Luke Robert Mason: You’re lis­ten­ing to the Futures Podcast with me, Luke Robert Mason.

On this episode I speak to co-founder of Kickstarter and author, Yancey Strickler.

It’s large­ly my the­o­ry that the post-internet inno­va­tion won’t be like AR or AI or what­ev­er; anoth­er tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. I think the rev­o­lu­tion after the inter­net is consciousness—human con­scious­ness. The net­worked organ­ism of all of us. I don’t mean that in a sin­gu­lar­i­ty kind of way.
Yancey Strickler, excerpt from interview

Yancey shared his insights into the dan­gers of finan­cial max­imi­sa­tion, why we should give greater con­sid­er­a­tion to our future selves, and how we can cre­ate a more abun­dant society.

This episode is an edit­ed ver­sion of a recent live stream event. You can view the full, unedit­ed ver­sion of this con­ver­sa­tion at future​spod​cast​.net.

Luke Robert Mason: Now the mod­ern world is defined by a val­ues sys­tem that has nar­rowed into a mon­ey obsessed con­di­tion. In his new book, This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World, Yancey Strickler argues that our focus on max­imis­ing finan­cial gain has led to a short term deci­sion mak­ing that pri­ori­tis­es what we want and what we need, right now. This is fast becom­ing dis­rup­tive to soci­ety, but it does­n’t have to be this way. By giv­ing a greater con­sid­er­a­tion to our future selves, the peo­ple who rely on us and the next gen­er­a­tion, we can all find ways to cre­ate a new soci­ety focused on abun­dance for all.

So, Yancey, I want to kick off by ask­ing you—I guess—the obvi­ous ques­tion: why decide to write not just a book, but a manifesto?

Yancey Strickler: Um, it’s a great ques­tion. I sort of found me, more than I start­ed out. My life before Kickstarter was that I was a music crit­ic, a music jour­nal­ist. My whole life, all I real­ly cared about was writ­ing. Becoming an entre­pre­neur was an unex­pect­ed side track. I stepped down as the CEO of Kickstarter almost three years ago, and was­n’t sure what the next project was going to be, but dur­ing the last few years at Kickstarter we’d spent a lot of time think­ing about the macro-economic cli­mate that the com­pa­ny resided in. This led us to become a pub­lic ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion. To reclas­si­fy Kickstarter from a clas­sic for prof­it cor­po­ra­tion to a pub­lic ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion as a legal struc­ture in the United States—where I live—where a com­pa­ny must bal­ance share­hold­er val­ue with pro­duc­ing a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit to soci­ety. This is a legal stan­dard. That move was a long time com­ing for us, and let us do a lot to research and bet­ter under­stand what these expec­ta­tions were for for prof­it companies.

For us—artists and acci­den­tal entre­pre­neurs who turned into founders of an impor­tant tech company.

Seeing that water that we swam in, feel­ing how dif­fer­ent our own val­ue sys­tem was from it just made me very aware of the incen­tive struc­ture that com­pa­nies live within—that most star­tups and for prof­it com­pa­nies live inside of. How, even if you’re someone—say like me and a lot of people—who are try­ing to do the right thing’, it’s quite dif­fi­cult. The sys­tems are opti­mised for very spe­cif­ic out­comes. The out­come that dom­i­nates over and over is what­ev­er choice pro­duces the most mon­ey. The lit­mus test, the secret code that runs the world is that the right answer in any deci­sion is whichev­er option makes the most mon­ey. If you apply that lens to how the world oper­ates, the world starts to seem a lot more rational.

A lot of the ways that reg­u­lar peo­ple are screwed are extreme­ly prof­itable. Forcing peo­ple to raise their incomes through debt rather than through pay­ing them more mon­ey increas­es the mon­ey sup­ply, and you get inter­est on that mon­ey after the fac­tors. There are all sorts of ways that it makes sense if you just imag­ine that the end result of every deci­sion is some­one mak­ing more mon­ey than they would in anoth­er path. So, I want­ed to under­stand the his­to­ry of that idea, and I want­ed to under­stand the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­nings of it. I felt that through Kickstarter—both what the com­pa­ny did and how we approached the struc­ture of the company—it was obvi­ous to me that there were oth­er paths avail­able. The notion that all options fun­nel down to this one way, that all ideas must be opti­mised for prof­it maximisation—that’s just absurd. That’s sim­ply the first and most pow­er­ful fun­nel that exists, but it’s not going to be the last one.

Even our shift to becom­ing a PBC, and even the notion of crowd­fund­ing, where ideas are being sup­port­ed not for finan­cial self-interest, not for self­ish ratio­nal” rea­sons, but to help some­one. To be a part of some­thing, for all sorts of valid rea­sons and val­ues that are also real, and that also dri­ve human behav­iour, and that get lost in a prof­it dom­i­nat­ed world.

I was moti­vat­ed by my own per­son­al expe­ri­ence and also just a real belief that these are all things that are change­able, because this ide­ol­o­gy entered the blood­stream more recent­ly than we think. Many of us have watched this change hap­pen in our life­times, which says that this change in this world that we live in is imper­ma­nent. It can evolve some­where else, espe­cial­ly if we have a con­scious vision of what that some­where else should be.

Mason: That idea of finan­cial maximisation—that’s real­ly the prob­lem that’s at the core of this book. I just won­der: how does this idea of finan­cial max­imi­sa­tion, how does it real­ly encom­pass the entire predica­ment we find our­selves in, in soci­ety today?

Strickler: You know the way I talk about being made aware of it was: I used to live in New York City, lived in New York for 20 years. In the low­er East side, where I lived, there was an old place called Mars Bar. It was a punk dive bar that had been there for­ev­er. One day, it got torn down and replaced by a new bank, a TD bank branch. At the time, there were already three oth­er branch­es of this exact same bank with­in a 15 minute walk of that same cor­ner. I lived right around the cor­ner from it and could­n’t under­stand why this was hap­pen­ing. It was like there was this virus infect­ing the neigh­bour­hood overnight, just flip­ping store­fronts into chains. I learned that more than 1000 bank branch­es opened across New York City over these years, shut­ting down local businesses.

What is the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this? I, as some­one who lives in the neigh­bour­hood, prob­a­bly lose out in that sit­u­a­tion. Mom-and-pop shops clos­ing is a neg­a­tive for the neigh­bour­hood, so what is the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion? The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is real-estate spec­u­la­tion. The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is large mort­gage pay­ments that have to be remade and those get forced on small­er busi­ness­es who can’t remake it and then it even­tu­al­ly splits over to chains who can afford to pay that amount of money.

Basically, the rea­son why cer­tain things die and cer­tain things sur­vive, the rea­son why entre­pre­neur­ship has shrunk and the mar­ket caps of com­pa­nies have risen, is because every­thing has oper­at­ed accord­ing to this phi­los­o­phy, which is sim­ply try­ing to amass eco­nom­ic pow­er, using that eco­nom­ic pow­er to change the rules in your favour, to encour­age more of a monop­o­lis­tic envi­ron­ment, and to more and more secure a mar­ket share, to secure a mine share. In the book, I show how this is a process that began in the 1970s with the finan­cial­i­sa­tion of the econ­o­my. You could see the cul­tur­al change—and that is what I think is real­ly profound.

I show a study that UCLA here in the United States has done for about 50 years. Every year, they inter­view incom­ing col­lege fresh­man, 18 and 19 year olds. They ask them about their goals in life. One of the goals in life has to do with mon­ey; being well off finan­cial­ly. In 1970, the per­cent­age of col­lege fresh­men who said being rich was essen­tial, or very impor­tant, was just 28%. The most impor­tant life goal that year—1970—was to devel­op a mean­ing­ful phi­los­o­phy on life”, with 84% of col­lege stu­dents say­ing that was essen­tial or very impor­tant. The most recent year that the study came out, in 2017, the per­cent­age of col­lege fresh­men who said that being rich was essen­tial or very impor­tant was 82%. The per­cent­age who said hav­ing a mean­ing­ful phi­los­o­phy of life was less than half. If you chart all 15 val­ues that are being asked each year, the growth in belief in being rich is by far the biggest change. The desire to become an artist, the desire to have a fam­i­ly and the desire to excel in your career are all fair­ly con­stant. This belief in wealth has real­ly grown.

I think the val­ue sys­tem of soci­ety shift­ed from moral values—beliefs of what is right and wrong—to eco­nom­ic val­ue. Something that is trade­able, own­able, uni­ver­sal, and that is exploitable and gives pow­er. It gives indi­vid­ual pow­er and rein­forces an indi­vid­u­al­is­tic cul­ture. To me, that has been the shift. The pow­er of human­is­tic values—those things have all shift­ed to eco­nom­ic val­ue. We’re rely­ing on price and mon­ey to basi­cal­ly be the proxy for every­thing else. We’ve been told that if we do that long enough, then in every way it’ll even­tu­al­ly work itself out. The prices, the mar­kets will set­tle things out. But you know, we’re 50 years into this experiment.

