Interviews, essays, and research exploring the frontiers of what's valuable and in our self-interest
INTERVIEWEE: Clare Farrell
BACKGROUND: Extinction Rebellion cofounder
TOPIC: Replacing hope with action
“Hope for me feels like the opposite of admitting that you have to do it. ‘I hope someone else will fix it.’ That’s a disaster. Hope dies and action begins.” — Extinction Rebellion cofounder Clare Farrell
INTERVIEWEE: Jeff Hammerbacher
BACKGROUND: Scientist, software developer, Cofounder of Cloudera and Related Sciences, founding manager of Facebook’s Data team
TOPIC: What gets measured
LISTEN: On the web, Apple, Spotify
“It makes me uneasy when I think about how much corporations are measuring about human interactions today and not making considered decisions about what gets measured. Deciding what gets measured is a political and ethical choice." — Jeff Hammerbacher
“A lot of people that I have come to admire are infinite game players stuck in a finite game… Playing outside of the rules of the game, and making up our own rules, but somehow still abiding by the boundaries of the finite game that our society has created for us.” — Hank Willis Thomas
Interviewee: Mariana Mazzucato
Background: Professor of Economics and Founding Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, Author of Mission Economy, The Entrepreneurial State, and The Value of Everything
Topic: How to create value
Listen: On the web, Apple, Spotify
“I think of it like a fight, like guerrilla warfare. You build up your adrenaline to do it. Even though it might be easier to do research and say, ‘Oh, and here's the policy implications of my research’ in the typical academic way, which is what I used to do, you’re on the front line repeating your message.” — Mariana Mazzucato
“This is the century of natural data. We've got data that no generation before has had, so it would be really weird, in my mind, to say let’s take this incredibly rich data and flatten it in something called GDP invented in the 1930s” — Kate Raworth
“The conditions of possibility have really changed. The landscape used to look tilted against decarbonization. Now it's tilted towards decarbonization.” — David Wallace Wells
The Bento Society's mission is to explore the frontiers of value and self-interest. The Future Us Grant is a new, quarterly $1,500 grant given to a project or person working on the frontiers of value and self-interest.
“Whenever we've done anything successfully it's taken both entrepreneurial initiative and government getting things right. We shouldn't be denigrating the other side. We should be figuring out the most effective way to work together to save humanity.” — Albert Wenger
“As long as we're divided, we’re conquered. Solidarity dividends [are] these things that we can gain through collective action across lines of race that we can't do on our own. Higher wages, cleaner air, better funded schools. That's the new economic model, but we need to pursue the idea only through solidarity.” — Heather McGhee
Interviewee: Lianne Kerlin
Background: Senior Research Scientist at the BBC
Topic: Moving to a world beyond consumption
“We’re working towards a world beyond consumption. Where reach and consumption are clearly important things to measure, but they're not the only measures of success.” — BBC Senior Research Scientist Lianne Kerlin
“How do we connect the values that we inherently have to what gets measured?” — Silka Sietsma, Head of Emerging Design at Adobe
Interviewee: Esther Dyson
Background: Journalist, tech analyst and investor, executive founder of Wellville
Topic: Using tech to manipulate ourselves
“What I want is for people to use tech to manipulate themselves. To understand what is being done to them through technology and to take over that power to manipulate themselves.” — Esther Dyson
"The positive conditions of freedom [are] going to require data infrastructure. The bet that I’m making is that people are down to contribute to the positive conditions of their freedom if it's pitched to them that way." — Salome Viljoen
Subject: John Higgs
Background: Author of nine books including The KLF, Stranger Than We Can Imagine, and The Future Starts Here
Topic: Trying to be less wrong
Listen: On Apple, Spotify, or in your browser.
“Keep trying to be less wrong. That’s really the goal. With seven billion people on the planet and no two people having exactly the same perspective on everything, the chances that you're the one person who's got everything right and the rest are all idiots — mathematically you've got to see the problems with that.” — John Higgs
I recently read an amazing science-fiction book called Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. It imagines humanity’s next thirty years as we contend with the reality of climate change. It's a terrifying while also optimistic book.
