The Order of Zen

This is a follow-up to The Zen of Order, which I eagerly posted before I got to the meat of the central concept. Inspired by this series, inspired in turn by a conversation with a kindred spirit.

The vast systems of market corporations and societies—the power-node network—are alike in that they are immaterial bodies with power footprints that human agents can enter, exit, amplify, weaken, and alter given enough time and intelligence. In a way, this type of system is exactly like a galaxy, with each individual node slowly but surely orbiting the central supermassive concentration of power. More powerful entities depress the fabric of the node network just like spacetime. Exactly like spacetime—the infogalaxy describes immaterial reality, not just a metaphor for it based on material reality. The node network is to information (power) as spacetime is to matter. Humans just happen to be matter that can interface with information.

How do you navigate a system where the only interesting option is advancement? (Remember, order is interesting.) Observe: most items in the information galaxy remain pretty much stable relative to the center. The Solar System isn’t going anywhere. Neither is the South African organic meat market, but how many people do you see settling down to sell artisanal jerky in Johannesburg? Not all power nodes are created equal. In order to advance, an agent—that is, a node that has attained consciousness—must escape its local power maximum and move in the direction of the power at the center.Of course, there are as many ways to escape local maxima as there are local maxima. That’s what makes underdog tales so enticing—we’ve all had to beat the odds at some point in our lives, and it pleases us to see others do the same. It is validating to us; it assures us that our struggles were not in vain and that we have common ground with our fellow humans. And yet upon hearing an underdog tale, few realize their struggle never ended: each of us is still a satellite of some nearby gargantuan body, blindly circling along the path of least resistance. We may be more comfortable than we were when we started fighting, but few can fight for long. The battle against power is ferocious and soul-consuming, and next to no one has the stamina to win twice. Which makes sense: if only the top ten percent of most capable agents leave their home system, the likelihood that those migrant agents will be top ten percent of their next, more powerful, system are much lower. This is one of the reasons upwardly-mobile Americans only ever graduate one social class—urban technocapitalism is brutally efficient at concentrating power. Hell, most of our centerpieces these days were network-central begin with. What’s the point of rags-to-riches if the rags are made of riches?!

You don’t always have to enter through the front door. Plenty of people take the back entrance by grace of an unexpected gravity slingshot from an abnormally massive star system. Think of it like a friend’s referral to a job interview: the “real” way in. Nobody ever reads online applications. In the same spirit, managers at big companies rarely promote skilled employees. Most shake-ups are downstream of larger effects: the company is expanding, a resignation over personal politics, a new task needs doing by a thin-stretched executive, etc. If the system is working and you are solving the problems of the system, you will remain exactly where you are. Hence the need to get out—or, in our case, dive deep. Exiting the entire infogalaxy is just insane—you’d be all by yourself in the woods somewhere with nothing to do. Barely any light except for the faint glow of supernovae in the distance. No, we’re only interested in escaping local systems, up to exactly the point where we can no longer escape. That is when we’ll know that we have found our niche at the very limit of our capacity. Because the entire time that you’re navigating the intricate power dynamics of the outer node network, you are learning its nature. Not only that, but you are expanding your own capabilities. Each new challenge begins to seem familiar, and you conquer them with the gentle ease that comes with extensive experience. And at each gravity slingshot, you gain more and more velocity, until…

Local maxima are irresistible. Odds are that you and everyone you know are orbiting a nice, warm power node as we speak. Reaching escape velocity is expensive, painful, and risky. You might not even end up deeper in the infogalaxy! You might believe you’re deeper or shallower than you actually are and make bad decisions! You might not even like being deep!

And yet, to be human is to fly—sun be damned.