Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of The Listening Society, and the upcoming books Nordic Ideology and 6 Hidden Patterns of World History. Hanzi epitomizes much of the metamodern philosophy and can be considered a personification of this strand of thought. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps.
Editor’s note: To facilitate the exploration and assimilation of ideas, this conversation is divided into two parts.
Part I: Listening Society; Metamodernism; Values; Citizenship
Dear Hanzi, thank you for your kind hospitality in this beautiful little gem in the Swiss Alps; what a wonderful scenery for our conversation! In order to make readers become familiar with you, I’d like to start by focusing on your book, The Listening Society, in which you state that “we desperately need a deeper kind of welfare, beyond the confines of material welfare and medical security – a listening society, where every person is seen and heard”. How does a Listening Society look like? Which principles govern it?
The simplest way to think about it is that our economics is blind. We have today a kind of material economics, where we look at utility in a relatively superficial way, which means that aesthetic values, spiritual values and values of depth psychology are omitted from our overall socio-economic calculus. And, given that we keep computing things at a too superficial level, we keep sending all the resources in relatively insufficient directions.
A clear example is meditation and all sorts of inner work, including psychological and emotional training. Because these things appear on the surface as idle things, it looks like we can’t afford them, as we are too busy and have to use our resources on other things. But if we take an honest look at the amount of things around us, we have such great economic potential, and yet we see that happiness levels, also in rich countries, have been stagnating and even retracting. We know that someone’s happiness is relatively easy to change, at least if you start in early childhood and affect the environment and the human relations, using techniques that are backed up by science and specifically tailored for that person.
So, where are resources directed to in a Listening Society?
If we could do a deeper calculus and go beyond the limits of economic inquiry that we have today, we could redirect many resources in terms of time and attention inwards, and towards each other. This means several things. First of all, on the level of welfare, it means that you would have to direct much more resources towards preventive work, for instance by having social workers that work with existential issues and can guide people through transitions or life-crises. You could also have non-invasive therapy for children; simple things that will increase the likelihood of people growing in a direction of responsibility and self-awareness. And you could have meditation, mindfulness and relaxation trainings, all of which have been shown to increase your empathy and happiness levels.
Those measures, themselves, would create a much happier society. And, then, when people relate with one another with more empathy and perspective-taking, they on average have better relationships, which affect a person’s development psychology throughout their life, change their motives and drives, and create the conditions for more universal and less materialistic and defensive values to emerge. And these values would then drive the economy. It is also a matter of survival in this time of unsustainability. We have a non-resilient, unsustainable system; we are stuck with certain psychological needs and wants that drive the economy. We can reform the economy as much as we want, in terms of laws and regulations, we can give money to green products, but unless these fundamental drives—the human needs and wants—transform, we, that live in a democracy, won’t be able to fundamentally transform the base structures of the system.
This welfare system, the Listening Society, is a system that redirects many resources to psychological growth, especially targeting children and for the whole of their lifespan. I realize this might sound controversial, but I think that’s the best bet we have.
You seem to be posing a great deal of attention on transforming society by providing tools for inner growth and development. Does it underlie a view in which transformation at the individual level is vital for transformation at the societal level?
Yes, but also a little bit no. Yes in the sense that the king’s road to the future—if we are to have one—is through inner development. And inner development is always a personal issue; it’s beyond the political, beyond the public sphere, beyond any economic issue. That being said, though, I do not necessarily point at a directionality between the individual and the social and political institutions. Rather, I work with what I call a trans-personal perspective. Because every individual emerges in a social setting and is entirely dependent on the context and on the interactions and the inner life of other individuals around them, it’s almost impossible to create a sealed container around the individual, even analytically. Whenever we try, it always kind of slips and leaks. Instead, I imagine a spiral movement towards this development, where you have to wriggle your way up to the next stage.
How does this wriggling movement towards development look like?
The wriggling is a dynamic between the social environment and the person. It is for this reason that I didn’t write a book about personal philosophy or individual growth. There are other people who have done that—Jordan Peterson is a good example—and they say ‘before you change the world, you have to clean your house’. Instead, I say that for somebody to be able to clean their house, the institutions of society have to create the generative functions for that to be likely to happen.
