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An Intro to Guild Theory

Guild theory is a model for scalable community centered cultural design.

Thank you to the community builders, researchers, and technologists at the Zuzalu Coordi-nation week for inspiring me to finally write this.

Why This Matters

In recent times, the "network state" meme has spread like wildfire. The idea of forming our own communities and societies to self-regulate and build better systems may be a beacon of hope for both technologists frustrated by bureaucracy and also for people living with the aftermath of crumbling institutions and oppressive regimes from Syria to Venezuela and beyond.

We need examples that bring us hope and show how it is possible to work together to build societies in which our families are safe and we have the freedom to create lives that we find worthwhile.

We all need a community where we feel we belong. We intend for the tools and organizations to exist to empower the creation and interweaving of those communities.

Among the movement of network civil societies, startup cities (map), and beyond, we need a greater proliferation of ideas and perhaps an overarching banner or branding we might unite within other than the network state concept for 2 reasons:

  1. Using the word state implies that we are competing with existing governments and thus potential host countries will not be friendly to us

  2. I and many friends in the movement do not want to build states. We want to build communities and civil societies.

This presentation of Guild Theory is just one rather example of an alternative to the network state in this movement to spark the conversation further.

In my own life, there were years where my greatest hope was that I would die in an interesting way. I know there are others who feel the same void of emptiness I felt. There is a way to feel hope again. Perhaps we may collectively find ways to help. Through a series of experiences that led me to a community that I call home, I now feel a sense of purpose. It makes sense to replicate processes that have worked previously, and thus I begin this theory with a mirror of what has helped me, though many different adaptations may work better instead.

I simply hope that the efforts I put in lead to people feeling more loved, cared for, safe, and like they have a home in the way that others like my friends in Ecuador have cared for me.

The Core Principles

We will not rely on a belief that we are better people in order to operate more successfully than existing institutions. Instead, we rely on iterative systems, principles of design, alignment of incentives, and evolutionary cultural adaptations.

Evolutionary Design - The methodology of iteration is well known among startups and programming. The concept is that you may start from a single entity then create many adaptations/mutations of that entity and see how they perform.

Our species grew to the current level of success due to superseding the slow pace of biological evolution with the much faster adaptations found through cultural evolution.

Concentricism - The circle of the individual exists within the larger circle of communities which exist within the circle of a society. All three operate using the same principles and similar, recognizable processes. Individuals often feel disconnected from society, and the theory is that this is due to a weakening in the connecting middle layer of the community. By recognizing that governments consist of people and that the interactions we see amidst our own families and communities reflect dynamics on larger scales, we may learn over time to govern ourselves as an individual, as a community, and as a society.

Diversification - In order for evolution to occur, we need a diverse array of experiments adapting in different directions and pursuing alternative paths. This occurs as culture evolves at communal and societal levels.

Individuals exist as a point within the circle of a community within the larger circle of a society. Individuals may diversify their investment in relationships, identity, and membership by having their point intersect with circles existing on multiple planes.

Multidimensional selection - In order to evaluate how an entity performs, Guild Theory does not rely primarily on one-dimensional metrics such as profit or GDP. Guild Theory utilizes algorithmic selection which optimizes for systems that increase holistic multi-dimensional metrics. These metrics may be a composite score that includes various aspects of well-being such as mental health, physical health, and financial stability.

Intentionality - Communities will have clearly defined hypotheses and a plan to test out the hypotheses and report the results, reflections on the results, and conclusions for how to operate in light of the results.

Localism - Decisions about how to respond to issues are made by the people who are closest to the issue. This allows for faster reactions, more holistic understanding, and the decentralization and proliferation of leadership thus leading to stability. Simply by nature of being smaller and having fewer people, communities may operate more like a startup which is able to pivot and adapt in a rapidly changing world. This connects to holocratic and sociocratic governance models.

Localism also addresses the fact that the same types of actions taken at a community level often alters in utility/morality at a societal scale. I think collectivist cultures care for friends more, which works well for having a healthy community but often falls apart at larger societal levels because when people in power prioritize their friends it becomes nepotism.

