Foundation Series: An Introduction

One of the key aims of The Consilience Project is to open public conversations about a set of critical theoretical issues that are necessary for the future of civilization. At the core of the project, our Foundations pieces provide the framework to understand what society must preserve from social theories and the lessons of history—and what must be updated for a global civilization to survive in an increasingly interconnected and fragile world.

Our Foundations pieces address the relevant aspects of social theory and history required to understand and address the challenges of the 21st century. Where our MetaNews pieces and Situational Assessments aim to clarify what is happening in the world now, the articles in our Foundations series explain the systems of social organization that brought us to this point—and what might need to come next. The interlinked articles of all three types are collectively referred to as The Consilience Papers, which once complete will form an open body of knowledge on questions of societal design and existential risk. Together, the Consilience Papers seek to provide the framework for a cultural movement toward higher-quality sensemaking and collective problem-solving.

The problems we face at this moment in history are spread across many domains, and the solutions needed to address them must correspond to the underlying generator functions at their root. In the fields of technology, finance, military, civil society, public culture, and the media, problems of coordination and incentive have become profoundly interlinked, giving rise to new catastrophic risks. This generalized, cross-domain crisis implies that a new organization of civilization is beginning to emerge. To mitigate the risks we face, humanity will need to develop new forms of social life based on new technology and updated approaches to problem-solving and coordinated choice-making. Beneath these changes will be new forms of social theory, to allow our collective ability to make sense of the world to keep pace.

Our current approaches to addressing challenges are rooted in the lessons learned from problems solved in the past. These processes not only fail to capture the complexity of the modern problem landscape, but more often than not give rise to solutions that cause new problems as externalities. Current debate surrounding risks, breakdowns, and systemic failures remains focused on specific domains and fails to take into account the inevitable second-order effects. Fundamentally, little is done to address the underlying drivers that create common problems across domains. These problems are significantly less understood; in fact, their existence is rarely acknowledged. Without improved public awareness of these foundational issues, our current problem space cannot be seen, understood, or addressed. Our Foundations pieces intend to lay the groundwork for an open, earnest conversation that is adequate to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The Foundations series focuses on specific problems in order to explain their deep underlying drivers and dynamics. At base, we seek to clarify the features of social organization that cannot be sustainable in a world of limited resources; these include, for example, the fundamentally rivalrous nature of market dynamics, and the perverse incentives encouraged by some of our current approaches to organizing society. Identifying these more fundamental dynamics—which are more general than the specific problems they produce—can help us to think about design constraints for new and adequate solutions. In linked Situational Assessments, we will explore the theory described in the Foundations series from the perspective of consequential current events. In certain cases, these significant topics may be subject to public disagreement or outrage; it is at this point that a MetaNews analysis will be produced to explain why and how this is occurring.

Each piece in the Foundations series is intended as a stand-alone lesson; however, taken together, the pieces will be interconnected and inter-referential. The topics explored will be logically congruent, allowing the reader to navigate their own path as their interests naturally emerge. We cannot hope to cover all existing problems and design constraints. The aim though is to provide enough to inspire others to engage in these pressing questions and considerations—and to catalyze a movement that brings us closer to the right solutions.