Eleven years ago, I set out to build what I termed “a learning and problem-solving community” in Chile, where I had been living since I exiled myself from the United States in 2008. That experiment in community-building was called Exosphere, and it was a direct response to my anxieties, desires, and intellectual preoccupations at that time.
I was concerned about the quality and efficacy of traditional higher education, more effective alternatives to psychotherapy, the inherent slavery of employment, and my frustrations with the (in)human aspects of the startup ecosystem.
Even as the world has changed since then, my concerns around these matters have remained. Broadly speaking, the world has improved in these areas but little. Yet, I myself have changed, and my perspective on each of these has also evolved with time and experience. My work building Exosphere, and then seeing it eventually stall out and die during the pandemic greatly impacted me, and I have recently been doing the hard internal work of emerging from the second significant period of major depression of my life.
My previous depression was ultimately solved only by doing the thing that I most feared doing: ending my isolation, reaching out to others, and putting my vision for the world into public view. That manifested itself in the creation and development of Exosphere.
History never quite repeats itself, but rather there are a limited number of categories of experience, and we tend to re-experience life in the same categories until we have resolved the unconscious elements that keep us there.
As Jung says so piercingly, “what you resist, persists.”
My last period of isolation and depression also followed on the heels of personal and professional betrayals, breaches of trust, and my desire to avoid the mistakes of the past, namely by avoiding anything that even remotely resembled my decisions of the past. Always one with a tendency toward overcorrection, I declared all people untrustworthy and hid myself from the human race, with few but notable exceptions. I took the old phrase “with friends like that, who needs enemies?” deeply to heart, and decided the only way to avoid having enemies was to avoid having friends.
My emergence from that darkness was in large part due to a desire to put into living practice the ideals of community-building developed by M. Scott Peck through his work with the Foundation for Community Encouragement and espoused in his book The Different Drum, which I had encountered at the end of my years in university, a pivotal time when I was both deciding what to do with my next step in life and readying myself to come out of the closet to my friends and family (having only really come to terms with my sexuality at that moment myself).
I have written extensively about these periods in other places and so I will not repeat those histories here.
I reference them to draw parallels to my present reality, and my need to move forward and bring the ideas in my head out into the world and expose them to fresh air, having exhausted what can be done with them in the cloistered refuges of my mental monastery.
It has been difficult to pinpoint the precise fear(s) causing me hesitation. I have failed at many things in life, and I know that I will survive all failure — so it isn’t that. I am also not afraid of success, as I have also succeeded at many things in life, or what would happen to me if I again succeeded at my aims, nor of being disappointed by success — I know that success in some particular endeavor, or the accumulation of successes will not bring me happiness, and that, as Emerson says, “nothing can bring [me] peace but [myself]”.
What I fear, it seems, is to be reminded of the past, of its failures, of my inadequacies in those moments. Whenever you have done something before and then set out to try some version of it again, it is inevitable that those who were around for the first time will say “ah yes, but you’ve tried that already and it didn’t work.” Or “oh look, there you go, just about to make that same mistake again.”
Being from Bentonville, Arkansas, I grew up with the story of Sam Walton everywhere around me. After a series of entrepreneurial failures in retail businesses, around the age of 40, he started Wal-Mart. Bentonville is a small town, and my family have been there for a tremendously long time. Back then, it was a place where everybody knew everybody, and Sam’s previous failures must have followed him when he dusted himself off to try again. There must have been a lot of critics around to remind him of how he had gotten it wrong before.
But that time he got enough right that he created a fortune that, if he were still living, would be worth about $225 billion today, putting him just behind or just ahead (depending on stock price fluctuations) of whoever today happens to be the richest man in the world.
Given what I know of Sam from books and stories, I’m sure that if Wal-Mart had failed, it wouldn’t have been his last attempt, either.
Yet from the perspective of beginning another attempt, all such narratives of other people’s successes are more intimidating than they are encouraging. It is always easy to see how different circumstances are. It is always easy to see what is lacking in oneself and was present in the conditions available to others in the past.
In comparison, only hell awaits.
The salve to the wound of comparison is to embrace the total advantage of one’s own particularity and the cumulative benefits of one’s own peculiarities.
“The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray”, as Emerson says in Self Reliance, ‘confiding oneself childlike to the genius of the age as great men have always done’.
I recently joked with one of my friends that it would be nice if the genius of our age weren’t so stupid.
But every generation is presented with its own challenges, and it is easy to see them as more daunting, or less exciting than the challenges faced by previous generations. We do so only through the lens of normalcy and survivorship bias. Of course the challenges of the past were easier to resolve, because look, they were resolved!
And we quickly come to accept as normal the conditions of the world after their solution and do not appreciate the differing qualities of the world and its operating environment before those solutions became commonplace.