Every tribe in the jungle is an experiment, and we still live in these experiments... but the most successful ones are consolidating control and expanding to massive, globalized institutions.

This consolidation results in more efficiency in the short-term, but in the long-term the reduction in experiments leads to stagnation and collapse. This may be seen on a national scale as economies tend to slow during high levels of immigration but then fare far better in future years after welcoming immigrants.

I do not desire a reactionary force to globalization through anarchy. Instead, I aim for a complementary force of localism which balances out the breakneck pace of winner take all systems with the optionality of diverse approaches.

Versioning - The various stages and versions in the evolutionary tree are saved and we may revert to them at any time. We may decide to return to a different point in a tree from which we may branch off in a new direction.

Interoperability - The learnings we discover and the systems we create are available for the network of guilds to analyze, reject, or implement. Open-source, sharing, and DIY (do it yourself) philosophy embody our ethos. As we share we create opportunities to integrate our systems together.

Playfulness - Play is about entering into a mode of trying things. During a mode of play, failures are okay and expected. Because of this willingness to fail, there is often more flexibility, more attempts, and more learning. The dimension of whether or not something is important operates within a different axis than whether or not something is taken seriously or playfully. When consequences are massive and there are a limited number of opportunities then perhaps it makes sense to approach something seriously. However, in situations with many attempts playfulness often proliferates. Culture is an ongoing process that is actively and continually something we do. It is extremely important and it may be taken playfully. If you spend time with experienced soldiers under fire in the trenches, you'll find people joking and laughing because we need to. Laughter is what happens when our expectations are broken and we are okay with it. Laughter is essentially saying, "things went wrong, but it's okay."

Playfulness helps us remember that all our fears are artificial. Our worries are manmade and therefore we are the ones who shape them.

I remember asking a medic for help in the Tenderloin in San Francisco when the man I was walking with overdosed and began shaking uncontrollably on the street. The medic noticed the juggling clubs clipped to my backpack and he asked if he could see me juggle. I told him, "maybe after we take care of this guy." I wondered if it might seem out of place or disrespectful right after this man almost died. Then I realized that this medic and the people around spend all day undergoing these experiences, and it is exactly the people who undergo the most serious things who realize that art, movement, and music are essential.

A disclaimer

These are the fundamentals upon which a variety of models may be built. The following after this point is one example of how these principles might be implemented. This may be taken lightheartedly or written about in a fictional context of how a world might operate.

How Individuals Join a Community - Individuation

To apply to a community, an applicant undergoes retreats as a process for individuation (individual + identification)

From my time training with the Marine Corps, I have found there is an incredible power in formulating solidarity if people have undergone shared experiences, similar training, or can reflect together upon shared sufferings or challenges they have endured and/or overcome. As well as this, the values instilled combined with physically and emotionally activating environments become deeply embedded into one's identity.

Each retreat focuses on a core human desire. By experiencing a lack of a human need, this restores our appreciation of it, what it provides, and what it does not provide.

Food tastes better when you're hungry. We all have felt this viscerally. Perhaps community is healthier when you know what it is like to be without one.

As the old cliche goes, "you never appreciate it until it's gone."

By removing at intervals the abundance of something, we may replace the hedonic treadmill with the eudaimonic carousel.

As well as this, the retreats explore the boundaries which you should not cross. You cannot identify the midpoint of a line without knowing the end points. That is why I have tried to explore as wide a spectrum of human experience possible--in order to eventually find balance by first discovering the extremes. As a point in a polygon, you cannot know the shape of the object within which you operate without walking along the outskirts. In this way, we trace out our own boundaries and shape ourselves by realizing that which we are not.

During each retreat, the individual assembles a document that will coagulate into their profile which they submit in their membership application.

The Isolation Retreat

Desire: Community

Book: Tribe, by Sebastian Junger

Fear: Disappearing

Illusion: Independence

Realization: Sonder - Everyone's experience is just as vivid and real as your own

When I lost my religion at age 16, I began spending many hours a day staring at a blank wall trying to convince myself that there was a reason for life. For the year before this, I visited temples of every major world religion, took a university philosophy class, and wrote many dozens of notebooks of life stories as I asked people, "what do you wish you knew when you were my age?"

