Towards deep adaptation at human scale

At the March 2019 CIIC workshop in Melbourne we built on results from earlier CIIC workshops and discussed the topic of human[e] scale vs Anthropocentrism, resulting in valuable mind maps and a list of links to related books and sources of further valuable knowledge.

Industrialised farming 4.0?

The workshop was followed by further online discussion amongst the participants. Jussi Pasanen noted similarities in the design patterns of facilities for animal farming, click farming, and robotics R&D. It immediately occurred to me that the same pattern is visible in our educational institutions, leading to the following collage that illustrates the unspoken values that power industrialisation in the Capitalocene:

industrialisedfarming 4.0.png

  1. Competitive games are the building blocks of the universe
  2. More is always better
  3. Diversity interferes with the game 
  4. The game is more important than biological life

All of these assumptions are of course fundamentally flawed. The first assumption is based on a flawed understanding of evolutionary theory, the second assumption only holds in the realm of abstract figments of human imagination such as money, the third assumption “produces” the fungibility needed to justify the quasi blind faith in markets, and the fourth assumption is the mental anaesthetic needed to deal with the cognitive dissonance generated by visibly deteriorating natural environments and the increasingly obvious symptoms of climate breakdown.

Within the delusion of the Capitalocene:

  • biological life is limited – ultimately it is a legacy technology that will be disrupted,
  • and competition is eternal – and must inform all our decision making.

People who run large (“super-human scale”) technology corporations with several thousand employees and many millions of users tend to be characterised by extreme levels of Anthropocentrism and seem to be blind to their own human cognitive limits. This conversation with Mark Zuckerberg is a good example. Closer to home our newspapers are full of articles that reflect the values of the Capitalocene:

Does NZ win or lose as world agriculture gets remade for a planet of 10b?

World agriculture is about to be remade, he warns. It is the Green Revolution 2.0 – cracking the problem of how to feed a planet that is going to be home to about 10 billion people by 2050 without completely trashing it in the process…

So the pressure will be on. McCauley says there simply won’t be any choice but to turn to science – advances like lab-cultured meat, factory hydroponics and genetic engineering. Human food production will have to be reinvented from the ground up.

What does that mean for New Zealand and its pastoral farming? McCauley pauses a moment to rake his hands through his rock dude hair.

Well, the country will simply get run over in any commodity market, he replies. And it better watch out even as an exporter of top-end premium products.

The New Zealand game plan – the one promoted by national advisory groups like the newly-formed Primary Growth Council – might be to feed the global 1 per cent. Bougie food for bougie people.

The reasoning is that even if the rest of the world turns to artificial meat and fake milk, there will still be a sizeable market for our grass-fed lamb, air-freighted crayfish and off-season cherries and avocados…

However simply growing a cheaper, better, lamb rack or nectarine won’t be enough. New Zealand has to match the world in the delivery of its products – its wraparound service – to reach those wealthy, but picky, 1 per centers.

It has to become expert in the online story-telling, the direct relationships, which will also be part of any agri-revolution.

Note how this news media article assumes that New Zealand must continue to operate as a significant agricultural exporter in order for its economy to thrive and note how it unapologetically endorses an approach that reinforces economic inequality and further extends New Zealand’s dependence on energy intensive industrialised animal farming – in a world that urgently needs to find ways of bringing human generated carbon emissions and other human generated waste and environmental toxins down to zero.

Capitalism 2.0?

More enlightened articles acknowledge some of the problems, but then get stuck in a tiny Overton window where the only acceptable way forward is some kind of reform of capitalism – as if it is a matter of revisiting a few implementation details.

It’s time to re-imagine our corporations – for the sake of democracy

… We clearly need to restore trust in a system of capitalism that works for all of us.

I wish there was a simple solution – a silver bullet – to fix all of this. But there isn’t. This is a complex issue and we need a range of interventions…


In August last year a CIIC blog post referenced Jem Bendell’s article on deep adaptation. Meanwhile activism related to ecological collapse and climate breakdown has gathered significant momentum, both locally and internationally. This month Jem Bendell wrote an open letter to business supporters of Extinction Rebellion, suggesting five ideas that could be useful to hear from business leaders:

As business leaders we recognise the following:

First, we failed. Although we tried to make businesses and financial institutions more sustainable from the inside, it has not stopped carbon emissions rising or biodiversity loss increasing. We work in the most funded and dynamic sector of society but couldn’t achieve the change we hoped for.

Second, we were wrong. We believed that working with existing systems of power, within market systems, was the way to deliver positive change at scale. While we do not know what could have been achieved by efforts going into other approaches towards climate stability and biodiversity conservation, we told people our approach was more pragmatic and scalable.

Third, we will learn. We believed that being business professionals gave us credibility in addressing issues of climate and biodiversity. Now we realise that some of the assumptions and attitudes we have learned in the private sector may not be that useful, so we are ready to learn from others.

Fourth, citizens need more influence than us. Although as individual executives we think we have been useful participants in dialogues with communities and governments, overall, the effect has been to prioritise the interests of profit-making over other concerns. Because businesses can fund initiatives, lobbyists and so on, as a sector we have had unfair influence over our societies. As this has coincided with the predicament we are in, it is understandable to conclude this unfair influence is at fault. Therefore, citizens and scientists need more influence than us in future on how to draw down and cut carbon, as well as how to manage the difficulties ahead.

Fifth, we must be made to behave. Although it is difficult for some of us to say this, it is the natural implication of where we have got to now facing catastrophic climate change. Praising individual companies doing useful things was never enough. We need state intervention to redesign the economy so we can more swiftly decarbonise and also prepare for the disruptions ahead. That means corporate support for changes in the law, perhaps even introducing a law on ecocide by corporations.

We hope that by expressing these realisations, we can find ways for our knowledge and resources to help humanity respond to our climate emergency. That may mean supporting you from a distance as organisations, but closely as individuals. Or it may mean finding ways to support you more actively with our organisations. Perhaps we can find ways to hold space open for your activism and ideas without any influence from the private sector. We will certainly work to ensure other companies do not get in your way.

The beauty of collaboration at human scale

It is obvious that for the foreseeable future – to the extent that we have one – humans will continue to live in the Anthropocene. The increasingly pressing question is how we can wean ourselves off the suicidal logic of the Capitalocene, and how we can infuse the various kinds of human institutions in various sectors of the economy with the levels of human agency that individual activists have started to exercise in their private lives.

To provide organisations with a useful sense of direction I am currently working on a book project titled “Experiencing the beauty of collaboration at human scale : Timeless patterns of human limitations”. I attempt to address the challenges of ethical value creation in the Anthropocene.

Evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson observes that small groups are the organisms within human society – in contrast to individuals, corporations, and nation states. The implications for our “civilisation” are profound. It is time to help others create good company by pumping value from a dying ideological system into an emerging world.

Onwards towards deep adaptation at human scale

Join us for the next CIIC workshop on 8 June (Auckland) and 15 June (Melbourne)! CIIC provides a great opportunity for all participants to outline wicked problems they are wrestling with, and to obtain access to the perspectives and questions from others with complementary expertise and interests.

Dates and times



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