Are you Kosmosian?
An approach to ethical living in the third millennium
- Version 2
The kosmos* is a big good thing
* a.k.a: the universe
By virtue of your birth you will have an impact on it
Also, by virtue of your birth you will make mistakes, comprehensively f@!*k up repeatedly
Aspire to leave everything better for your passing
What is Kosmosianism?
Kosmosianism is a simple, optional context for human being in the third millennium. It’s essentially an attitude we can choose to adopt that helps us care about every thing. I’ve invented it as an attempt to create an ethical approach to life that leaves nothing out of it’s scope.
The aim is simple, to leave everything better than it was when you arrived. Simply said, by the day of one’s passing, a Kosmosian aspires to have had a net positive impact on creation. That doesn’t mean you didn’t have a negative impact during one’s life, and it doesn’t mean you didn’t make mistakes - it means that the sum total of all the impact you made whilst alive was a net positive, all in all.
You can decide to start and stop as you please. You can be your own monitor. It’s not a dogma. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. It is also requiring your independent interest to make it work. The guidelines are Kosmosian 1!, 2!, and 3!, as above. The rest is up to you.
The “Kosmos” in “Kosmosian” is taken from the Greek word for cosmos (kósmos). Unlike our reductionistic physics defined version of “Cosmos”, ‘Kosmos’—in the spirit with which it is used here —contains everything seen and unseen, subjective and objective, known by science and completely unknown. Not one single thing is excluded from this definition. Kosmosianism is all inclusive. So if next year we discover a new aspect of life the universe or everything that can be impacted, that’s ideally included into the realm of a Kosmosian’s concerns.
In the end this is an approach, not a name, so if you feel uncomfortable with the word “Kosmosian” - because maybe it sounds like you vanished for the weekend, dropped some mushrooms and lost your marbles—try “Impactarianism” and “Impactarian” instead. You might survive dinner parties better with this terminology next time you turn down the chicken. I like Kosmosianism because it communicates the total inclusiveness.
Our subjective impact on the world is real. If you scream at your dog, it will feel fear and experience stress. When we run a road through a forest, the noise of cars and people has a subjective impact on all the organisms in that area.
KOSMOSIAN 2!: Impact
In the nine months or so before we emerge into the world, we start consuming it’s resources— via our mothers. The moment we pop out and take our first breath, we start directly partaking of our planet’s atmosphere. This is ‘impact’. Impact is interaction, relationship, and effect. It’s native to our existence—we are here and now we are a part of things.
I’m not sure if it’s fair to dump responsibility for the fact of one’s birth upon anybody which is why this is always considered an optional, individual approach. I’m also not sure the impacts of your childhood years are really your responsibility. Maybe our responsibility starts at age of consent, or maybe from when we first become concerned for our impact on everything. Either way, at some point, if it hasn’t happened already, a Kosmosian recognises that their impact is theirs and they decide to try and take responsibility for it.
This is another, older idea similar to the concept of “impact”: karma. In Karmic traditions, karma is built up over lifetimes. I don’t mean the same thing. If anything, the impact I’m talking about is far more empirical and straightforwardly real. It’s the actual real impact you actually have, and I’m betting on there being nothing you can do about it when you are not alive any more.
In the tradition of Jainism—a religion originating in northern India—the more serious Jains walk around brushing the ground before them, and the places where they will sit, with a broom to avoid inadvertently killing insects. They wear masks over their mouths out of fear of swallowing an insect by mistake. They also worry about the microbes and insects they may be squashing between their skin and their clothes as all these organisms may be reincarnations of others. These are behaviours born of a belief in reincarnation and a philosophy of non-violence. [Reference 1]
There’s nothing wrong with being careful but this kind of fastidiousness borders on the ridiculous. The fact of your birth is not a violent act. Your native impact in the world isn’t violent by default. Like all organisms, we have an intrinsic right to existence and all it’s emergent realities. Accidentally squashing an insect isn’t violence—it’s, well, to be expected. This is the reason for Kosmosian 2!—we have an impact—it’s a simple fact that begins with your birth. By embracing a lifelong approach to this reality we can opt to live in a way that accommodates the our native, natural impact without carrying a broom everywhere.