Mason: You men­tion the 1970s but part­ly, was­n’t it the RAND Corporation and the emer­gence of game the­o­ry that real­ly forced this idea of how we should build busi­ness­es and society?

Strickler: Yeah, I mean game the­o­ry was real­ly impor­tant for a cou­ple of rea­sons. This was devel­oped at the RAND Corporation after World War II to strate­gise for the Cold War. Game the­o­ry is sim­ply a math­e­mat­i­cal process that lets you see basi­cal­ly every out­come; out­comes on out­comes, how events might change.

The chal­lenge with game the­o­ry is that it pre­sumes that inter­ac­tions are com­pet­i­tive and are not coop­er­a­tive; that inter­ac­tions are a zero sum. Basically, what game the­o­ry nets out is that the ratio­nal desire for an indi­vid­ual in any sort of sce­nario is to max­imise their per­son­al self-interest. This is where you get things like pris­on­er’s dilem­ma where you’re taught that the ratio­nal choice for your self-interest is to rat out a friend because that is what sat­is­fies your imme­di­ate needs. This, which is an extreme­ly valid math­e­mat­i­cal con­cept, got applied more broad­ly as a philo­soph­i­cal defense of indi­vid­u­al­ism, and of the notion that we have shared respon­si­bil­i­ties as a fic­tion. That’s some­thing that they’re just telling you to do to try and con­trol you, but in real­i­ty we’re all indi­vid­u­als and we have no respon­si­bil­i­ty for any­one or any­thing else. This is what Thatcher rep­re­sent­ed. A lot of the per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty move­ment is real­ly about—it’s all about the indi­vid­ual and there is no col­lec­tive oblig­a­tion. Really, that mind­set is about free­ing those who have resources from hav­ing any oblig­a­tion. It’s try­ing to negate that cul­tur­al val­ue of look­ing after your neighbour.

The way I’ve come to visu­alise it: in tech we have tech stacks. You have your data­base, you have your back-end archi­tec­ture, your front-end archi­tec­ture. Then final­ly, you have your graph­ic inter­face for the end user. I think val­ues func­tion the same way. At the bot­tom layer—the data­base level—there are cul­tur­al and moral val­ues and beliefs. The things that you believe are right and wrong, that are unique to you and your soci­ety. But built on top of those cul­tur­al val­ues, are rules, laws and norms. Laws are an expres­sion of our cul­tur­al beliefs, the rea­son why we say cer­tain things are right and wrong is a reflec­tion of some deep­er moral core. Finally, built on top of those rules and laws are met­rics and incen­tives. How do we mea­sure the out­comes of our expres­sions of value?

Each of these lay­ers onto the next. Moral-cultural, rules on top of that, and met­rics and incen­tives on top of that. What’s hap­pened over the past 40 years is that the incen­tive lay­er, which today is mon­ey, has got­ten all of the pow­er. Incentives are being used to rewrite the rules. The rules are being used to reset cul­tur­al val­ues, and instead of being a soci­ety ori­ent­ed from a moral/cultural val­ue space and build­ing on top of that, we’ve become a soci­ety root­ed on an incen­tive lay­er. We’re reverse engi­neer­ing our world around that. To me, the chal­lenge is: How do you change that cultural/moral lev­el at the deep­est root lev­el? Because if you change at the root lev­el, oth­er things start to build and cas­cade from there.

The the­o­ry I come up with in the book—which is about expand­ing how we define self inter­est, and expand­ing how we define value—to me is that cultural/moral change, where that sense of oblig­a­tion changes from just now indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, short term indi­vid­u­al­ism which is the reli­gion of the West today, to some­thing that is more active­ly aware. If you look at his­to­ry, you could argue that human his­to­ry has been a pro­gres­sion of con­scious­ness. A rais­ing of con­scious­ness. To me, the next log­i­cal exten­sion of con­scious­ness is to the net­work; to each oth­er. That is a reflec­tion of how the tech­nol­o­gy is chang­ing us and as some­thing like what we’re going through now shows us, it’s also just true—that we do have tremen­dous influ­ence on one another.

These are all visualisations—kind of a UI—to imag­ine what is a very com­pli­cat­ed process. But I think some­thing like that is what has changed, and I think that’s how it changes again.

Mason: To a degree, all of that has led us to define val­ue through these very sim­ple things. In the West—or across the world in fact—it’s GDP. We use GDP as the only effec­tive mea­sure of val­ue. But as you say in the book, in actu­al fact GDP is a very inef­fec­tive way to mea­sure value.

Strickler: Yeah, it’s a great proxy for the things it’s meant to mea­sure. It cer­tain­ly has a wealth, has a rela­tion­ship to oth­er traits and qual­i­ties, but the notion that you aim for some­thing that is, at best, a pos­si­bly dis­tant proxy of what is actu­al­ly impor­tant, I think is prob­lem­at­ic. This is where you’re see­ing the par­a­digm shift begin­ning to hap­pen. With New Zealand, Iceland, Finland and Scotland all shift­ing to nation­al gov­ern­ments ori­ent­ed around human well­be­ing; try­ing to numer­i­cal­ly and math­e­mat­i­cal­ly define what that is; to define the spheres of well­be­ing that states must think about; the spheres that mar­kets will think about. To me, that is absolute­ly the right kind of change com­ing. Amsterdam is shift­ing towards Kate Raworth’s dough­nut eco­nom­ics ori­ent­ing its city gov­ern­ment. All of these are states led by women who are embrac­ing what, to me, is a more active­ly aware and holis­tic notion of val­ue and of self. To me, it’s a pro­gres­sion. It’s not refut­ing the impor­tance of GDP; it’s not refut­ing the impor­tance of wealth. It’s yes, end­ing it, it’s build­ing on top of it. History is build­ing on top of it. History is not rev­o­lu­tions and rip­ping off the last thing and replac­ing it with some­thing new. Generally, we build on top of what’s there.

The rea­son why I think this pro­gres­sion of exten­sion of self-interest and expan­sion of val­ue is because it’s still a pro­gres­sive world. We are still grow­ing, we’re just learn­ing to grow dif­fer­ent types of val­ue rather than just finan­cial val­ue. It’s still let­ting us have that tar­get to work towards, and so I think that there is a wide­spread feeling—really because of how exag­ger­at­ed the past 20 years have been, economically—there’s a much stronger feel­ing that there’s a need for a shift, that the anom­alies of this sys­tem that we’re in have added up for too long. So you see peo­ple will­ing to take a chance.

What’s excit­ing about this is the tech­no­log­i­cal moment that we’re in. The amount of data, things we’re able to mea­sure. The amount of ways that we inter­act with one anoth­er that we’re bet­ter able to see and per­ceive makes the embrace of new forms of val­ue or the mea­sure­ment of new kinds of inter­ac­tions pos­si­ble, for the first time ever. At any oth­er point in his­to­ry, how would you pos­si­bly mea­sure things like this, or how would you define them? You would have month-long syn­cret­ic dia­logue on what loy­al­ty means. Today, loy­al­ty is maybe some­thing that a team spends a year try­ing to cre­ate the right algo­rithm to try and define a loy­al inter­ac­tion when they see one. So that is sort of where we are now, and how tech­nol­o­gy and val­ue are going to inter­act. I believe what it will even­tu­al­ly pro­duce is some­thing that we may grow to call post-capitalism.Where we are cre­at­ing trans­ac­tions, green­light­ing projects based on the growth of val­ues on top of finan­cial val­ue. Projects will have to meet some finan­cial min­i­mum but real­ly, they’re opti­mis­ing for a com­mu­ni­ty ben­e­fit or a sus­tain­abil­i­ty ben­e­fit, or some pro-social ben­e­fit. This is some­thing that we’ll be able to do intel­li­gent­ly and ratio­nal­ly. It won’t be a polit­i­cal choice—it’ll be some­thing that we all see as value-creating.

Mason: What are some of those val­ues that you think we should actu­al­ly pri­ori­tise? Instead of pure­ly mon­ey and finance, what would you like us to see prioritise?

Strickler: I mean, the ones I would think about are: Fairness—fairness is a real­ly inter­est­ing thing to think about. To try and cal­cu­late the fair­ness of sys­tems. If you try to think about the dis­tri­b­u­tion of social goods from the per­spec­tive of fair­ness, it gets into a lot of inter­est­ing ques­tions about deserv­abil­i­ty. I think you get into inter­est­ing reverse Dutch auc­tions of need with abil­i­ty to pay. Fairness is one that’s impor­tant to think about.

