Quitting the Catastrophe Club

stephen marshall
21 min readAug 21, 2023

Our leaders are obsessed with disaster simulations, maybe it’s time we hit the Eject button before its too late…

TL;DR — we cut this essay down to a 5 minute trailer

Humans love a good disaster movie.

That narcotic rush of dopamine and adrenaline, triggered by the spectacular power of Nature — or the stupidity of humans — to wipe our species off the planet. All the while secure in the cinematic voyeurism and faith that last-minute heroics will save us from apocalypse.

More popcorn please!

But for the real doomsday junkies, there is a more immersive experience available. We’re talking about the high-level ‘tabletop’ simulations of catastrophic scenarios being run by world leaders.

Running the table at Event 201

Just in the last four years they’ve run:

1) Johns Hopkins’ Event 201 that foreshadowed the COVID pandemic,

2) Princeton’s Plan A that played-out a step-by-step escalation of nuclear war between the United States and Russia,

3) the IMF’s Collective Strength, a 10-country simulation of a major cyberattack on the global financial system.

Those are just the ones we know about.

We’re only half-joking when we ask:

At what point should we be concerned that these might be quantum fuel for a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Especially given that one of the most viral thought-experiments of the last decade posited that we are living in a simulation designed to help us escape a future extinction trajectory…

Stop the simulation, I want to get off

For those unfamiliar with Nic Bostrom, he authored the paper people refer to when they ask:

You can listen to this, here.

It went viral because it repackaged the ancient philosophical enquiry into the nature of reality for a gamer audience.

For systems thinkers, it inspired the thought exercise of whether future humans, who may be in the grips of an extinction event, would create ancestor simulations to game different outcomes in order to escape it.

Indeed, it is highly probable that civilizations facing even remote annihilation scenarios would be simulating alternative systems. For the most advanced societies, it would likely be a central feature of their governance apparatus.

So why aren’t we?

It’s a very good question. The answer might tell us a lot about the existential psychology of our society and the elites who govern it.

The thing is:

Bostrom’s question, while fascinating theoretically, is also a massive red herring. We don’t need to ask whether or not we’re living in some hyper-futuristic quantum-computational experiential reality. Because, in the most practical definition of the term: we have been living in a simulation for the past 250 years.

Simulation just means the practice of running processes — theoretically or experientially — for the purposes of evaluating outcomes and predicting behavior from participants.

And in that respect, since the late 1700’s we’ve been simulating an industrial society in which the capital markets progressively supplanted all other authorities — spiritual and terrestrial — to become the central organizing intelligence of the world.

And — without getting into the debate of how wildly successful and/or brutally punishing the industrial simulation has been, depending on which end of it you were on— we know pretty objectively where it has led us.

An increasingly broad spectrum of people — from those who study system collapse to hawkish centrists — are unanimous in their view that on a systems level we are moving toward some kind of precipice.

Given this status one would expect that any rational species, geared for its own survival, would be openly questioning whether they were in the collective capture of a system that is itself coded with an extinction algorithm.

And that, at the very least, a small group of them would be initiating a process of experimentation with alternative social, political, economic systems — on the outside chance they can’t solve their grave problems from within the same system that created them.

This was the essence of Einstein’s warning that humans can‘t solve a problem from the level on which it was created. Which seems to imply that a society cannot change a vector of self-destruction from within the same socio-economic construct that generated it.

That’s not to throw shade on the dedicated people who are doing highly innovative things to alter our course. But can a bunch of frogs turn down the heat on their pot of boiling water from within that pot itself? Do we want to wait to find out?

We definitely can’t leave it to those sim-loving elites to test a parallel system. They are the most invested in, and protective of, the current socio-economic paradigm. What if the sim determined the rescue from our current vector lies in a model beyond their control?

So rather than ignite a global popular movement for systems change, they are doing what business people call managing the decline.

Worse, they’re running disaster simulations within the disaster simulation; a(nother) definition of insanity.

It’s time that some of us hit the EJECT button.

We’re done with the Catastrophe Club.

