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This is one of the first Sequoia Papers, the new Federalist Papers. It can also be found on my website, https://beatinpaths.com/2022/09/28/america-and-the-shape-of-the-far-future/. I have been told the EA audience may enjoy it; since you're all already familiar with longtermism, feel free to skim the first quarter. This is my first post on the forum and I'd appreciate feedback. 

America and the Shape of the Far Future

Humanity is a story. The story is the sum of all human agency, a plot cascading through time along the paths of every choice. ‘Longtermism’ is the belief that humanity might have millions more seasons with billions more characters, and that we ought to act accordingly. If our actions reverberate ever-wider along a lengthening river of consequences, what choices should choosers make? Long ago, a people better adapted to Turtle Island called this ‘seventh-generation thinking.’ It was nearly forgotten. Now, a single composite superorganism spread across the continent has more power to choose than anything before in history. But America lies half asleep at a key climax of the plot.

The next decades of American action will majorly impact the future of humanity for the next millennium and far beyond.

There may be those reading this who are allergic to discussions of America, or of nations in general. They may believe that nations are inherently bad, America especially. But regardless of whether nations are good or bad, or whether the world should even be composed of nations, it is undeniable that the world currently is made up of nations. Nations, imagined to be deeply tied to the identities of billions of individuals, have great power. This power is amoral; therefore, this situation can be pragmatically wielded for good or bad purposes in order to deal with the major developments of the 21st century.

America is a Locus of Global Agency

America is a locus of global agency. The American state is the most powerful superorganism on the planet. American institutions have massive advantages due to America’s technological capabilities, relative long-term stability, all-inclusive nationality, rule of law, capital markets, remarkable geographic advantages and natural resources, and on and on. The American people have more wealth, power, technology, and influence than any people in history. What the American state does, what American institutions do, what the American people do--- these nested agencies have massive impact on the shape of events, more impact per unit than that of any other nation.

Furthermore, agency is contagious, and what America does has profound consequences for how the rest of the world acts. The eyes of the world are on America. Our culture, our technology, our systems, and our values are beamed to everyone on Earth. We have the power to lead by example on both small and large scales during this crucial time for humanity. Our memes have the highest viral potential. Our fingers are on the scales of every global network. When America invests in something, the world follows; when America takes a new direction, the world follows; when America acts, the world acts.

The Plot is Thickening and Quickening

Due to the historical contingencies of the 20th century, America is in a unique position for the plot of humanity at a crucial time. America’s density of agency makes it the closest thing we have in the immediate future to a global leader. While it is fine to dream of a functioning UN or a crypto-political state or some other preferred locus of global agency, the current situation is undeniable. America is still in the drivers’ seat. The 21st century began with a unipolar world of American hegemony, and will end with a multipolar, interconnected world organized around revolutionary technologies. The shape this world will take depends a lot on what America does as a primary agent. Will America use its moment at center stage to build a neodemocratic, dynamic global society for the flourishing of future generations? Or will it cling to more limited views of self-interest, sleepwalk through the call of history, and allow American agency to act in ways that increase global existential risk?

AGI, bioweapons, human enhancement, space colonization, evolving political economies, climate change, brain-machine interfaces--- all of these developments and more will profoundly reshape human life. Unprecedented tectonic shifts in the ways humans live are speeding up with increasingly widespread and long-term consequences for the future of humanity. While this is happening worldwide, America is where it happens more than anywhere else. More technological progress, more capital, more cultural influence--- more happens here. Small changes in how America addresses these big issues will have massive butterfly effects for the future of life on Earth.

The Moral Imperative of the Far Future

If we consider how many more billions of humans will live in the far future, it becomes a moral imperative that we shift the direction of the future positively in order to bring about a better world for future generations.

Many philosophers, Effective Altruists, Silicon Valley prophets, climate scientists, and even His Holiness the Pope all agree: the current time period is one of undeniably large consequences for the future of humanity. The long peace of slow history is over, and the brief illusion of an “end of history” is now a bubble rudely burst. History is now. We are playing for keeps. The plot is both thickening and quickening.