I start at the middle level, and it’s both top-down and bottom-up. Some bottom-up people, like myself, gather around certain ideas, affect political institutions with good arguments according to the rules of the game—in this case, democracy. By changing some of the institutions—for instance schools, healthcare, labour market, and corporate and business laws—we change some of the rules of the game, so that we can have a massive shift in people’s perspectives. And, when that change begins to occur, many people begin to see the point of a listening society, start demanding more and know how to create it. So, it goes back and forth. You create a more listening society, and get people who develop a bit further, in terms of their values, relationships and inner lives, and who can act in more organized and coordinated ways and can change these institutions of society a little bit more. That’s how the perspective changes bit by bit; it’s an exploratory process, not a blueprint.
Now we certainly have a clearer picture on the relationship you envision between individuals and institutions, personal change and social change. Undertaking a sceptical perspective—even if not necessarily mine—why should discourses about spirituality and self-growth be relevant for the economy? Or, to phrase it differently, why should these elements be part of economic inquiry?
First of all, I’d like to say that my overall approach is not to try and reach everybody, and to get everybody to agree with what I am saying. Rather, my overall approach is actually a bit cruder than that; within the category of soft, nice guys, I am a hardliner. And it means something like this: we are not going to ask nicely, we are going to outcompete the other structures. Basically, if one society—or even one little institution, one little company, one political party, or any other organization or community—uses more of these available, discernable and verifiable social technologies, then they’ll have a competitive advantages. So, the societies that are going to be most listening, are also going to make the most money, and outcompete other societies. For the simple reason that if you have a more listening society, people’s general trust goes up and stress levels go down, and the number of relations go up, and then they are more creative and innovative, exchange information more freely, and are better at managing social relations.
That’s the fundamental answer. If you have a strong enough theory, you don’t have to excuse or explain; you just need to find the people who see it, work with them, outcompete the others, and then you showed the world. That’s how democracy really works. It is not that the majority is always right, or that somebody in the majority tells the big truth and everybody makes up their own mind. Rather, it’s a free information system, where the word is free, and there are always going to be a lot of strange opinions out there on the fringes; most of those opinions are going to prove to be crazy, but some are going to be competitive. As they get closer and closer to the centre, they start getting challenged, people start getting in fights, and after a while… you have a new regime, a new way of thinking! What seemed weird a while ago, just isn’t anymore. It is like when modernity showed up and people didn’t really need to believe in God in the same way, especially not Jesus walking on waters and being your personal saviour. I mean, you could do it, but didn’t have to. And they didn’t talk the Christians into it, didn’t have a specific programme for telling it their way about Newtonian physics. Basically, this regime just outcompeted the other one. And, after a while, everybody switched.
That being said, what you were asking for is important. Once you have that fundament set, then you can go to the next step. Okay, we don’t have to talk about spirituality, we can talk about inner states, which very much do exist. It is quite undeniable that you sometimes feel high, and sometimes feel low. So, how can society make you feel clear, high, expansive, open, free, alive, in love with life itself? These are relevant questions. And if those things are irrelevant, then we are in a freaking nightmare. If you want to call that spirituality or not, it doesn’t matter. What matters is if you are healthy, feel free, feel alive. Inner states are real. If I always feel low, I don’t get anything done. Preventing that is a value for society.
Talking about value(s), in your book you argue that it is important to have values that match the challenges of our time, in order to effectively find a solution for them. You stress three main challenges—sustainability, inequality and alienation—and call for the adoption of metamodern values. So, here the questions come. Who is a metamodernist? And, which values does a metamodernist have?
There is a distinct progression between modern values, postmodern values and metamodern values. A relatively easy way to recognize yourself as a metamodernist is if nobody else seems to agree with you; if you speak out, people on the left think you are a neoliberal trader, people on the right think you are a crazy Marxist, spiritual people think you are an over-intellectual egghead, and academics think you are a hippie. If you have very few friends, it means that you are off the normal charts of values. Which either means you are crazy or you are in another strand of values, and the value combination that you have doesn’t compute in the cognitive schema of other people.
