Embracing uncertainty as an opportunity for systemic change

When everything is going wrong, we need a strategy. If everything feels backward, we need a way forward. If maintaining the current course of action leads inevitably to our imminent demise, we need to change course.

The problem is that when we face a crisis, it is natural to respond autonomically, using the typical modes of survival that our species has evolved as an automatic self-defence system. The limbic system is often referred to as the “lizard brain.” The brain is wired for the simplest of responses to environmental stimuli. Because English-speaking humans have an affinity for alliteration, we like to categorize these responses with similar initial consonants: fight, flight, freeze, or fake. To this collection, others add fear, feeding, and fornication.

When we fear for our very survival, we tend to make impulsive, irrational decisions. These are survival strategies, but they’re not always helpful courses of action.

  • Stimulus : Response

Taking time to think and engage the rational mind helps us to short-circuit the initial impulse to react in aggression, run and hide from problems, become paralyzed by overwhelming complexity, or deny that anything is wrong.

  • Stimulus : Interpretation : Response

In public relations, the strategy for dealing with a crisis has been to have a plan in place that anticipates the best course of action, should anything go wrong. Murphy’s law guides this sort of approach, beginning with the certainty that, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

In public relations, the strategy for dealing with a crisis has been to have a plan in place that anticipates the best course of action, should anything go wrong. Murphy’s law guides this sort of approach, beginning with the certainty that, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

The concept of resilience also begins with this premise. If there is any possibility of bouncing back after a crisis, it will be because there were strategies in place for dealing with problems that might seem otherwise unmanageable.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

Mister Rogers

The foundation of resilience is a good social support system. In other words, people need community. Humans have survived as a species, not because we are dominant, competitive, aggressive, and lethal, but because we are empathetic, cooperative, compassionate, and caring.

The Precariat

Education may not necessarily be the panacea that we had hoped it might be. There is nothing more dangerous than a well-educated psychopath. Unfortunately, there is a strong correlation between billionaires, CEOs, and psychopaths.

At the root of the psychopath’s approach to success is a story about scarcity, fear, and competition. If this story dominates the thinking of a leader or an organization, it will naturally manifest in the social architecture built by that leader or organization. In fact, this is to be expected from the orientation of the capitalist, market-driven economic system of nation states that were founded by monarchical imperial colonialism. At the root of the system is a motivation that is primarily genocidal. The past 500 years of “Western Civilization” have borne out this hypothesis in a history of endless wars, destruction, and genocide.

The untold history of the surprising origins of the “gig economy”—how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America.

Over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the institutions that insulated us from volatility have been swept aside by a fervent belief in the market. Now every working person in America today asks the same question: how secure is my job? In Temp, Louis Hyman explains how we got to this precarious position and traces the real origins of the gig economy: it was created not by accident, but by choice through a series of deliberate decisions by consultants and CEOs—long before the digital revolution.

Uber is not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer to our growing problems goes deeper than apps, further back than outsourcing and downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work. As we make choices about the future, we need to understand our past.


I first came across the concept of wetiko in Douglas Rushkoff’s book, Team Human. “On encountering the destructiveness of European colonialists, Native Americans concluded that the invaders must have a disease. They called it wetiko, a delusional belief that cannibalizing the life force of others is a logical and morally upright way to live. The Native Americans believed that wetiko derived from people’s inability to see themselves as enmeshed, interdependent parts of the natural environment.” @rushkoff

Team Human is a manifesto—a fiery distillation of preeminent digital theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s most urgent thoughts on civilization and human nature. In one hundred lean and incisive statements, he argues that we are essentially social creatures, and that we achieve our greatest aspirations when we work together—not as individuals. Yet today society is threatened by a vast antihuman infrastructure that undermines our ability to connect. Money, once a means of exchange, is now a means of exploitation; education, conceived as way to elevate the working class, has become another assembly line; and the internet has only further divided us into increasingly atomized and radicalized groups.

Team Human delivers a call to arms. If we are to resist and survive these destructive forces, we must recognize that being human is a team sport. In Rushkoff’s own words: “Being social may be the whole point.” Harnessing wide-ranging research on human evolution, biology, and psychology, Rushkoff shows that when we work together we realize greater happiness, productivity, and peace. If we can find the others who understand this fundamental truth and reassert our humanity—together—we can make the world a better place to be human.

Columbus and Other Cannibals

Celebrated American Indian thinker Jack D. Forbes’s Columbus and Other Cannibals was one of the founding texts of the anticivilization movement when it was first published in 1978. His history of terrorism, genocide, and ecocide told from a Native American point of view has inspired America’s most influential activists for decades. Frighteningly, his radical critique of the modern “civilized” lifestyle is more relevant now than ever before.

Identifying the Western compulsion to consume the earth as a sickness, Forbes writes:

“Brutality knows no boundaries. Greed knows no limits. Perversion knows no borders. . . . These characteristics all push towards an extreme, always moving forward once the initial infection sets in. . . . This is the disease of the consuming of other creatures’ lives and possessions. I call it cannibalism.”

This updated edition includes a new chapter by the author.

A Shift in Values

To change the system that has been architected by a particularly self-destructive strategy of survival is to fundamentally shift the values at the foundation of its motivations and behaviours.

We must understand our values before we can change them. Our behaviours are a clue. Self-awareness is something that does not come naturally, especially when we take this modern, artificial, constructed reality as normal. It is not normal. It has been built upon 500 years of colonial genocide, and that legacy doesn’t just go away. We actually have to recognize that legacy and confront it.

At the centre of this strategy is the relationship that we have to Indigenous Peoples, in our own country, and around the globe. These relationships are interconnected. We need to look at all the designed objects that we use every day and begin to deconstruct their meaning in our decontextualized lives, to reconnect to the people, the cultures, the landscapes, and the ecosystems that have been disrupted because of our desire, acquisition, and use of these products.