[Want this essay in 13 slides? Click here for the TL;DR version!]

Gaming an Alternate Reality

This week a group of rebel defectors are dropping the beacon for a project called HOAM:

A fancy way of saying we’re building a simulation platform.

A game, a sim, an ark— whatever you want to call it — the idea of building an adjacent domain to help people break out of a dead-end paradigm is nothing new.

Our inspiration comes from a visionary and low-tech concept called the parallel polis, a framework put forth by the Czechoslovakian thinker and dissident Václav Benda as an instrument to subvert the Cold War Communist dictatorship in his country. Benda believed that resistance is best conducted not through actual protest, or combat — which mostly strengthens the adversary — but by building a porous system which exists alongside the current order.

In this way social architects can simulate and test new models without the risks of trying to upend the current system from within, which typically ends up replicating itself because… Einstein.

Benda’s theory was conceived during the pre-high tech 1970s under very restrictive conditions. But more recently, it’s been modernized and re-purposed by crypto-anarchist lunarpunks who are developing parallel dark-net systems to jailbreak the capitalist surveillance apparatus.

All power to them.

HOAM is taking a more solarpunk approach to the parallel polis. Meaning we’re going to create a comparative model that is out-in-the-open, design-driven, and kid-friendly. After all, it’s been more than a decade since Jane McGonigal told gamers it was up to them to save the planet. In 2023 we have the tools to generate engaging, immersive simulations that are not stuck in headsets but which act as IRL domains placed over existing structures like a new experiential skin.

More technically known as a palimpsest.

HOAM is one such skin. And if it works, we may be able to start acclimatizing and migrating people into a new paradigm through what essentially becomes a giant Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

But what is it that we are actually simulating? How does it differ from the reality that most humans are very happily living in? How are we going to engage people? And what kind of tech are we going to deploy it on?

What follows is a breakdown of the ‘what-how-where’ to HOAM.

Admittedly this gets a little… complex. While the recipe for world-building is equal parts The Sims and Biosphere 2 , it’s also one part Plato and one part Buckminster Fuller.

Let’s hold hands and see how we do.

New Model Army

For any simulation of a new society to be compelling, it needs to challenge the experiential model of the current system through the imagining and construction of a new one.

Otherwise known as a:

Paradigm shifts are a high-stakes game, especially when the worldview and authority of powerful institutions rely on the primacy of the current paradigm.

It wasn’t that long ago — during what is still the most cited paradigm shift — that 17th century physicist and astronomer Galileo was branded a heretic by the Inquisition and died under house arrest for challenging the Church’s geocentric (earth-centered) model of the Universe. This despite the fact that the (sun-centered) heliocentric model that he championed pre-dated Christ. But it had started to gain traction a century earlier when Copernicus published his infamous On The Revolutions and the pope was getting antsy.

HOAM challenges more than one outdated scientific model.

It contests a paradigmatic web of interlocked systems that are the raison d’etre for nation-states, global banks, military industrial complexes, and, even, religions. To say they are ‘invested’ would be an understatement.

In the eyes of elites who sit atop these entities, any fundamental break from the current world paradigm would pose an existential threat, even if it proved to be an evolutionary path for our species.

That sounds ominous. But let’s be honest, these shifts are never smooth sailing. Especially when the people who stand to benefit most from a new paradigm have been so heavily programmed to never look beyond the current ‘thing’.

So, in its initial phases, HOAM is not going to be for the timid or the satisfied. We need to build something that can decisively challenge the status quo and attract the kind of people who are ready to jump into a spaceship for a moonshot ride to a parallel reality.

One that shifts our world:

…beyond clusters of competitive, hierarchical entities towards a federated system of global citizens, united around a common existential worldview that finally consolidates and re-focuses all of our disparate social, political, financial, and spiritual systems toward one organizing principle and shared resource: the planet Earth.

That’s the BHAG.

But before your inner skeptic takes over, there are a few factors that are working in its favor:

First, this is a shift that is happening anyway. Like an evolutionary thrust, or a wave breaking across the civilizational horizon. Not only is it the obvious next step as humanity moves into an interstellar phase, but the non-locality of emerging threats (pandemics, climate, species extinction) are forcing us out of our parochial hoods into a planetary society.