Certainly, the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of our prac­tices. If there’s a lan­guage that we devel­op to know for how long we can con­tin­ue doing some­thing that we’re doing.

Purpose: a sense of pur­pose, a sense of con­sis­tent­ly work­ing towards some­thing. To me, one of the hard­est things as an indi­vid­ual or as a com­pa­ny: You can know where you want to go, but how can you con­sis­tent­ly make choic­es in that direc­tion over time? Some way of guid­ing you towards that end.

Awareness is some­thing that’s inter­est­ing. The abil­i­ty for us to under­stand how much we’re per­ceiv­ing or not perceiving.

But in the book, the exam­ple that I write about that is being used today and that I think is the type of very spe­cif­ic appli­ca­tion is Adele dis­trib­ut­ing con­cert tick­ets using a loy­al­ty algo­rithm. Adele try­ing to break scalpers reselling tick­ets for hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars more, and using an algo­rithm that would approx­i­mate how loy­al a fan was to her as an artist, and to dis­trib­ute tick­ets based on the top per­centile in each mar­ket. There’s a dystopi­an ver­sion of this which is the Chinese social cred­it sys­tem, where you don’t get into a restau­rant or some­thing unless your loy­al­ty score is so-high. There’s a utopi­an ver­sion of this which is that Adele cre­at­ed a post-capitalist trans­ac­tion that solves a finan­cial min­i­mum and then opti­mis­es for a non-financial max­i­mum, on top of that. In that way it’s not an altru­is­tic choice, it’s a value-maximising choice, but just with a dif­fer­ent frame­work of val­ue that we cur­rent­ly think about.

I think that there are a cou­ple of oth­er exam­ples that have hap­pened recent­ly. One was in the US: the peo­ple that pro­vide the SATs which is a stan­dard­ised test that any­one going into col­lege takes. They had built an algo­rithm to try and build a hard­ship score where they would analyse a stu­den­t’s back­ground to change their score based on their per­son­al hard­ship. To me, that was a fas­ci­nat­ing attempt to do this. You’re see­ing that kind of thing, how do we mea­sure these social inter­ac­tions that we have? I don’t know if it’ll ever get to be as clear as that Pitchfork album score—“this is a 9.1 and I should check this out” or what­ev­er, but I think we’ll get to a notion of what is harm­ful and what is help­ful, to dif­fer­ent spaces of val­ue. A bank going into a neigh­bour­hood and replac­ing a local gro­cer can be judged as neg­a­tive and viewed from a wider set of val­ue per­spec­tives than who can pay the most rent.

Mason: The great thing about you, Yancey, is that you’ve had first hand expe­ri­ences of try­ing to get peo­ple to rethink what they val­ue. The exam­ple of that is Kickstarter. In what way did the for­ma­tion of Kickstarter and all of the lessons you learnt whilst build­ing and run­ning Kickstarter con­tribute to the cen­tral the­sis in this book?

Strickler: Tremendously. Tremendously. The core con­ceit of Kickstarter from the very begin­ning was…it was Perry Chen, who first had the idea for Kickstarter. Perry had had the idea for crowd­fund­ing and we start­ed think­ing about how this would work for cre­ative projects, because that’s the world that we both came from. It was just so obvi­ous that in the world of the ear­ly 2000s, if you were a film­mak­er or a musi­cian or a writer, you’re going to a book pub­lish­er, a record label, a film studio—a giant corporation—and you’re try­ing to con­vince them that you’re going to be a hit. That them putting mon­ey into your project will make them mon­ey. You go into a room and you’re look­ing to sell them on that fact, and you’re look­ing to con­tort your idea to meet their expec­ta­tions. This is what you’re expect­ed to do as an artist, if you don’t do that then you’re screwed. If you don’t do that, then you’ll have to rely on per­son­al wealth or you go into debt, or it just takes you a real­ly long time to do any­thing. So we were very struck by the notion that the whole cre­ative indus­try func­tioned on this idea: that the only good ideas were prof­itable ones; were ones that were like­ly to be prof­itable. That said, they did­n’t even per­form that well to begin with either, they had plen­ty of misses.

The notion of Kickstarter was: if you pro­vide a place where peo­ple can con­tribute to an idea and there is no hope of finan­cial upside—because from the very begin­ning we say, If you put mon­ey into a project you don’t get mon­ey in return. You get a copy of what’s made. You get to be a part of it. You get a social cred­it but you don’t get a finan­cial credit.”—that peo­ple will still do that. In fact, a greater diver­si­ty of projects and ideas will be fund­ed, if the rea­sons for fund­ing encom­pass a broad­er swath of pos­si­ble rea­sons oth­er than just finan­cial motives. A Kickstarter project is fund­ed because the neigh­bour­hood needs it; because it’s a cool tech and peo­ple who know tech­nol­o­gy think it’s rad; because the cre­ator is cute; because they did good things in the past; because they’ve earned some loy­al­ty. It’s a mul­ti­tude of rea­sons, none of which are finan­cial upside.

So, through that, five bil­lion dol­lars, almost, has changed hands for irra­tional projects—from any eco­nom­ic per­spec­tive. 150,000 ideas. It com­plete­ly changes the eco­nom­ic par­a­digm of why mon­ey should change hands. So, to me that real­ly showed, num­ber one: that the rea­sons for act­ing are far broad­er than we think, and that cre­at­ing space for oth­er rea­sons for action is incred­i­bly beneficial—a lot of dif­fer­ent things can hap­pen. Number two: the expe­ri­ence I had of watch­ing the world react to Kickstarter and watch­ing this idea become some­thing that peo­ple real­ly believed in was real­ly eye open­ing to me, because I kept wait­ing for some group of suits and a clip­board to come by and knock on our door and check that we met all the stan­dards for chang­ing things. I kept wait­ing for the peo­ple in charge to say, Alright you’re good, here’s your green stamp.”

The fact that the plat­form and the idea had such an effect real­ly scared me at first, because it made me realise that that prob­a­bly meant that most things were as change­able as this had been. That most things had prob­a­bly come to be in a sim­i­lar way that our thing had been. I sud­den­ly felt like the world was less sta­ble than I had thought it was.

Mason: What you were real­ly doing with Kickstarter is you chal­lenged the sta­tus quo. There are so many chal­lenges that come with chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo. I just won­der: how did peo­ple look at you back then, when you sug­gest­ed this new mod­el, and how—in the end—did you man­age to con­vince them?

Strickler: Well cre­ative peo­ple, artists, almost always got it. You would talk to some­one who’s an artist and say, Listen, you can go straight to your fans instead of going through a label.” Artists would be imme­di­ate­ly like, Yeah, total­ly.” Most of the first investors in Kickstarter were artists. We would pitch the idea, and some of them had done well enough that they were like, Do you want help doing this?” People who came from the busi­ness side—their reac­tion would always be, So I get a piece, right? If I put 20 grand into what­ev­er movie, I get a piece? If it’s a Blockbuster, I get a cut?” We’d explain, No—that was­n’t the inten­tion.” and that just made zero sense. Artists under­stood it, fans under­stood it. I knew I’d give what­ev­er amount of mon­ey to David Lynch to do what­ev­er he want­ed, and I’d be thrilled to do that. I’d be thrilled. But for peo­ple who did­n’t come from the art world, the mind­set would be more like…I mean some­one once said, Isn’t there already too much art in the world?” and so there is that kind of mindset.

What was amaz­ing is that, once it was out in pub­lic, it did­n’t imme­di­ate­ly take off. It was a slow build but it was imme­di­ate­ly val­i­dat­ed by cre­ative peo­ple look­ing at this and say­ing, Yeah, this is that thing I need­ed. This is the way I can do that project that’s going to cost six grand to do, that no way am I gonna put on my cred­it card. That’s like three mon­th’s rent—it’s hard for me to do that—but I also think it would be awe­some.” So it cre­at­ed this door. It ends up that there always need­ed to be a door but no one realised that. There, it just got very method­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed, and once it was out in the pub­lic no one was ask­ing for that finan­cial upside. That con­ver­sa­tion dis­ap­peared. That con­ver­sa­tion only exist­ed with try­ing to get mon­ey for peo­ple who have mon­ey. It’s those demands of those peo­ple that then inch their way into a start­up and inch their way down to a user, then cre­ate preda­to­ry terms of use. You know, it starts at such a high lev­el. It starts at that moral-cultural lev­el, right? It just reach­es all the way down and through.

