Potentially Unncessary Preamble: A Primer on my Neurodivergent Brain
I have a weird brain and one of the biggest upsides — well, upside or downside depending on the day — is that I need to make sense of things in order to live.
Instinct, impulse, intuition, and feelings are more usual guides of human behaviour. Which makes sense because using observation, rules and logic to compute behaviour is energy expensive and throughout much of human history would have been surplus to most tasks.
Accordingly, the default human response to coming up against a conceptual gap or an apparent contradiction in terms of how to live in the world, is to bypass it or slot in any available placeholder and just try to get on with life.
For better and worse, I do not do this very well. My capacity for intuitive behavior is poor, and my ability to act without a rational understanding of how and why, is virtually nonexistent. This means that I often have to go out of my way to answer questions that people usually ignore.
The downside is that it leaves me stuck (sometimes for weeks on end) in a depressed stupor (or mania) where I can’t do anything else but think and ruminate until I have computed an acceptable way forward — which can be pretty disruptive and detrimental to my life and those around me.
But the upside is that it often leaves me with the ability to, at least somewhat, articulate things that lots of people find ineffable. This is why I’ve previously written things like this, which apparently resonated with people because it put words to things that they felt but they didn’t know how to explain even to themselves, and it gave them clear action suggestions. That’s my thing. That’s what I’m usually good at. And I realize now that there might be an opportunity to do the same thing again with another complicated question.
Of course, I can always be wrong. Potentially, the conclusions and the positions I will take in this piece, are wrong. Perhaps there are blockers I haven’t thought of or perhaps you all already get it and it’s not a lack of understanding so much as it is a lack of willing that’s perpetuating the status quo.
In any case, here’s my suggestion for how to save the world. Especially now that it’s really urgent. Like really really urgent.
Overthinking on How to Save the World (While Getting on with Life)
So I’ve thought about this one a lot, because one of the central obligations of modern pre- / early adulthood is to decide how to live in the world and what to do with one’s time and energy.
People usually do one of two things to win this round and advance to the next level of the game: they rely on the internal compass of their emotions and their emotional pull towards something — they notice: wow I’m super happy when I do this activity, I should make an occupation out of this;
Or they rely on like an external clear directive: hey I’m your dad and I say you have to go work in this field and that’s that.
If neither of those happen for you, you have to deduce your way forward, using some mental model or other to compute an answer from the combination of all variables at hand.
what’s available to me minus what do I absolutely hate plus what will pay for the life I want to live etc.
So when it was my turn I considered two main factors:
(1) what would feel like a justification for my abilities and skills?
- people kept telling me I was blessed with intelligence and I would do great things, which inevitably inculcated a saviour complex. I understood them to mean that I had been granted some privilege by God or universal chaos and I needed to do something worthy to justify the gift. Then everything I heard or watched in anime or read in fiction and history books indicated this would have to involve solving for or alleviating human suffering.
(2) what would mean I earn “good” money
- because that is how this world is mediated and I would like to be able to access the things that give me safety and security but also joy and pleasure. I don’t want to do math in the supermarket all my life and just generally have life be multiple times harder, because on the whole poverty is a bummer.
- also because just as with good grades, that’s the proof of satisfying the rule to do one’s best.
Enter a contradiction for my weary yet hyperactive brain to resolve. How do you win the game as it’s currently set up (i.e. succeed and have that evidenced by the designated trappings of wealth and status) and also completely change the whole game (because it turns out all the things the world needs saving from are interlinked and indissociable from the way society currently chooses to function)?
That’s the big question for so many of us now, and my current answer is imperfect, but I rather think that if everyone adopted it we would already be doing much better.
Denizens of Late-Stage Capitalism Unite
What I’m suggesting is that we start getting much better at marshaling collective power, because what we have everywhere now are problems that are only solvable through collective actions.
Alone, you can’t fix for corporations prioritizing shareholder dividend or the ephemeral glory of winning at market cap, over preserving the planet. Alone, you can’t fix for governements engaging in behavior that they know will not solve anything because they prefer being seen to be solving a problem while actually acting to preserve their advantage.
But you know who can? You and others together in a collective.
We normally think about this in the context of workers rights unions protests and politics, and while all that’s important too, I think we are overlooking a significant and ripe opportunity for utilising combined action for change: our workplaces.
The corporations and institutions we all work for make up the primary actors of macro society. If we want a different world we need to see them make radically different choices and perform different actions to the ones that have brought us here.
A Proven Model
Pressure compels action and history has shown us countless times that when employees collectivise and wield the sum of their leverage to make demands, corporations yield, culminating in change that would have been inconceivable beforehand. Go back in time and convince early industrialists that companies today are pay for holidays, and sabbaticals, and coaching apps and ping pong tables. Hell, see if you can even get them as far as believing bits like minimum wage and health and safety standards!
If every corporation saw a proportion of its employees — a proportion that collectively could bring the company to its knees – insisting on the actions that would drive change in the world? Those actions would take place.
And the reason I think it’s imperative that we do this now is that we can’t wait for the usual sort of way society evolves: where people age and die out, and the new generation of powerholders who see the world differently comes in to take those positions of power. We ain’t got that time.
Collective Organisation 101
But what do I mean practically? How do you create collectives wherever you stand? Literally, do just that. Start a Whatsapp or Telegram or Signal or Discord or whatever group and a series of meetups; live or digital. Write an email and forward it to a bunch of people and ask them to forward it to some other folks too.