I firmly believe that there is such a layer of values, where you remix them and synthesise them in new ways. So that you get not one particular mix, but a family of different combinations that you can roughly label as metamodern. One metamodern value is that you value development and stage development, which is opposite to the postmodern values where you criticize and tear everything apart, and see oppression and systems building as almost synonymous. Very famous is obviously Foucault’s quote, where he was asked at some point ‘well, you just criticize everything and you are not pro anything; what do you believe in?’ And he said ‘well you know, what? There are so many economists and engineers in the world, and they are all busy building it. I just want to reap it apart, and somebody needs to do that too’. That kind of encapsulates the postmodern attitude driven to its extreme.
How do metamodernists react to this deconstructive, postmodern attitude?
Metamodernists think that after deconstruction must come reconstruction. It wants to use this multiplicity of perspectives not to just line them up—like this culture has this perspective, and that culture has that one—but it wants to compare them. Given the premises of culture A, do their values become illogical and break down under their own weight and lead to those of culture B? As things often stand, that is the case. Often there are such development differences. For instance, as I argue in the book, the reason people go from polytheistic to monotheistic, mythic-rational, worldviews, is that they figure out that there must be one highest truth; there can only be one truth, many things cannot be true at the same time. So they start believing in one god, who has to be the highest moral truth. Then, modernity comes along—first with the Scientific Revolution and then, of course, the Enlightenment—and they say that if you want that universal truth, it can’t come from somebody’s particular revelation; it must be a public revelation, you all ought to be able to verify and check it. Otherwise, it can’t be the highest truth. And it breaks down the former stage on its own premises.
That kind of thinking isn’t very prevalent in postmodern value systems, but if you look at the metamodernists, you begin to use these many perspectives to compare them and see the developmental path they lead to. This also means that you stop hating the perspectives of other people, because perspectives become just another metric, like somebody’s weight, height or IQ. You can measure it, because you can see that there is a psychological and cultural development, where cultures and brains evolve together. This has been studied in neuroscience and is actually not a strange thing. People in different cultures will genuinely have different wired brains, because humans have high adaptability, so that our brain will respond more to the environment than other animals do, and over a longer period of time too. We are shaped over a very long period of time.
So, which values guide a metamodernist?
Metamodern values are the values of the internet society, which are multiplicity and development, and which do not only try to see from other perspectives, but also try to gather as many perspectives as possible and have solidarity for people of all perspectives. That’s the pathway forward. The world isn’t going to change into everybody agreeing with you, and that’s probably a good thing. If the world won’t change into everybody becoming Christian, or a vegan feminist, or a metamodernist, then the only thing to do is to love your neighbour. But just loving your neighbour and saying ‘oh, I love you, but you are going to burn in hell if you are not Christian (or a vegan feminist)’, is not going to lead very far. You have actually to love your neighbour, even if she has a different perspective. And that also happens to be the best way to transform someone else’s perspective. If you are actually making the effort to see from their eyes, and if you believe that your perspective is better than theirs, then you see it as a privilege and not as a moral outrage.
To sum up, the values I am getting at are: multi-perspectivalism, developmentalism, and non-judgement.
These appear to me to be fundamental values in order to have a societal dialogue conducive to progress, but I also recognize what a deep transformation they entail. Does this set of values provide us with a new kind of citizen?
I am not sure all these values necessarily translate into a new kind of citizenship, but I do believe you can, on the one hand, posit citizen M—citizen modern—as an ideal type, and, on the other hand citizen, citizen MM—citizen metamodern—as an ideal type. I would kind of skip citizen-postmodern, because again postmodernism is rather a critique of the modern world and not exactly a particular constructive stage.
The citizen-metamodern is based a lot less on who you are on the labour-market. The reason is that we are in an information society, a society of abundance, so production isn't really the scarce resource. The scarce resource is the management of complexity and good behaviour; it becomes more and more complex and difficult to actually behave well. Before you know it, you will have booked a few flights to the Maldives and you have already used more carbon that the Earth can do for all your lifetime. Then you insult somebody online by just not being good at taking their perspective and that cascades into that same person being a bully into someone else. We are so interconnected that it is so difficult to be a good person. And then you have kids and they grow up fast, but technology runs so fast that you genuinely don’t understand their world, and you end up being a bad parent because you can’t understand them.