Mason: I have to think of the exam­ple of Oculus Rift and what hap­pened when they were sold to Facebook, because then that entire mod­el was ques­tioned. You were so suc­cess­ful in chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, and then sud­den­ly this Kickstarter fund­ed project gets bought by a large cor­po­ra­tion like Facebook and it feels like every­body has a lit­tle chip on their shoul­der over the fact that they did­n’t get a cut of the bil­lions of dol­lars that sold to Facebook. What we began to see was us revert­ing back to those old val­ue sys­tems yet again. I think in the US—and cor­rect me if I’m wrong—you had some­thing called Regulation or Reg‑A, which was going to argue for the fact that peo­ple could put in small bits of mon­ey and get small bits of the com­pa­ny. Do you feel that this was the old sys­tem push­ing back on Kickstarter? That you were almost there with chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo, and yet the sta­tus quo chal­lenged you?

Strickler: Yeah, it was hard. When Oculus went up on Kickstarter, Palmer Luckey, the creator—he was lit­er­al­ly a teenag­er in his garage. It was a demo, and the video was all these great gamer peo­ple being like, I just tried this, holy shit.” It was awe­some. Then he built the tech­nol­o­gy that lived up to that. The Facebook acqui­si­tion was very chal­leng­ing. It was chal­leng­ing to the val­ue sys­tem, and it was hard. We would nev­er ask any­one to bind them­selves to cer­tain terms by using Kickstarter. Even if those terms said, You can’t revert to the old game.”—because even if you set any restric­tions it’s still kind of the old game. The oppor­tu­ni­ty there would have been for Oculus and Facebook to have found a way to acknowl­edge that. Where maybe, you say that, We get that legal­ly, this exist­ed in a dif­fer­ent kind of way, but we know that from a social per­spec­tive and the way that peo­ple feel about Oculus—how impor­tant this com­mu­ni­ty has been to Oculus—we’re going to try and do this oth­er step.” That was there for them. Knowing the Oculus founders, I’m sure that they would have liked for that to hap­pen, but you’re talk­ing about Facebook; a giant pub­licly trad­ed company.

It’s a clash of those val­ue sys­tems, and it shows which val­ue sys­tem is more pow­er­ful. It’s the one that writes the cheques, that still ulti­mate­ly has that pow­er. But it’s chang­ing, because…it’s a small thing, but I saw the video last week of the 17 year old kid who’s run­ning the biggest COVID-19 web­site data­base thing, and the fact he’s refus­ing to put any ads up. There’s still this don’t sell out mind­set that exists. Certainly a part of Kickstarter’s ethos comes from our back­ground in the music indus­try, and the cre­ative indus­tries. The Oculus moment was tough.

There is equi­ty crowd­fund­ing in the US—there’s a lot more of it in the UK, and it’s been much more suc­cess­ful in the UK than in the US. But gen­er­al­ly, here, the projects going out look­ing for mon­ey on those plat­forms tend to not be the most attrac­tive kinds of invest­ments. Community ori­ent­ed projects are great, but I think the notion that this could be the great democ­ra­tis­er or, You could be the angel investor in Facebook.”—which is what peo­ple were promising—I think that’s unlike­ly to hap­pen. To me, more like­ly than just con­tin­u­ing to expand the appli­ca­tion of the exist­ing par­a­digm of how mon­ey should be used which is: mon­ey should be used to max­imise more mon­ey—that instead the more inter­est­ing move is to jus­ti­fy the use of mon­ey for new reasons.

So basi­cal­ly, to me, I think the piv­ot that’s begin­ning to hap­pen now—and we’re see­ing it with the fund­ing into vac­cine research—is to see invest­ing finan­cial resources into the pro­duc­tion or growth of non-financial val­ues. It’s ratio­nal, and it’s some­thing that should be done. Only using mon­ey to fur­ther cre­ate more mon­ey is a very lim­it­ed notion of the use of a very use­ful tool. But yet, we trapped our­selves to where the only good ideas—like the world of cre­ative projects before Kickstarter—the only good ideas are the ones that can be the S&P annu­alised return. There’s still that invis­i­ble lit­mus test. That’s why PPE mate­r­i­al was­n’t being made fast enough; it just was­n’t quite prof­itable enough. You need these oth­er val­ue sys­tems, you need these oth­er ori­en­ta­tions to dri­ve behav­iour that prof­it ori­en­ta­tion isn’t going to speak to.

Mason: Do you think, in that case, it’s some­times less about chal­leng­ing our def­i­n­i­tion of val­ue, and instead chal­leng­ing our def­i­n­i­tion of suc­cess?Because in so many ways, suc­cess is very much tied to finan­cial wealth and gain­ing finan­cial resources. Do you think we should start with how we look at suc­cess in the world, before we start look­ing at value?

Strickler: I think those things are very tied because I think that behav­iour role mod­els do a tremen­dous amount to shift behav­iour. I feel like I watched—it’s a minor moment—but I feel like I watched the cul­tur­al role mod­el move from Julian Casablancas of The Strokes to Mark Zuckerberg. The height of cul­ture is to be a cre­ative per­son who does­n’t give a fuck—that’s like The Strokes. Then the height of cul­ture becomes to be a busi­ness per­son who does­n’t give a fuck, but who also makes lots and lots of mon­ey. I think that these role mod­els do a lot. They sort of draw a bulls-eye on the board.

If I look at the growth of the belief in being wealthy, I think you see a shift in those cul­tur­al values—but that is chang­ing. In that same UCLA poll, there’s been an emerg­ing answer of what is impor­tant, and that’s to be a val­ues entre­pre­neur.” which is their term they use for some­one who is try­ing to ship val­ues, whether that’s through activism, or start­ing a non-profit or what­ev­er it is that they want to do. But that is some­thing that is start­ing to enter the scene.

I think that suc­cess equalling being rich’ is a loud mes­sage that exists in the world today. I think the more apt mes­sage is: suc­cess equals secure’ and self-coherent.’ Secure at liv­ing in integri­ty with who you are and where you are in life. It’s pos­si­ble for all of us to achieve that. There’s us chas­ing this mov­ing tar­get of reach­ing a lev­el of finan­cial sat­is­fac­tion which will nev­er hap­pen in the way that we want it to, but that’s a dead-end street. That leads nowhere. Even for the rich­est per­son in the world, they look at their mon­ey like, All this mon­ey still needs to learn at least ten per­cent this year. This mon­ey does­n’t count.” It’s all about the com­pound­ing yet-to-come. I think we’ve just tied our­selves in this strange knot, but new kinds of voic­es are aris­ing. There’s def­i­nite­ly a new rise of solidarity—the con­cept of sol­i­dar­i­ty on young people.

COVID plays more into those kinds of emo­tions and feel­ings. I feel like we’ve already had the peak of individualism—near-term indi­vid­u­al­ism. We’re in the crum­bling of that empire at the moment. We’re shift­ing to some­thing more like a post-individualism, where yes—it’s incred­i­bly impor­tant that we’re all indi­vid­u­als and we all have some­thing spe­cial about us. At the same time, the fact that we’re all indi­vid­u­als and we all have some­thing spe­cial about us makes that less impor­tant. So, we can cel­e­brate our indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and cel­e­brate our shared traits. That’s a post-individualism. It’s not try­ing to put back in a box the fact that we’re all unique, it’s just say­ing, Yeah, but that’s not the great­est thing. It does­n’t stop there.”

The same thing with the shift to post-capitalism: the notion of finan­cial val­ue being the only val­ue, that every­thing must be pegged to that. If we max­imise that one val­ue set and then trans­late every­thing after the fact of work. Instead, we’re going to shift to post-capitalism where we acknowl­edge that the spec­trum of val­ue sets that we should be build­ing is larg­er than just finan­cial val­ue. Financial val­ue is absolute­ly crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant, but there are prob­a­bly four or five oth­ers that are just as impor­tant, and that we can very eas­i­ly learn to man­age a soci­ety in which we think about all of those things. This is just the lev­el of com­plex­i­ty, the lev­el we’ve grad­u­at­ed to just to just demands this of us. Shit’s gonna get a lit­tle hard­er, so what? We can han­dle this. Every busi­ness per­son han­dles this, every per­son han­dles this in their lives, and so this is that tran­si­tion moment, I believe.

Mason: You active­ly exper­i­ment­ed with rethink­ing val­ue by turn­ing Kickstarter into a pub­lic ben­e­fit corporation—a PBC as it’s known in the US. What made this dif­fer­ent from oth­er Silicon Valley com­pa­nies and what did you learn from the process of actu­al­ly turn­ing this organ­i­sa­tion into a pub­lic ben­e­fit corporation?

