Sometimes it’s hard to remember that for some people, words are hard.

I don’t have illusions that I can make myself understood to everyone, but some of the things I do nearly automatically are unavailable to some people. When I talk to someone, I have a sense for the feeling of engagement. I can tell when the engine revs too high or starts chugging and lurching, and maybe it’s time to change gears — either complexify or simplify the syntax to make the information load more efficient, open up or close boxes of topic-specific jargon to suit the background of the other conversant, construct metaphors to bridge between disciplinary backgrounds, or give up on traditional language entirely and draw a #^@&ing picture.

Writing is a bit harder. You can’t see the face of the person you’re talking to. You have to imagine them from little bits of whatever feedback you’ve gotten before. Starting a new conversation with an unknown audience is completely hit or miss.

The past two days I’ve been visiting Space Collective to try to make out what they’re about, browsing around in something closer to the traditional definition of the word “browsing” — a nibble here, a nibble there — and I see some important things being discussed. But mostly what  see is a discussion among maybe fifty to a hundred people, much of which is a bit evangelical, but most of which is couched in language that’s pretty exclusionary and jargon-filled. The upshot is that their only possible audience is each other.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Experts discussing difficult concepts in their own fields can have much more efficient and unambiguous conversations if they revert to a subset of the language constructed to bear the semantic load, rife with and accelerated by jargon. This is a critical part of refining the concepts in question. It’s why there are professional conventions.

But I also sense some frustration in the conversations about why there isn’t a larger audience and/or more participation for such important concepts as, well, what humanity (or some substantial portion thereof) will be like in the near future. What we are, or possibly are, or could potentially be, becoming.

I don’t know how much of the isolation the discussions are experiencing are deliberate and how much is accident of not having the toolset to convey the concepts to outsiders.

On pursuing a similar topic, I once ran afoul of the transhumanists (the Ray Kurzweil/Max More/Natasha Vita-More crowd) and wandered quickly away once I began to see it as rife with an elitist disease — a playground for the cultural and financial and intellectual elite which was (possibly still is, but I haven’t really been back to check on them) quickmarching toward outright bigotry against those who are unwilling (or simply can’t afford) to surgically or chemically accelerate their own personal development — and for some, the construction of a new master race.

Seriously, those people ought to play some Bioshock. The storyline is quite educational.

For those people, isolation seemed to be, on the whole, deliberate. And bidirectional.

The future arrives first for the wealthy and privileged. That is merely an unfortunate fact. But you don’t have to deliberately enforce it via the Republican fallacy — that your good fortune is exclusively the result of the sweat of your own brow and/or Divine Will or some combination of the two via the mechanism of (wealthy, privileged) Ben Franklin’s maxim of “God helps thofe who help themfelves.”

A sideline thought, but an important one: It’s not God’s will that millions of people starve to death every year. It’s the collective will of those wealthy enough to contribute a bowl of gruel every now and then, but, somehow, rationalize that upgrading their iPhone is more important. Call it a systemic problem. If you must.

The playground that Space Collective is playing in is an attempt to predict and, to a certain extent, attempt to steer the future of humanity towards a suite of more positive and powerful expressions, some more inclusive than others. But, back to my original point, the language being used to discuss the phenomena in question is excluding to outsiders because of an extremely high jargon content and apparent linguistic assumptions of the audience already being insiders….

And that’s unfortunate. And probably unintentional.

It can sound a little hubristic for a writer to say that the very evolution, and possibly definition, of life began with writing, but it’s true — at least in the sense that certain self-replicating forms of chemistry found a way to physically record a mechanism for the process of duplication in a central location (call it RNA-ish precursors to DNA) and transformed the process of replication from a strictly competitive process, each molecule grubbing to consume all resources present, into a cooperative process. Over a billion years that offloaded information has extended capabilities for organizing intracellular coordination to extracellular cooperation and beyond — to an extent that only a few scientists and mystics seem to realize (and realize that I’m not really including myself in the set that have grasped all the ramifications).

Communication in general, but writing in particular, enables the scripting of behavior of an arbitrarily large number of individual organisms and allows them to act, as it were, in unison. Or in concert. And, of course, the ability to read, or at least to understand when someone else reads to you, is also important. (Strong oral traditions also count as writing, but if you’ve played the gossip game, you can understand that the capabilities of oral traditions are weaker when the stories and/or rules can mutate accidentally, intentionally, and, more importantly, undetectably as copies are made.)

It really is the ease of copying written (for various definition of the term written — call it externalized and easily error-checkable against the original) information that enables the formation of massive cooperative organizations composed of individuals that used to compete. The printing press, the computer, the Internet — these all enabled, in their time, the massive copying and duplication and error-prevention regime necessary to unify religions and nations.

That process isn’t over. Not by a long stretch.

Cells — single-celled creatures — are a cooperating suites of specialized chemicals, organized by strands of RNA or DNA or variations on that theme. Organisms are cooperating suites of specialized cells, the more successful examples of which are organized by some nod towards a centralized storage of behavioral data and process replication. Call it a brain or centralized nervous system, but the most critical part of that centralization is the storage of memories. Organizations are cooperating suites of specialized organisms, organized by some set of slow-to-mutate principles to which everyone has either direct or second-order (interpreted by a specialized fellow) access.

The process would appear to be open-ended. You are probably already aware of meta-organizations composed of cooperating cartels of organizations, either financial or governmental or perhaps following some other meta-ecological specialization…

In any case, the success of evangelism, or recruitment to organization and/or organism, is reliant on the ubiquity and accessibility and understandability of your organizing principles. Or documentation. Or stories/moral tales. This seems obvious to me, and I’m frequently confused when it doesn’t seem obvious to others.

Directing this process intelligently includes developing a toolset of grammar and syntax, of vocabulary and metaphor that is as universal as possible. Debabelization, if you will.

I really don’t know who is still reading at this point. It’s one of the drawbacks to the written word. But for the one or two of you who are writers/communicators for your causes/evangelists, may I recommend an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility of your message?

Perhaps you could enlist the aid of a few people for whom words are easy.


May 6, 2010 · Posted in Everything Else