“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
Interviews, essays, and research exploring the frontiers of what's valuable and in our self-interest
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.
“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
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
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.)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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?
“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.