More than any other nation, America has the agency (in our more immediate horizon of possible action over the next few decades) to strongly influence the shape of the far future. If we can re-orient the multifaceted arms of American agency towards consciously creating a better future, we can have enormous positive impacts on the timeline.

Our argument is not that America is exceptional, or predestined, or some kind of moral exemplar. Our argument is one of sheer pragmatism. The current situation demands strong action, and America has the greatest potential for such action at the current moment due to its contingent, historic privilege. With this privilege comes a responsibility for the ways in which choices within this nearby time horizon will shape the curve of the far future.

Recreating the Idea of America

Our goal is to influence the far future by reshaping the memes that make ‘America.’ We want to recreate and redefine what it means to be ‘American’ to redirect the nested agencies of America, her institutions, and her people. We want to use the irrepressible power of tribal identity-making for positive purposes. This plan is described in more detail in “The Unfinished Fiction of the Nation” (https://beatinpaths.com/2022/08/05/the-fiction-of-the-nation-unfinished/). America is a vast composite noun containing multitudes, good and bad. We want to use the good to solve the bad. We want to create a New World. We want people to believe in the possibility of a New World, which is a precondition of any progress in society. 

We believe that ideas change actions, culture influences innovation, and values shape choices. By creating a new set of inspiring American myths, we hope to guide the direction the far future follows by changing the actions of Americans over the next few decades. Humans crave stories that connect them to a larger tribe, that forge individuals into shared agencies. Positive applications of this natural force have been lacking in America for the last 60 years, while negative uses abound.

We should aim to create change from both the bottom up and top down, feeding into one another. If people believe in new values, stories, and memes, then the force of those memes will trickle upwards into the corporations, associations, and institutions which the people compose. Capturing the values of a majority of people in an organization confers massive increases in agentic benefits, in the same way that capturing 51% of a governor’s election means capturing 100% of the agentic power of the state. The power of the institution can then be unilaterally wielded in service of the positive memes we are trying to spread, creating a feedback loop with large jumps upon capturing enough of a full unit.

The ultimate goal of this process is to recapture the American state itself, the American government, the strongest single agency in the world. While ossification, inertia, and bad actors have quite effectively gunked up the mechanisms by which popular will becomes expressed in the agency of the US government, the mechanisms are still there, and a strong enough will can still burst through. Once through, we can reshape the mechanisms themselves and clear out all the gunk. That is the greatest goal of our movement--- to recapture the US government on behalf of the people, the dream of the New World, and the possibility of utopia for billions of humans in the far future.

The Feeling of the New World

America, more than any other nation, has long identified itself with the future rather than the past. America represents the dream of the New World, an ongoing project towards achieving utopia. America is indefinitely unfinished, always ahead, always pulling us to strive beyond ourselves as the best ideals do.

However, the last few decades have drained Americans of this feeling. While the story is ongoing, many believe that it is the ‘end of history.’ This of course is not the case; if anything, the complacency that came from this attitude has brought history roaring back with a vengeance, the course of which feels less under control than ever. We need to reject postmodern paralysis and choose meta-modern meaning-making for our own stories’ sake. We need to actively write history once again; we need to actively build the New World.

There is a certain invaluable feeling cultivated by exposure to the best of the idealistic American inheritance, our poets, philosophers and prophets. This is the feeling of being at the edge of an ever-emerging reality, the feeling of pushing into the unknown. This is the feeling of being at the center of a star, the center of creation, where old things are smashed together to create something new, releasing energy, spreading light. This is the feeling of entering the stage during a key scene in the great drama of life, free to contribute your verse. This is the feeling of will, of human agency minnowing in the winnowing river of time. This is the feeling that the world is here, real, living and dying, consequential and for keeps, deeply meaningful. This is the feeling of God as your future selves, of Heaven as your grandchildren’s joy. This is the feeling of being awake just before dawn to see the sky change colors. This is the feeling that the best is yet to come, and that what is to come emanates from your outstretched palms.

