that. I’m going to write a separate post about this aspect later, but a quick summary:

If the Bento is a map to what’s in our self-interest, then it’s also a map to what’s valuable. The same tools and measurements we’ve used to grow and measure financial value can be applied to non-financial values that exist in other dimensions of the Bento. Loyalty, social connectedness, human wellbeing, purpose, and others are values we’ll learn to define and measure as a means to scalably make decisions and distribute goods based on non-financial values. Adele distributing concert tickets using a loyalty algorithm, which I write about in the book, is one example of what I think of as a post-capitalist transaction. The past newsletter “Post-capitalism for realists” explores this as well.

  • People and ideas who’ve inspired this work: Michael Walzer (Spheres of Justice), Elizabeth Anderson (Value in Ethics and Economics), Donella Meadows (Limits to Growth and Places to Intervene in a System), Frederich Laloux (Rethinking Organizations), Mariana Mazzucato (The Value of Everything), the principles of Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous, EF Schumacher (Small Is Beautiful), and Thomas Kuhn (Structure of Scientific Revolutions).

  • A huge thanks to Jamie Kim, Justin Kazmark, Ian Hogarth, Frederich Laloux, Emily Ludolph, Toby Shorin, Flo Buhringer, Mario Vasilescu, Evan Adams, Anne Muhlethaler, Julian Cohen, Yuki Nakamura, Rhys Lindmark, Laurel Schwulst, and Taichi Aritomo for their help with this essay and Bentoism, and of course everyone in the Bento Society.

  • One year ago this week my book came out. I spent a lot of the year worried whether if it was doing well enough, seeking affirmation and not knowing how to feel. Looking at the state of things now, I couldn’t be prouder of how this has unfolded. So much of that is because of the community of people who keep coming together around these ideas. My deepest thanks to all of you.

Peace and love my friends,

Yancey
The Bento Society

Introducing Bento Groups

In a recent post on the difficult place we currently find ourselves in, I shared what the authors of the prescient book Limits To Growth said are the five steps to creating a better world. They are:

  1. Visioning
  2. Networking
  3. Truth-telling
  4. Learning
  5. Loving

The authors admitted these steps sounded small in the face of our enormous challenges. Still, they were firm in their belief that this was how a better path would begin.

Today we’re introducing a new Bento Society project that aims to help create these conditions: Bento Groups.

A Bento Group is a community of 4-10 people who meet on a weekly basis to share and learn together. It’s an intimate space for people to explore their goals and values, dig deep into challenges and larger issues, and experiment with potential futures.

A Bento Group “season” lasts twelve weeks. Each week, Bento Groups are sent prompts and exercises that guide a longer journey. Things like:

  • Future Concepting: Using the Bento and our imaginations to generate speculative futures and potential solutions to major challenges.
  • Draw Your Life: A creative dive into our personal histories. What shaped us? What are we proudest of? What superpowers do we secretly possess? 
  • The Trust: Bringing a challenge or opportunity to the group for ideas or feedback.

Here’s how it works:

  • Groups meet for one hour on Wednesdays (you choose a weekly time that fits your schedule)
  • Groups receive weekly prompts from The Bento Society that guide a progressive journey
  • Each meeting has a Facilitator, Recorder, and Timekeeper (these roles rotate between members of the group each week)
  • You can try before committing, but once you commit you’re expected to attend for the full 12 weeks
  • Bento Groups are free

The first cohort of Bento Groups (eight groups, seventy people between them) got underway this past week.

Our hope is that Bento Groups can become a tangible step towards personal and collective transformation. An hour on our schedules to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be. A place to connect with truth-seeking peers from around the world. (Members of my Bento Group live in Amsterdam, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, NYC, Singapore, and Vancouver. Other groups are equally global.)

Like all Bento Society projects, Bento Groups are an experiment. They’re an experiment in intentional community building. An experiment in perspective shifting. An experiment in personal and collective manifestation. An experiment that we hope will produce results for all of us.

If you’re interested in joining our next cohort of Bento Groups, click here.