Strickler: Well we’ve always been pur­pose dri­ven. We always said from the begin­ning, We don’t want to sell out. We don’t want to try and go pub­lic.” Kickstarter’s suc­cess is in it being mean­ing­ful to the cre­ative com­mu­ni­ty over the long term, so that was always there. As a for-profit com­pa­ny, the legal expec­ta­tion was that we’d be max­imis­ing share­hold­er val­ue. As our lawyer would remind us from time to time, the fact that we spoke so loud­ly about the fact that we did­n’t do that put us at some the­o­ret­i­cal risk. In fact, if Kickstarter sur­vived to such a day that us as co-founders are no longer alive, and some­one else is run­ning the com­pa­ny, then the com­pa­ny can be how­ev­er shit­ty that per­son wants it to be. There’s noth­ing actu­al­ly lim­it­ing them from doing that. The fact the share­hold­ers at that point in time could say at that point in time, Hey, you must fire every­body and max­imise prof­its right now.” To pro­tect our­selves from that, we real­ly need­ed to put our­selves in the cat­e­go­ry that tru­ly rep­re­sent­ed who and what we are.

So this is when we learned that the pub­lic ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion designation—which just hap­pened in 2013—we learned about it just after Patagonia made this change. I was CEO and we made this shift, and our char­ter includes 1215 dif­fer­ent provisions—some of which are spe­cif­ic to the busi­ness. There’s one sec­tion that’s just like…let’s imag­ine a code of con­duct for a good busi­ness. Let’s imag­ine Goldman Sachs could fol­low this. This includ­ed things like a pledge that the com­pa­ny would nev­er use legal but eso­teric tax avoid­ance strate­gies; that the com­pa­ny would nev­er lob­by for pub­lic poli­cies that ben­e­fit­ed the cor­po­ra­tion but not our end users; that the com­pa­ny would nev­er try to claim legal rights from its users that it did­n’t need to oper­ate its busi­ness. All of these sorts of ways that were just like: what is the fair thing to do? We know that the law is absolute­ly tilt­ed in the favour of cor­po­ra­tions. We knew that we could take advan­tage in all these sorts of ways. What is the way that you like to lay down that sword and say, We’re com­ing to you as an hon­est per­son.” So there’s a lot of things like that.

What I did­n’t know at the time was: how much will this actu­al­ly change things on a prac­ti­cal lev­el? What I found is that it actu­al­ly had quite a mate­r­i­al impact. These were val­ues that we’ve cared about—the way that we thought about things. But in the past they were maybe like guardrails that you would bump into if you got a lit­tle astray. But instead, as a PBC, when they were in a char­ter of our legal­ly held respon­si­bil­i­ties, they felt more like things I was com­pelled to do. Things that we must do on a dai­ly basis. It’s not just, Don’t break this.”—it’s like, Actually, express this. Manifest this.” So the way that we thought about our respon­si­bil­i­ties as a com­pa­ny changed. We became much more activist. We’d always been more activist, we became even more so. We did things like cre­ate the Creative Independent, which is a com­plete­ly non-revenue pro­duc­ing project that ele­vates the voice of cre­ative peo­ple. We just tried to live up to this larg­er val­ue set, and tried to imag­ine our respon­si­bil­i­ty in a big­ger way. Kickstarter has seen noth­ing but ben­e­fit from that, noth­ing but ben­e­fit from that. It’s a strong sig­nal that you’re not a Silicon Valley com­pa­ny to the mar­ket. For the peo­ple that are most impor­tant to Kickstarter—the cre­ator com­mu­ni­ty; the backer community—it lets those peo­ple know that we’re not try­ing to get rich on their backs. You know who you’re deal­ing with here.

My per­son­al belief is that there’s about five thou­sand PBCs in America at this point, I believe. I don’t know that the PBC mod­el itself is going to grow, but I think that the PBC mind­set and expec­ta­tions are going to do a reverse takeover of C‑Corps. Eventually, every com­pa­ny in America is going to func­tion in this way. It’s going to hap­pen from mar­ket pres­sure. It’s going to hap­pen to try to appeal to a cer­tain work­force, to a cer­tain clien­tele and cus­tomer base. I think there’s a race to the top that’s hap­pen­ing there that’s going to put these non-financial respon­si­bil­i­ties and val­ues more and more into the hands of cor­po­ra­tions, in a way that is going to be what peo­ple have been agi­tat­ing for. Helping us to take more respon­si­bil­i­ty, on the one hand. On the oth­er hand, it might end up result­ing in com­pa­nies hav­ing even more pow­er. The bailouts, the stim­u­lus­es that have been hap­pen­ing here in the US…jobs are being destroyed by the mil­lions whilst stocks are going up by the bil­lions, and it’s because the changes that are hap­pen­ing are sim­ply rein­forc­ing that same pow­er struc­ture. Companies are get­ting stronger and stronger and stronger. That’s the macro game of this era, the Trump era. Companies are get­ting stronger. The state and oth­er insti­tu­tions are get­ting weaker—that’s why the stock mar­ket goes up. Companies are going to be tak­ing on more and more of that respon­si­bil­i­ty. It’s gonna get weird.

We might get to Proctor and Gamble spon­sor­ing house­wives around the world and pay­ing them a UPI to be ambas­sadors. I can imag­ine a world where com­pa­nies are pro­vid­ing UBIs to their most loy­al cus­tomers as a way to cre­ate brand pow­er. I think the lev­el of weird­ness that we’re going to head to—in terms of who steps up, espe­cial­ly when states fail to step up on these new fron­tier values—is real­ly going to reori­ent how we think about respon­si­bil­i­ty. I think it’s gonna get strange.

Mason: Do you real­ly think that UBI—Universal Basic Income—is a solu­tion? Or again, does that just feel like anoth­er byprod­uct of finan­cial max­imi­sa­tion? Would it be bet­ter to talk about things like Universal Basic Services?

Strickler: My instinct has been to think that the notion of UBI is very much a solu­tion of this finan­cial max­imi­sa­tion age, where the answer to a prob­lem is to give away mon­ey. It’s like the whole world is hon­ey, the answer is hon­ey, right? There’s a lit­tle bit of it that’s a reflec­tion of this time. I think of it as like: Can we guar­an­tee every­one the bot­tom two rungs of Maslow’s hier­ar­chy? I think most European soci­eties tend to do that. You pro­vide for phys­i­cal safe­ty through laws and policing—that’s in every soci­ety. You also pro­vide health­care, so you pro­vide that kind of phys­i­cal safe­ty. I think to me, it’s more about how we can answer peo­ple’s now me’ needs, in a way that peo­ple can lift their sights high­er? Where peo­ple can think more about their pur­pose in life; can think more about their oblig­a­tions to eachother; can think more about the world their chil­dren are going to step into. I do think that’s hard if those bot­tom rungs of Maslow’s hier­ar­chy are emp­ty. It’s hard to move for­ward beyond that. I under­stand UBI as: how do we guar­an­tee that kind of secu­ri­ty to every­body? I get the sim­plic­i­ty that my instinct is that the answer is more like ser­vices than cash. But, I root for every­one. I root for a solution.

Mason: The fun­ny thing is, in the book you actu­al­ly look at mod­els for indi­vid­u­als; how indi­vid­u­als can change their val­ue set. Oddly enough, the way in which you can change your val­ue set is tied to Japanese lunch. It’s called ben­to­ism. Could you explain what ben­to­ism is and how that changes our rela­tion­ship with things like the future me and the now me?

Strickler: I was pulling on this thread of our self inter­est being too lim­it­ed. We think of our self inter­est as this game the­o­ry now me”—that’s all that real­ly mat­ters. One thing in my note­book I was doodling—I drew a hock­ey stick graph. A chart of a line going up into the right. Wherever your self inter­est is, it’s grow­ing so fast, the line goes up into the right. I was look­ing at this and had this thought: don’t both these axes on this graph keep going? The X‑axis mea­sur­ing time; it extends far out from now into the future. The Y‑axis mea­sur­ing your self interest—money, pow­er, fame, whatever—it also keeps grow­ing. I thought as our self inter­est grows, it grows in its dimen­sion­al­i­ty from me to us. The more self inter­est you have, the more respon­si­bil­i­ty you have. The dif­fer­ence between being sin­gle and hav­ing a fam­i­ly is huge, or being a work­er, or being an entrepreneur—it’s huge.

Suddenly, this lit­tle hock­ey stick graph is now in this much big­ger space. I drew box­es around it and cre­at­ed a very sim­ple two-by-two chart. I thought: this is actu­al­ly a more true map of self inter­est. In that space where there is the hock­ey stick graph—that space is now me’—what I want and need right now. That is how we think of self inter­est today. But in the bot­tom right cor­ner of this two by two, is future me’. The old­er, wis­er ver­sion of myself. The Obi-Wan Kenobi ver­sion of me that looks back through time and tells me what mat­ters; helps me make the right choice. In the top left, there’s now us’. My fam­i­ly, my friends, what­ev­er my respon­si­bil­i­ties are—those peo­ple. In the top right cor­ner, that is future us’. My kids or every­body else’s kids.