Make America Young Again

This is the feeling that we must cultivate across America, and then across the world, if we are to create a long term future worth believing in. Cultivating the feeling of the New World will have downstream effects on every project, every dream, every garden grown by individuals, groups, the nation, and humanity. We must counteract the cultural pessimism and nihilism that has grown through our culture like weeds if we want to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We must inspire agency; we must inspire responsibility; we must inspire experimentation; we must inspire higher values; we must inspire higher dreams. The last time America felt this youthful energy of building a New World was the 1800s, the time of the Great Awakenings and the American Renaissance, the time of exploration and new communities and new philosophies and new literatures. We need to spark another American Renaissance. 

What makes the Constitution great is not the words on the paper, but the spaces between; America’s greatest idea was its right to re-create itself, to adapt to changing times the way all living things must adapt to survive. Human institutions tend to have inertia, to want to stay the same in the face of change. The great innovation of America was the creation of fluid institutions changeable by the evolving will of the people. Jefferson imagined we’d have a small revolution every 20 years, every generation. Now, the US Constitution is the oldest constitution in the world, and hasn’t changed in a long time. The youthful, evolutionary energy that made America great has been drained, and our elites are a complacent gerontocracy. We need to reinvigorate America. We need to make America young again. If I have my way, we will have a new Constitutional Convention by 2050. The mechanisms to refound America are all there; we just need people to care enough to make it happen. 

The Meme of the New World as a Meta-Meme

This is just one example of the vast changes that a youthful America can accomplish, but by no means the only one. Cultivating the felt sense that we are at the frontier of history creating a New World, acting within the great story as it unfolds evermore consequentially, will have unthinkably rich downstream consequences. It is sort of an ideal lubricant for evolution itself. The human meme of the New World, the meme of emergence, recreation, adaptation, and novelty is a sort of ur-meme, or meta-meme, a meme that enables and facilitates the creation of more memes downstream. Ideas, culture, values truly do influence materials, agents, directions.

The widespread propagation and adoption of the New World meta-meme was a core driver of what made America wonderful for hundreds of years. It was present in every community experiment, every Emerson essay, every immigrant family settling Iowa, every invention of Edison, every Constitutional Amendment, every progressive movement, every evolution in morality, every 60s hippie, every Silicon Valley dreamer. What these all had in common is ‘newness’ itself, the belief that the intersubjective world should keep evolving as all life does.

The success of the smallpox vaccine helps contribute to the success of the Apollo Program, not necessarily due to direct scientific lineage, but simply because each success reinforces the meta-meme of newness. The success of a New World in one direction implies the potential success of newness in other directions. We want to strengthen the story of innovation as such; we want to support the story of the New World. New inspires new. A movement dedicated to the reinvigoration of a youthful American spirit will need to take advantage of this memetic reinforcement effect.

It doesn’t take much to see that the meme of the New World is at a low point right now in American history. This is due to many factors, including America’s age, institutional inertia, the abuse of the meme by parties and corporations selling bullshit leaving an ironic taste in our mouths, the ‘end of history’ vibe propagated after the end of the clearer ideological battles of the 20th century, the complacency encouraged by a decadent consumer society, the complete and disastrous secession of the intellectual left from all things smacking of patriotism after Vietnam, the nihilistic and schizophrenic modalities of consciousness engendered by television news depicting a contextless and disconnected world in relation to which viewers are mere spectators rather than agents, and on and on and on and on. 

We need to rekindle the meta-meme, spread it widely and deeply in the minds of Americans, and restart the virtuous cycle of re-inspiration from one New World to the next, from one new idea to another new project, from one new invention to a new way of life. It begins with us believing in these ideas. Then people create, build, innovate… anything. They instantiate a new thing in the real world, associated with the meta-meme of newness. This makes it concrete. This makes it a story. The more that this happens the more it reinforces the story, the narrative that we’re building a New World, that we are a young America again. People doing this consciously would be best for the meme, but even unconscious progress supports it. The more narrative momentum this gains, the more novelty we will see emerge; the more people feel like the New World is something that’s happening, the more they will want to help create the New World.

Ideals, Materials

An excellent example of how this cycle between believing in the story of the New World and building the New World can work is the example of building a new American city. Cities are where people come together to create; creation happens most densely and speedily in cities. Cities are where you can experiment on all sorts of levels: political, economic, cultural, architectural, scientific, etc. The origins of American democracy come from the small New England town of self-governance, community ties, and experimentation. Building a physical city is, itself, a major instantiation of the idea that we are building a New World. We are building a city on a hill, both valuable unto itself and valuable as a beacon of inspiration for others.