If citizen MM is a lot less about the employment status and job position, what is it about?
Behavioural and relational self-regulation in all spheres of all life—the personal, the political, and the professional—becomes a much more important totality than just ‘I am Hanzi, the baker’ (which I used to be). Modern society would be optimized if everybody got a job and kept it, specializing in it. Metamodern society is very different. Everybody has to grow an identity in the personal realm, because the consequences of one person not feeling well are bigger than ever in terms of environmental, social and economic impact. And, then, everybody needs to get well informed about this hyper-complex society, and therefore, a political identity and a professional identity are needed.
But, when they go to their professional identity, people need not to get split up, not get alienated and leave other things at home, putting a professional mask on, because it is not going to work. You will never have genuinely intelligent organizations like that. In a highly creative economy, people have to be able to share their real feelings and be themselves. That’s one of the major shifts, away from a labour-market sphere towards a re-integration of the three. Modern societies differentiated among these three different spheres, which had been very good and powerful, but it also created alienation, which grows as we reach a more complex economy. Nowadays you need fuller and bigger parts of your body to function at work and you need to rely on your drives; you can’t hope there will be simple routines or rules will tell you what to do. We need to put the three spheres back together, without any of them colonizing the other two.
How might this colonization of one sphere over the others look like?
Well, what happens if the professional life colonizes the political and personal lives? Does it mean that your boss is sleeping with your wife and telling you what to vote? We don’t want that. Or, if the personal colonizes the other two, that is the classical example of parochialization, meaning you corrupt institutions and business relations with family relations…
Yes, we know all to well about it in Italy, and not only in Italy I guess…
Ha, yes! And then of course, the third combination is just as bad: if who you are politically is going to affect who you work with, if you get the job and if you can marry this or that person is also terrible. We are up against huge challenges here. If we have to transform the metamodern citizens and if we are going to take up metamodern values, there are so many things that can go wrong and are going to go wrong. I am not saying that is an easy path ahead; I am saying do it because the alternative is worse. You have to try, even if it is risky and is a slim path, where you can follow down on either side.
Part II: New Forms of Politics; Democracy; ‘Listening Enterprise’; Narratives; Natural Capital
In the first part of our conversation, you stressed very much the concept of structures and societies outcompeting other forms. Shifting the debate to the level of companies, how does a listening society look like in the workplace? Does it entail a drastic change in the employer-employee relationship?
It’s a very good question, and a little bit beyond the listening society as a welfare regime. But, that being said, we are going to have to transform business on the labour market, the organizations and the rules of work-life and employment. Roughly speaking, the future equilibrium—and I think it is very difficult to jump from the cliff we are at now to that equilibrium—would be one where we tax work very little, or not at all, and instead we tax consumption and resources use much more, together with all those things that have a higher environmental impact. And, of course, we tax all sorts of rents. So, if you have land, we’ll tax it because fundamentally the land is of everybody and for everybody. That would be a desirable future system, even though I realize that it is not for no reason that we have the current system where we tax income; namely, that it is easier to collect taxes. There are some big technical issues that need to be resolved. But, that being said, what I imagine—if we do manage to make the jump to the next stage—is something along the lines of an extreme flexicurity system.
From imagination to reality, any country to look at to have an idea of what an extreme flexicurity system would look like?
Compare Denmark and Sweden, for instance. Sweden has a relatively rigid labour-market, which I do not believe belongs to the future because it locks us too much to citizens M. That is, you become part of the system once you get a job and stay a long time at the same job. In the Danish system, instead, it is very easy to get fired, and people switch jobs all the time, but are comfortable in between the jobs because the State guarantees an income. That being said, the Swedish system has been able to be a bit more generous on immigration, and the Danish system has not, because if you are so generous to people who don’t work, then that’s a problem. But on the whole, the Danish economy has been a little bit stronger and their currency used to be weaker than the Swedish one, but it has proved to be successful.
