Towards a Sustainable Life Culture

Our ancestors, when able, passed on their wisdom about how to live to the younger generations. They received some useful culture, skills, gods, myths, norms, and advice from their parents, added their own tweaks and adjustments from their own experience and the wisdom of the local elders, and passed them on to their children. When human nature and the environment don't change too fast, this process can produce a well-tuned way of life. When things start to change quickly, it would naturally shed detail and focus on the remaining core wisdom about the human condition. This organic method of growing a way of life probably works pretty well.

Such a method doesn't work perfectly, though. Civilizational issues are mostly out of its reach, for example. That being said, the successful traditions in the West found ways around that, and we had a pretty good situation all around.

But various issues have come together over the last few generations to disrupt normal cultural transmission and adaptation. New scientific accounts of creation undermined Christianity, which was the ideological core that tied it all together. Various hostile ideologies deliberately undermined the remaining traditional norms. Changes in how we live separated children from elders. The details don't matter much here, but the result is that many of us are growing up without a real life culture. Lacking such guidance and perspective, we end up living with a shortened time horizon, making a lot of preventable mistakes, and not flourishing as much as we could.

I think this lack of inherited culture accounts for a large chunk of our proliferation of subcultures, most of them lacking completeness, being designed for and by 25 year olds. Lacking the necessary perspective, the methods we come up with organically to deal with life aren't really compatible with a flourishing multigenerational community. If this keeps up, we're gonna have a bad time.

I think it would be worthwhile, as individuals and as a people, to repair our life culture. For myself and a few friends I know, we have no other choice. We want to live well, and have little guidance, so we have to make it up as we go. If we're going to do it anyways, we might as well do it right. If we want to do it right, we'll need a deliberate approach. The organic method - simply learning from our mistakes and doing our best to pass our wisdom on to our children - is a rather more patient affair than we'd like. Joining existing life cultures might work for some of us, but how, and which ones to join? Regardless of approach, whether we design something outright, learn an existing life culture, or piece something together from theory and tradition, we'll need criteria by which life cultures can be judged. We can't solve the whole problem here and now, but we can at least know what we're looking for.

It's hard enough to get something that would even work, so I'll be pretty humble with the goals; it just has to be Helpful, Realistic, and Sustainable. Helpful, meaning it actually materially improves our lives, causes us to make less mistakes, etc. Realistic, meaning it doesn't require extraordinary will, skill, or cooperation. Sustainable, meaning that it wont decay, we wont lose interest as we grow, it will work for our descendants, and so on. Those are nice goals, but not really specific or actionable.

To move towards something more actionable, we can embody these goals in a set of more concrete "cultural virtues", such that a life culture that was virtuous in those specific ways would also be what we want. When considering some matter of life culture, one would ask "does my life culture meet these criteria", and adjust as necessary. So here are the questions I think are important to ask of our life cultures:

  • Does it Provide Meaning? One of the primary jobs of a life culture is to settle the existential concerns. What is the point of my life? What does it all mean? It's easy to name some plausible meaning of life, but much harder to make it convincing and communicable to the psychological subsystems actually concerned with those questions.

  • Is it a Coherent Whole? If a life culture is just a grab bag of bits and pieces with no unifying principles, it will be really hard to keep together. As with all things, a life culture needs a wall around it with clarity as to what exactly is inside and out.

  • Is it Epistemologically Flexible? Christianity, for antiexample, doesn't work for me because my understanding of metaphysics and epistemology do not admit the very particular Christian metaphysical claims. If a life culture is going to work for me, it has to either be more agnostic, or come from a roughly materialist metaphysics. This is just me; others may be in a different position.

  • Will it be relevant over your Whole Lifecycle? A lot of the lifestyles and subcultures we participate in while young fail to be the sort of thing that could continue to work as we grow up, have children, settle down in a community, grow old, etc.

  • Can it stably propagate itself with Above Replacement Fertility? Speaking of lifecycle, a life culture that dies out after one generation, or subsists only by stealing people from other cultures, isn't going to work for us. A life culture should produce enough kids, raised within the culture, that it has natural growth. Basically, can our kids be brought up in the system?

  • Is it Economically Productive and self-supporting? Some previous attempts at this kind of thing have made stupid mistakes in economic practice. It is important for a lot of reasons that our life culture be wealth-producing. It certainly must not subsist on the production of people outside the culture.

  • Does it make Reasonable Demands of Normal People? The save-the-world-and-become-a-billionaire meaning narrative popular in silicon valley is great for guys like Elon Musk, but when the rest of us set our sights that high, we usually fail and become burnt out and depressed. A realistic way of life has to have an account of the life well lived that is not an impossible ideal, but a direction of improvement embodied in realistic archetypes that normal people can identify with. Emphasis on improvement; we also can't idolize the unvirtuous "average person".

  • Is it Visibly Helpful from inside and outside? A community or individual following a helpful way of life should be visibly wealthier, healthier, more contented, and so on than they would otherwise be. Impressive from the outside doesn't mean trying to appeal to an outside value system; that's instant death. But if haters are going to hate, it should be resentment and envy rather than contempt.

  • Is it Civilization Positive? Civilizations rise and fall, and more often, never get started. The cultural causes of this are complex enough to fill a whole set of books, but we can note that avoiding civilizational trouble - dysgenics, communism, moral degeneracy, etc - is important to get right, and try to do our best.

  • Is it Adaptable? Things change. Our ways of life must reflect changing circumstances and economic realities. A rigid fully defined way of life written on a tablet from God is great and avoids a whole bunch of problems, until things change and it's not the right thing anymore. Further, we make mistakes, and improvements are often necessary. This ability to improve must be present.

  • Is it Sovereign and Defensible? Some readers may be uneasy about the above criteria, having seen many traditional institutions dissolve into irrelevance by surrendering to an outside power structure under the guise of "modernization", "adaptability", "improvement", etc. Allowing outside power structures to handle the levers of power and adaptability within our cultural system is culture death. Any impetus for change must come from within the system, that is, to the extent that our culture is organized, it must be intellectually sovereign. This is hard.

I may have missed some, and other people may disagree, but these are the broad top-level criteria by which I try to evaluate my lifestyle. You'll notice quite a bit of leeway for particularization and uncertainty in these. We'll particularize more as we go here, but this hopefully serves as a solid intro to what we're up to here.