Two quotes I’m thinking about:

"Analyzing audiotapes of strategic-planning meetings, [Lippitt] concluded that problem-solving depresses people. A key feature of the Schindler-Rainman/Lippitt conferences was having people create "images of potential" of the future rather than fix problems from the past. Moreover they devised an energizing proposal for bringing preferred futures to life, asking people to dramatize their dreams as if they had already come true. This led to optimism and high energy."— From a book called Future Search

"Our way, the way, is not a random path. Our way begins from coherent understanding. It is a way that aims at preserving knowledge of who we are, knowledge of the best way we have found to relate each to each, each to all, ourselves to other peoples, all to our surroundings. If our individual lives have a worthwhile aim, that aim should be a purpose inseparable from the way... Our way is reciprocity. The way is wholeness." — Ayi Kwei Armah, Two Thousand Seasons (found in Alice Walker’s Living By the Word)

Peace and love my friends,

Yancey
The Bento Society

Theories of Time

I recently read a book I’d been curious about called The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book theorizes that history changes through generational shifts, and that these changes happen in predictable and repeatable patterns.

One of the big questions the book poses is the nature of time. The authors present three theories for how time functions:

  1. Time is cyclical (the four seasons; the cycle of birth, life, and death)
  2. Time is linear (things are getting progressively better)
  3. Time is chaos (there’s no order at all)

Until the Renaissance, the authors contend, people experienced time as cyclical. Life was marked by the repetition of seasons and birth and death. There was no technological progress. The world was a loop. When people started counting years they had to make the case why this was worth doing.

This changed with the Renaissance and the acceleration of technology. This created a linear sense of time. For the first time humanity felt it was improving. Given enough time and technology, problems could be solved. This is largely how the world sees time today.

There’s a fourth metaphor for time also worth considering.

This metaphor comes from a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a self-help guide for artists. Cameron writes:

“You will circle through some of the same issues over and over, each time at a different level. There is no such thing as being done with an artistic life. Frustrations and rewards exist at all levels on the path. Our aim here is to find the trail, establish our footing, and begin the climb.”

Cameron’s wisdom brings our metaphors of time together. We will repeatedly face the same challenges — the cyclical notion of time — even as we seek linear growth — the progressive notion of time. Put them together and you get a fourth metaphor: time is a spiral.

We constantly circle the same themes and challenges in our lives. The past keeps echoing back. Those echoes are opportunities to make better decisions and grow into more mature versions of ourselves (shifting the spiral “up”) or to make worse decisions and regress (shifting the spiral “down”).

This way of explaining time may seem theoretical, but it has real-life applications. Especially as navigating time is much easier when you’re aware that the spiral exists.

As the authors of The Fourth Turning note, when people saw time as cyclical in the pre-modern world, no one tried to pretend winter wasn’t coming. The world cycled between fat and lean times. People survived the lean because they prepared during the fat. The truth of life was plain to see.

In a world where we believe time is progressive, we lose our capacity to prepare. Getting ready for the worst feels wasteful and ungrateful in a society premised on the belief that a better future is always just around the corner. Even the existence of a Plan B can challenge the entire value system.

Our awareness of time is meaningful. Compare Matthew McConaughey’s cryptic “time is a flat circle” refrain from True Detective — a bleak refutation of the spiral theory — to Bill Murray’s transformation to escape a conditional loop in Groundhog Day. It was only when Bill Murray was aware that he was in a loop and what the object of the loop was that time moved forward.

Awareness shapes the world of today and successive generations. In my book I visualized this process as the Values Helix — a spiral.

Seeing time as a spiral creates forgiveness. Even as we move past a challenge, we should expect another version to return. This awareness gives us permission to grow without demanding perfection, and opens up the longer journey towards mastery. Our struggles simply mark another loop on the climb.

The Ownership Crisis

Hello from the Bento Society. I’m Yancey Strickler.

In a recent email we explored why “chill” may become a newly important value and how transparency, exercise, and mindfulness emerged after past crises. Today we’re going to talk about another value that’s about to undergo a significant change: the value of ownership.