For flexicurity to work, of course, many countries have to do it together and then, hopefully, the taxation has to change from one system to another. It will be, in our terms, both a libertarian system—because of very high mobility—and a far left system, because you would be guaranteed a relatively comfortable life even if you don’t work for longer periods of time. For something like that to work, we would have to change the environmental cues, the behavioural cues and the whole choice architecture of the economy. We would need to have lots of preventive measures for gambling disorders, an educational system that grows your inner agency over time, and grows your identity both as a person, as a citizen and as a worker. Then a lot of people would contribute outside of what we today think of the labour-market. But we don’t have to be naïve about it. It is not that you just take the current system and psychological development and cultural values of our population, add basic income and this is going to happen. No! You are to wriggle away from one setting to the next. If you try and jump, and can’t make the jump, you’ll fall between the cliffs and crash. You will even lose what you already have.
Going to the level of individual enterprises, what does a metamodern society imply for them?
We have to create models that are wired for the metamodern economy, meaning an economy where information capital and cultural capital dominate money capital. We will have to recreate this institution—the enterprise, the corporation—and we are going to invent new, more complex forms. Companies nowadays of course correspond very well to modernity; metamodern life is going to need its version. It doesn't mean that companies are going to disappear. It just means we will need an entirely new creature that works with another form of governance and another form of self-organization and decision-making. I am not sure how that looks yet but I am thinking and studying this. Sooner or later we will crack the code.
I know I have already been pushing quite a lot the concept of Listening Society, but—stay with me here—let’s say we want to create a Listening Enterprise. Which principles govern this new type of enterprise?
Ok, here is a couple. The first would be to increase the autonomy of the co-workers as much as possible. So, rather than having a situation where the CEO is the owner and the only one to identify with the company, while the employees identify with the payroll, each employee should be socialized and made identify with the purpose of the company, as formulated by themselves. This could create a deeper basis for resonating with other people across the company. The second would be to have a peer-to-peer support structure, where everybody—say, every second month—taps into their own emotions for the past months, talks about their problems and formulates goals for the future. In this way, everybody would be stating their feelings and listening to everybody else. If you do this, after few years everybody will know something about the inner lives of somebody else, their drives and struggles; there will be much less to hide and the professional mask will be dropped.
I believe that a lot of work needs to be done on the structural level, on the level of social technologies. If you get those right, you get the relations right, and once you get the relations and the inner feelings of everyone right, then it’s much easier for intelligent structures of governance to grow from that. The usual approach is to look for the right structure of governance and decision-making, and then put people in the positions to see how it works. That is the top-down approach and it goes someway, but we probably have to create ways to make things grow organically. And, for that, we need a more generic form of business law; something that allows companies to be much more experimental.
When you mentioned basic income earlier on, you stated that we can’t just throw it in the current system, with the psychological development and cultural values prevailing in it. Assuming that we wanted to implement it, what kind of psychological and cultural progress is needed to make it work?
There is actually a bit of deliberateness in me being not super specific there, because if we get stuck in a too early version of a vision, we might actually not see the later developments. The fundamental ideas are rather directionalities, and in my second book, Nordic Ideology, I present six such directionalities. Basically, there should be 6 forms of politics, all of which should have their own institutional framework and become part of the everyday political debate.
One would be democratization politics: to increase the quality of democracy and update the systems of governance. We really don’t have a debate about that and we certainly don’t have political institutions that try to do it. A second would be gemeinschaft politics (politics of community): to measure and improve relations across societies. The third one would be existential politics, about inner states and people’s own relationship to death, life, mental health, and so on. Forth would be emancipation politics, addressing everything that oppresses us and makes us feel suffocated. Then we need a fifth form of politics, empirical politics, which has to do with how to increase the scientific base of all decision-making. Not just a matter of making everything evidence based, but a matter of increasing the quality of debate in society. And if you have empirics, you also need theories, so the sixth form: politics of narrative. This is the most radical step into a genuine metamodern world, because here we look at which narratives steer society and try to have a debate about all different narratives. These are concrete institutional inventions that I propose, and I would propose that people gather around those ideas and try to make them happen in their country. However, there are many things to look for already in the world that are highly efficient.