You can even see it in the vision of the wildly out-of-touch World Economic Forum which evangelizes a shift to a multi-polar world. True, its not a revolution. But they are trying to manage the shift while at the same time protecting the interests of the 1%. (Good luck with that.)

Secondly, and perhaps more intrinsically, breakthroughs in systems theory are upending the old reward/punishment models for engineering behavior change and focusing on the subtle forces that govern social dynamics.

While it has become cliché to say humans are as much energetic and vibrational beings as biological and intellectual ones, that framing also holds a valuable utility for ‘re-patterning’ our framework because it implies we have access to previously untapped levers that determine how we structure and organize. And which could be instrumental to driving system change at scale.

How does that translate into the practical?

First, in the respect that HOAM isn’t being developed from the old-paradigm, top-down methodology. Instead, it will be a generative exercise; meaning it’s a transformative process that emerges from the ground up.

Literally.

We do this by replacing our current world authorities (religions, governments, stock markets) with the simulation of a new planetary authority that functions as the central operating principle for HOAM’s socio-economic and political governance processes.

This new authority is akin to a signal that tells us the moment-to-moment health status of Earth’s systems and all its species.

Operationally, this is established through two paradigmatic instruments: the framework and the nodes.

The Frameworks

Yuval Noah Harari teaches that paradigms are basically a story that a group of people agree to live within. The more compelling and forcefully propagated the story, the broader its acceptance.

Structurally, paradigms generate from a set of clearly identified maxims that establish their ideological foundation — we call this the framework. To use an architectural analogy, the framework is the doctrinal scaffolding that all of the emergent systems of the paradigm are built upon.

Since HOAM wasn’t developed in a vacuum, it may help to understand frameworks by describing the current paradigm:

For the purposes of the HOAM simulation, we say that Earth is currently governed by a ‘vertical’ framework.

In the broadest sense, vertical frameworks generate a vast, multi-contextual array of competitive, hierarchical, top-down systems that vie with each other for primacy and dominance in the world.

At their best, the tension within and between these systems foster rich artistic and intellectual cultures that drive the development of innovative social, political, economic, scientific, and spiritual ‘products’. At their worst, vertical systems ultimately get hacked by elites who use them as instruments of control over the masses.

Most are a mix of both.

Vertical systems are characterized by their highly visible spectrums of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ — the carrots-and-sticks game dynamic that ensures maximum engagement by all participants. This feature is enhanced by a reward/punishment structure that offers either the promise of an ideal state for obedience (heaven, enlightenment, holy grail, Party membership, American dream) and the threat of a punitive state for defiance (hell, lower-caste reincarnation, fiery stake, gulag, homelessness).

In vertical patriarchies, everybody knows who (and where) their Daddy is.

This has a deep indoctrinating effect on participants, conditioning them culturally, generationally, and epigenetically to internalize its rules even when they believe themselves to be free agents or autonomous disrupters.

Thus the vertical paradigm is replicated even when its systems are overthrown because participants either aren’t aware of the depth of their programming, or haven’t learned how to fork and recode the framework which is generating them.

[It needs to be said: we know this is a highly reductive view of the current world paradigm. So take it as a shorthand inventory of a system that has plausibly delivered us to the polycrisis and which, by our reluctance to model outside of it, may be our proverbial pot of boiling water.]

So what is the alternative? To keep it simple and binary, we say:

HOAM is being seeded with a framework that can be described as ‘horizontal’.

In the HOAM lexicon, horizontal frameworks are those which generate a complex of nested, non-competitive, non-hierarchical, bottom-up systems that operate from an applied recognition of their locality and interdependence.

Participants in horizontal systems identify themselves first and foremost as co-inhabitants of a single, finite planetary territory. As such, their governance protocols are hardcoded with the prime directive to use all available means to steward and up-value their shared terrestrial resource, its ecosystems, and all of its creations.