The “Ministry for the Future” in the book’s title refers to an imagined UN agency tasked with protecting Earth’s future inhabitants. At one point in the book, Mary, the head of this agency, gives an impassioned speech to a group of bankers:
“Help us get to the next world system. New metrics, new kinds of value creation. Make the next political economy. Invent post-capitalism! The world needs it, it really has to happen!”
Which Mary and others go about trying to do.
When I read this passage I practically leapt out of my chair. These ideas are identical to what's proposed in This Could Be Our Future and at the heart of the Bento Society’s mission:
“The mission of the Bento Society is to redefine what the world sees as valuable and in its self-interest. The same tools and measurements we’ve used to grow and measure financial value can be applied to non-financial values, creating a world where value isn’t solely defined, distributed, and optimized as financial capital. We will learn that other values — something’s ecological value, its social value, its relational value — are just as critical depending on the situation.”
While Ministry for the Future imagines these conversations happening in the distant future, the Bento Society will be having them now.
This past week I’ve kept thinking back to a slide I made for a talk back in 2017 to illustrate the shift from “old growth” to “new growth” that our growing challenges were calling for.
As we exit 2020, it strikes me that this has actually started to become true. The column on the left represents where we were entering 2020. The column on the right represents where we’re moving as we leave it.
To be clear, in no way does this mean hard times are behind us or our challenges are on the verge of being solved. We can all look around and see this is not a thing to be celebrated and that there are almost certainly harder times ahead. But this year we could feel a shift. The winds changed.
How ready are you for the coming year? How clear are you on what happened to you this past year? Who are the all-star people that supported you this past year and how do they need support in return?
“Welcome Angeline. Welcome Susie. Welcome Keshia. Welcome Yancey.”
There are ten of us in the room. Katy says our names and makes eye contact with each of us through the screen when she does. We smile as she welcomes us.
Though she’s leading us this morning, Katy is not a professional facilitator. She’s an architect in New York. But today she’s leading a Zoom room that includes two writers, a teacher, a product manager, a salesperson, a non-profit executive, a university department chair, an artist, and me. The ten of us are spread across upstate New York, Maine, Singapore, Geneva, London, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Vancouver, and Amsterdam.
Earlier this year during a Weekly Bento discussion on long-term thinking, a member of the audience raised their hand. Morgan X’agatkeen Howard introduced himself as a member of the Tlinget tribe, and he shared their tradition of intergenerational thinking called Haa Shagoon. This practice, he explained, weighs the considerations of past, present, and future generations equally. Morgan’s perspective had the room in rapt attention.
A few weeks later Morgan and I connected directly to talk more about his life, the practice of Haa Shagoon, and how it helps guide the Tlinget for-profit Sealaska where he is a Board member. This conversation is the first in a series of interviews with members of the Bento Society about who they are and what they do.
From BusinessWeek on how Asian companies are becoming leaders in addressing climate change:
After years of pressure from mostly European investors, Asian companies are pulling ahead of their North American counterparts when it comes to climate risk reporting.
In Asia, a key turning point was 2017, when the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures finalized its recommendations for reporting climate risk. The proposal offered companies a standardized framework that helped boost disclosures…
“Climate change went from a topic that might have been one item on an agenda somewhere in a meeting,” Simmonds said. Now, it’s “probably the first question asked by investors on every presentation.”
More of my energy has gone into community building this year than any other time in my life. Being locked in dramatically increased my desire to reach out.
For me, this happened through the Bento Society — a global community that gathers virtually every week to connect and explore ideas. A number of communities like the Bento Society gained steam this year: Exponential View, Ness Labs, The Third, and countless Discords, Slack groups, and other dark forests of the internet that arose to offer collective enlightenment.
During last week’s Town Hall there was a great debate in chat and during the Q&A about the importance of measurement. The Bento Society sees measurement and data as core to its theory of change but there’s reason to be skeptical of always resorting to it. Some things shouldn’t be measured. Measurement can be a way of avoid more difficult conversations.