Any example you wish to bring across to show the concrete value of any of these six kinds of politics?
All of Europe is struggling with immigration and the integration of immigrants, and criminal law issues. The most successful city in all of Europe is Mechelen, a small city in the Flemish part of Belgium. Belgium had a record per capita of people going to ISIS compared to all other European countries. But in this city, which had been full of immigrants and had a high criminality rate 50 years ago, nobody went to ISIS. What had they done to prevent it? Well, they had done very interesting programs. First of all, they set up a strong police force and presence on all the worst streets. Then, they asked all middle-class parents—going family by family—what were the demands that they would have liked to be met in order to send their kids to the closest school, in this way mixing up with the other kids. They met all these demands and that broke the segregation. But then it gets really controversial, as they re-educated the Muslim population. They did so by making sure that kids in schools were given a narrative about the Muslim caliphate in the late middle ages in Spain, and how that was a place of tolerance, science and multi-culturalism; a progressive place, ahead of its times.
What happened then is that nobody was tempted to go to ISIS because they already had a positive identity. This is an example of what gemeinschaft politics can look like. This was done by a libertarian mayor, but it is just being pragmatic really, not simply saying ‘this is your personal stuff’ or ‘the market will take care of this’. He tried to solve it getting his hands dirty, and it turned out he probably saved the city from a lot of suffering. And this is just one of many examples. The point today is that these things just pop up spontaneously; the process is not institutionalized. Why aren’t there measures for all of this?
That’s a good question…Coming to the politics of narrative, do you recognize the importance of creating a space where different narratives—of different political movements and actors in society—can come together and contaminate each other? More crucially, how can we create this place of exchange and contamination?
I am not a utopian on this, and I do believe that there will be a minority of metamodern thinkers who have solidarity with the perspective of others, but still prefer their perspective to others; value judgments will still be made. We need to grow that minority, because they are going to be at the centre of all of this, because they are loyal and listen to the perspectives of others—creating processes that help them grow from their own premises—but still create generative conditions so that if something is not working, you can still grow in another direction. We need folks with metamodern values that are at the centre and create these processes; that’s a chief goal. Without that population being big, influential and organized enough, these things won’t work, because you can put narratives together, but they are going to tear each other apart. So, the first step is to have a subpopulation, 5%-10% of great eminencies.
The second step, then, is to improve the quality of deliberation across society. How can we increase the inclusion of people participating in the public debate? How can we make sure more voices are heard and more people feel that the decisions being made are theirs? We have a challenge there. It is not a natural law that the more you are exposed to other perspectives, the better. You need to maintain your own sense of security and autonomy, and then you need the best possible way for communication to happen. I do sometimes public speaking and debates and I see that, as soon as there are more than 20 people in the room, mass psychology starts kicking in and lowest common denominators become the most powerful forces.
As an example, there is usually a person bringing up a complex argument—that would be me—and then another person insults famous people that are not in the room. It doesn’t matter if it is an educated audience; people love it! It’s kind of fast calories vs. healthy food. Fast calories are more tempting, but they make you miserable in the long-run. It feels great to be part of a group and be right, but this makes us collectively dumb and will make us suffer. Rather, we need to be collectively smart. And, to do that, we need to make sure that these six dimensions that I mentioned are in politics, are part of the public consciousness, and are being discussed and worked out seriously by hundreds of thousands of people.
Nowadays, there are big discussions around Europe concerning the future of democracy. One possibility some actors invoke—see the 5 Stars Movement in Italy—is a kind of ultra direct democracy, in which citizens are called to vote through referenda on issues of great political, social, economic, environmental and humanitarian relevance. What is your position here?
There are four forms of democracy in the literature: direct democracy, representative democracy, participatory democracy and deliberative democracy. If you look at these four, there is a developmental sequence to them, also in a historical sense. Direct democracy is the oldest type of democracy; if you don’t have a say and can’t vote, then it is not democracy. After a certain size, given that the whole thing gets too complicated, we have representative democracy as a way of managing complexity. But when you have representation, a distance shows up in the decisions between the represented and the representing people, until a point in which you almost don’t feel the representation anymore.