As the organizing principle for the HOAM simulation, this implies an exciting re-imagining of — to name a few — leadership councils, defense agencies, capital markets, and centralized dashboard interfaces.

Instead of nation-states, bioregional jurisdictions (source: OneEarth)

Perhaps the most (r)evolutionary aspiration of HOAM is in simulating a world where one primary worldview unifies every participant under a single authority.

Stated simply, it is:

The Earth is a sentient, intelligent, and communicative organism.

Of course, this is a neo-animist cosmology that emerges from the traditional belief systems of the Earth’s aboriginal peoples. And while these models give insight on how a community that integrally believes in a terrestrial authority would self-organize, our goal is not to simulate or mimic past societies.

The objective of HOAM’s horizontal paradigm — which by its definition horizontally integrates and harmonizes the most evolutionary features of all previous models — is to discover how a global post-information age society would organize its systems around an integral, applied belief that the planet is a 1) living, 2) sentient, 3) intelligent, and 4) communicative organism.

It offers the simulation the opportunity to reimagine political, economic, scientific, defense, and even spiritual structures. But unlike in vertical systems where people may be under the influence of multiple ‘authorities’ — be they a government, a CEO, or a holy book — HOAM reduces this to one.

out of many, one

Because HOAM’s central organizing principle makes the status of our planetary systems the primary determiner of everything that happens in the simulation.

In practical terms, think of HOAM as a spaceship (h/t Bucky). In fact, let’s use the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek as the analogy. There are a variety of species on that crew — humans, Vulcans, and even Klingons — who likely hold a spectrum of moral codes, observe parallel spiritual beliefs, and champion diverse political ideologies. But as a crew on a tiny ship hurtling through space, their collective gaze is focused on the status signals coming from the ship’s central dashboard. And every system and technology and behavioral protocol on that ship is primarily determined by the optimal individual and collective response to those signals.

In broad terms — and without a single ‘captain’ — that is the way we are modeling HOAM.

This is your planet speaking: “All hands on deck.”

Now this immediately raises the question of: who and what has the authority to determine the status of the Earth’s systems and species and how we respond as a collective?

Glad you asked. Because at this point: isn’t this is the ONLY question any of us should be asking in our current world?

Now, to be very clear: it’s not as if people in the current disaster simulation aren’t trying to get to that. But in a paradigm with so many different verticals, where those in the positions of power to actually codify a planetary authority are primarily servants to some other hierarchy, this has proven to be impossible. Not only is there a lack of consensus, but there is a broad sense that agents from all ‘sides’ are gaming the narrative to benefit their vertical.

Hence the need to simulate outside of the current zero-sum game.

Thus, the primary of focus of HOAM’s day-to-day ‘political’ activity will be the process of configuring, measuring, and signaling a planetary status. In its most blue-sky incarnation, HOAM will have representatives from across the ideological, scientific, and industrial spectrums debating and negotiating in a public forum toward establishing a multi-contextual and data-driven phenotype of our world. And not only a signal of how our spaceship is doing in the present moment, but with modifiable projections of how it will be doing in 10, 50 or 100 years based on variable inputs so that we can adjust our systems on the fly.

[This is all made possible through a technology called the Protostar system, which is described in the final section.]

Once a new operating principle is adopted — even if it is in a constant state of flux as parties move closer to a consensus — there is still the need for it to be ‘instrumentalized’. Which just means the actuators through which a framework gets implemented to become an immersive reality for its inhabitants.

In vertical systems the ‘rules’ are materialized through highly-developed instruments like legal systems, moral codes, university degrees, financial rewards, social exclusion, and family dynamics. These ensure that people are conditioned to observe, obey, and propagate the primacy of their vertical.

But how does this happen in a horizontal framework? Because people in HOAM’s simulation aren’t just going to start behaving like horizontals because it says so in the instruction manual. Or because there is suddenly some new planetary dashboard with flashing numbers. We already have too many of those, which are rendered meaningless because they are not tethered to the ‘conductors’ through which socio-economic systems generate.

This where the nodes come in.