These are fantastic questions that I’d love to have a deeper discussion about. In the new year, I’m going to host a special bento experimental forum for us to go deep into this question. If there are people in the Bento Society or connected to us who have relevant experience or interest in this question, it would be great to hear from them.
If you’ve ever slept outdoors or even just watched a survival reality show, you know the importance of fire. Fire is warmth, energy, safety. Fire bridges the line between comfort and discomfort. Even life and death.
Early humans’ ability to tame fire — which took hundreds of thousands of years to develop — changed the course of history. Human biology too. Taming fire led to cooked food which increased the calories in human diets, growing the size of our brains.
Fire was and is pivotal. But fire is also dangerous. It kills people. It’s difficult to tame. It’s not easy to get.
We see ourselves as far more advanced than our ancestors, but we face a strikingly similar situation today with a force just as powerful and mysterious. Our fire is called data.
A talk I gave at the first annual Bento Society Town Hall laying out the state of the Bento Society at that point. Includes a look at Bentoism to date, and ahead to what's coming in 2021.
The column on the left represents where we are now. The column on the right represents where we need to go. Are there plausible paths for how the world moves from the left column to the right?
We explored this question at last Sunday’s Weekly Bento. First with a fifteen minute presentation by me, and then an amazing group discussion that included insights from a First Nations leader, data scientists, arts professionals, and entrepreneurs on their experiences dealing with these issues. The conversation was so remarkable I’ve uploaded the whole thing. Highly recommended:
This week marks the one year birthday of Bentoism. I marked the occasion with a Twitter thread sharing some history behind the idea.
Today is Bentoism's first birthday 🎂— Yancey Strickler (@ystrickler) October 28, 2020
The idea was introduced in my book published one year ago
There's a deeper history to the idea — including a totally different approach to the book — that I've never shared
Going back to my Kickstarter days, I've always taken joy in celebrating birthdays for ideas and organizations. They’re wonderful moments to reminisce and retrace your steps.
While doing that this week, I cam
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.
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.)
I spent this week working on two exciting bento projects.
The first is a new version of the Bentoism website, whose soothing aesthetic won’t change, but the depth of the information will. That will be launching this week. I’m super excited about it.
The second is the first in a series of posts that will go much deeper into Bentoism for a wider audience. This is in line with my Future Me goal of talking more about our work together that I shared last week.
These projects h
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:
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.
Hi there, and welcome to The Bento Society. I’m Yancey Strickler.
When I first came up with the name, the “Society” in “The Bento Society” was more aspiration than reality. I hoped the bento would provide enough value to attract a community. I also knew this was no sure thing.
Sup y’all. It’s been a minute. How’s your apocalypse going? Yeah, mine too.
Sending love to everyone right now. The chaos is overwhelming. Even more disturbing, it’s already normal. I write this as my windows are blanketed in smoke from the West Coast fires.
We’re hoping that 2020 is a blip on the radar. But at the same time we’re saying things like “when things go back to normal…” less and less. There’s unmistakable evidence that we may have entered a period of significant decline for the well-being of life on Earth. Everything from our health and safety to our food to our freedom of movement to our social cohesiveness to the future prospects of democratic governance and the existence of all other species on this planet are threatened like never before.
“Though my problems are meaningless
That don’t make them go away” — Neil Young
“Most things I worry about
Never happen anyway” — Tom Petty
“Now I'm feeling lonely
My mind is playing tricks on me” — Geto Boys
Our minds are our reality.
What do we want? What our minds tell us to want.
What do we worry about? What our minds tell us to worry about.
We build realities on stories our minds tell us. Even when we’re the only ones who hear them.
What does it mean to be Bentoist or, if you like, Bentoish?
It means prioritizing others’ needs along with your own.
It means making a conscious effort to consider now and the future.
It means pursuing outcomes that meet all dimensions of your self-interest.