There is something I think that is critical to include in our consideration of “impact”—the subjective aspects of existence. “The subjective what?” I can’t hear you say. The subjective aspects of existence. That is, if I turn to you and say in all seriousness “You are an schnooglephoont that couldn’t find his/her/it’s way out of a shoebox in a snowstorm”, even though I’m not quite sure exactly what that means, I would expect you might be somewhat upset— hopefully because of my poor grammar. The upset is subjective. It is your emotional state, well being, and at the heart of all that is meaningful in your life. It is your experience of life. Physically you might be fine. I didn’t chop your arm off or anything. But emotionally you have been impacted. Some events like this are “water under the bridge” and leave little or no mark, whilst others can take a lifetime to get over like post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of mental illness.
Our subjective impact on the world is real. If you scream at your dog, it will feel fear and experience stress. When we run a road through a forest, the noise of cars and people has a subjective impact on all the organisms in that area. When we drive our car down that road, we are having impact—physically in terms of gaseous emissions and the road itself, and subjectively in terms of the effects of noise.
Subjective impact can also be a very subtle business indeed. Sometimes really loving someone can mean saying something quite strongly to them that they won’t enjoy hearing. It may cause pain, it also may not work. It may also work so ideally there is brief pain that leads to some kind of lasting and positive development. So impact considered over the longer term in the way Kosmosians do is relevant. This long term assessment of impact allows us to accommodate the reality of an evolving and dynamic kosmos and real living systems. Positive developments in ourselves, in others, in society, in ecosystems etc, take time, patience and attention.
Kosmosianism allows for the interpretation of ‘good’ to be unfixed, dynamic and adaptable. Conceptions of ‘good’ can evolve as you evolve, and as we evolve.
KOSMOSIAN 2!, also...:Mistakes
There’s nothing wrong with making mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Mistakes are completely normal and, of course, guaranteed by your birth. What’s actually troubling about mistakes is when: a) when you or others keep making exactly the same mistake, or b) when people make mistakes that cause themselves or others harm or suffering and don’t care about it or take responsibility for it and of course c) both a and b combined.
People can behave immaturely for all kinds of excellent and understandable reasons. As a result we can make mistakes and do stupid things that cause difficulty to ourselves and others. Its possible to do this without really realising it or caring because we’re not able to or ready to yet. It’s the unfortunate process of growing up that many, if not all of us, have to go through to differing degrees. The Kosmosian approach aspires to accommodate this reality whilst also providing a way to take responsibility for the negative impacts that one has had through their mistakes. There is the option for atonement, redemption, forgiveness and growth when an individual is ready, able and interested.
KOSMOSIAN 3!: Aspiring to leave everything better for your passing
Aspiring to leave everything better for your passing, in part, aspires to mediate or respond to your negative impacts and your mistakes and provides a general moral orientation to Kosmosianism. In other words, Kosmosian 3! basically means aspiring to be, well, erm....good (sorry).
Most of the time we don’t seem to be very good at being good. It seems, actually, to be quite hard to do. Actually, as you may well know—quite often we are a bit shit. Being a bit shit is different from making mistakes. It’s the things we maybe don’t do but could’ve done—like recycle the cardboard ring around our takeaway coffee cup that we shouldn’t have ever bought in the first place, but we couldn’t be bothered carrying our own cup all the way in to wherever we are and we can’t be bothered carrying the cardboard ring all the way back. Sometimes life just overwhelms.
As a Kosmosian we can accommodate the impact of our own failures, moral licensing, laziness, Human foibles and just generally being crap sometimes in the totality of our concern. It seems unrealistic to expect we will always at every moment be perfectly behaved, but overall we are still aiming for a very real net positive result.
