Surviving + De-powering + Thriving

Many people are stuck in survival mode. We need to slow down, to the relational speed of life. By definition no one is able to do this in isolation. It also can not be achieved by training. It requires lived experience, imagining alternative de-powered social operating models, and educating ourselves in critical thinking tools and de-powered forms of transdisciplinary collaboration.

A thought experiment: Think about everything you have learned about the organisations and institutions of our civilisation, not from what you were taught, but based on what you have encountered and observed first hand – based on your own lived experience. Now take this personal wisdom about how specific corporations, industries, and governments actually operate, and extrapolate it to all the organisations and institutions of our civilisation with which you don’t have any first hand experience. Then reflect on whether this increases or decreases your level of trust in the institutions of modern civilisation, your confidence in the abilities of these institutions to learn and improve, and your overall outlook on the human predicament.

If we all do this thought experiment, some of us may lose all faith in humanity, others will extrapolate from a mix of positive and negative examples, and a few would be quite optimistic, but the statistical averages of all our assessments, across all of us, would actually provide an accurate picture.

I recommend this experiment because over the course of many years of working as a knowledge archaeologist in the digital sphere, I have seen the operational logic of many industries from the inside, in terms of the way in which

  • new services and products are developed,
  • pricing models are developed,
  • some customer segments subsidise others,
  • regulation is developed and implemented,
  • contracts are engineered.

For more than ten years I actually resisted the above thought experiment, assuming that surely things are not quite as bad in the sectors and industries that I had not yet seen from the inside. But you can only do this for so many years before having to conclude that actually the dominant economic paradigm consistently plays out in predictable ways across the operational models found in virtually all sectors and industries.

The common underlying themes that emerge as the main problems across all sectors are the corrupting influence of social power dynamics, the blindness to human individual and collective cognitive limits, and the delusional belief in technological progress that is baked into the simplistic and misguided neoliberal economic paradigm.

For bare survival we need to become pain-fully aware of our collective cognitive limits and the context in which we find ourselves.

For basic human wellbeing we need to identify and clamp down on all established and emerging social power gradients.

To thrive, we need to replace the delusional belief in technological progress with humility and with comprehensible local ecologies of care beyond the human.

To embark on this path of discovery and collective (un)learning requires us to simultaneously pay attention to three complementary time horizons. This article provides a synopsis of important ingredients, but it does not provide a recipe. The most appropriate recipe(s) vary greatly between contexts, and need to be discovered and refined through lived experiences in good company at human scale:


Focus on the here and now


  • Cope on a daily basis
  • Mask and perform within the current social operating model

Arguably the answer to the question of why the mental health and suicide statistics for Autistic people are what they are is staring us in the face – because many of us quickly realise that the best we can ever hope for in this hypernormative civilisation is acceptance of our existence in bare survival mode, performing the function of a mindless busy cog and consumer in the sensory hell of the industrial machine.

More and more people today, and especially intersectionally marginalised people, including traumatised Autistic people, are stuck in survival mode. We all need adequate support to survive, but this is far from adequate for maintaining human wellbeing, healthy communities, and a thriving planetary ecosystem. The need for coping strategies won’t ever go away completely, but if we also collectively find the spoons to work on the other two time horizons, the need for coping strategies will substantially reduce over the coming years and decades.

The following interview of Sheldon Solomon by Ashar Khan does a beautiful job of explaining how the disciplines of a performance oriented culture train us and lock us into operating in survival mode.

Core ingredients for survival:

Peer support – to cope with trauma

Mutual aid – to meet basic needs

Access to healthcare – to recover from illness

Important disciplines

  • The neurodiversity paradigm – to nurture a non-pathologising and re-humanising language
  • Meditative practices – to reconnect our mental and sensory capabilities with our local context
  • Physical exercise – to maintain our physical capabilities
  • Nutrition – to recharge our physical and mental capabilities
  • Sleep hygiene – to recharge our mental and emotional capabilities
  • Biology – to understanding our basic needs as well as cognitive and physical limitations
  • Psychology – to assist our minds to cope with and survive emotional stressors
  • Medicine – to assist our bodies to cope with and survive biological stressors
  • Economics – to become street wise and become aware of systems of oppression
  • Training – to develop skills to perform jobs that allows us to survive within the system


Focus on the year(s) ahead


  • Rediscover the beauty of collaboration at human scale
  • Rediscover timeless patterns of human limitations

To exit survival mode, we need to slow down, to the relational speed of life that is compatible with our evolutionary history. This is hard. By definition no one is able to do so in isolation. It requires us to extend our sphere of discourse. It requires imagination and creative collaboration. It is highly context dependent. It can not be achieved by training. It requires the courage to ask better questions, and to leave behind discipline-specific best practices. Life is not a performance, it is the active participation in an ecology of mutual care.