Since coming back to writing several months ago with the launch of WILD, I have been attempting to navigate toward some set of activities that holistically address the concerns I have with the state of the world as we find it today, and the likely conditions living generations will leave to the next.
Having spent most of my life believing that the right kinds of technology could improve the world and our future, my direct experience with the field over the years, combined with the cryptocurrency bubble, coronavirus pandemic, AI fervor, and total failure of the environmental movement have changed my perspective significantly.
Much of Exosphere’s mission was centered on the development of emerging technology that might have an exponential impact on the problems facing the world. What I believe today is that the only thing exponential about technology is its inevitable and unforeseen externalities. The hope for technical solutions to our problems is in fact the avoidance of responsibility at-scale. It is rivaled in foolishness only by the expectation of political solutions to our problems.
Indeed, the only truly exponential response (not solution!) to our collective trouble will come through a shift of consciousness, and that shift must begin in the hearts and minds of individuals, by ceasing to see our trouble through the lens of problems, and to a significant extent, as trouble at all. I am convinced that our fearful reactions to change in the world are the core of nearly all of our crises.
Franklin Roosevelt’s famous maxim that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is itself completely wrong.
We cannot even afford to fear fear.
Fear empowers evil. Without fear, evil is powerless. It may kill. It may cause harm. But it cannot wield power. I define power as “the ability to change the behavior of others to the disproportionate benefit of the power-holder without corresponding material compensation to those who changed.”
Power is different from influence. I can be influenced to do something that is in my own best interest without being paid to do so. It may also benefit the person influencing me to make that change, but it is not at my expense, nor is the benefit that inures to the other extractive or parasitic on me.
Spiritual teachers influence us to change our behaviors, to act in our broader self-interest. Loving one’s neighbor is as much an act of self-love as anything. Bitterness, hatred, and acrimony are not healthy, do not lead to the soundness of mind that produces and creates. Rather, they cut one off from opportunity, from exposure to new and useful stimulus, and shut down the flow of information within reality.
Positive influence is always mutually beneficial.
Power always creates winners and losers. Something is done for one side’s benefits at the expense of the other.
When I am operating out of fear, I can only see the world through a power-lens. Importantly, we must remember that anger is always a manifestation of fear.
Anger is the fight response to fear.
So, if I say “I am operating out of fear,” I could mean equally that “I am operating out of anger,” and so whether the fear manifests as a flight response (terror, running, hiding) or a fight response (anger, fighting, attacking, defending), I am invariably going to see the world through the power lens.
Our political discourse, the rhetoric of our news and social media, are all adversarial in nature. Everything is framed as a threat, or a fight. This leads more and more to people broadly being stuck seeing the world through the power lens, either motivating an attempt to acquire power, or a retreat from action through a sense of powerlessness, and thus inefficacy.
It turns out not to matter whether you see yourself as powerful or powerless, it is the power lens itself that creates the mis-framing. Like all lenses, it magnifies certain elements while compromising peripheral vision. It focuses on particulars, and makes it harder to see the surroundings. It can never see that there is a vibrant forest due to the pervasiveness of trees.
I write from the perspective of a recovering fear-angerholic. There is no self-righteousness or sanctimony here, but a lifelong, arduous struggle with an obviously self-destructive force. Yet to be afraid even of that force is to give it power, creating what I see to be the central paradox of spiritual life.
Let us take the example of hunger to make the point clearer. Certainly our bodies must be nourished with food in order to survive and thrive. Starvation eventually leads to death. Would we be well-served to wake up every morning in terror and panic about when and how we will eat?
Would fear really assist us in finding the best possible nutrition, or would it instead lead us not only to regrettable actions in the acquisition of food, but also likely to consume harmful foods?
Apply this same pattern of logic to any problem, and if you are honest, I would wager that you will come to the same conclusion: with the exception of immediate physical fear (which is its evolutionary origin and purpose), fear is utterly useless and most often counterproductive as a response to problems.
Fear may save you from being hit by a car, falling off a cliff, or approaching a venomous snake too closely — but it will not ensure you are fed, will not build harmonious relationships, or motivate anyone to the actions required to restore our natural world to health and balance. From micro to macro, fear destroys, it never edifies. Fear is not even an adequate response to larger or more abstract threats in the world.
Recognizing threats and consciously responding to them does not require fear.
I have known this, rationally, for many years. I was in the process of truly implementing it as far back as 2017. Then a string of unexpected difficulties pushed me back into fearfulness, and I could not muster the courage to overcome it. As many throughout the world experienced, the pandemic and the response to the pandemic both engendered a great deal of fear. The war in Ukraine, and the response to the war in Ukraine likewise.
