Our dominant cultures are based in the desire to transform complex nature into complicated objects for the sake of control. This, combined with the ever-increasing rate of change we are experiencing, is significantly hurting our ability to make sense of our worlds. The most fundamental life experience we have is the capacity to choose, but how do we choose well when we don't understand the contexts we live in and the objects we interact with every day? Endemic will never tell anyone what to choose, however we will support the development of participants' inner guidance and capacity to continually shift their paradigm to re-integrate their sensing, desires, and actions with the complex living world so that they can help grow a new, life-generating culture.
Many thousands of years ago, humans slowly transitioned from generally nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures to generally stationary agricultural societies. Although regional civilizations which shared culture and infrastructure existed before this transition1, the change enabled the rise of highly stratified, specialized societies that prioritized groups' abilities to predict, control, record, and reason about their environments' natural cycles to a greater degree than ever before. Dams and irrigation were built to control the flood patterns of large rivers. Writing was put to use to record and collect taxes. Class hierarchies became more differentiated and rigid. Inequality expanded. Matriarchies became less common, while patriarchies became more common. Even the Divine was transformed, eventually from localized and multiple spiritual agents embedded in sensory experiences and landscapes to more abstract figures that represented generalized character traits and eventually again to paternal gods who ruled alone or far above all others.
Similarly, and increasingly over recent history, global monoculture became more and more dominant.
Technological innovation built on technological innovation, more and more quickly empowering humans to have more and more control of their environments. The agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, and the cybernetic revolution all contributed to speed this process up even further. The future is coming faster and for 50 years it's already been cliche to say it's hard to handle.2
While many cultures from the far past until now do not demonstrate all of these characteristics, in terms of popularity and power, these did become the dominant features of cultures around the world.3
For the moment, let's hold off on judging these significant transitions as either good or bad (obviously the answer must be both, in different ways, at different times, for different people). Regardless of whether they ought to, some of the basic patterns underlying these transformations are now running their course. Our global civilization itself is coming to an end. Significantly, but not solely, this is due to the ongoing biodiversity loss and dangerously rising global temperatures caused by our recent habits of burning fossil fuels for energy and replacing mature ecosystems with cities and terraformed land. In addition to resource wars, mass migrations, and ecosystem collapse due to climate change, some of the potential proximate causes of the end of our current age may include social unrest due to unprecedented levels of inequality, the decline of institutional authority and effectiveness, increasingly easy access to increasingly dangerous weapons, and the accidental loss of control of automated systems that we come to rely on for more and more maintenance of our basic social and physical infrastructures.4
Major transformations, and even collapses, of complex societies are not new or uncommon events in human history (or in natural history). Almost all human cultures that have ever existed are now extinct, almost all species that have ever lived are as well. However, due to the deeply, globally entangled nature of complex societies today, the risks of anthropogenic planetary-scale collapse are profound and entirely unique.
We are clearly in a new transition out of the ways we have been human together in the relatively recent past. Yet this is not The End. There will almost certainly be a renewal, as there has been during every collapse and extinction event in the past. We aren't yet screwing up the world so badly that the bacterial basis of Gaia is irreparably damaged.
Some think this transition will lead to a new mode of economics or governance (equivalent to the move from feudalism to capitalism or the move from monarchies to parliamentary republics). Some think the transition will be deeper, transforming our basic modes of production, i.e. from hunter-gatherer to farmer to industrial worker to knowledge worker.5 There are even some, and we are in this camp, who think the transition we are in may be deeper still than that, at the scale of our identity as "humans," the relative eminence of language, and our understandings of the natures of time, change, and causality.6
It is not only that we expect these things to change; it is also that we wish to shape the ways they change to create a more beautiful world. Perhaps, and why shouldn't we aspire to this, one that is even more beautiful for more beings than the world has ever been. One that has more life, both literally in that there are more, and more diverse, living beings, but also that these beings experience more vitality, more depth and intimacy, more creativity than has been possible before. Endemic is fundamentally a learning culture, and our mission is to create a new culture of learning that prioritizes specific values that we think support humans in making this transition.
Let's bring the judgment back in. While societies from early agricultural to our contemporary digital world have brought many benefits, we believe that they have also accelerated negative characteristics that we now may have an opportunity to reform.
Over the past several thousand years we have increasingly dissociated ourselves from the basic cycles and relationships with "Nature," including our bodies and physical senses, out of which we grew and upon which we still depend. Widespread shame, depression and loneliness are the results of this loss of connection with our wild nature in a civilized society. Instead, we aim to encourage the transition to societies that, by coming back into deeper, mutually generative relationship with all natural organisms and rhythms, will once again feel like we are "at home," that we belong here, and that this place is ours to care for as we would a member of our family.7
As a learning culture, Endemic aims to influence several other contributing transformations directly:
Things are falling apart, and that's a good thing. Whereas others may set for themselves the goal of preventing civilizational collapse, our intention is rather to simultaneously 1) facilitate as harmonious a collapse as possible and 2) steward a culture that can contribute to the renewal of a healthier civilization that integrates the virtues of both intrinsic participation in the life-generative patterns of nature and their intelligent, conscious stewardship for even more life.
Endemic is a developmental community that aims to curate a smooth path from our current superficial culture, through collapse, to a more authentic, more practical, healthier, more experimental culture on the other side, and that honors where people are on that path and encourages them to continue deepening into it.
— the Endemic team
1. Mann, C. C. (2011, June). The Birth of Religion. National Geographic. Retrieved February 15, 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/gobeki-tepe.
2. Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. Random House US.
3. Eisler, R. T. (2019). The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, our Future. New York: Harper & Row.; Lent, J. R. (2017). The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.; McGilchrist, I. (2019). The Master and his Emissary the Divided Brain and the Making of the Western world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
4. A growing field of researchers are grappling with the histories and possible features of this civilizational collapse. Scholars generally fall into rough camps, including those who 1) do not think collapse is happening, 2) that it might happen in the future, 3) that it will happen but that we are not there yet, 4) that it is happening and we are in the early stages, and 5) that it is happening and we are significantly into the process, but that we have not yet seen the worst effects and do not know how deep it's going to go. cf. Diamond, J. M. (2011). Collapse how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York: Penguin.; Turchin, P. (2018). Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall. Princeton University Press.; Tainter, J. A. (1990). The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press.; Ord, T. (2020). The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. Hachette Books.; Bendell, J. (2018). "Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy." IFLAS Occasional Paper 2.; Orlowski, J. (Director). (2020). The Social Dilemma [Film]. Exposure Labs.; Russell, S. (2020). Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control. Penguin Books.
5. Karatani, K., & Bourdaghs, M. K. (2014). The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. Duke University Press Books.
6. Roy, B. (unpublished essay). "Time, Change, Causality: Notes Toward a Metamorphosis of Mind."
7. Anderson, K. M. (2013). Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources. University of California Press.