Some of us have many years of experience with the art of de-powering. Collectively we need to scale up these efforts substantially via education as part of the neurodiversity movement and intersectional solidarity on the margins of society. Even over the long-term, the timeless art of de-powering will remain relevant, to clamp down on social power gradients wherever they start to (re)emerge.

The current level of cultural inertia in neuronormative society can be understood as a profound crisis of imagination. This discussion with David Graeber can serve as a starting point for imagining alternative de-powered social operating models, and for educating ourselves in critical thinking tools and de-powered forms of transdisciplinary collaboration.

The arrow of progress is broken beyond repair. Instead of rearranging the seating order in a powered-up bus, it is time to board a de-powered lifeboat. The chances of survival in a powered-up bus driving over a cliff are slim, and the chances of having fun along the way are zero.

Core ingredients for de-powering:

Open Space – to provide training wheels for developing safe spaces and relationships

NeurodiVentures and Neurodivergent whānau

Sharing the burden of interfacing with the powered-up external social world – to reduce the time spent masking and performing

Nurturing depowered cultural organisms & species into existence – to reduce the need for coping skills

Important disciplines

  • Depowered dialogue – to nurture genuinely safe relationships into existence
  • Daoism – to understand timeless patterns of social power dynamics
  • Buddhism – to practice compassion and non-violence
  • Anthropology – to expand our sphere of cultural possibilities
  • The neurodiversity movement and Autistic culture – to genuinely appreciate the diversity of human ways of being
  • The arts and humanities – to catalyse our imagination and to nurture creative collaborations
  • Sociology – to diagnose and address social diseases
  • Political science – to analyse current systems of oppression
  • Evolutionary theory – to understand life and culture as dynamic processes
  • Ecology – to understand the complexity of life beyond species boundaries
  • Education – to learn how to think, ask better questions, and to develop thinking tools


Focus on the 7 generations ahead


  • Participate in comprehensible local ecologies of care beyond the human
  • Live meaningfully, compassionately, and courageously no matter what

The more communities are gaining experience with de-powered forms of collaboration at human scale as the only viable survival strategy response to climate chaos and ecological challenges, the more the training in masking and performing will fade intro the background, giving way to timeless Daoist, Buddhist, and indigenous wisdom about about the diversity of life, and about the suicidal consequences of tolerating, normalising, and cult-ivating social power games.

At this point in time it is hard to imagine a world where de-powered forms of collaboration are as ubiquitous as powered-up forms of competition are in today’s world. But in good company our sense of humour goes a long way in terms of rediscovering how to thrive whilst continuously eroding the support base of powered-up systems of oppression.

It is time to slam on the brakes, stop at the cliff, and get out the climbing gear, and to have some fun along the way. As the old system is dying, new systems are being birthed as part of the big cycle of life. We can learn a lot from the Congolese forest people and from the life affirming philosophy of Michael Dowd.

Core ingredients for thriving:

Remember who we are and how we got here – to stay clear of anthropocentric hubris

Accept the inevitable, honor our grief – to become part of the big cycle of life

Prioritise what is soul-nourishing

  • to heal from trauma
  • to experience the joy of life

A fierce and fearless reverence for life and expansive gratitude – to be grateful for every day in good company

Important disciplines

  • Humour
  • Indigenous cultures – to build on ancient knowledge and wisdom
  • Non-human cultures – to reduce anthropocentrism
  • Interspecies communication – to nurture compassion beyond the human
  • The art of niche construction – to frame cultural evolution as a creative and collaborative process
  • Earth systems science – to integrate the global knowledge commons
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8 Responses

    1. I am sorry, the article does not intend to use obscure language. Aiming to use language and precise terminology consistently, the article contains a number of links that refer to specific articles and background information, to provide context and disambiguate terminology. I now notice the terms “de-powering” and “de-powered dialogue” are not directly referenced or explained in detail. Regarding these two specific terms is a good starting point.