Inflation, the environmental crisis, the collapse of civil society, the culture war — on all sides of these issues, there is fear and people are misinterpreting the world by seeing it only through the power lens.
I wake up every day still wearing that lens by default. It takes a conscious effort to remove those spectacles — and turn my head away from the spectacle, the one that unfolds every day on our screens.
It takes persistent and deliberate intentionality to expand my view and reawaken my peripheral vision.
The conditions of truly-healed trauma are the restoration of one’s motivations, free of fear, and of one’s sight, unaided & undistorted by the power lens.
There is no one-hit solution here. It requires the full force and action of the entire mindbody, minute by minute until new and healthy patterns and habits emerge from the wreckage and brokenness of the past and its pains and disappointments.
It is always going to remain a work in-progress.
I have felt unprepared to publicly declare that this is the proverbial North on our collective compass precisely because all I have been able to see is my own difficulty and failure in this journey. I have been slower to measure my progress than my short-comings.
But the goads of aging prick my indolence daily. They say “yes, yes, but what are you waiting for?”
Is there really a good reason to wait to turn on the beacon and shout to the world “if you want to live better, and differently, come here! It’s easier to do together than separately”?
All of the reasons to wait are based on fear: not enough resources, it might fail; not enough credibility, nobody will show up; not enough critical mass, everyone will mock. And on and on…
All fear: perceptions warped by the power lens, failing to see what is all around; failing to hope, failing to believe that if I can change and want something better, others can too.
Now it should be clear what I am against: fear, and all its derivatives.
More important, however, is what I am for, and what I want the people around me to be for; what I believe deeply will attract people to change, to live differently, and with these faithful shifts in embodied life, will reshape the world for the better (in no order!):
life in the wild
a summer poem 🌞
Barefoot in the grass.
Wild swimming in lakes, rivers, and oceans.
Permaculture farms and clean, self-produced nutritious food.
Natural fiber clothing, and as little as possible.
Sun on bare skin.
Non-transactional interactions with familiar people.
Ethical & thrilling sex.
Restored body chemistry & hormonal balance, free of toxic inputs.
Shared labor and shared results producing something real, healthy, & helpful to others.
Non-violent politics (aka the exact opposite of everything in politics today).
Homemade art, music, & entertainment.
Children playing in the leaves.
Slow pace of life.
Sunrises and sunsets.
Stargazing at night.
Natural daily rhythms and seasonal cycles.
Expanding habitats for wildlife.
Functional and aesthetic fitness.
Psychological & Spiritual Integration.
Freedom from debt and rent.
Being Who You Are.
Being in and With Nature.
If you would rather spend more of your life with people you care about, outside in the sun, than staring at a screen having zoom calls with people you couldn’t care less about, or even actively despise — let’s talk.
But don’t be deluded.
Living outside of the mainstream ways and means of the world comes at a cost.
It’s been 15 years since my 25-year old self embarked on this journey, and the trade-offs are real.
If you’re hooked on the glitz of night life, restaurants, impressing strangers, feeling important, external validation & achievement, constant travel, endless novelty — then it’s probably not for you (yet).
If you think security or success are about a number in a bank account rather than the quality of daily life and relationships, then it’s definitely not for you. Keep doing whatever you’re doing and stay the hell away from me and we’ll both be better off.
If you are the kind of person who doesn’t want to hike three hours just to see the mountain from the other side, and the sunset from a new angle, then this is probably not the life for you, either.
The capacity for boredom is the precursor to all genuine creativity, and to just be content and bored in Nature is the ultimate sublimity of life that leads to the sparks of human imagination. If you aren’t willing to cultivate your capacity for boredom, this life won’t work well for you either.
There’s also no zipline path from where you are to this. The community we are building can help ease the transition, but there are no ready-made solutions. Everyone has to wade through the dense forest to get to the flowery meadow, both materially and spiritually, and there’s no final escape from the world as it is.
This other way of living doesn’t shut out the world, but finds a way to make peace with it, to have a real and joyful life alongside the drudgery, destruction, and death offered by the mainstream.
It’s a reverse Faust: you always get to have your soul, but sometimes that may be all you get.
It’s also a constant negotiation, a give-and-take with the world and the people around. It’s not always roses and sunsets, but it’s always vying for roses and sunsets. The prizes of beauty, love, and harmony may still at times require blood, sweat, and tears.
Most people will tell you it’s not worth the risk.
You might end up old and poor, they will warn you (fear pops up everywhere as a reaction). Most people who embark on the journey will quit for that very reason — at some point they get scared that something won’t work out as planned and return to the path of fear, the path of necessity.
The path of freedom, joy, connection, and vibrance does not proceed in the absence of fear, but by the work done to quell it. And you figure out how to advance your interests along the way.