The Darkening Skies

It’s getting harder to remember life before, but we’re still in the early, “in it together” phase of this crisis. Barely. The stratification of society that was already here is becoming clear again. The gap between who has power and who doesn’t — already big — is getting bigger.
Here’s how economist Umair Haque describes the situation

"The economy has been divided into a kind of caste system. At the very top are the owners of technocapital — Bloombergs and Bezoses and whatnot: they’re a tiny class of mega-billionaires. They have more than they can ever spend — and a single one could have bought all the ventilators America needed. Just beneath them is a larger, but still very, very small class of their seconds and thirds and fourths in command. “Product Manager” here? “CFO” there? “Fund manager” here? You’re doing very well: you’ve probably got at least a mil or several in the bank, or in home equity, and you’re pulling down multiple hundreds of thousands, if not millions, a year.

"Beneath them, though, isn’t the broad, expansive middle class of the 1950s American Dream. There’s just a vast, vast pool of the new poor. They can be divided up into the downwardly mobile former middle, and the abandoned working class — but that’s splitting hairs, really. Life in this class is about technological neoserfdom. The app, the platform, the algorithm is your boss. It tells you what kind of work to do, how much it’s worth, when to do it, and even monitors you to make sure you’re doing it fast enough, and with a smile on your face.

"This class is the vast, vast majority of people — about 80%. It’s a class that already exists — the 80% of Americans who can’t make ends meet, live paycheck to paycheck, can’t raise a tiny amount for an emergency, and struggle to pay basic bills like healthcare and housing. The pandemic, though, made all that much, much worse — and it destroyed any hope that people beginning to be trapped in this class of neosurfs had of ever escaping it."

As the world hardens into an uber-wealthy top 1%, the next 19% serving as their lieutenants, and the remaining 80% stuck in a day-to-day with a downward trajectory, we’ll find ourselves in an unsustainable situation. Especially if the top 20% are unwilling to provide a safety net that makes upward mobility possible.

This hardening will reveal the root problem. Despite many people contributing to the tools and services that now dominate our lives, most people have no stake in them. To cite just one example, the four million people who drive for Uber probably own less of the company combined than a single dentist in New Jersey with Vanguard in their portfolio. 

People with ownership — virtually all of whom are already wealthy — will become increasingly wealthier. People without ownership — everyone else — will become increasingly not. Soon it will be hard to see anything else.

The Ownership Crisis

As companies and their owners reap massive rewards (Uber’s valuation is up $30 billion since March), the rest of the population will be acutely aware of how un-rich they’re getting (36 million people unemployed right now in the US). News like Jeff Bezos becoming a paper trillionaire further fans the flames. 

The media may end up calling this the next Great Depression. That’s missing the trees for the forest. This is an economic catastrophe for most people, but not for those with ownership. In the same way that the 1%/99% language became commonplace after the 2008 financial crisis, the ownership gap will become how we come to understand the Great Disparity of this one. 

Ownership is inaccessible to most people. It’s either bought (through stocks/investments), created (starting something of your own), inherited (born lucky), or earned (employment-based equity). None of which are easy to attain. Few families have extra income to invest. Starting a business is harder than ever (entrepreneurship rates in the US are half what they were forty years ago). Jobs that offer stock options require expensive credentials. 

The “essential workers” we’re relying on to provide our food, move goods, and handle the infrastructure of life right now? Their jobs don’t come with ownership. Ownership is reserved for those on top. Essential workers get applause at 7pm instead. 

This moment is revealing how unjust this system is. It’s going to provoke a values crisis the longer it goes on.

As we’ve previously discussed, values function like a tech stack. At the root level are moral beliefs. Those moral beliefs are then expressed as rules and incentives that shape how that value is expressed. 

At the root moral layer of the Values Stack of ownership is belief in private property. Ownership is something we think of as individualistic. Something is either mine or yours. Rules dictate how ownership can be acquired and exchanged (the pathways I laid out earlier). The incentives are the financial returns ownership provides.

The ownership Values Stack is functioning as it’s meant to based on the moral beliefs that underly it. It’s also creating unjust conditions for an overwhelming amount of people at the same time. 

A values crisis can’t be solved by tweaking the rules or incentives. Crises require a deeper moral response. This crisis will produce a new value: collective ownership.

Collective Ownership

Collective ownership can take a number of forms: unions, Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs), and stock options are all related. But the most important means of collective ownership will be the resurgence of an old model: the co-op.