  1. I understood the graphs.

    Surviving is red
    De-powering is blue
    Thriving is green

    and also the directions of intensity and their relations with time.

    Thriving – thinking of the 7 generations ahead.

    Some people might think “de-powering” is nihilising or neutralising the power they have and the power that they want [to survive and to thrive].

    Other people might think it would be more like depowering their smartphones and cars.

    [with these devices we see that power is finite and it is used for a specific and concrete purpose].

    For example the longer the time [more distance] the less intense surviving is.

    I also liked how your graphs were curves and they didn’t have peaks or trend lines.


    Glad you mentioned the Congolese forest people.

    I learn a lot from the Congolese women and the way they dress – as I had seen in a Platon picture earlier this October.

    I responded to togetherness and coherence.

    I also recognised this definition of thriving:
    “A fierce and fearless reverence for life and expansive gratitude – to be grateful for every day in good company”

    if this is a thing which is accessible to you here and now it fills you with awe and with wonder.

    About depowered dialogue: think of a dialogue which has too much or too little power – and then a dialogue which isn’t run or driven by power at all.

    Also the arrow of progress and cultural inertia.

    And when you, Jorn, talked about resisting the thought experiment for 10 years.

    It takes 15-20 years for good science and good research to come through – for what I would imagine to be similar reasons.

  2. So I’m not the only one who can’t connect the diagrams to the article 😀

    Anyway, I like the article, it’s a good rough blue-print. The problem is everybody seem to be either in their local maximum of happiness, and not willing to give it up in fear of losing it, or in their minimum of happiness and gave up on the world entirely. You’re not creating a community with another person on the other side of the globe.

  3. I felt like sharing a little bit of my own journey. I had for a while lost all hope for humanity, having done the type of thought experiment you suggested. I saw people blindly following systems (policies, laws, etc – not groups of people), and believed those systems and ways of thinking were universal.

    In 2020 I started to read more on anti-racism, and that led me to decolonization. I recognized that my belief that these systems were universal was part of my white supremacist upbringing.

    I don’t mean “White Supremacist” in the way Canadian identity, values and culture indoctrinated me: to look for extremes like Nazis and KKK, but the belief that Western European worldviews were superior and universal. Whether individual citizens recognize it or not, this is one of the core beliefs that form the British North American colonies that consolidated to form the United States and Canada.

    I have lived on Anishinabek lands, and my mother was born on the Haldimand Tract which was granted to the Haudenosaunee (Specifically the Mohawk, the most eastern of that league of nations that currently has 6 members) by the highest British authority on this continent at the time). I have learned about the governance systems, economic theories and various worldviews of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe. I have noticed how they avoided some of the flawed thinking that led to most of the problems I see with Western European governance systems, economic theories, and other worldviews.

    I no longer think in terms of “the world” or “humanity” being a certain way, but that certain worldviews are a certain way. What I see as problems are not problems in “hardware” (biology, etc), but “software” (origin stories, worldviews, laws, etc).

    Thank you for including a mention of “giving way to timeless Daoist, Buddhist, and indigenous wisdom” in the article. I emphasize that much more in my writing as I truly believe that LandBack and non-metaphorical decolonization are keys to future species survival – including humans.

    BTW: I enjoyed reading and the style, but then again — I also read articles from academic journals for fun and I’m 55 and haven’t been in university for credit a very long time. Do you have a clear sense of your intended audience?

  4. Many thanks for sharing part of your journey.

    “I no longer think in terms of “the world” or “humanity” being a certain way, but that certain worldviews are a certain way. What I see as problems are not problems in “hardware” (biology, etc), but “software” (origin stories, worldviews, laws, etc).”

    Yes, I agree. What we do have to recognise in our modern civilisation is the significance of global communication technologies, which took off with mass media early in the 20th century. I am going to cover this topic and the implications in a dedicated article. Today there are global corporations that impose constraints and biases on the way in which information and communication flows, and these limits and perception management techniques are enforced globally, mechanically, by algorithms. This is a global phenomenon that we need to consider alongside your correct observation that the problems lie with origin stories, worldviews, laws, etc.

