I imagine two worlds. By world I mean something like worldview, cognitive lens, basic understanding, headspace.
The first world is the subject of Tainter’s analysis of the collapse of complex civilization: it is the systems of complex problem-solving solutions that are rumbling towards negative ROI of complexity — in a word, collapse. This is not strictly speaking status quo; this world is inclusive of new and innovative solutions to the problems that we are faced with. Critically and perhaps definitively, it is a world that is invested in its own perpetuation – survival as a cohesive socioeconomic entity is its explicit goal (telos, if you will). It denies End and views itself as the culmination of history.
The second world is different – it is reality minus the first world. It is everything that is outside of the first world, and the interstitial spaces that exist between chunks of the first world. It’s questionable whether or not this second world strictly speaking exists – I think it might be a phantom world like China Mieville’s Orciny from The City & The City, a place that exists in space but is constructed inside our minds.
The critical distinction is that this second world is more fundamental than the first: it is the human species, and the biological and mineral world that we live in, and the physical relationships between every element. It is the dynamic non-deterministic reality of our existence. As such is has no particular allegiance to the current socioeconomic system and holds the first world’s denial of its own historicity as a trivially obvious error.
This second world assigns no moral values to cycles; or, more appropriately, it assigns no moral values to the material consequences of cycles. It is cognizant of (and in fact, celebratory of) the fundamental cycles. The hydrological cycle, the carbon cycle, the cycle of individual death and life, and the cycle of complex human organization – what we call civilization. The ebb and flow of energy and matter and experience.
This second world also thinks in terms of deep time. Decades, centuries, millenia.
The second world is not aloof. It is disturbed by the threats to the cohesion of the cycles. It is a world that celebrates the beauty of the experience of reality. It has little particular interest nor investment in ideologies — phenomena described by such words as democracy, capitalism/socialism, corporatism, plutocracy, bureaucracy, industrialism. These are curiosities that more often than not obfuscate understanding or direct experience of physical reality.
This second world is concerned with a different category of phenomena. Love, health, joy, meaningful experience, beauty (especially beauty), quality, authenticity, creation, fulfillment, justice, dikaiosune, balance, the proper functioning of things.
My idea is not that the second world has no relationship to the more ephemeral phenomenon (such as, say, the Supreme Court, or the politics that governs the fresh water delivery infrastructure to Los Angeles), but that it is capable of seeing above, beyond, and around these phenomena. It is capable of asking not just “How do we fix this,” but also “Should this be fixed?” It’s capable of asking not just “How do we solve this problem,”, but also “Should this problem be solved? Should the circumstances that created this problem even exist?”
Furthermore, the second world is capable in ways that the first world is not of questioning whether or not any given action is valuable. Value in this sense is defined in terms of support of phenomena (beauty, love, justice, etc) over time (deep time).
The second world is an evaluative framework for extrinsically meaningful work. By meaningful I mean; work that is not ensconced within myopic systems of doomed and destructive infrastructures. A world system currently exists that is collapsing under the weight of its own complexity and the limits of the physical world it has arrogantly denied the existence of. Propping up systems within that system will have short-term results and ultimately change nothing for the better.
It is the work taking place independent of the first world – work that is not dependent on interrelated vastly complex systems of material and social flow relationships – that has any hope of persistence and relevance through deep time.
It is the work that aims and succeeds at nourishing and protecting the material cycles, the social cycles, biological cycles, that will succeed in protecting and impacting the fundamental phenomena of beauty, and authenticity, and quality, and proper functioning of things.
The wisdom and foresight to accurately know which actions and intentions belong to the first world and which belong to the second world, of course, is quite non-trivial.