Say something like
hey, I just really feel like there are a lot of big subjects right now, and big questions, and it’s really hard to think through this alone, but I don’t want to just stick my head in the sand and ignore it all. I am overwhelmed, I’m sure you are overwhelmed, but I think together we can talk and act in concert toward change. So let’s get together and figure out things like: what does it look like for our human need for rest and joy to be fairly balanced against this company’s ambitions? and what does it look like for this company to do everything in its power to curb the climate disaster? and what does it look like to try and change the ways in which this company is contributing towards social inequalities? I want to engage with these problems, because I can’t run, I can’t hide, I can’t fix it alone, but I also can’t stop thinking about it. So, the next best thing to do is to just gather everybody who also gives a shit. And let’s start talking and let’s start collectively learning and let’s come up with our demands from each other and from this organization as a whole.
That’s it really, gather people and get to work.
You’re not Alone
Of course you’ll have to do the work of persuading and explaining to people who say, oh I don’t get it, or oh I don’t have time, or oh why is it my problem? Because you’re gonna get it all. The confused, the selfish, the so scared they lash out and they tell you to fuck off, because they’d rather feign ignorance and not have to feel anything, than engage and feel the full weight of the terror that maybe trying doesn’t even work in the end.
But the good thing is there are so many others past and present, articulating progressive ideas and there are resources to help you be a catalyst of collective formation. There are books and articles and podcasts with people who are articulating the arguments you need to bring people in, as well as the processes for how to do the work of organizing. There’s literally a company called Organise, trying to help nurture these behaviors.
You just have to decide to do it, to start and trust that you can figure it out with the help available. And you totally should trust that because when collectives get together, they make unbelievable things happen.
The very fact that companies and the outputs thereof even exist is a testament to what is possible when collectives get together. So why are we not marshaling that same magic of human potential in order to save the world?
Embarassment and Apathy are Unaffordable Luxuries
I remember when I was 13, or so, I don’t know what I was ranting about, probably something similar. And someone said,
Oh, whatever, you’ll eventually grow out of it. You’ll get a job, start paying taxes and you won’t care so much about any of this.
I honestly lived in terror that for so long. This idea, that some sort of empathy boogeyman just comes along one day and takes away all of your care, hope, and naive willingness to try, and replaces it with a conviction to live just for yourself and get on with it as best you can for you and yours; ignoring all of the things that are happening around you and the fires that are raging...
But I eventually realized that that’s not quite it. There’s no boogeyman, it’s just the reality of (1) the way modern adulthood is constrained by the mockery of earnest concern for anything other than selfish ambition, and (2) the design of our individualist society to atomize us, isolate us and keep us so busy with the practical process of performing modern adulthood, with all its rituals and necessary routines, that there is no room for this thinking.
But we have to make room. Individually we can’t save the world on our own, but what are we supposed to do, pretend we don’t know what we know, or we can’t see what we see? Pretend that we’re looking forward to a dystopia that is burning while some use their wealth to create tiny oases but lock the rest of us our to perish? Or pretend that for instance, if we don’t live to experience the horror first hand, we’re comfortable bringing children into the world so that they can live to experience it instead?
I’d say trying to do something beats that. If nothing else that will keep your mind away from the abyss.
Our Superpower as a Species
You just have to start believing in the possibility of collective action. If people coming together can create everything you see around you: every institution and damn near every physical object in the civilized world, we can do this too.
That’s the amazing superpower of human beings. Our ability to compound knowledge and ability across time and space. Let’s use that towards ends that actually matter. Collectively you have power so come together so that you’re not alone and choosing between helpless despair and pretending not to notice.
Gather, talk, plan, try.
Do it out of Selfish Self-Preservation Even
Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it sucks that we have to clean the mess of those who came before us, and maybe you don’t even care that much about other people’s suffering, but make time and do it anyway. Do it instead of that other side hustle that you were thinking about, or instead of trying to escape it all in a van. Because you can’t run from what’s otherwise coming through wealth or with distance.
Disaster looms; if an increasingly inhospitable earth doesn’t do you in, a violent revolution will. Because you know what always precipitates those? A sense that it no longer makes sense to even try. A sense that actually, the whole thing’s screwed anyway so tear it down regardless of whether something better or worse comes afterwards. Society is a flimsy, fragile, fucking agreement to more or less play the game by a certain set of rules because it will benefit each individually, it’ll give you what you need to survive better than you could alone.
That agreement can only withstand so much proof that the contrary is the case, it can only withstand so much evidence that actually it’s not working before the whole thing is primed and ready for a final straw to collapse it.
So many people right now are sort of waiting for society to implode, with bated breath. All the talk of dystopia, the rise in the trend of planning for it, creating bunkers and stockpiling canned foods. The waiting with so much certainty it highlights a degree of yearning. For it to finally fall so at least you don’t have to keep futilely trying anymore.
That is a fucking powder keg, just waiting for a spark and sparks eventually come.
So yeah, try to save the world by creating collectives within your organizations because maybe the part of you that really cares about other people hasn’t died yet. Or do it because you are rightly scared of experiencing the chaos of revolutions and civil wars, or dying in a natural disaster.
Either way, we have to save the world. And you have to give a shit. You have to believe that it’s possible, that collective human endeavor can change it.