It's IWD: what an "anti-rivalrous" world could look like
i want to talk better ideas for going about a life + my Margaret Atwood rapid-fire chat
Happy International Women’s Day to everyone here. I’ll be speaking at a few events in coming weeks, to a feminine resilience theme. One is up at Pittwater, north of Sydney. Another in Geelong. Come along if you’re in the area. Meanwhile, I gift you three things:
A beautiful quote from the recently departed Vivienne Westwood:
“You've got to invest in the world, you've got to read, you've got to go to art galleries, you've got to find out the names of plants. You've got to start to love the world and know about the whole genius of the human race. We’re amazing people.”
A podcast conversation with the irrepressible Margaret Atwood. We talk her utopian vision for the world, the way the subordination of women follow particular economic cycles and why she’s not quitting Twitter (yet).
A meandering introduction to a simple idea…
If you’d like to join the paid membership community and be part of big conversations with like-minded folk, fill in the below. Exclusive zoom dial-ins coming!
Here’s a better idea: “anti-rivalry”
There are other - and better - ways to tread this mortal coil, you know.
We do know, don’t we?
We know we don’t have to keep buying the story. We know capitalism is a confection, not a foregone. We know survival of the fittest is not the full evolutionary tale. And that those studies that reflected back to us a picture of humanity as rabidly selfish are really very often flawed. That Stanford prison experiment, for example, debunked!!
We are kinderand far more capable of noble good than the version of ourselves we've been sold.
But, sadly, we are what we pay attention to. The antidote? Pay attention to some better stuff. I will keep bringing attention to better theories and mindsets for carrying us into our uncertain future. If you’re new here, you can check out my rant on bullshiting v lying. Today, though…an economic theory that has application across the board: anti-rivalry.
A way that goes beyond rivalry
In 2006, as the internet boomed, the economist Steven Weber coined the neologism “anti-rivalry” to describe the antithesis of rivalrous economic behaviour.
A rivalrous product or idea sees one party gain from another’s loss. Most of what we engage in in today’s economy and culture is rivalrous.
So junk food is rivalrous. Big Food profits from our addiction, from the lack of nutrition (we remain unsatiated and go back for more) and the cheap disposable packing it’s wrapped in that destroys our home.
Big Tech’s planned obsolescence practices are rivalrous.
Anything that is single-use or disposable is rivalrous. Once we use it, it’s gone for good. No one else gets to benefit. And a hole is left in the ground and our souls.
It’s zero-sum, or worse, stuff.
On the other hand, a product or idea is anti-rivalrous if the value to one party increases with how many others consume it.
An example of an anti-rivalrous product is computer code and open-source software. And the internet. When it’s shared, not only are we not harmed (non-rivalrous), we all benefit (anti-rivalrous). At which point economists like to point to Metcalfe's law which states that the value of a communication network (fax machines, a language, the web) is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system.
An internet of one person is valueless. Similarly, speaking Greek has no beauty if I’m the only one with access to its rules.
Other examples of anti-rivalry are brilliant jokes, big love, creative outpourings, dynamic conversation, "I'll go first" ice-breaking and general awesomeness!All of which increase truth, knowledge and creativity rather than exhausting the existing resources.
Elon Musk’s sharing of Tesla’s patents can also be seen as anti-rivalrous.Making the patents free to competitors leads to more innovation and progress, dialling up the demand for EVs, including Teslas, as well as the liveability of the planet.
Efforts to combat climate change broadly are anti-rivalrous. Any other examples you can think of?
The bit I like: We can just be anti-rivalrous now
Anti-rivalry can be a vibe thing that we start living immediately.
I’ve come to think that when we feel almost-defeated by the impossiblilities and the perilousnesses of the world, the best thing we can do is Just Be The Better Thing Now. You know, be the change we want to see, rather than waiting for “someone out there” to do it to or for us. Or, as Seth Godin says, engage the “People Like Us Do Things Like This” infectious approach to change. ‘Cos vibes beget vibes and eventually the capitalist overlords do heed what the rest of us are doing.
And in the meantime we get to be the humans we want to be, right? Win, win, win.
What would this look like? I imagine it would entail regarding anything we create as something to be shared in some way or another. (Another Seth Godinism - “Give first and the success follows”.)