Here at WILD, we are working to repeat the elements of my old work at Exosphere that actually worked while iterating and improving on the aspects that didn’t, excluding the components that weren’t really necessary, and including those that were for whatever reason omitted.
In the next few days I’ll post a video documentary that was made during Exosphere’s 10th Cohort, which took place in Florianopolis, Brasil in 2017 so you can have a better idea of what I was doing, and contextualize the new approach I am taking with WILD. Obviously, there are different people involved with WILD, but many of them were involved or connected to Exosphere in some way, and most of the core cast of characters at Exosphere have moved on to other endeavors and aren’t involved in WILD. For better or worse, that is how life goes.
One of the most important changes of direction we are taking with WILD is the focus on being in Nature, natural modes of living, restoring wilderness, and along with that, a strong emphasis on the physical body: nutrition, fitness, reducing harm from unnatural modern lifestyles. Exosphere was much more geared toward purely intellectual, scientific, and technological endeavor, psychological growth on its own — and a key lesson for me was seeing how limiting the isolated intellect actually can be.
I’m notoriously not a fan of Plato, but where I can find room to admire him was his athleticism. He was, among other things, a competitive wrestler, and even the name by which we know him wasn’t actually his real name. “Plato” was a nickname given to him, in reference to his athletic build: broad and flat shoulders.
Our direction with WILD corrects for this omission, which is also a reflection of the advance of my personal journey of growth and self-development in the 10 years since Exosphere’s first entrepreneurship program in 2013.
After a lifetime of being either a chubby or skinny-fat nerd, I decided, at the age of 40 to commit to a radical transformation of my physical body. While I had managed to avoid the more obvious signs of aging for a bit longer than my peers by avoiding junk food for the entirety of my adult life, and having mostly avoided alcohol and soft drinks, the pandemic and its stresses took more of a toll on me than I would have liked.
Learning, through research, that there are natural ways, through diet, exercise, micronutrient supplementation, and avoidance of endocrine disrupting chemical exposure, to slow and even reverse many elements of aging, I committed a few months ago to test the limits of possibility for myself physically. I now see that I have simultaneously bought both more time and energy for intellectual endeavors than I would have had if I allowed my body to continue to atrophy and succumb to inertia — the mind is but an app whose operating system and hardware is the body.
Of course feelings of regret are useless, but now I would say I wish I had started when I was 14 instead of 40. Nonetheless — better late than never.
The second major departure from Exosphere is a focus on near-term, tangible entrepreneurial endeavors to generate enough cashflow to support a growing community of collaborators.
Exosphere’s education-focused short-term business model was too fragile to support a growing community, and its alternative emphasis on commercializable emerging technology was too long-term and investment-dependent to provide adequate relief. Moreover, I learned many hard lessons about the attitudes and motivations of the startup investment community, which is far more short-term minded, risk averse, and predatory-extractive than they want the public to believe.
Although our objective is quality of life rather than cash accumulation, the ways of the world make it impossible to operate completely outside of the cash nexus, and so realistic visionaries must make ethical accommodation with it to have any hope of sustainable practical success. Sometimes it may feel distasteful, but it could be worse, and to not adhere to certain materialistic parameters guarantees that it will be worse.
Moreover, the path to grid independence and closed-loop production must pass invariably through gradual stages of disconnection from the global supply chain, one which will never be entirely completed. Total self-sufficiency is an ideological objective that isn’t worth the practical costs. It would require a reversion to tribal living, which inherently isn’t a bad objective, but for myself, I do not believe this is the correct trajectory in the short term. The people willing to go back and live tribal lives are precisely the kind of people needed in the mainstream discourse now more than ever — “salt and light” as Jesus would say — disinfectants for a diseased and dying world.
Ideological purity has, so far, never achieved anything of merit, and there is no reason to believe that is just about to change. We must all do the best that we can to minimize harm while also adding good to the world. If we do nothing in order to avoid doing any harm at all, we become nothing but idle cynics, “fops and voluptuaries” to use Theodore Roosevelt’s language, that ‘cut the same sordid figure in history’.
Consumer capitalism may be a destructive force, but the only way out of it, is through it.
In view of this, my collaborators and I will soon be launching a mushroom-led supplements company, following on and as a continuation of the past three years of farming culinary and medicinal mushrooms here in Spain. We have accumulated a lot of valuable practical knowledge in the domain and are excited to bring it to bear in the supplements space to support building the WILD community and funding rewilding projects for our community’s broader work of service to the world.
If any of this resonates with you, my team and I at WILD would love to hear from you. We want to bring together individuals who want to live differently and make this vision a reality. Your unique personality, skills, and talents deserve to be expressed in the world, and our hope is to provide a substrate for people aligned with our values and principles to do just that.