I thought, as I looked at this: Wow. Every choice I make leaves a foot­print in each of these spaces. Now me; future me; now us; future us. But I’m blind to every­thing but now me’. I know that the future mat­ters, I know that oth­er peo­ple in my life mat­ter, but I have a real­ly hard time con­cep­tu­al­ly hold­ing onto those things. Here seemed to be an expres­sion of what was actu­al­ly going on in my head. After I drew this chart, I wrote: What is this a graph of? And I wrote a descrip­tion: Beyond near-term ori­en­ta­tion. I thought this a graph to help me see beyond near-term ori­en­ta­tion, and then I sud­den­ly looked at that and realised it was an acronym for ben­to. I thought about the Japanese ben­to box. The ben­to box has four com­part­ments and a lid and it derives from a word mean­ing con­ve­nience.” The beau­ty of the ben­to is that, because of its com­part­ments, it lets you hold a vari­ety of dishes—not too much of any one thing. It’s always a bal­anced meal. The ben­to also hon­ours a Japanese diet­ing phi­los­o­phy called Hara Hachi Bu, which says, The goal of a meal is to be 80 per­cent full. That way, you’re still hun­gry for tomor­row.” So I thought: what I’ve drawn here is a ben­to for my choic­es, and my self inter­est. It’s a way for me to not just gorge myself on now me’, but for a way for me to keep in mind the now us of my fam­i­ly, my respon­si­bil­i­ties to oth­er peo­ple; my future me’—who I real­ly want to become in life, my ulti­mate poten­tial; and then future us’—what’s the world that’s going to be left after I’m gone?

This has become a way that I make choic­es. It’s a way that I iden­ti­fy my pri­or­i­ties. It’s a way that I teach work­shops to help peo­ple find their val­ues. But it’s sim­ply a way to expand our aware­ness beyond just this now me space, and to allow us to see the full impact of choic­es. The need for this is so acute, because when we only see now me’, the deci­sions that maybe sac­ri­fice the near-term for a longer term ben­e­fit look like bad options. Or, choic­es that are good for us now but bad for us in the long term look like good options. When we don’t see the whole pic­ture, we tell our­selves we’re mak­ing good choic­es but real­ly we’re com­mit­ting acts of self-harm.

I think that this expan­sion­al perspective—whether the ben­to lan­guage is what ulti­mate­ly sticks or not—I believe this expan­sion­al per­spec­tive is what’s hap­pen­ing right now with COVID-19 for sure. The future, the us, the col­lec­tive spaces are much more clear. I think that this is a kind of map for how we might imag­ine post-capitalist val­ues work­ing. For how we might imag­ine our shared respon­si­bil­i­ties work­ing, and how we might imag­ine new spaces of oppor­tu­ni­ty work­ing. For exam­ple, I think there could be com­pa­nies that serve the future us’ space. There could be a cer­tain type of entre­pre­neur who works on future me’ or now us’ kinds of prob­lems. I believe this is a map of whole new fron­tiers of ways to pro­vide val­ue to each oth­er and a way to work towards this larg­er goal of not just max­imis­ing now me’ finan­cial val­ue, but to pur­sue coher­ence; to pur­sue choic­es that are real­ly in line with all these spaces, show­ing that greater awareness.

Mason: It’s one thing to aspire towards hav­ing a bet­ter rela­tion­ship with your future self, but it’s real­ly hard to do that, isn’t it? It’s real­ly hard to act in a way to make that hap­pen. How do we keep our­selves account­able to our future selves?

Strickler: I use what are basi­cal­ly like method act­ing tech­niques, where I will try to step into those roles. Even the choice I made to write this book—I used some­thing like that. I used a process to come up with five dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble career paths as a next step and then spent a day pre­tend­ing I was each one of those things. I allowed that day of pre­tend­ing I was a teacher; pre­tend­ing I was a jour­nal­ist; pre­tend­ing I was mak­ing some video project. I allowed that expe­ri­ence to tell me what was right or wrong for me.

For me, step­ping into my future me’ space is some­thing I do on a week­ly basis. I have a week­ly prac­tice where I basi­cal­ly jour­nal and try to step into these spaces, pic­ture my now us’, pic­ture my future us’, pic­ture my future me’—where I real­ly do pic­ture Obi-Wan. I real­ly do pic­ture the holo­gram Obi-Wan. I just try to be qui­et and almost med­i­tate with those spaces. I’ll say, Tell me what’s impor­tant.” With my now us’, I’ll reflect, Now us, what do you think mat­ters?” and my now us’ will say, Hey, you and your wife haven’t had a date in a week. Plan some­thing. Call these friends. Think of this way that you can be more giv­ing.” These are things that my System 1’ think­ing brain—my pas­sive, reac­tive brain—isn’t think­ing about. That part of my mind is just think­ing: self pro­mote; go get what’s mine—self­ish shit. Very, very self­ish stuff. I just get used to engag­ing with these things, and now these voic­es are more nat­ur­al to me. I will default to self­ish, now me’ think­ing. I don’t want to. I aspire to more than that. I don’t always do that—but there are moments when it’s hard to not always do that.

To me, some­thing like the ben­to frame­work is like a men­tal scaf­fold­ing. It’s like a tool of love that’s just say­ing, Hey, here’s the stuff that’s hard to keep in mind, but it’s extreme­ly impor­tant, and here’s just a way to force you to do that—here’s a mus­cle mem­o­ry. Also, here is pos­si­bly a map towards greater mean­ing, greater coher­ence in your life, greater oppor­tu­ni­ty. Here’s what to look for beyond the now me’ of sur­vival.” It’s sim­ply mak­ing you aware of what you actu­al­ly think. That’s mean­ing­ful, because when you know what you actu­al­ly think, then you can act accord­ing­ly to what you actu­al­ly believe, and your choic­es like­ly change.

Mason: Yancey, it would be irre­spon­si­ble of me not to men­tion the ele­phant in the room, which is the cur­rent cri­sis. I just won­der how COVID-19 is chang­ing our ways in which we’re act­ing. Are you see­ing more peo­ple act­ing for now me’, or are you hope­ful that we’re going to start act­ing for things like future us’?

Strickler: This is a total now us—future us’ space. Normally when I do my ben­to, I start with now me’, because that’s the thing that’s the most obvi­ous to me. But that week, when I looked at now me’, I had no idea. What did I want? I had no clue. But when I saw now us’, I instant­ly knew. I have a four year old. I’m a home­school teacher for half a day now. I knew absolute­ly what my respon­si­bil­i­ties are, and now my entire ori­en­ta­tion has total­ly shift­ed. I’m very us ori­ent­ed now. I’m only as safe as my neigh­bour, and my neigh­bour’s neigh­bour. Suddenly I see the world very differently.

I think that’s like­ly to stay for a while. There is the weird thing of hyper-isolation that bal­ances that out. But I feel like the fact that we exist beyond now me’- that the future is real and coming—we could see that as we see we were ten days behind Italy, when the cri­sis was first hap­pen­ing. But we can also see that col­lec­tive space. Especially here in the US, where we pro­vide very few col­lec­tive ser­vices, the lack of health­care is going to be more and more of an issue.

The best thing that’s hap­pen­ing out of that—I mean, I think the glob­al pause is fan­tas­tic in many ways—but I’m excit­ed by the inter­net, the net­work, real­ly step­ping into its own even more. There’s a kind of col­lec­tive con­scious­ness that has been becom­ing grad­u­al­ly digi­tised but is now becom­ing much more alive, to where so many minds are col­lab­o­rat­ing on the same prob­lem set. We’re using this tool to bring our­selves togeth­er. The ben­e­fits we’ll see as a result of that are just going to be enor­mous. Enormous.

It’s large­ly my the­o­ry that the post-internet inno­va­tion won’t be like AR or AI, or whatever—another tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. I think the rev­o­lu­tion after the inter­net is consciousness—human consciousness—is the net­worked organ­ism of all of us. I don’t mean that in a sin­gu­lar­i­ty kind of way, but just that we’re all neu­rons respond­ing col­lec­tive­ly to this cri­sis. With COVID-19, some parts of our body felt it first and tried to warn the rest of the body. The col­lec­tive con­scious­ness spits out flat­ten the curve as the par­a­digm to help us under­stand what needs to hap­pen, and then that rapid­ly gets dis­persed through­out the entire brain. All that, to me, is just outrageous—it’s kind of out­ra­geous. I feel a sense of awe in that, and believe in its pow­er. I can imag­ine a uni­verse where Donald Trump is not the pres­i­dent of the United States, where this is like the sci­en­tif­ic Olympics of the entire world com­ing togeth­er. This amaz­ing moment of cohe­sion. That moment, a hun­dred per­cent, could be here. That’s what’s sup­posed to hap­pen. That’s what’s sup­posed to happen.