Concepts of ‘good’
There are of course many different versions of what is seen as “good” and “positive” and “better”. I think the simplest way to approach the concept of “good” is to leave everyone to decide for themselves what that is. If I do it, if I explicitly tell you what you should or shouldn’t do then all I’ve achieved is to create another dogmatic hierarchical moral system of conformity. That’s exactly not the idea of this. This also means in considering how to leave things better for your passing, Kosmosianism allows for the interpretation of ‘good’ and ‘better’ to be unfixed, dynamic and adaptable. Conceptions of ‘good’ can evolve as you evolve, and as we evolve.[Note 1]
Simultaneously, there are critical developments in ethical philosophy let alone basic cultural norms, and of course, the law, that we can’t ignore as fundamentals to best ethical living. So, whilst I don’t want to force concepts of good down your throat, Kosmosian 3! inherently needs us to live up to the most developed of our ethical thinking. A Kosmosian always aspires to be their best version of good, and to contemplate, educate themselves in, and possibly innovate, what that could be.
As Kosmosians are concerned with total impact...the origins of the plants one eats..., how they are grown..., the happiness and wellbeing of the people who grow, transport and sell the plants are all now the province of concern.
Scalable, encompassing, and customisable
Kosmosianism can be a ‘wrapper’ or contextualiser for other ethical models [Fig.1] so it is able have any ethical approach you deem worthy added to it. That is, any new ethical approach to living can be used and contextualised by or subsumed into the aims of Kosmosians—to leave everything better than you found it. Use vegetarianism, veganism, ecotarianism, utilitarianism or any other ethical approach as needed to achieve the goals you deem worthy of measuring your life by. In this way it is an infinitely scalable ethical operating context for self-reflective beings.
Kosmosianism wraps and augments the approaches used for its goals. For example: vegetarianism is a helpful reference but doesn’t fully account for total impact. Not eating animals means one eats plants. Plants of course are also living things growing in ecosystems that as vegetarians we are now impacting. But who said it was ok to kill plants in the first place? I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed that plants have a very distinct I-really-don’t-want-to-be-dead look about them. However, this is the indirect message of vegetarianism—“Meat is murder” and harming or killing animals is bad. By a simple process of negation the direct implication is that harming or killing plants, fungi and lichens is completely fine. Technically, if you strip bombed an entire forest, as long as only no animals are harmed in the process, that works for vegetarianism.
Obviously vegetarianism is a subtle development that demonstrates a sensitivity for the sentience and rich subjective life of animals. In this context it seems silly to criticise it—but it’s equally relevant to cognise that it is a brittle approach that just doesn’t scale to more complex issues in the real world. Depending on who you talk to, the attitudes of vegetarianism don’t explicitly concern themselves with ecological destruction and other kinds of subjective impact, including the subjective life of plants, and maybe whole systems, if they indeed operate with a basic collective consciousness.
Soybeans are often grown on soil that was pristine, ancient Rainforest, slashed and burned for farming. Is it really justifiable to get protein from this source at the expense of an ancient and diverse ecosystem supporting probably millions of animals (insects mostly) compared to going out and catching your own fish to eat? Trying to address real totality of our impact may have some interesting outcomes.
As Kosmosians are concerned with total impact—to my mind—the origins of the plants one eats (e.g. The amount carbon emissions produced in their transport), how they are grown (is it done in an ecologically sensitive way?), the happiness and wellbeing of the people who grow, transport and sell the plants are all now the province of concern.
Probably the most bizarre thought I’ve ever had in my life occurred to me as I was writing this: It’s conceivable that in the future we will arrive at a point where we have the option to create foods that rely on no living thing. Foods that are literally completely constituted from raw elements and don’t rely on any biological processes at all (like those food machines in Star Trek!?). At that point, we will have the option to seriously consider whether it’s really OK to kill and eat any living thing. Ethically, if we have the option to not do that, it seems preferable!
Examples like the ones above demonstrate the interconnectivity of things. If a farmer is happier, his or her life will be better and she will probably make the world around her happier as a result. Ideally Kosmosians can think in terms of the broad interconnectivity of things and how every thing affects every other thing, objectively and subjectively.
