Journal — December 25, 2016 — organization, home, learning
Something important happened, over the last half-century, in the interactions between the United States and Japan.
Through memetic commingling,I’m not going to go into analysis of how or why this happened, or what came from the US, what from Japan, and what from other nations that were involved. One way or another, something new came out of it. Just blame plasmids and move on. a certain set of beliefs, values, behaviors, and other bits and pieces of culture developed. These bits and pieces fit together very well, and collectively operate in a way that they are self-reinforcing, so that it makes sense to talk about them all as one thing. I call this one thing kaizen culture.
“Kaizen” means “improvement”. It’s an ordinary Japanese word, which became a corporate buzzword in connection with the Toyota Production System, which led to lean manufacturing, and, later, agile software development. All these organizational systems and resource management methods are part of kaizen culture, and they can’t be disconnected from the worldview that shaped them – which is also the worldview that shaped me.
In this context, “kaizen” doesn’t only mean “improvement”. There are connotations attached. It means continuous, holistic, objectiveAn objective good is still good in every frame of reference. This is a philosophically questionable idea, like every other idea. improvement, through the accumulation of small changes in a self-modifying process.
In late 2014, I had to make a difficult decision. I had just made a couple attempts at founding a new culture, and both fell apart so quickly that it was clear I needed to take another route. So, I knew I wanted to join an existing project, next, no matter whether I would stay in it for a few years or a few decades. The only question was: which one?
I had three obvious options to choose from:
- The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI)
- Open Source Ecology (OSE)
- Tamera Peace Research Center (Tamera)
MIRI was the most direct path I could take.MIRI’s founder, Eliezer Yudkowsky, also started LessWrong, which was my primary exposure to kaizen culture during my teenage years. This guy influenced me more than I care to admit. An organization aimed directly at ensuring the first strong AI is friendly? That’s pretty on-the-nose. However, I’d already had years of experience with transhumanist culture, and it seemed clear that the people in it – myself included – were functionally disabled.
Some critical elements for psychological health were missing. I couldn’t name what those elements were, but I could see the same pattern of symptoms in everyone I met in that culture. Akrasia,Searching for “akrasia” on LessWrong yields over two thousand results, as of now. anhedonia, depression, dysmorphia, and so on. Different individuals would manifest different symptoms in different degrees, but, one way or another, nearly everyone was unable to mobilize themselves to physically act in the world. They were generally brilliant, crystal-clear in their thinking, but that didn’t matter because they couldn’t really do anything.Being a brain in a vat is a very common fantasy in this demographic. I had it, myself. That was what we wanted to be, so that’s how we acted.
OSE, however, was actually making measurable progress. For years, it’d seemed to me that, whatever sickness it was that afflicted the transhumanist culture,It wasn’t only there that I saw it, actually. It was only more extreme. The dissociation between mind and body seemed to be a common trait in indo-european cultures in general. the cure is to set life on another material foundation: one where the processes underlying one’s health and livelihood are immediately graspable, and can be engaged with in a direct physical way, rather than being distributed all over the world and so complex as to be humanly incomprehensible.
I independently imagined the same vision that drives OSE: a set of tools that, collectively, provide both (a) everything you need to grow food, build housing, and so on, and (b) everything you need to manufacture any of the tools in the set, from raw materials. I called this set of tools “infrastructure infrastructure”, i.e., infrastructure for the creation of infrastructure.
The only trouble was, it looked to me like OSE wasn’t really developing infrastructure infrastructure, in practice. They were active, which was an improvement, but the work they were doing, by its nature, could never actually achieve the vision they had. It isn’t enough to eat your own dog food.Dogfooding is a great term. You still have wiggle room, then; you have space for egoic arbitrariness, allowing you to avoid the difficult parts. A profound project is only possible when it’s connected to a profound need, and that need can’t be outside of the project. The work has to be done by the same people who need it.
Tamera had the same issue, which was already visible before I visited, earlier that year. Still, I chose Tamera in the end. It didn’t take long to decide; a month or two. The main thing was, Tamera was almost completely untouched by kaizen culture, and, likewise, I was almost completely untouched by Tamera’s culture. If you want to change the world, you have to mix different ingredients. Find the elements that have the most energetic reaction potential, and smoosh them into each other.
The reality is, in my life so far I’ve shared almost no time doing the things I love most together with others. I long to share a common kanban with coworkers, in a project with no schedule, only the continuous pull of itemized work from idea to completion. I want to live in a process that optimizes itself, elegantly self-modifying in every moment toward its own unattainable perfection. I want work and life to blur together. I want to be part of a system that evolves at the speed of dream, responding to the subtlest tension by fundamentally restructuring itself. A machine with no mechanism, a heuristic function made flesh.
I want each small task, and every gesture, to be carried out with the grace and care with which one would cradle the egg which holds the future – with the consciousness that this is the truth. That each moment is part of a bigger pattern, and that each pattern is part of yet bigger patterns, and that all these patterns can be changed. That we ourselves can change every pattern in which we live, no matter how vast or how deeply entrenched, simply by changing the way we carry out the smallest of our actions, in ordinary life, day by day. That each brush-stroke encodes the whole of our consciousness, and consciousness transforms the world.This idea is known as “the political theory”, in Tamera, and regarded as new and difficult to understand.
A kanban; just a kanban, full of tasks, the most mundane material of our lives, flowing in chaotic quantum leaps from the left to the right, gaining value all the time. Each task embodied in a little square, and each little square assigned to a name. One of those names is mine.
I really miss kaizen culture.Sinto saudade da minha cultura.