Cultural Evolution through currency design.

How do we design currencies and systems to encourage the “better” parts of our human nature? What are the aspects of our personalities encouraged and rewarded by our current corporate and political systems, or by our advertising? The following is intended as a basic introduction to the topic of designing the complex systems of society consciously to encourage positive cultural evolution, as a starting point for further discussion.

Since cultural evolution will shift values through time, establishing a universally agreed to set of values to create the rules to best organize an economy and society is not only next to impossible, any consensus reached would be quickly obsolete.  Morals tend to be more widely shared, and used as the basis for judging the behavior of others, and can indirectly support underlying shared values. There are also some high level moral absolutes which can be determined, owing to the fact that morals make no sense without consciousness.  Meteorites without consciousness can crash into each other for all eternity without right or wrong, but the moment one of them hits a conscious being, it has potential moral implications.  Ultimately, morality concerns itself with the minimizing of harm to conscious beings.

How then, does one design a currency or the policies of an economy to support the positive cultural evolution of a society through time?

Is there an empirical way to judge the ‘better’ moral or value system as varying demographics within a society begin to shift, as we have seen happen around slavery, women’s suffrage, and same sex marriage? If not empirical absolutes, at least guidelines which can be widely accepted and adopted by a community to support the evolution of the culture towards some form of higher ideal, rather than a predetermined set of morals or values? The work of Dr Clare Graves (For those not familiar with the Integral view of Spiral Dynamics, a super quick summary of Dr Clare Graves world view research can be found here: does indicate that the worldviews held by individuals, and, more broadly, by societies, tend to shift in predictable ways, providing a blueprint for how to design systems to support emergent worldviews and values systems.


For the purposes of this essay, I will make a number of assumptions for the purposes of designing a new economic platform:

  • The purpose of an economy is to maximise the present and future well-being of all it’s participants.
    1. Therefore, although some economies may be run to support only the well-being of a small minority of it’s participants, the economy which best maximises the well being of it’s participants today and into the future is to be judged better economy.
    2. Optimizing well-being between present and future needs means sustainable use of resources is a necessary aspect of a good economy.
  • In evaluating different moral standards or values systems for communities, those which minimize harm and maximise well-being of the members of the community are the better values or morals.
    1. Humans are the primary members of communities and the primary economic actors. All other animals are also affected by the human economic system, and as secondary actors in the economic system, their wellbeing also needs to be considered.

To start examining how we can maximise the present and future well-being of all participants of the economy, let’s take a look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. In this context, we can quickly see that the current monetary system sees the majority of people struggling to have their basic needs met.  Even those who are comfortably meeting their physiological needs for food, water, warmth and rest, are often struggling to feel safe and secure.  In many ways, the current political and economic order relies on capturing the attention of the working majority with fear.


In addition, the lower order worldviews identified by Clare Graves are dominated by similar physical survival drives, beyond which (very simplistically speaking) successive worldviews are more inclusive of larger notions of Identity (Individual, family/tribe, religion, state/race, humanity, all of life):


So how does one structure an economy (By changing the rules of currency and/or social policies) to maximise human well being?  To start with, a Basic Income providing for the basic physiological needs of food, water, warmth and rest can allow people to focus on the next levels of safety, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment.  Addressing safety and security concerns will mean making formal determinations about the priorities of privacy vs. security, since the current system will sacrifice privacy every time for a promise of perceived security.  Fortunately, an economy and culture geared towards minimizing harm will become safer and more secure over time.  Additionally, universal healthcare can alleviate the economic fears associated with safety concerns.  This can be either government-funded (single-payer), or funded by issuing “medicash” to individuals, which registered/validated medical service providers can convert into the standard/base/general currency.  By what process medical service providers are validated would be a matter for communities to work out themselves.  While open-heart surgery is clearly a medical procedure, different communities will have different interpretations around providing facelifts, massages, gym memberships, organic vegetables or hallucinogenic drugs.  For some of these, it may be prudent for medicash to act as a partial subsidy when prescribed by doctors or naturopaths (or WebMD, if the community agrees).