In many ways these are basic things. Obvious things. That doesn’t make them easy things. More than once this week I failed to live up to them. But striving to seek coherence between ourselves and our worlds is at the heart of Bentoism.
Hello from the Bento Society. I’m Yancey Strickler.
In a recent post 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.
Last month I sent a survey about The Bento Society and nearly 100 of you responded. Here’s what you had to say.
How would you rate your experience so far?
What do you like most?
Last week I took an internet vacation. I didn’t go anywhere. I just wasn’t online.
I spent a lot of it in the woods. I recently moved to the Pacific Northwest and have fallen in love with the trees. They’re incredible creatures.
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:
Time is cyclical (the four seasons; the cycle of birth, life, and death)
Time is linear (things are getting progressively better)
Time is chaos (there’s no order at all)
While I was the CEO of Kickstarter, I played in a long-running Dungeons & Dragons game with a group of my coworkers. (I blogged about this at the time here.)
If you’ve never played D&D, it’s basically an open-ended choose your own adventure game. The Dungeon Master lays out a scenario (following instructions in a book), and the players decide through conversation what to do.
In our initial times playing the game, we carefully debated and plotted to find the optimal answer to each situation
Recently released tools and resources related to Bentoism:
This question was posed by the curator Kimberly Drew in an interview with The Creative Independent in 2016. The internet was noisy, Drew said, and she didn’t want to add to it. So before posting online she asked herself the question: In what ways are you improving on silence?
Later that year The Creative Independent, a resource I cofounded, put Drew’s quote on a billboard in upstate New York. It was a question worth more consideration, we thought.
Sup y’all and welcome to the Ideaspace. I’m Yancey Strickler.
Return of the Values Stack
Two weeks ago I shared the Values Stack as an illustration of how values operate.
Values are expressed through three layers. At the deepest layer are a culture’s Morals. Those Morals are expressed as Rules. Those Morals are also positively expressed as Incentives.
Last week a group of academics in the Netherlands announced plans for a radical but pragmatic shift in the country’s priorities. Among their proposals:
Provide every citizen economic security while reducing each person’s working week so that jobs and meaning can be plentiful
Move the nation’s framework for success away from GDP growth and towards the growth of specific values (clean energy, health, education) and the degrowth of others (fossil fuels, advertising).
It’s basically our STIFF vs BENTO chart from last week in public policy form.
The crisis is opening many people up to new ideas like these.
My book This Could Be Our Future ends with a sci-fi snapshot of the future.
It’s 2050 and a new movement “led by some of the best and brightest of the Millennial and Z generations” has begun to change how the world works. This group is called the Bento Society. They’re dedicated to transforming how the world approaches value.
Whereas the previous world (our present day) was dominated by the values of money, power, and a belief in short-term individualistic financial fundamentalism (or STIFF, as it became known), the new world sees self-interest differently. After a series of crises, the belief in the importance of shared values and the Us space grew considerably. And after scientists’s dire predictions proved correct, the desire for future planning became widespread.
The Bento Society’s theory — based on writings by Elizabeth Anderson, Donella Meadows, and others — was that if the right leverage points were pushed at the right times, the value system of society would transform. It wouldn’t happen immediately. It wouldn’t be one thing that did it. But bit by bit it was possible. The key question: where to start.
Like everyone else, those of us here at the Bento Society have spent the past month wrapping our heads around our new reality. We’ve whiplashed between comfort and fear, between optimism and pessimism. We’ve largely stayed balanced thanks to the bento and its bird’s eye view.
The moment has placed increased importance on the bento. I speak from personal experience. I’ve turned to the framework more often the past month to make sense of our world. I’ve also been able to feel the presence of the Us and Future spaces in a way that was harder before.
I’m not alone. The number of people who have reached out asking for what the bento has to say about this moment is evidence of this. Those spaces are becoming more real to a lot of people. The notion that a world exists beyond our immediate self-interest has perhaps never been more clear.
In my personal newsletter I’ve shared some of my feelings — about our new normal and how this might create a new kind of collective consciousness — but it’s still too early to say much definitively. Events are still unfolding. There may be multiple false endings. We need a heightened sense of awareness to navigate this. That’s what we’ll talk about today.