In the end, the conclusion consisted of: "Why the hell would I believe what God wants me to believe when there's more than a few manuals from which to choose?"

Plurality is confusing and on one has all the answers.

As an exposure to plurality, the isolation retreat would consist of reading, writing, and reflecting. The curriculum might include items from this list.

I know there are others who feel like everything that occurs is simply a distraction from the core reality of that void which we return to whenever there is a moment of stillness. That's how I felt when I lost my religion. So I decided to throw myself utterly into the distractions. Isolation for me was a horrible torture that made life not worth living, and this freed me from fear of anything else because nothing else that could happen to me compared to that type of despair. Perhaps I might encounter suffering, but that hurts on a different dimension than whether or not something matters at all. Pain, joy, fear, or any experience was welcome rather than numbness.

Isolation drove me crazy, and a little madness to shake up the usual rhythms of life may sometimes be a useful reset. We might look at the world afresh and realize that sanity is just the type of insanity the majority conform to. Generally, there are good reasons for this conformity, but it is useful to step out of it on occasion and see that there are other options.

At the time, my greatest fear was being forgotten. And in that time, I disappeared from the world and no one noticed. In the midst of that isolation, I decided that meaning was found in movement. I picked up a backpack and let the world blur around me as I wandered through countries across East Asia. None of the experiences seemed to mean anything unless they were shared with someone else. Everything felt unreal and whether it was an amazing or awful day, by the time I woke up it felt as though it was only a dream.

In order to discover my identity "x" in the equation of my life, I intended to convert every constant into a variable until the only consistent thing remaining was myself, and thus I would discover the shape of who I am in the silhouette formed amidst the shifting surroundings.

Through this East Asian odyssey I discovered what I lacked - a sense of purpose and a community, but I also discovered that I continued to remain alive even after leaving the church I grew up with. Therefore, my existence is not contingent on defining a sense of purpose. My identity is something more than membership in a single community.

I now believe in interdependence. I exist as a collection of effects flowing outwards as ripple effects which mix together until the origins intermingle. In this way due to the butterfly effect, we only grow greater and more connected as time passes. Put another way, we live on through the people who continue after us.

For an applicant to a guild, this is a time to reflect on why someone wants to join and whether it is worth it. It also serves as a time to face fears of rejection and consider backup plans. We want people to see how it is possible to survive without the community and ideally, we avoid unhealthy levels of dependency on one group. Just as diversification in financial investments leads to greater stability, so too with investments into communities.

The healthiest communities teach us that we can survive without them. After the most painful experience of my life during a conflict with a cult of fire spinners that I lived with for a year, I discovered that too much dependency upon a single community may transform a beautiful aspect of human interdependence into the trap of dependency. We are not independent, but we also need not be dependent--there is a middle path.

The Service Retreat

Desire: Security

Book: Lost Connections, by Johann Hari

Fear: Powerlessness

Illusion: Control

Realization: Pragmatic Mythicalism - Unverifiable stories/myths may be acted/reflected upon based on their utility.

I remember the moment when I felt powerless to take care of my loved ones.

I was a year into simultaneously working two jobs, training with the military, and being a full-time student while I also supported a family of five in Ecuador. It reached a point where I was crashing on friends' couches and my family in Ecuador were eating one meal a day.

I remember how far I felt the physical sensation of my heart plummeting into a deep pit as the thought entered into my head, "oh my God. I actually might not be strong enough. My family actually might starve."

That was the only time I ever seriously wondered if it might be better to return to being numb.

I felt the fear of being powerless. As well as this, intelligent life may be powerless from the potential that nothing is everlasting. Even if I live on through my successors, if our species dies eventually then why does it matter when it will be like it never happened as soon it is over?

Why does life matter if as soon as it is over it is like it never happened?

Then I realized, perhaps everything is everlasting considering the first law of thermodynamics and the conservation of energy in a closed system, which is contingent on whether or not the universe (and whatever other universes we may interact with) is infinite or not.