Looking at other projects which have aimed to maximise the common good within communities, they (take, for instance, or or ) tend to focus very strongly on education.  This project, as well, cannot afford to neglect the role of education in shaping culture.  All members of a community are united by a shared indoctrination, a shared mythology, which parents pass on to their children, teachers to students, priests to parishioners, bosses to staff, news to it’s audience, governments to citizens, and finally peers to peers in a complex dynamic system of evolving worldviews and attitudes. An initiative to shift the cultural drive and narrative towards one of the greatest common good must not only teach it’s members how to behave in the interest of the greater common good, but also de-program the myriad of myths, metaphors and values that drive the current capitalist democracies. In addition, the system must allow the evolution of different narratives.  The Top-down hierarchical structure that dominates today’s societal infrastructure is architecturally forced to be conservative.  By concentrating power in a few hands at the top and favouring the stability for those top positions, any progression that can potentially distribute power more evenly will be suppressed and resisted.  Likewise, decision making in top-down organisations suffer from information and communications bandwidth bottlenecks. The high cost of multiple layers of infrastructure and enforcement also adds significant overheads to updating the processes that organize society – when it costs $122 Million to ask people about Same Sex Marriage laws, legislation will lag decades behind cultural norms and values.  Meanwhile, as stories propagate through networks and social media in a chaotic, complex, decentralized fashion, shattering the illusion of universal agreement, and creating sub-cultures and groups of people with differing sets of worldviews and values, often varying alignments in different contexts.  This means that the cultural myths to support greatest common good worldviews will not be created or controlled by a single entity within the network, but rather themselves an emergent phenomenon.  Likewise, the specific rules by which society organizes itself need to be amenable to co-creation by communities within society… Rules that members of a community feel they have either adopted voluntarily or had input into putting in place tend to have higher voluntary compliance (and therefore less violence required to enforce). Likewise with sanctions and penalties applied by parties perceived to be from within the group as opposed to without.  Education for all the members of the society, then, must be at a level meta to the cultural mythology, or the value system itself, but rather concern itself with how to take multiple perceptual positions and how to evaluate information/mythology, and embedding within decision making processes the checks and balances as to whether given information is a) true, and b) beneficial, from both the individual and the community perspective, internally and externally, today, and in the future.

This is easier said than done, as it will likely require a lot of practice and repetition for shifting perceptions in such a manner to become as familiar to us as, say; a beginning, middle, and end story structure.

In a highest good society, everyone would have access to the best available information when needed, for as close to free as possible. Of course, deciding which information is good and which is bad, which is relevant, and to whom, is a challenge in and of itself.  The best mechanism I have seen is something along the lines of the Steemit platform – having marketers (and other content creators) stake funds to send communications to the world, and readers either upvote (reward) or downvote based on the quality of information (especially if prompted to consider benefit to them personally, to their community, and to other communities in the context of sustainability) may help provide a market system designed to get the right information and educational materials to the right people at the right time, as well as disincentivising advertising/marketing.  This does risk the long tail / Pareto distribution of rewards we see in network systems (ie: 1 Justin Bieber for every 10 Million Youtube accounts with $0 in revenue), and there are any number of ways to even out such a distribution, with a view to supporting artists, thinkers and people with unpopular opinions to have a voice without harming the wellbeing of others.



In addition, Blockchain technology has opened up a new field of consensus computing, but our society is still lagging several decades behind our current technology in terms of social adaptation.  We have neither the personal maturity, nor the societal structures capable of dealing responsibly with the destructive power of our military, the scale of our industrial food systems, and our corporate need for profit.  Within our current system, people can not live within the natural limits of the planet without being violently forced to do so.  To adopt (a) decentralized governance system(s), learn how to make rules to govern your communities, grasp the interconnectedness of all life on earth, and voluntarily decide to collectively adapt your lifestyles to the limitations of your local eco-system, cannot be done all at once, without expecting many failures along the way.  But children on our playgrounds are already making up the games they will choose to play together.  They inherently grasp the importance of rules and fairness in finding ways to relate to others.  The generation of children born this decade will never know a world without Bitcoin, and can grow up understanding how direct democracies make and enforce their own rules collectively, at all scales, from the hyper-local, to the global and beyond.

The key is experimentation – not just for the project, but for the people involved, to get the kind of education that can only come with experience.  To flex the muscles of cooperation and community building, as successive communities, classrooms, chatrooms, NFPs and DAOs learn from each other’s successes and failures about how to manage themselves for the greater good of all.

Finally, there is the possibility of currencies being used as a value-signalling tool.  Today, there is already a sense of community/camaraderie in farmer’s markets or ‘hipster’ stores, with most of the people shopping there additionally signaling their values systems through choice of clothes/hairstyles. High end fashion boutiques likewise have their own dress code.  In a world where people may choose to pay for a product or service with a range of currencies, being able to choose a more limited currency (eco-coin, vego-coin, sustainacoin, privacoin, libercoin, bancor, etc), people can choose to opt out of supporting industrial farming, or sweatshop labour, arms smuggling, advertising, surveillance, fossil fuels, etc.  By having disincentives on exchanging out of such currencies, and fluctuating exchange rates between them, people can know that by shopping ‘vegan’ or ‘renewable’, they are supporting only renewable enterprises, and their economic activity is supporting both the currency and the economy underpinning their value system.  Although a definitive collection of such currencies is difficult to conceive of, and overlap and competition between similar currencies (eg: vegetarian & vegan currencies fragmenting their market and competing against each other for valuation, potentially limiting the effectiveness of both), one can see how this can potentially form a market solution to mapping the evolving values and worldviews of a society, and offering people a chance to opt out of sponsoring terrorism, money-laundering, or tax-avoiding companies helps create a market reflection of what we value as a society beyond profit (rather than relegating the impacts of economic activity to being ‘externalities’).