Brent Cooper

Rise of the Emergentsia: Sensing the ‘Source Code'

How to navigate polarisation and culture wars? Understanding the ‘source code' - combining knowledge with the lived, embodied experience of others - is vital for constructive conversation.


This article is the 3rd in the profile series on the Rise of the Emergentsia, an open-source community of sagacious speakers attuned to a new stage of global evolution. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

How do we have constructive conversations about things that matter and move discourse forwards? Bonnitta Roy describes ‘source code analysis' as a way to hack the best perceptive protocols and narrative threading of the transitioning world around us.

How do we change as individuals in a way that converges with mutual interest? And how can civilisation shift in a way that empowers everyone to achieve these ends? To understand the Emergentsia, it is helpful to consider how this works.
The overarching emphasis of Bonnitta Roy's efforts is that we need to have better conversations.
For many years, Bonnitta Roy has helped behind the scenes as a ‘meta-theory referee' and a trusted guide; as a favoured guest on the Emerge podcast, her value in this role is now tangible. Like many of the Emergentsia, it is not straightforward to characterise Roy’s background or expertise, which includes a high level of integrative scholarship, but is also grounded in life experience that includes management, martial arts, and horse training. In any case, the quality of her insight speaks for itself. 

The overarching emphasis of her efforts is that we need to have better conversations, which means improving sense making techniques to foster collective coherence in surprising ways. 

In Where Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Ezra Klein Go Wrong (May, 2018), Roy and Thorson navigate how three ostensibly liberal and mainstream figures talk straight past each other and miss the mark. Roy observes that Peterson and Harris engaged competitively in their debates and both finish with greater conviction. Had they foregrounded a meta-theoretical perspective or practiced ‘releasing complexity’ “...then they could perhaps see that, in this mutuality, there's another idea that wants to emerge…” 
Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris are stuck in “aboutism” - bland second-hand academic knowledge, as opposed to direct experience, intellectual or otherwise - leading to misunderstanding.
Though these conversations have value for some, Roy laments that they indeed sound like tired old scripts and tropes stuck in a loop. Roy dismisses Harris’ revival of Charles Murray (over race/IQ science) because “you can't control for social and economic status in a racist society”, since the context has already been (white)washed away. Michael Brooks echoes the same conclusions, deconstructing and debunking Harris’ claims and conversational style in even greater detail (TMBS #35, from 1:06:00-1:28:00, as well as TMBS #41). Thorson hopes that Harris and Peterson might try stepping into a metamodern frame, a deeper context for considering such arguments.

Thorson called After Jordan Peterson (July 2018) his “most emergent episode of emerge” at the time, where he converses with Roy and Jordan Hall about Ronan Harrington’s Alter Ego video Have you made up your mind about Jordan Peterson? Ronan explores Peterson’s interviews with Russell Brand through a metamodern lens (the “new politics on the other side of the culture war.”). Hall and Roy both felt the video spoke to a conversation wanting to happen, to emerge. What Hall is struck by in Ronan’s video is not the content but the “evidenced ability to be conscious of an attitude of disposition towards the conversation…” The research behind it certainly matters (including Jonathan Rowson’s “Petersonitis” paper), but it is Ronan’s empathy that wins over Hall and audiences. 

Bonnitta Roy

In a three part arc between Roy and Thorson (starting with A Source Code Analysis of Power, Aug, 2018), Roy describes a hypothetical conversation between Peterson, Ezra Klein, and Ben Shapiro as a “mess” due to rampant naturalistic fallacies, such as using the dominance hierarchy to defend patriarchy. Thorson calls it ‘twice-confused reductionism’. As a result, the debaters depower themselves, especially Peterson in how he admits a weird relationship with “crazy women,” as Roy relays. They cut themselves off from the source code of the “lived experience” of others rather than working through the mental malware blocking them from finding a new kind of clarity. This is as true for their real conversations.
While we grasp truth with our intellect, we feel trust in our bodies, and both require an ongoing practice and process.
Peterson and Harris are stuck in “aboutism” - bland second-hand academic knowledge, as opposed to direct experience, intellectual or otherwise - leading to misunderstanding. Their analysis doesn’t scale up, nor do their enlightened values, when anchored to such disputed science or denial of subjective realities. Thorson and Roy identify this as a power problem because we can’t act on the level of emergence, of patterns; we can only act on protocols which then scale up, akin to Schmachtenberger’s notion of the ‘generator function’. Individually we can’t operate on the level of climate change itself, for example, but we can understand how our micro actions scale up collectively.