Gas is cheap but nobody’s filling up.
Houses are full but streets are empty.
Businesses are dying while others can hardly keep up.
We’ve gone from juggling millions of things to the experiential austerity of the 19th century only with wifi.
This is our new normal.
When I was 10 years old growing up on a farm in rural Appalachia, I went for a walk with a group of friends.
As we walked up the overgrown driveway and by the crumbling barn behind my house, I heard a strange sound coming from the grass next to us.
I distinctly remember thinking two things at that moment: 1) that I’d never heard a sound like it before and 2) I still somehow knew it was a rattlesnake.
I turned towards the sound and saw a coiled-up rattlesnake hissing and shaking its tail just as I feared. We scampered away and called for our parents.
Hearing the sound then turning to see the rattlesnake is one of those childhood memories that’s stayed with me. I can easily replay it in my mind, and often do.
To this day I find myself wondering: how did I recognize that sound? What knowledge bank was I drawing from?
Today I want to share the most impactful use of the bento in my life so far. I do it every Sunday morning, and it’s noticeably changed how I use my time and energy. It can do the same for you.
I call it the Weekly Bento.
It all started on a Sunday morning last fall.
I’d written a book that had recently come out. On that morning I was feeling especially anxious. I wanted commercial success so badly I was open to any idea that might get me attention: livestreams, giveaways, you name it. Whatever it took.
In the beginning, there was the bento…
Now there’s a newsletter, too.
Welcome to the first monthly update from The Bento Society, the community and organization dedicated to the ideas of Bentoism.
The goal of Bentoism is to expand what we see as valuable and in our self-interest. We’ll get into what that looks like and how we might get there in updates to come.
The other night I was invited to dinner with several wealthy and powerful people. This is not a normal thing for me. During appetizers and drinks I was a wallflower, but opened up over the first course when my dinner companions asked what I did.
“I just wrote a book,” I responded.
“Interesting! What about?” they asked.
“How the world was overtaken by the belief that the right choice in any decision is whichever option makes the most money,” I replied. “My book tells the history of that idea and what we should do instead.”
A mix of expressions gree
“Arriving late at a performance, and seated in the center of the second row, I looked up and saw what I thought was an actor having a seizure onstage. Embarrassed for him, I lowered my eyes, and it wasn’t until the young man who’d brought me grabbed my arm and said, ‘Watch this guy!’ that I realized he was acting.”
— Pauline Kael on seeing Marlon Brando for the first time
We often underrate the value of normal.
We think normal means dull, average, or mediocre. Normal is unimaginative. Normal is being like everybody else.
Ads promise to save us from the tragedy of being normal. “Don’t be like them,” they say, “be like you.”
At school and in our careers we work hard to distinguish ourselves. We strive to be star performers, standouts,
Two weeks ago I sent an email about the dark forest theory of the internet. I used the dark forest theory to explain why we’re afraid to be public online, and what we could be losing as a result.
I first connected the dark forest theory and the internet earlier this year when I had a strange realization: that I knew how to be myself in real life, but I didn’t know how to be myself on the internet.
In “real life” I’m a reasonably
In his sci-fi trilogy The Three Body Problem, author Liu Cixin presents the dark forest theory of the universe.
When we look out into space, the theory goes, we’re struck by its silence. It seems like we're the only ones here. After all, if other forms of life existed, wouldn't they show themselves? Since they haven’t, we assume there's no one else out there.
This is a talk about what happens when a culture is driven by the need for money to make more money.
A simple way to think about this is through real estate. Throughout history it has been advantageous to be a land owner, and today is no different. People make a lot of money buying, developing, and selling land. Even after the crash of 2008, commercial real estate has climbed again.
As investors and developers churn through properties, there’s a significant impact on the communities that actually live and work there. For families and neighborhood businesses, they must significantly increase how much money they make or they have to leave. No matter their importance to their community, they can’t stay if they can’t pay. And few can.