However, in the words of Einstein...

Basically, even the smartest among us have no way of scientifically testing answers to our deepest questions such as: does life matter? Do we have souls? What happens when we die?

Thus, whatever story we tell in regard to these questions are equally unverifiable and qualify as myths. When we determine a statement as truly untestable, then we are free to rely on utility rather than veracity as the criteria upon which to decide whether or not to believe it. Believe whatever religion you think helps you be the sort of person you want to be, brings you a sense of empathy, and helps you feel more connected to the people around you.

For me, all morals may derive from one principle: value people as important.

After spending years meditating in temples and debating with pastors, I ended up finding my de facto religion while binging YouTube. Sometimes we focus too much on ethos rather than content. Regardless of the origins of an idea, it may be worthwhile to try it out. When I reflected on the story from this video and spent time envisioning what a particular person's experience may be like, I found myself feeling healthier and more connected with the people around me. I injected a cosmology that granted +20 motivation. This concept is expounded upon in this post.

A few years earlier I wandered through my South America sojourn. Living with street performers I learned what it is like for someone to show care through real sacrifice. When I sat down at the table, they would welcome me warmly and share whatever bread we had even if that meant they would feel more hunger for the rest of the day. In the suburbs of the USA, if someone offered me a slice of cake that wouldn't mean they would go hungry, it just meant they would take out another piece of cake. I wondered where to find opportunities to sacrifice in meaningful ways. Sometimes we lack opportunities for such sacrifices in areas where basic needs are abundantly (even assumedly) provided for. Thus, even if the people around us would care for us if everything fell apart, we don't have a way to know that. When you actually risk losing something and let it go, that is an opportunity to see if the relationship is real.

When I met the bird "Gringito," my brother Francisco told me, "He's content because he is free. He can choose to stay or choose to go."

For my brother Francisco, he has experienced both the positives and negatives of being able to leave at any time. His young teenage mother left him to fend for himself as he grew up amongst other kids of the Shuar tribe in the Amazon Jungle. I remember him pointing out a cockroach in a gutter as he said with a chuckle, "I still remember what that tastes like." Then he found his way to an orphanage outside of the jungle where I met him. By that point, he had his own family and was helping as a caretaker welcoming people into the community where he also found a home when he was young. Just like Gringito, he was able to leave his community. Now he chooses to return to the jungle from time to time to visit his extended relatives.

With his family who I now consider my own family, I finally felt a sense of contentment I didn't know was possible. For once, I didn't feel an incessant drive to be somewhere else.

I had hoped with desperation that there must be something else out there--something better. With this community it felt as though I had finally found it... simply by being human together. We baked corn cakes, laughed at jokes over board games, worked together in the garden, and shared the ups and downs of life in a way that made it feel like home.

The irony of the service retreat was that I had it all wrong. I was the one who was helped. I was the one who was given to, and the generosity blew me away. There is a radical difference from sharing a miniscule fraction of my liquid assets compared to what it is like to be with people who would willingly share anything and everything they have with you. Sometimes the more material possessions you have to lose, the harder it is to trust people in this way.

I considered calling this "the poverty retreat" which helps us face what it is like to be without basic physical necessities. However, through this retreat I discovered that I came from a very poor culture in a different sort of wealth. I have found more joyful people living in huts than my six figure tech friends around San Francisco. It made me question why so many of my friends with far more physical comfort are depressed.

When I realized how much I had to learn from communities such as my friends in Ecuador, then I switched from thinking of giving as a unidirectional procedure. Instead, we have two-way communication and sharing in which material needs are provided from more individualistic cultures and then the communal and psychological needs are addressed through sharing in experiences with more collective cultures.

I have taken a few groups of friends to visit my family in Ecuador, and thus far the hypothesis has been confirmed that it would lead to a greater sense of care and connection. Even the friends who didn't speak Spanish and who caught covid during the trip still told me they wanted to return someday, which was a relief considering how bad things went during that trip.

This retreat also serves as a time to meet members of the community an individual is applying to and test out living and working side by side with them.