It might also just be the the old fashioned art of choosing to lose the battle for the good of the relationship, the marriage, the culture or democracy! It’s the antithesis to polarisation, which is entirely zero-sum and rivalrous. I reckon this clip of Selma Hayek explaining to Chelsea Handler why she reckons her marriage is happy is a great example. (You might have to refresh your page to ensure you get the right TikTok link.)
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But rivalry will just eat us up?
Of course… the system we find ourselves in is so rivalrous that even wonderfully anti-rivalrous ideas (like social media in its early days), eventually get co-opted into sad rivalrous suck-holes.
Corporations create scarcity around creativity. They monopolise a thing that needs abundance. Which creates “monopsonies”, as per my chat with Rebecca Giblin, co-author of Chokepoint Capitalism.
But maybe if we just do it anyway, the exponential pull of anti-rivalry, as per Metcalf’s Law, will see the kinder, better way win out. I mean, Twitter, the most rivalrous forum of them all, is struggling!
Some of the big (galaxy?) brains in the heterodox sensemaking community are exploring the imperative of getting anti-rivalrous in our communications and problem solving. How many of you have waded into this sensemaking realm?I’ll warn anyone yet to that, sadly, it has become populated by a lot of narcissistic bros who have bro’ified it beyond parody. This Decoding the Gurus episode pulls apart this very phenomenon (to parodic effect).
I personally consider Daniel Schmachtenberger a bit of an exception, in that he lacks the narcissism and tends to drive the more helpful ideas. He argues in his War in Sensemaking series, that more than ever we need to co-operate rather than compete. He says rivalry is leading us to self-termination. So we have no choice but to get anti-rivalrous. And fast.
He argues, somewhat esoterically, that we must not baulk at the hard work entailed but use these very stressors that we come up against to build sensemaking muscles. And so begin to create an alternative civilization model, which he and the IDW bros call ‘Game B civilization’. It’s at this point their debate goes very insular and messiah-ish. But I bring Schmachtenberger into all this because he does put forward very thorough models for how an anti-rivalrous world could work. If you’re interested, click on the links I pepper above.
Or you can simply just do it anyway. As I say above, when I hit that almost-defeated point in the face of the impossibility of it all I figure - sigh - I’ll endeavour to Just Be The Better Thing Now anyway. Because it’s a better way to live in the meantime.
Wanna join the membership community and get extra reads and live Zoom meet-ups?
My podcast with Rutger Bregman discuss this at length.
Yes, the subject of my Wild chat with Socratic philosopher Nick Riggle:
Although some commentators disagree and argue giving up his trade secrets is the anti-rivalrous act.
Finally, this podcast explains sensemaking. It’s with David Fuller who is a leading voice in this area.
Having just reacquainted myself with Neale Donald Walsh’s extraordinary ‘Conversation with god’, I think all the answers to how this earth could operate on a very different level are in there. We are magnificent…everyone of us…Regardless of your chosen religious ideal..we simply need to remember what we already know. Just a thought. x
Hello! Thanks for another great post and podcast. When I saw this latest one was with Margaret Atwood I was like wow - she's a very big deal! Well done Sarah.
One thing that does help me get through these tough times are when I hear that it's not a world where every one is out for themselves and 'evil prevails', which is what gets pushed alot in the media, business etc.
I absolutely love love love the 'pay attention to better stuff'. I'm also doing posts on my socials where I encourage people to get off scrolling through the Kardashians, Murdoch press, sensationalised media, or Instagram's influencers who are selling the 'must-have' shoes, bags etc. Today I posted to ask people to write to their MP about the Safeguard Mechanism legislation, which would take 5 minutes with Chat GPT, as much as people spend scrolling mindlessly.
Have you heard of '#De-influencing'? Maybe I got it from you! But I love this - trying to discourage overconsumption that the IG influencer economy pushes. Maybe you could do a podcast ep about that.
I especially love the vibes beget vibes. I love it when someone messages me about a post I've done about something political, societal or environmental, about stuff that matters. I encourage people to msg me if they disagree so we can have a chat about it and sometimes they do!
The part about it being more important than ever to cooperate rather than compete is something I try to keep forefront. Maybe I've said this before but Charles Eisenstein has some good stuff on this. He did a series on Commune about how the biggest problem we have right now is polarization. (He and also Jeff Krasno, Commune's founder could be great podcast gusests also).