    So, yes, there is so much to learn from the local wisdom of indigenous cultures, and there is also much to learn from ancient non-European cultures, which have had a long experience with the predicaments thrown up by all empire building endeavours. I grew up as a privileged German kid in Nigeria and Pakistan in the 1970s, witnessing how neocolonialism played out in the early days, and I have spent much of my adult life in Aotearoa and Australia. I feel like I have lived most of my life in the decaying ruins of the British Empire, and I am delighted to see the slowly growing appreciation of what indigenous cultures have to offer. At the same time it is painful to see the extent to which tokenism and co-opting continues to be employed to prop up fundamentally corrupt institutions.

    Some of what I outline in this article es elaborated in the book The Beauty of Collaboration at Human Scale, which you can download at Related articles:

    I try to make my writing accessible to those who are happy to invest the time to follow some of the references, and especially to those who are actively interested in nurturing de-powered forms of collaboration at human scale. I realise that not everyone has the spoons to do this. Many of us are stuck in survival mode, and most of us have extensive first hand experience with survival mode. To progress the neurodiversity movement, intersectional solidarity is essential. So when we find ourselves with a few spare spoons, it matters how we invest them. Collectively this then means that there are always some who are in a position to both actively participate in mutual aid networks and actively progress the movement.

    For those who want a coherent overview in one place, with detailed explanations, without having to read multiple articles, the book on collaboration at human scale is a good starting point.

    Some of the things I write about are probably not easily accessible to those with less than 40 years of lived experience on this planet. Some things have to be experienced to be understandable, and longer term patterns can only be experienced over decades. In terms of writers, our community also need diversity. We all have valuable lived experiences to share. In particular I encourage Autistic collaborations, where small groups of neurodivergent people synthesise their lived experiences. For the most part I try to stay clear of formal academic style, as this style has its own limitations. Academic publishers, the commodification of universities, and the resultant publish or perish paradigm generate a number of perverse incentives. For example, I cite academic articles when I find them genuinely valuable and relevant, and I don’t cite articles to compete in the absurd game of academic publication metrics.

    1. Thank you so much for replying to my reply. I’ve been very excited reading your articles. I believe this is the first time I’ve replied. Only recently accepted I’m Autistic, and in-progress of getting a formal assessment for my own knowledge.

      “At the same time it is painful to see the extent to which tokenism and co-opting continues to be employed to prop up fundamentally corrupt institutions.”

      On that note, and to add an academic reference, I’m a big fan of:

      Decolonization is not a metaphor

      Something I wrote last January about my thinking about being a “Canadian”.

      I wish I could see a “decaying ruins of the British Empire”, but what I see is a constant restructuring and rebranding to stay intact and in power. Some individuals may be learning, but the systems are intact.

      The British Empire is the largest that humanity has thus far endured, and yet there are those who see its ongoing assimilationist/genocidal policies as a force for good…

      While the empire was unified by a common Crown in the past, it is now all “software” (Anglosphere, FVEY, common policies/worldviews of the CANZUS colonies (Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States) where settlers greatly outnumber indigenous, etc).

      CANZUS of course being the offensive governments that voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, an attempt to make the so-called “Universal” declaration a bit more universal and a little less Western individualism focused.

      The Commonwealth Crown still exists, and swearing loyalty is still required for many governance bodies and new citizenship, but that institution is no longer what holds the Anglosphere together.

      Many in the USA believe the civil war launched in 1775 against the so-called “Intolerable Acts” makes them decolonial, but the US government was still created by British citizens (scofflaws) without the permission or even knowledge of a majority of the (not white, not British) inhabitants. That civil war was a colonial act, not a decolonial act, but those with a colonial mindset can’t tell the difference. FVEY and other agencies continue to act as proof of how the USA is part of the same league of Anglo empires.

      1. Thanks for the links! I will read 🙂

        “I see is a constant restructuring and rebranding to stay intact and in power.”

        Yes, the never ending game of perception management, keeping up appearances. But the metrics related to the biophysical world and the planetary ecosystems don’t lie. The lies emerge by creative anthropocentric transformation of these metrics into monetary metrics of abstract “value”.

        When you look carefully, the cognitive dissonance is everywhere. More and more people are talking about it in our time of catabolic capitalism ( In the context of climate chaos you can see the patterns of using the simplistic logic of finance as a universal linguistic and psychological security blanket. The delusion of continuous technological progress, which is baked into the foundations of the religion of the invisible hand in the form of universal fungibility adds another layer to the linguistic and psychological security blanket. An excellent overview of the current state of affairs from a European perspective:

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