As Roy writes in Why Metaphysics Matters (2019), “Protocols are the values and means of discernment that guide the agents from choice to choice... in a field of creative possibility.” In this case, it applies to conversation and source-code analysis, not just action. The goal is to “discover the key generative protocols at the core of the emergent pattern that we seek to understand.” This can help make people sensitive to micro events that make a difference at the level of emergence (as I have also elaborated on as “the ripple effect”).

In A Source Code Analysis of Trust (Aug, 2018), Thorson enjoys more “psychoactive” conversation with Roy exposing hidden bias and agendas that undermine trust. “We're trying to figure out what are the protocols or generator functions that we can work with…" Roy says, and the key is knowing what to amplify or attenuate within us. In her workshops, she found that people have a messy (perhaps fuzzy) relationship to trust and tacit knowledge. People take for granted the trust in public systems (ie. electricity), while exploiting wiggle room in reciprocal relations (leading to systemic distrust). 
People limit themselves, Roy argues, by underestimating “the level to which the moving body actually performs a cognitive function…”
The best protocol is to ‘pay it forward’; to be altruistic. But in general we still have a problem of trust in information and our own knowledge, sometimes legitimately paranoid, sometimes creating mental blocks that aren’t even really there. Trust (and truth) for the real ‘truth-seekers’ is thus a ‘strange attractor’ that we are drawn to through embodied intelligence. While we grasp truth with our intellect, we feel trust in our bodies, and both require an ongoing practice and process.

Lastly, in their Source Code Analysis of Collective Action (Sept 2018), Roy and Thorson discuss the “conceptual priming” necessary for coherence, combining intellectual abstraction with “lived experience” by building critical reflexivity into protocols to give us leverage to change at the level of emergence. People limit themselves, Roy argues, by underestimating “the level to which the moving body actually performs a cognitive function…” Thorson observes that the source code model “allows us to negotiate our identity or identities… it points to the fact that having access to many different identities in our experience is actually facilitative of robust collective action.” “Exactly,” Roy replies. This is reminiscent of Walt Whitman’s famous phrase “I contain multitudes”, but with an added imperative to merge your own stream of consciousness with compassion for all the others.

Trust is necessary for collective action, and power fairly distributed is needed in order for people to trust each other. Though we may seem a long way from achieving systems change, the Emergentsia tries to lay out the building blocks and a roadmap so that the quest may unfold as soon as possible. The internet potentially enables rapid mass enlightenment and dynamic coordination, if we could only minimise polarisation and culture wars. 
This is the Emergentsia in action, holding space and evolving critical reflexivity at the maximum safe speed. 
Roy, Hall, Schmachtenberger and others emphasise the necessity of personal sovereignty; the idea of decentralised power and agency of actors to have autonomy, improve themselves, and act in concert with the collective intelligence of positive global movements. This means embodied knowledge is crucial, learning with not only the mind but the body, as in the heart (morals/ ethics/ empathy), expanding our individual consciousness to the whole world.

In Why Metaphysics Matters, Roy unpacks how the next paradigm shift is toward greater simplexity, just as the more elegant heliocentric model supplanted Ptolemy’s epicycles. The ontological (study of what is real) complexity stayed the same, but epistemic (study of what is known) complexity was reduced, hence the new attempt to synthesise epistemology and ontology together again:

“The new architecture would cut out the epistemic complexity and more perfectly cohere with the rich elegant complexity of the real. By adopting a process understanding of reality, metaphysics could become a suitable guide for a Metamodern praxis, one which integrated perception and participation with the free play of imagination and memory. The task at hand is radical.”

Through her work and conversations Roy is helping to enable the various meta-moves to settle into a new coherent arrangement (Roy explores her metamodern metaphysics in Six Ways to Go Meta: which perhaps can be simplified as upward, downward, outward, sideward, inside-out, outside-in). This is the Emergentsia in action, holding space and evolving critical reflexivity at the maximum safe speed. 

Through the emergent practices of people like Roy, Thorson, and Hall, we can increase leverage in our sovereignty and sense-making. Rather than passively hope that the tipping point of a better world is near, we can collectively get better at how we think, talk, listen, and move towards it. 
Words by Brent Cooper
Brent Cooper is an independent political sociologist, filmmaker, and Executive Director of The Abs-Tract Organization, a research and media project to educate on abstraction, metamodernism, and related topics.