Rabbit Holes 🕳 #25
From cultivating material intelligence, to reframing exercising, and effusive altruism
There are two reasons why I am writing this newsletter:
1. We rarely go deep enough
We are stuck on a mostly surface-level problem analysis. We do not often go down to the systemic level, very rarely into the worldviews behind that, and basically never touch upon the deep mental models and stories behind everything.
2. Our ideas lack novelty and profoundness
“To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” – Buckminster Fuller. As a consequence of reason number one, our visions of and solutions for a better world (a better future) lack not only creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, but they are also not profound or elaborate enough. We need ideas that resonate with people and truly and systemically solve the root causes of our challenges.
If you feel the same, please help me spread the word and share this newsletter with your colleagues and friends. Thank you! 😉
Rabbit Holes 🕳
As I will travel through Indonesia in the coming weeks, I’ll only have a smaller Rabbit Holes version for you today and in the next few weeks. I hope you don’t mind and maybe even enjoy the lighter format for a change! 😊
So here we go, three perspective-shifting ideas that I’ve come across lately:
#1 🧸 Cultivating Material Intelligence
Modern production systems and consumption culture have distanced and alienated us more and more from how things, our physical surroundings are made, and by who. It’s a crucial reason for the lack of responsiblity-taking when it comes to climate change and unethical working conditions. The solution? Cultivating our material intelligence and therefore reconnecting with the objects around us and their (hi)stories.
“Are you sitting comfortably? If so, how much do you know about the chair that’s holding you off the ground – what it’s made from, and what its production process looked like? Where it was made, and by whom? Or go deeper: how were the materials used to make the chair extracted from the planet? Most people will find it difficult to answer these basic questions. The object cradling your body remains, in many ways, mysterious to you.”
“Quite probably, you are surrounded by many things of which you know next to nothing – among them, the device on which you are reading these words. Most of us live in a state of general ignorance about our physical surroundings. It’s not our fault; centuries of technological sophistication and global commerce have distanced most of us from making physical things, and even from seeing or knowing how they are made. But the slow and pervasive separation of people from knowledge of the material world brings with it a serious problem.”
“[…] In effect, we are living in a state of perpetual remote control.”
“If no one understands what is really happening, how can anyone be held responsible? This lack of transparency gives rise to a range of ethical dilemmas, chief among them our inability to address climate change, due in part to prevalent psychological separation from the processes of extraction, manufacture and disposal. For the same reasons, corporations take little responsibility for their outsourced workers. Scale and distance present consumers with related challenges: if you don’t know the people who were responsible for making the things in your life (and indeed, cannot imagine what their own lives might be like), it is difficult to find common cause with them.”
“So what can be done about it? I have a modest proposal: let’s cultivate our material intelligence. Let’s try to recover our literacy in the ways of the physical world […]. If we can anchor ourselves in this way, attending closely to the objects near to us, we might just be able to regain our bearings, and take greater responsibility for our actions.”
“Though one does not need to be a maker to have material intelligence, it certainly helps. Knowledge of one craft or trade can inform an understanding of many others. And if you’re not particularly handy (I am not, myself) the next best thing is to watch someone who is. Experiencing a craftsperson at work, in person, is an incredible experience: it gives an immediate appreciation of the intimate choreography that real skill involves. It also cultivates curiosity about the material world in general, the habit of wondering how pencils or pillows were made, and by whom. This intuitive interest in materiality can help, in turn, to develop a healthy appreciation for human ingenuity.”
“Material intelligence also crosses over the conventional divide between production and consumption. Makers and users can equally appreciate the warmth and grain of wood, the cool hardness of metal, the pliability of rubber. Just as skilled makers anticipate user needs and manage reactions to their work, an attentive user can imaginatively reconstruct the way that something was made. Ideally, an object serves as a bridge between these different perspectives. So material intelligence is shared across walks of life; it is a type of knowledge both wide and deep. Our tendency to chop it up into parts – craft versus industry, art versus science, producer versus consumer – is a pernicious and artificial habit that obscures the common cause of humanity.”
#2 🤸♂️ Reframing Exercising & Fitness
Ever since writing about Pleasure Activism I’ve been looking for ideas that aim to transform a specific system or domain from being built on suffering to being built on pleasure. This article explores how we might be increasingly reframing exercise and physical fitness and looking at it more from the “pleasure-side”.
“Since the birth of the contemporary fitness industry in the 1950s, exercise evangelists have sold women on the idea that moving, strengthening, and caring for our bodies are most valuable when they promise to make us more beautiful.”
“Seventy years of messaging can be hard to shake, both personally and culturally. ‘Women still face pressure to exercise for the same reason we have for decades, which is to be thin and desirable,’ says Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, Ph.D., a historian of fitness culture at the New School and the author of Fit Nation. ‘And these days, to also be cut and have nice biceps and abs.’”