Mason: Following that macro idea a lit­tle fur­ther, do you think COVID-19 might actu­al­ly expe­dite some of the changes that you’re advo­cat­ing for in the book? You put a 30 year time hori­zon on most of the changes you expect to see in the book, but do you think in fact COVID-19 could speed that up? Or do you think it’s actu­al­ly going to slow that down? Do you think that a 30 year hori­zon is now going to turn into a 50 year horizon?

Strickler: I believe in a 30 year the­o­ry of change. That’s like a gen­er­a­tional the­o­ry of change. Kind of at the heart of why gen­er­a­tional changes hap­pen is death. I think that peo­ple change their minds and then die, and peo­ple grow up in a new real­i­ty with a new set of cul­tur­al norms. We can imag­ine the medi­an line of opin­ion chang­ing as cer­tain peo­ple die and cer­tain peo­ple are born. In waves of mass death will accel­er­ate change and opin­ion in a very bru­tal kind of way. I don’t expect there to be an imme­di­ate bounce­back towards vir­tu­ous­ness. I mean, maybe in some of these well­be­ing soci­eties, maybe that hap­pens. But I would expect things to get dark­er in the near term. I believe we’re going to dis­cov­er that there are oth­er val­ue sets that can ori­ent our machines, and that we’re going to need those.

The oth­er sig­nif­i­cant trans­for­ma­tion that’s hap­pen­ing now will be from human labour to com­put­er labour—to AI and things like that. The chal­lenge for a human organ­i­sa­tion is not know­ing where you want to go—it’s get­ting a bunch of human beings to get there togeth­er, and to bat­tle in the dai­ly dis­trac­tions. For an AI sys­tem, there will be none of those human dis­trac­tions. Whatever met­ric or tar­get that we set, the­o­ret­i­cal­ly we’ll be able to get there in some way or anoth­er. The ques­tion is: What are those met­rics that we’re set­ting? What are those tar­gets? How are they being informed? How are we think­ing about the light and the shad­ow for each of those things? For me, the impor­tance of met­rics and the impor­tance of defin­ing the val­ues that we want to be opti­mis­ing for—will become more and more impor­tant. They’ll be mean­ing­ful­ly run­ning our insti­tu­tions and our sys­tems. If we allow those sys­tems to oper­ate accord­ing to the val­ue sets that we run today, then we’re going to have sys­tems that opti­mise for mon­ey, pow­er and atten­tion. That’s going to be the big three. There’s not going to be any­thing else that’s gonna have room for that. So I look at that as the lever­age point. I love the Donella Meadows essay on points of lever­age in a sys­tem. The val­ues lay­er is what oth­er things are built upon.

I think all of those things will get put more on the table in a post-COVID world. That this is a cli­mate change fast forward—the fact that this is teach­ing us that it’s pos­si­ble to pause the world and total­ly change things. Yes, the world ends in some ways—but also the world is kind of bet­ter in oth­er ways. It’s a great dry run and a great reminder of the ten­u­ous­ness of what’s here. I say all that while fear­ing it and not tak­ing it light­ly by any stretch. All this may be adding up to, Ah, I feel, at the abil­i­ty of this thing—this tiny thing—to so great­ly affect us.”

Mason: We have a ques­tion on Youtube from Ian Forrester who’s asked, Yancey, what’s your dream post-capitalism for humankind?”

Strickler: I keep com­ing to this idea of coher­ence, but I feel like the chal­lenge of the mod­ern world is that we end up com­pro­mis­ing a lot to pro­vide finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty for our­selves. Systems, on a macro lev­el, cre­ate a lot of insta­bil­i­ty and a lot of cor­rup­tion to try to max­imise for their own finan­cial self inter­est. The world I imag­ine is one where we sim­ply see finan­cial val­ue as a tool that’s used in exchange for oth­er val­ues. The idea that the rich­est per­son on the street is the hap­pi­est per­son on the street—that’s a move that we aban­don. We imag­ine that the most well off per­son is the one that’s the most bal­anced; the one who has their head on their shoul­ders; the one who maybe has the mid­dle class job, and they don’t have to work so much so they get to spend time with their fam­i­ly. I think there’s a dif­fer­ent notion of what it means to be a suc­cess­ful human being—that that hap­pens. I would love to see—in the same way we’re see­ing human­i­ty’s tal­ents com­ing togeth­er around health—I would love to see our tal­ents com­ing togeth­er around solv­ing oth­er prob­lems. Like lone­li­ness; like how we feel social­ly con­nect­ed. Like what it means to be a human being through the inter­net. Like the fair­ness of sys­tems. I think the most impor­tant met­rics and mea­sure­ments for shap­ing the future haven’t yet been invent­ed. That’s the process of the next 10 or 20 years.

Mason: What hap­pens to those who feel trapped by their mate­r­i­al cir­cum­stances? It’s all very well and good to talk about, Let’s move towards a post-financial future and change and have new val­ue sets.”—but what about peo­ple who are liv­ing pay-cheque to pay-cheque, where­by all they’re think­ing about is their abil­i­ty to sur­vive finan­cial­ly? How real­is­ti­cal­ly do they live with this new val­ue set?

Strickler: If your now me’ is hard—yes—it’s more dif­fi­cult to oper­ate in these oth­er spaces. But, I think that if you look at reli­gious rates, and how they relate to income level—generally, the less mon­ey you have, the more reli­gious you tend to be. I would say that some­one whose now me’ is hard­er, is in a more chal­leng­ing space. You have to lean on the now us’ of your community—the com­mu­ni­ty of your church, your fam­i­ly. You also have to think about the future me’ of sal­va­tion and the after­life, to give your life pur­pose and mean­ing. If your day to day is hard, what is the pur­pose of that day to day? Well, there is this larg­er goal of try­ing to live a wor­thy life.

I think for some­one who is extreme­ly wealthy, the chal­lenges of mate­ri­al­ism are ones of mate­ri­al­is­tic abun­dance that can cause you to lose sight of your oblig­a­tions to oth­er peo­ple; that can cause lone­li­ness; that can cre­ate a sep­a­rate­ness from soci­ety. I think too much or too lit­tle can iron­i­cal­ly have a sim­i­lar kind of out­come. I would say that maybe the wealth­i­er per­son has more time—maybe that’s the one thing that can be said. If you look at reli­gious doctrine—if you look at the Bible—Jesus would say that, It’s eas­i­er for a camel to pass through the eye of a nee­dle than for a rich man to go to heav­en.” The notion that wealth is some­thing that blocks you from that lib­er­a­tion; blocks you from your great­est poten­tial. We’re in a world today where that incen­tive lay­er of mon­ey rules the show, so we think that hav­ing mon­ey is nir­vana. We auto­mat­i­cal­ly assume that peo­ple have that, have what they need—and that peo­ple who don’t have that, don’t have what they need. I would argue that real­ly, that’s one of prob­a­bly five or six things that you need. Yes, it can bal­ance oth­er things out, but I don’t think that’s the answer on it’s own. I think the abil­i­ty to self actu­alise, the abil­i­ty to be more coher­ent might have an inverse rela­tion­ship to wealth. Monks are impov­er­ished for a rea­son. I think that we’re maybe a lit­tle bit trapped in the ortho­doxy of today, in assum­ing who this may be valu­able for.

Mason: Another ques­tion that fol­lows on from the ortho­doxy of today is from James Pockson on Youtube, who asks, In what way do you feel that cul­tures are built on his­tor­i­cal precedent?”—the core of his ques­tion is, Do you see any prefer­able val­ue sys­tems from our past that per­haps we should re-embrace, that allows you to achieve some of the things that you were talk­ing about—either from the past or from oth­er cultures?”

Strickler: Yeah, total­ly. I love that ques­tion because I think that we are kind of run­ning on a 17th to 18th cen­tu­ry play­book of val­ues and util­i­tar­i­an­ism. It’s amaz­ing how deeply that stuff runs. When I was doing a lot of research, the move­ment that became real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing to me was called com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism, and this first was around when the United States was first begin­ning. It’s been a cou­ple of years since I read all of this, but com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism is real­ly based on val­ues plu­ral­ism, in that you could have a soci­ety where edu­ca­tion would be run by edu­ca­tion­al val­ues, and health run by health values—everything would be run accord­ing to its native script. Orienting a soci­ety around that would­n’t be utopia, but would cre­ate the best poten­tial of outcomes.