The Nodes

Remember, HOAM is the simulation of a generative, bottom-up world-building process that is an inversion of the hierarchical, top-down process that created, and now captured, our current systems.

It’s going to be an iterative process but our approach is to ‘channel’ the values of the framework through mechanisms that are core to establishing an individual’s social and economic agency. In this way, the framework proliferates through each person as they employ the instruments in their daily lives.

We call these instruments ‘nodes’. They are: Currency and Identity.

Let’s start with Identity:

Under vertical systems, people are branded (we mean the hot-poker kind) from the moment they are born. Gender, race, family, ethnicity, nationality, religion. Those happen within the first breaths a child takes. Soon after, they take on more superficial, status identifiers that are market-determined, based on their desirability, their education, their income.

Their willingness to obey, or disobey, the consensus dictums of the society.

Once identities are codified, its very hard for people to change or remake themselves into a version of their choosing. Just ask a Syrian who wants British citizenship. Or a Jewish woman who wants to become a Muslim. Or, until recently, a biological female who wants to self-identify as male. To say nothing of the internal psychological scars we carry from trying to break-out of roles dictated by our families based on their own aspirations (or vertically-induced wounds).

Jim Carrey makes the case for re-coding horizontal identity

And it’s only getting more deterministic as nation-states begin to introduce new protocols of biometric security that lock our identities to very specific markers, which have nothing to do with who we are, intrinsically.

Consider now that in all of these layers of identity, not one proceeds from a categorization tethered to the planet and ecosystems that foster and nurture us from birth.

In HOAM, identity is re-configured around the centralizing worldview of a sentient, intelligent, and communicative Earth.

Which means that people are first and foremost planetary inhabitants.

As such, their primary layer of identity is generated from within a fluid system of roles — which run the gamut from planetary council representative to community food grower, none of which are more highly ‘valued’ than the others — determined by the priority directives of the world as they correlate to the individual’s own unique personality and interests.

Everything else proceeds from there.

That does not imply that HOAM is seeking to devalue, or distract people from, the high-stakes identity conflicts being waged in the vertical paradigm. We support every individual’s right to self-identify and to ensure the protection and just treatment of their communities.

But the question we seek to answer in the HOAM simulation is: to what degree is equal status more formalistically and even programmatically guaranteed in a horizontal paradigm than a vertical? Do we instinctively, intuitively, innately ‘see’ each other in a new and more equitable framework when our identities are determined by planetary imperatives?

We are going to try to find out.

But neutrality in a socio-economic experience is a two-part formulation. The counterpart to social equity is economic agency, which requires the re-engineering of what we know as Currency.

Under vertical systems, ‘currency’ means fiat money issued by central banks of nation states which people use as transactional instruments to attain their ‘needs’. On a more agnostic level, it is the instrument which determines the ceiling of their economic power.

As such, the degree to which people in a society have access to currency is dependent on a centralized banking system which, through its interest-bearing authority, introduces a component of false competition into the economy (see the 11th Round). And, as we noted, ‘currency’ in a vertical system generates from a complex legacy of values that are tied to Identity, and which we will attempt to resolve through the re-patterning of social hierarchies as described above.

But there is also an external, or extra-national, application of ‘currency’ which HOAM will address as we seek to harmonize a global commons. In this sense, people in different countries have varying degrees of economic agency in the planetary marketplace based on the value of their national currency, the day-to-day value of which are determined by foreign exchange (FOREX) markets.

At this point, few would dispute that the vertical ‘dominant’ currencies were established by colonial and post-colonial legacies, which sustain through world banks and loan organizations that operate with favorable terms for wealthy nations. Not to mention the vast military and intelligence apparatuses that exist to protect the reach of their economies.

The point of highlighting those dynamics is not to condemn the vertical currency system — which the vast majority believe has been wildly beneficial for their stakeholders and arguably to the world as a whole — but rather to make abundantly clear they are pre-determinedly configured for the benefit of status quo elites.

And, more critically for the HOAM simulation:

In the vertical paradigm, fiat currencies have zero bearing on the ‘value-determination’ of the planet and its species.