The Tribal Retreat

Desire: Progress

Book: The Secret of Our Success, by Joseph Henrich

Video: ? (Open to suggestions)

Fear: Losing my loved ones

Illusion: Understanding

Realization: Duality - idk, I'm still figuring it out

Francisco invited me to visit his extended relatives in the jungle, and the days we spent there transformed my life. I discovered how culture has adapted diet to preserve health such as slightly alcoholic fermented yuca drinks called chicha which kill germs and allow us to survive in areas without access to clean water. I found incredibly egalitarian and democratic villages and met leaders who have taken over the entire sovereign country for two weeks by using wooden spears and capturing key choke points on highways, oil fields, border crossings, and the airport. The social tech overcame other types of tech through their collective efforts.

Eventually, some friends from the USA wished to join us for a trip to the jungle. However, because anyone with any connection to the global economy might radically alter the lives of an entire village of my friends, I asked my friends to be the first to fill out the three individuation documents in order to understand why they wished to travel to these places.

Part of this precaution was due to my discovery that some areas in the jungle felt abundant and vibrant in which there were no TVs and no advertisements and the people felt free and happy. But then there were areas that had recently connected enough with the global economy and perhaps learned to look at themselves as the poorest people in the world. It is those who are taught avarice who feel most poor and insecure. Perhaps tapping into the way we currently operate our economies kills an abundance mindset and spurs on a scarcity mindset that incentivizes extractivism, consumerism, and races to the bottom. In some villages, people grew plants and shared everything with one another. In other areas, it felt like a race to extract as much balsa wood, gold, and oil as possible to ship far away.

"Mi Primo" Silvio

As I took the bus to the airport, I imagined returning to the village of Pitacocha a few years later when the bridge under construction is completed only to see my ten year old "primo" Silvio now working in an oil refinery at age fifteen... yet he looked much older and more tired. I imagined his excitement about life being extinguished as he toiled for years with the hope of eventually being able to send his kids to a good school far away.

I couldn't stop crying.

I am concerned about bringing tourism to these locations which may lead to economic connectivity which potentially results in a destruction of the existing cultures.

However, during our conversations various indigenous leaders of Ecuador have expressed strong favor for ecotourism as a non-harmful way to share their culture and to have income to pay for healthcare, education, and legal representation. Whether or not ecotourism is good or bad, the alternative of letting corporations poison rivers and burn down forests without anyone communicating with the indigenous residents is far worse. The consensus amongst most people I spoke with is that companies may try to keep witnesses away from the sorts of activity they engage in and having more visitors may help address this. It is a common practice for massive corporations to try to shame individuals and say that their small actions are the issue, but the real issue is how the profit motive helps companies coordinate in favor for their own short-term interests better than the public coordinates for its long-term interests.

We should certainly stay concerned about how tourism may reorient a culture into operating in warped ways, but the issue is not about whether or not someone painting their face is cultural appropriation. The issue is that there are companies actively committing genocide as they destroy homes and families without accountability because people do not see what they are doing. In the jungle, we are fighting for survival... not because it is difficult to live without modernity, but because modernity is trying to consume us.

I want to live and work alongside people who recognize how brief and wild life is--who don't care about the unimportant shit like regulating how someone chooses to dress, how they talk, or what they do with their own body, but who really care about the important shit like caring for one another and preventing massacres of the innocent.

Fortunately, the indigenous nations of Ecuador have made remarkable progress in the ongoing struggle to protect the earth we all depend upon, and the indigenous rights movement continues with a strength of force as more land is being recognized as "under indigenous care" around the world.

By being in communities in the jungle, it made me question the direction of human progress, what we have gained, and what we have given up.

Humans hate stagnation, even if in reality that simply means staying still. I used to despise stillness because in every moment of silence the question would return to plague me, "does it even matter?" So I would try to find something that felt like it mattered, such as facing my fears.

My process for addressing fears used to consist of the following:

Identify the fear, face the fear, feel the fear, chase the fear

Then grab it by the throat and beat your fucking face into it over and over until it's soaked in your blood then shove it so far up your ass that it gets in your mouth so you can chew on it and spit it out.