Services & algorithms
Anyway, is this all even remotely realistic? Even though this is my own thinking and as much as I like these ideas, I’m struggling to conceive of how I could leave everything better than the way I found it. How could I:
1) Calculate my total ecological footprint alone over my lifetime so far, let alone my subjective impact “positive” and “negative”. How could we actually calculate our actual ecological, physical, emotional, social impact on everything accurately?
2) How if I did actually know what my impact was - make amends for it in such a way that everything is better off for my passing? How could I actually, really reverse / revert / return / restore / renew / my own physical demands upon the biosphere?
3) Could a subjective impact upon society negate or balance out a requirement to restore or renew physical impact? How would we determine this? If payoffs are allowed - by what measure? For example, hypothetically, if you jet all around the world emitting carbon to propose, research and design a new carbon reduction/scrubbing system that actually works but will take 250 years to build, does that count in Kosmosian terms if you’ll be dead by the time it’s built? How is that calculated?
A few years ago I attended a FutureFest event in London where I heard an intelligent chap from Nesta talk about the history and future of economic growth in terms of a developing individual. He was thinking about the emergence of Humanity globally as a super organism. He said something like this: The rapid expansion of the railways in America in the 1800’s was a massive boom and bust economy. Suddenly there was this explosive growth, much like you see in a young teenager. Then that episode eventually ended and that type of physical growth dramatically decreased. Then there was growth in other areas like goods and services to support the needs of that new body. Economic developments are a function of the needs of society. Now, in the Information Age we are going to “university”. Physical growth has largely ended, but mental development via education and access to information is now rapid and demanding.
I was fascinated by this way of thinking about economic growth and development - as fulfilling the developing needs of the global organism of society. I’m generally of the opinion the next “age” will eventually come to be about hypermorality. Not in some kind religious dogmatic morality, but an exciting, very post-traditional creative age of new styles of engagement with life. That will of course require its own economic developments to correlate with those needs. A broad Kosmosian style approach to living would require new services that provide for its new needs.
Enter an entirely new sector of services using advanced (super)computing power combined with extensive research and sophisticated algorithms that can provide you with measurements of impact based on customised and/or agreed indexes. In other words - there’s an app for that. New services and places that allow you amend impact might be a new normal. By providing you with tools for change, or just literally giving you a forest plot to plant out - along with all the plants you require and other similar approaches depending upon the area of impact you wish to address.
In trying to measure impact subjectively, we need to start recognising subjective life as an elementary aspect of our existence. This is something that the scientific world is abjectly failing to do. This is why the Humanities have been downgraded as a non-science, in part because it’s very hard to measure subjective experience empirically. Meanwhile scientists are perplexed by the “hard problem of consciousness” which is their way of saying “we really don’t know how this works”.
At One Future we discuss these issue in coincidence as we need a new cultural wave to emerge in many fields simultaneously. I am of the belief we will develop better science for our interiority and rich inner life that may lead to some kind of useful index we could use for concerns like Kosmosianism. The thought of “indexing” subjective impact sounds potentially alarming, but I’m assuming that—as Kosmosians—we could sort something out.
Anywho, I think the universe is awesome and a vast improvement upon what preceded it (i.e. nothing). I’m trying to leave it better for my passing.
- Note 1.
It’s important to me that Kosmosianism is seen as optional, rather than ‘the only option’, as most other value systems view their approach. Whilst I’m fastidiously not dogmatic about this approach, and others I develop, I worry that if it ever came to pass that this became a movement, a large group of people pursuing Kosmosian style approaches might make it dogmatic by accident. We humans are remarkably social and naturally conform easily. Simply by virtue of many many people doing it and it becoming an organising factor in society, others might feel that they have to do it when they are not actually interested. I believe it’s important that we always design systems that fundamentally respect all people’s right to hold differing values, but provide options for the interested. Go to reference in main text
- Reference 1.
Life of Jain Monks (Glimpses)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqExyhLTFaA Go to reference in main text