And, it goes a level deeper because in many respects, the dominance of currencies may actually be pegged to policies and processes that have a negative impact on the health of the world.

So what happens when we apply HOAM’s central organizing principle to the instrument of currency? We end up with the creation of a centralized planetary token, in which the value of the currency is pegged to planetary health indices.

Mock of the HOAM token, which signals dynamically based on its indices

Think of it as a stock ticker for the planet. One that increases in value as the status of the planetary systems and all its species are materially improved by interventions made in the simulation. From this implementation, we envision the incorporation of a new reputational criteria in which human systems, corporations, nation states, individuals can be evaluated, and rewarded, in terms of their net-benefit to the planetary health metric.

It can even go a step further.

Once that criteria is established, we imagine developing a system of exchanges in which specific actions, policies, or interventions are capitalized to increase the value of the token. In this way, money can be funneled into the simulation to fuel those projects, individuals, companies that are verifiably aligned with the indices and are thus up-valuing the token.

It’s a virtuous cycle.

So HOAM becomes an investable economy in a game theory simulation that incrementally begins to have impact on the real world.

Again, we understand that this necessitates a fluid and outcome-driven negotiation about what metrics quantify and qualify a ‘planetary status’. And to repeat, a key function of the simulation is the convening of a central governance system in which the values, thresholds, and metrics which determine the planetary status are continually negotiated by ALL stakeholders.

We think of it as a model UN for the new world.

Because one of the biggest problems we face in the current system is that we are not aligned around a single planetary narrative. And even when global bodies arrive at some threshold of coherence, sudden swings in a nation’s fortune or electoral outcomes or perceived injuries can instantly alter previous agreements. Such is the way of the vertical paradigm.

The HOAM simulation creates a new and safe environment for us to role-play, and game-out, increments of uniform agreement on how to establish a general valuation formula to signal how we are doing.

But this is not going to be happening in the abstract.

One of the biggest problems with the vertical framework is that we have no objective, centralized visual representation of how our spaceship is doing.

Instead, we get a constant stream of hyperbolic reports from news organizations, designed to elicit adrenaline and dopamine rushes in their disaster-addicted audiences which have more to do with engineering consumption than planetary coherence.

We have something for that, too.

Minecraft for the (r)evolution

At the center of the HOAM simulation sits a holographic world-building software called the Protostar System that allows communities and organizations to seed their theory of change as their world’s source code.

Data is captured as ‘events’ that are organized by space and time into a 3D, navigable planetary database that generates the world based on the category of the inputs. Thus, as people engage in actions and deliver outcomes that are aligned — and non-aligned — with the behavioral directives of the new world, these terraform the surface of the protostar.

Protostar with holographic terraform

Will our world look like Bladerunner or Pandora?

The more data that is fed into the Protostar, the more precise the tool becomes in its guidance of player actions toward the realization of their optimal world. In that way, the Protostar’s holographic Earth module acts both as the data visualizing centerpiece of the simulation, as well as its oracle.

[The technology is described in the video below. You can dig deeper into how it operates on the product website.]

HOAM is being developed on a next-generation world-building platform called The Protostar System.

You made it

That is a deep-dive into the inception thinking that led to the creation of HOAM’s simulation.

Of course, there is much to deconstruct and debate, not the least in how these frameworks and super-conducting nodal instruments get coded into the simulation. Which is why that is the primary job of the first wave of migrants who join HOAM and begin to architect its systems, inside the simulation.

It’s time to start seeding that first wave.

a slide from our TL;DR deck which outlines the thresholds we’re working on

But we also need the doubters and the skeptics to ensure the systems are not developed in a petri dish of confirmation bias. So if you fall into those camps, we hope you’ll engage in this process on an informed level.

If you are interested in joining one of the waves of migrants, leave us your email at the starter-site. If any builders are reading this who feel the call to join what will become a large-scale open-source effort, you can hit us up at build@hoam.earth.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The HOAM team

[We will be publishing the full team roster once it is finalized, you can view Stephen’s CV, here.]

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