Then find a bigger one.

This is how I felt in the midst of my numbness and isolation. I felt barbaric, sociopathic, and broken.

However, after a day fishing, swimming in the river, playing soccer, cooking together with friends, and then falling asleep exhausted in a hut together with the family to wake up the next day with the sunrise and the sound of birds... I felt at peace. I felt that we were living the way we are designed to live. I felt whole.

With the long-term relationships--the embeddedness and the lack of exits, the lack of ghosting, the seriousness and final resort nature of cutting people off--there is a higher level of commitment to understand, to communicate, and to have empathy and adapt to one another in order to live in harmony because the only choice is to live together.

In the "modern" world, we do not need to live together for physical survival. Instead, we may have our material needs provided for by far-off corporations.

Society may take care of the individual while cutting out the community, but when an individual does not feel integrated into their community then they will feel disconnected from humanity.

Our psychological needs have remained consistent since evolving in conjunction with the way we collaborated side by side to achieve survival anthropologically.

We are the exact same creatures as when we first started knocking rocks together to make fire. We have the exact same physiological and psychological needs as when we relied on the moon for light at night. We still find the moon just as beautiful today as a million years ago, even though we no longer need it for illumination. If we could dull the surface of the moon through mining in order to profit, would we?

Understanding the dissonance between our design and our current lifestyles is a core aspect of evolutionary cultural design.

Sometimes beauty ought to be prioritized over economic efficiency, and long-term commitments are oftentimes inefficient. Today, western countries reject multi-generational housing. We leave our grandparents in nursing homes, we leave our children for most of their youth so we might work in a separate office, and we leave our hometowns for higher paying jobs. Social mobility and social density generally maintain an inverse relationship meaning that we have achieved more efficient economies at the expense of degrading the length of our relationships.

There are positive and negative results from higher barriers to exit. This retreat serves as a time for applicants to consider and experience these pros and cons. It may also serve as a time to reflect on versioning, on reversible and non-reversible choices, and on decision trees. Which paths can we backtrack from and which can we not?

In the jungle, I found what it is like to be deeply connected with one's family and community. In that time, my greatest fears changed. Now I've found a fear that I do not ever want to face. Now I fear losing my loved ones.

It's intriguing that our greatest fears--of dying, of being forgotten, of losing our loved ones--are all inevitable.

Everyone I love will die.

I care about community relationships because I know how difficult it has been when I thought I had to feel everything alone because I was worried about frightening people away and thereby becoming even more alone.

But our greatest fears are also universal.

We do not need to face them alone. And because we feel this fear, we also feel hope. It is a package deal.

I no longer feel numb. I now share in the hope of my friends in the jungle: that we would care for our planet and remember what it means to be human.

This post is dedicated to my family in Ecuador who helped me realize:

Life can be shared.

How a Community Joins the Network - Confederation

To be expounded in a future post.


Similar to how an individual writes out their personal identity doc into a profile, a community assembles a document that includes their hypothesis and their plan to test it, their manifesto with their values and decision making processes and mission statement, and then they submit their communal profile as an application. The concentricism makes the process fairly easy to derive from the individual process, but there are many more notes to add about how we might replicate the ways the Waorani, the Ashaninka, and Rojava operate through confederations.

Future posts will also expound upon the various roles among guild members and how they are chosen and how the global network utilizes anonymous checks-ins for analyzing value alignment among the member communities.

Call to action: If you're interested in visiting my family in Ecuador and the jungle, please submit your application here

Further Reading

Notes from the 2023 Coordi-nation summit in Zuzalu:

Developmentalism Analysis and Conscientious Capitalism Score:

Guild Theory notes:

The Benefits of Guilds and Localized Mutual Funds Utilizing UBI:

Community Mutual Funds:

1 Comment

May 25, 2023


As societies increasingly depend on our code base for our legal structure and economy, this may become easier. But culture changes with interactions rather than keystrokes, and we often do not understand why adaptations work and which ones have which effects (Chesterton's Fence)



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