That’s when participatory democracy comes in, to revitalize a representative system. Given that we, as normal citizens, are such at great distance, we can take part in different forms of citizens’ engagement, such as being part of a committee or giving advice to some policy proposals. Then, deliberative democracy comes in: given that I am participating, how do I make sure that this is a high-quality participation and that the right people are participating? We need a process that will make that participation as fruitful as possible, creating panels and rules for how to discuss, so that the highest possible truth emerges in the long run.
What is needed for that?
The point is that this should be an ongoing process, because nothing is more important in a society than the quality of its governance. If you can’t update your governance, you will have institutional decay; that is almost an actual law. The best example in this case is the US. It used to be the most high-tech system in the world—that’s why they ruled the world—but they don’t have a system that updates itself. They make few amendments but, by and large, this state doesn’t grow, as decisions are the fruit of interest groups. Then, of course, people see that the state is acting irrationally and don’t want to pay high taxes, and that’s how the state gets weaker and weaker. People think it is deliberate, because they can’t see it is institutional decay. Fundamentally, what is lacking is democratization politics. They don’t have a system that updates itself, so they get stuck with the 200 years old system, which sooner or later is going to break down, especially as the environment changes. The US is just a burning example, the rest of us are kind of following the same path, and need to change as well. If we don’t have a system for continuously valuating, re-evaluating, and debating our system of governance, then we are pretty screwed.
Coming to our relationship with nature, what do you think about the natural capital movement, which tries to assign a financial value to the environmental impact of economic projects? Or, to phrase it differently, do you think it is a useful and just practice to assign a monetary value to nature and natural resources?
I am not an expert, but I have run into these arguments sometimes. Largely, I am very positive towards them, because I think they look in the right direction; in the direction of expanding economic thinking and inquiry. Economists run the world because they set the metrics and set the things that we can reasonably make choices between. The romantics would say ‘let’s not quantify everything’, while I say let’s actually do this, because the calculus that you will get is going to be in favour of inner values and environmentalism. If you do the math and have an inclusive model, then the utility of us not destroying the environment and caring about each other is staggering. Now we are all stuck in the wrong calculations, we are all using the wrong metrics.
So, I agree with that movement, but I have an issue with it when it comes to competitiveness. To make sure that a new kind of paradigm reaches the governing body, it has not only to be good and correct, it has to outcompete other paradigms on their own premises. That’s the difference between metamodernism as a political philosophy and most of the other alternatives out there, which are night-sky philosophies, like ‘oh, it would be nice if we thought about it like this’. Rather, we need to figure out how to put environmental economics and natural capital into a context where they compete on the own terms of the others, which right now are the nation states and the capitalist perspectives. We need to come up with something that outcompetes their own game; it has to give more money and more power.
As a final question, what will Hanzi be doing more in the next months? I have heard that you have been involved with some alternative political movements; anything in that direction?
I have been involved in trying to start early metamodern political movements, but that didn’t really take off. I was connected to The Alternative in Denmark for a certain time, but as I don’t think that the party materializes what I had in my hopes for them, these days I don’t hear from them and they don’t hear from me. I felt they were being too much of a normal environmentalist, green, postmodern party. Then The Initiative came along in Sweden; the sister party of the Danish The Alternative. Even though they were not a huge success at the national elections, these people are more committed to metamodernism and, as we talk, we are investigating possibilities of further collaboration.
My own project would be The Transnational, an international meeting place for people into political metamodernism. There are other metamodern projects going on, like an arts festival in Chia in September, or some academic meetings and conferences in cultural theory. I would like to create something that hosts meetings everywhere and where people come in having already read my two books, so that the conversation can start with people having the general plan. If people share the plan, and are gifted, intelligent and functional, they should be able to come up with interesting things. The Transnational is a place I would put my energy in.
Thank you very much Hanzi, it sounds as a very promising and interesting project to push metamodern values further. And here is an invite to all metamodern (to-be) folks around the world, echoing among these beautiful mountains: the Transnational is the way forward to a listening society!
Want to hear more from Hanzi? https://metamoderna.org