“But here’s the catch: Our motivations for exercising matter. When we work out mostly because we feel like we should, the guilt and pressure can interfere with the body’s reward system, blunting some of the positive effects […]. ‘It often creates an experience where you’re reinforcing shame or self-judgment or fear while you’re exercising.’ For this reason, reframing our relationship with fitness can have an enormous impact on our overall well-being.”
“Recently, however, there has been a growing cultural shift — backed by a growing body of scientific research — to recognize that exercise’s true power has nothing to do with physical appearance and everything to do with improving our mental and emotional well-being. It has the potential to be a tool of true self-care — one for self-determination and a strength that extends beyond our muscles.”
“I spoke with leading fitness changemakers for their best advice on how to begin to exercise on our own terms — and find joy along the way. Here’s what I learned."
“Revamp your social media feeds. Goldberg recommends cultivating social media feeds that showcase a diversity of bodies and fitness information and push back against diet culture and the idea that exercise is primarily about looking a certain way. Not only does this “change the visual cues that we see daily,” she says, but it can also begin to rewire our fitness value system.”
“Go on a quest for joy. Maybe it’s a legacy of the “no pain, no gain” fitness culture of the 1980s, but many of us have internalized the message that for exercise to “count,” it has to involve suffering. And yet, not only can this punitive mentality curb some of the benefits of movement, but research suggests that the more we enjoy a workout, the more likely we are to do it again. (Kind of a no-brainer, if you think about it.) If you haven’t yet found a physical activity that you truly enjoy, embark on a fitness joy quest. Try whatever workout piques your interest. […] Better yet, says McGonigal, flip the script and think about movement as a way to add more joy to your life. […] For example, do you want to feel more connected to others? Like you’re taking on challenges that are meaningful? To experience the joy of music, of nature? To feel more spiritually grounded? From there, she says, seek out a workout that promises to create the context in which you can experience whatever it is you’re looking for.”
#3 😊 Effusive Altruism
As effective altruism has rightfully seen its fair shair of criticism recently, mostly due to it’s connection to the (in my opinion, very dangerous) philosophy of long-termism, here is a new, alternative idea that reframes giving: Effusive Altruism!
“[…] of all the values that drive a sense of interconnectedness, none is more universal or more powerful than generosity: Giving as an expression of mutuality, solidarity, and reciprocity, not as a benevolence that the haves show to the have-nots, but as something that is at the heart of a person’s practices, relationships, and values. I hope that as a sector and as a global community we can embrace an effusive altruism—a heartfelt, joyful, people-led, and community-centered practice that is unshakably rooted in our capacity to care for one another.”
“Effusive altruism […] is the simple idea that the well-being of a neighbor or a stranger is just as important as that of our own loved ones, and that our smallest daily actions can positively impact the lives of others, creating behavior change and even systemic change.”
“Generosity is a value with countless manifestations such as providing support, time, advocacy, mentorship, attention, presence, and skills—anything that can be given away for the benefit of others. […] These care-filled gestures aren’t reflected in standard data points about giving, but they do have a tangible effect on people’s lives and the community they are a part of.”
“Viewing generosity in the narrow context of monetary giving to nonprofit organizations misleads and constrains our imaginations and is actively counterproductive even for those interested solely in reversing donation trends. It makes giving transactional, hierarchical, cold, and uninspiring. It shifts power and agency to the few—the ‘experts’ who decide which giving is good or bad, which is effective or not, which is data-driven rather than ‘emotional,’—and away from the many, the people with deep roots in their own communities who know what those communities need. It also undermines the agency of those vibrant communities, each with its own unique problems and solutions, expertise, and giving traditions.”
“The Essentials of Effusive Altruism”
“Agency. The possibility of a thriving and humane future depends on people having the power to create change in their own lives and communities. That means we can’t have a select few deciding what everyone else needs. We also can’t look at generosity as a simplistic binary interaction between those who have and those who need […].”
“Celebration. […] In the face of the world’s suffering and need, what is there to celebrate? Our capacity to make a difference together. Giving as a celebration—of each other, of resilience, and of possibility—without restraint, is one of the reasons to call this form of giving effusive altruism.”
“Collectivity. While it is essential that individuals have agency, what makes generosity powerful and even somewhat magical is that we do it together. […] People working collectively through their own generosity to improve the present and future is an essential part of effusive altruism.”
“Shared imagination. Social movements are based in the imaginative landscape that their participants inhabit together, conjuring a world that doesn’t exist yet and doing the work to build it collectively. […] Creating a shared imagination and effusive altruism are inextricable. They both depend on the collective, envision a world made better through shared humanity, accountability, and agency, and look at the past, present, and future not as disjointed periods in time, but as deeply interconnected ones.”
📺 Overheard on YouTube
The top comments beneath a short documentary by Business Insider about how food commercials are made.
That’s it for this week!