Co-ops are businesses owned and controlled by the people who are employed by them and depend on them, rather than outside investors. Because of their focus on self-sufficiency rather than growth, co-ops have higher survival rates than normal businesses. Even now. According to a report last week the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn is proving to be especially resilient during the pandemic thanks to its structure. 

Co-ops haven’t had much online impact even though the internet offers the potential holy grail of collective ownership. Imagine Instagram where all the users collectively own Instagram. Or Tidal except not mostly bullshit. This month a startup called Ampled launched that does exactly that. (I’m an advisor to the company.)

Ampled is a Patreon-like subscription service for musicians structured as a co-op. As a co-op, Ampled is completely owned and controlled by the musicians who use it and the workers who built it. Ampled is initially funded through debt instruments that give investors zero equity and that cap financial returns at 3x their investment (you can see the deal structure here). 

Ampled’s competition is Patreon, a service with more than $150 million in venture funding. Based on traditional metrics Ampled looks like a lesser version of the status quo. When the value of equitable ownership (or lack thereof) is factored in, however, Patreon isn’t even in the ballpark. 

That’s the crazy thing: if the value set expands to include equitable ownership, the existing players can’t compete. They’re locked into the old paradigm the same way they’ve locked us into their services. If a new social network launched with collective ownership core to its offer, Facebook’s ownership structure would prevent them from copying it. Because Facebook, Patreon, and others are wedded to the previous paradigm, their structures are fundamentally incompatible with a world where the values of ownership have changed, as Ampled cleverly lays out in this blog post.

This is all a very big if. This only happens if ownership becomes a critical value. While some artists resent being neoserfs on the land of corporate giants, others are grateful for the traffic. A model like Ampled’s can reach mass adoption — if ownership becomes a key value in the public consciousness.

That’s a long road but it’s not just Ampled paving it. Stocksy pioneered the web co-op model and are still going strong. Savvy, a health care co-op, recently announced funding from prestigious early investors. Thanks to work by these organizations and an attorney specializing in co-ops named Jason Wiener, there’s now a playbook for future co-ops to follow. This guide to starting a co-op is a great place to start.

There’s a bigger reason to be bullish, too. The desire for ownership is a place where the needs of the bottom 80% — locked out of the existing system — and the 19% — deputies to the bosses of that system — can meet. When ownership is more evenly distributed, everyone wins. Only the 1% lose out.

The Growth of Non-Growth

By the end of the decade, every category will have a co-op player. Some of these will fail. Others will replace the existing “do-gooder” players in their category with a “do-better” offer. Many more will break up larger markets into smaller, more directly owned ones. After globalization is Balkanization. 

We’re moving towards the return of what Foreign Policy calls “the natural economy.” An economy that strives for self-sufficiency rather than growth. This is exactly what the co-op model enables. This is also exactly what our existing system considers irrational. Co-ops don’t motivate with the mirage of potential lottery-ticket growth. They fulfill our deeper need for resilience and reliability. It’s hard to imagine what could be more valuable during times like these.

The transition to self-sufficiency will lead to a decline in top-line economic growth. Because people will be working for the wellbeing of themselves and their communities rather than increasing the wealth of stockholders, GDP and other metrics will decline. A period of conscious economic degrowth will begin. The wellbeing of many communities will start growing instead.

This will be messy. Especially as it marks the end of an empire, as Foreign Policy notes:

"[This moment is] similar to the unraveling of the global ecumene that happened with the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire into a multitude of self-sufficient demesnes between the fourth and the sixth centuries. In the resulting economy, trade was used simply to exchange surplus goods for other types of surplus produced by other demesnes, rather than to spur specialized production for an unknown buyer. As F. W. Walbank wrote in The Decline of the Roman Empire in the West, 'Over the whole [disintegrating] Empire there was a gradual reversion to small-scale, hand-to-mouth craftsmanship, producing for the local market and for specific orders in the vicinity.'"

When frayed social bonds make operating at a collective scale impossible, people turn inwards instead.

The economy has been all about scale over the past fifty years. But we’re about to think about scale and ownership very differently. The next great organizations won’t be the ones with the shiniest bells and whistles. They’ll be the ones that share equitable ownership based on a wider set of values. Collective ownership is a next step towards a more generous world. 

Peace and love my friends,

Yancey
The Bento Society