People end­ed up exper­i­ment­ing with this, and most impor­tant­ly, one of the great thinkers in game the­o­ry, John Nash—who cre­at­ed the pris­on­er’s dilemma—he end­ed up mov­ing to a com­mu­ni­tar­i­an com­mu­ni­ty in the 1970s. This is how I end­ed up find­ing out about this move­ment. There is a book I read called Spheres of Justice which had a tremen­dous effect on me, which argues that the form of all injus­tice in the world is when a val­ues sys­tem rules beyond its right­ful domain. The most clas­sic exam­ple is Galileo being asked to refute the laws of sci­ence, because the val­ues of the church were more pow­er­ful at the time. That’s a form of injus­tice, and real­ly, all injus­tice in the world is root­ed in this kind of idea. That book was writ­ten by Michael Walzer. The notion of try­ing to find the right lens of value—trying to find that match between: What is this sit­u­a­tion? What is the val­ue at stake? And then act­ing—rather than always assum­ing there’s a sin­gu­lar val­ue at stake. That’s kind of the philo­soph­i­cal under­pin­ning of my whole line of think­ing. So then orig­i­nal­ly from this notion of val­ues pluralism—that val­ues are expres­sive, they are ratio­nal in the eye of their beholder—and that a soci­ety could actu­al­ly flour­ish if you allowed every­one to act accord­ing to their val­ue sys­tem. We may imag­ine that as some sort of dis­cord­ed val­ues orgy, but in real­i­ty it’s prob­a­bly more like a rain­for­est. It’s prob­a­bly more like an ecosys­tem that would emerge if we just allowed peo­ple to live tru­ly to their val­ue systems.

Mason: We have anoth­er ques­tion from Youtube—this time from Kate Hammer. She’s ask­ing, What do you think mat­ters most, that also evades mea­sure­ment?” So it’s great to talk about these new val­ue sys­tems, but if we can’t mea­sure that, how do we even iden­ti­fy it as a value?

Strickler: The way I come at met­rics and mea­sure­ment being so impor­tant is not that I want that to hap­pen. The idea that mea­sur­ing things removes the love and mag­ic from them—I emo­tion­al­ly buy into that. But if I think about auto­mat­ed sys­tems and the kinds of infor­ma­tion that they require to oper­ate, then I think that the idea we should­n’t be in the met­ric game because we think it’s not indie enough—that’s hard for me to stom­ach because the influ­ence of these things is gonna be so strong. But what we’re going to have to do is to find sig­nals that approx­i­mate these dif­fer­ent kinds of met­rics. We can look at exam­ples of how indus­tries as a result of new met­rics being added. If you think about food—where say calo­ries are being forced to be displayed—we’ve put our­selves into this inter­est­ing dual deci­sion mak­ing process, of price and calo­ries togeth­er. I think we don’t quite know the lan­guage of how to do that. But here we see the shift from a mono­lith­ic val­ue sys­tem to now some­thing more like a val­ues plu­ral­is­tic sys­tem. You can even see it in sports where, say, data analy­sis has been used to com­plete­ly re-engineer how teams play, because they’ve shown their pre­vi­ous strate­gies pro­duce less desir­able out­comes than dif­fer­ent kinds of strategies.

If I imag­ine how these new kinds of val­ues might be accept­ed, it’s not from every sin­gle CEO get­ting woke in the same way. It’s from these val­ues being ratio­nal­ly expressed. It’s from these being demon­strat­ed as pro­duc­ing bet­ter out­comes that we all agree upon. That’s the world where you get some­one who dis­agrees with this polit­i­cal­ly to actu­al­ly take this up and apply this in their busi­ness. If we’re just try­ing to speak on this cul­tur­al val­ue woke space, you’re only gonna talk to the choir. The impor­tance of this, the mean­ing of this and the goal of this should be that this is not the new indie hit that lets peo­ple feel supe­ri­or to anoth­er group of peo­ple. This is the fuck­ing main­stream, this is the game. This is what suc­cess is, this is obvi­ous. How do you work to that real­i­ty? To me, that’s where you get to a glob­al scale of change, and it seems to me that any­thing less than that is like, What are we even doing here?”

Mason: I want to ask you anoth­er ques­tion about our cur­rent state and the pan­dem­ic that we’re deal­ing with. A lot of peo­ple will look to you and look to Kickstarter as free­lancers and as cre­atives. What is your advice, Yancey, for those sorts of indi­vid­u­als dur­ing this very dif­fi­cult time?

Strickler: Cut costs. Cut costs. You’ve got to live as light as you can. I have my own ver­sions of these things, where I had a com­part­men­tal­i­sa­tion of hav­ing a child, of hav­ing a work self, of hav­ing all of these oth­er selves. Now they’re just piled on top of each other—it’s just cacoph­o­ny. Trying to pull out my now me and my future me’, the part of me that’s cre­ative, that’s work­ing on projects—getting that per­son to focus has been dif­fi­cult. To do that, I end up doing an exer­cise to step into my future me’ self, where I imag­ined a year and a half from now, the last of the lock­downs is over and the vac­cine is done. Let’s imag­ine you feel espe­cial­ly proud of your­self dur­ing that time. Well then, what did you do? What are those three things that you did? When I went through that process, in addi­tion to my fam­i­ly oblig­a­tions, I focused on com­plet­ing a sin­gle long term project. The idea that I would just be grind­ing on some­thing bit by bit each day. That, I thought, would be the right kind of cre­ative out­put for me. Knowing that means I have to change the cost struc­ture of my life. I have to have this thought of: What if income is not any­thing like what I expect it to be for the next year? Then to give myself mean­ing, to let myself still feel motivated—I’ve tried to set this tar­get of a project that I’m com­plet­ing bit by bit along the way. People are going to launch Kickstarter’s patre­ons and things like that, to make up the eco­nom­ic gaps that they face. Some of those will do well—I think some will be hard­er because not a lot of peo­ple feel secure right now. It’s real­ly, real­ly tough.

Mason: I guess my final ques­tion is: How do we become active advo­cates for this new way of think­ing about val­ue? What must we do, as indi­vid­u­als, to force a change to the polit­i­cal economy?

Strickler I think it does start with indi­vid­u­als becom­ing more aware. Developing that active aware­ness. Having that lan­guage of dimen­sion­al­i­ty of self inter­est. Not view­ing the eco­nom­ic choice as always being the right choice. Being able to voice that in a meeting—being able to grad­u­al­ly shift the cul­ture of your com­pa­ny in that kind of way. I believe there is a groundswell, and a direc­tion that is def­i­nite­ly against the excess­es of cap­i­tal. There is an anti-groundswell that’s hap­pen­ing, that I think will only grow. The fuse has been lit, and what we’re going through right now is just going to exac­er­bate it. But the ques­tion is: what do we step into? If not what we have now, then what? How can we have a vision that’s not destruc­tive? To me, the con­struc­tive vision is where we’re own­ing the spaces where we have impact. We’re own­ing our future impact. We’re try­ing to be very con­scious of how we affect one anoth­er, and we’re doing that in our per­son­al lives. We’re doing that in our organ­i­sa­tions. If this kind of lan­guage comes to be accept­ed; if the future comes to be seen as ratio­nal; if the col­lec­tive and the us’ comes to be seen as just as real as the me’, then I think the kinds of choic­es and the val­ues that we’ll pri­ori­tise are just going to change from now. I think for now it’s just becom­ing com­fort­able with these real spaces that exist.

I think 30 years from now, every­thing I’m say­ing now is going to be so basic and bor­ing it’s going to seem absurd that any­one had to explain it. I firm­ly believe that’s going to hap­pen. It just comes from being com­fort­able. I can say for myself—having done this for two years now—it’s hav­ing a mean­ing­ful impact on how I think about myself and my space in the world. I realise that because of macro chal­lenges that we’re talk­ing about, all of this sounds very, very small, and it may be, in the larg­er scheme. But this is how things begin, and grow. I saw it with Kickstarter—you look at any­thing through his­to­ry. This is how things hap­pen. There isn’t this spon­ta­neous com­bus­tion where there’s this big bang of wok­e­ness, and every­one just wakes up and believes the oppo­site of what they believed the day before. We need a cred­i­ble path that owns what’s good about the present, that yes, and?s it, builds on top of it, and that isn’t just preach­ing to the choir. To me, that future looks some­thing like this.

Mason: So on that note, I want to thank you, Yancey, for join­ing us for one of our first Futures Podcast live stream events.

Strickler: Thank you so much.

Mason: Thank you to Yancey for shar­ing his thoughts on how to cre­ate a more gen­er­ous world.

You can find out more by pur­chas­ing Yancey’s new book, This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World—avail­able now.

And don’t for­get, you can watch the full unedit­ed video of this con­ver­sa­tion at Futures Podcast dot net, where you can also find out about all of our live stream events.

If you like what you’ve heard, then you can sub­scribe for our lat­est episode. Or fol­low us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram: @FUTURESPodcast.

More episodes, tran­scripts and show notes can be found at Futures Podcast dot net.

Thank you for lis­ten­ing to the Futures Podcast.

Further Reference

Episode page, with intro­duc­to­ry and pro­duc­tion notes. Transcript orig­i­nal­ly by Beth Colquhoun, repub­lished with per­mis­sion (mod­i­fied).