Experimentation is at the essence of America’s association with ever-emerging novelty. A new city would give us the physical and social environment with which we could experiment endlessly, infinitely widening the scope of human possibility. American cities have been largely stagnant for a long time now, strangled by highways, zoning laws, soaring rents, crime, and a general lack of youthful energy. A new city designed in the 21st century that adopted the New World meta-meme as core to its culture could create untold diversity, unlock unforeseen human potential, inspire creators and builders and innovators of all kinds, and be a beacon of hope for a New World that expands far beyond the city itself.

We need to roll up our sleeves and work on concrete experiments in order to counteract the spread of nihilism, which threatens to tear apart the fabric of American society (https://beatinpaths.com/2022/10/11/american-nihilism-and-its-discontents/). Nihilism is a natural response to a felt lack of agency, a lack of context, a lack of connectedness, a lack of power.

America generates meaningful energy and agency by undertaking grand projects, from the Erie Canal to the Moon mission to the founding of a new city. The opposite of consuming is creating. Creating creates more than the thing created; it creates a superlative aura of agency. This may be why it has felt like the entire world has been happening in the Bay Area for the last few decades. Building, making, innovating--- genuinely creating new things is like an antiseptic to souls sick of nihilism. We need to propagate the aura of agency in order to replace cultural pessimism with a new cultural optimism, an optimism for the future utopia of the New World. This optimistic orientation towards the possibility of utopia is the dream that has inspired all other dreams, the dream that has underpinned all genuine progress in this country. 

Coda: A Call to Change-Makers

America is unfinished. Its essence has always lain in the future. All great movements for progress in American history have used a positive form of patriotism to accomplish their goals, framing progress as a way of realizing a more ideal version of America, a New World worthy of pride. American history and culture are rife with examples of this; all we need to do is rekindle the same spirit that has been ebbing and flowing in America for centuries. We are not starting from scratch; we have a deep democratic tradition to draw from. All we need is the spark of the meta-meme, and to use that spark to start building. Once we start making the ideas real, everything will gain momentum.

The dream of utopia is pragmatically useful. Dreams can be used as a sort of technology, tools that can extend us beyond ourselves, cranes that can lift us into new territory.

For too long, technologists have ignored the power of stories, the power of dreams, the way ideas can shape materials. Where they have recognized it, they have turned it into short-term profits. But the same power can be used to plant sequoia seeds that will grow for thousands of years.

For too long, technologists have ignored the value of the American nation, despite the fact that it is the bounty, stability, infrastructure, and support of this nation, its institutions, and its people that has allowed innovation to flourish here like never before in history. The prevailing attitude in Silicon Valley seems to treat the nation as an irrelevant fossil, a nuisance at best, rather than the precondition of all the technological progress we make. Did American taxpayers not invent the Internet? Technologists seem to think that they can build the techno-optimist future in a bubble, a bubble supported by the American nation while somehow isolated from the issues of the American nation. They think the world can be saved without dirtying their hands in culture and politics. But this is sadly not the case. They merely take the dirty hands that got us here for granted.

If we want to create a flourishing future, we need to pragmatically work with all of the forces that influence our world. Memes, values, ideas, culture---  for many technologists who are more at home rotating shapes these are uncomfortable tools to deal with, but we must work with them if we want to maximize our chance at effectively stewarding the world towards a better future for billions of potential humans. America is still the densest locus of agency in the world, and we Americans have the power to influence American agency, from the small scale of individuals to the large scale of the American government and everything in between. America is where the future will take shape more than anywhere else; luckily for us, it is where the meta-meme of the New World has historically been the most successful. We can rekindle the meta-meme, and carry the torch of the New World into the far future.






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This is extremely well-written. Thank you for sharing this and I hope you write more! 

I particularly loved this line: "The success of the smallpox vaccine helps contribute to the success of the Apollo Program, not necessarily due to direct scientific lineage, but simply because each success reinforces the meta-meme of newness." That really hits home for me.

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