We cultivate an attitude of productive, informed ambivalence about the work we do—recognizing that no human being or enterprise is all good or all bad, and that all work takes place within specific physical, social, and historical contexts and lineages of inherited, intergenerational trauma.

Per Venkat Rao, we try to approach our work with high intelligence paired with a “dismantled sacredness module” that allows us to see what’s bright, shining, and good, while recognizing that these very same things can be harmful, morally compromised, and ultimately doomed. Heeding the lessons of grand opera, we stay equally open to exuberance and horror, joy and despair. Our personal blend of attuned empathy and dark optimism is the mindset we’ve drifted into over time not because it’s fun or commercial, but because it’s effective, generative, elastic, and sustainable.

One specific, sacred idea that we don’t attach to either way is the notion that human civilization is inherently good. Echoing both Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari, Christopher Ryan argued in Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress that humanity’s prehistoric leap from foraging to sustained agriculture was a situational accident and costly mistake. Douglas Rushkoff and others have pointed out that the quality of life during the so-called Dark Ages was in many ways much better than what most humans experienced during the Renaissance, or since. Walter Benjamin wrote vividly of history as an ongoing catastrophe, with the relentless march of “progress” thwarting any attempt at healing or repair.

Seeing the limits of civilization—and Western civilization specifically—doesn’t necessarily lead to pessimism. Our experience is that it can foster unique insight, ongoing humility, full-of-care attention, and workable acceptance.

Here are some specific principles that animate our work, and that allow us to cheer progress while staying realistic about what’s actually possible:

The world is changing quickly. Below are some of the resources we’ve found most useful in describing, with a historical lens, what’s true and what’s new.

World War III

2022+: Multipolar conflict between superpowers becomes hostile and overt, against a backdrop of global ecological catastrophe.

The Great Work

2020-2022: The COVID-19 pandemic creates an opportunity for both a reset and a reckoning.


1619-2020: Understanding the origins and ultimate collapse of the dominant Western macroeconomic ideology of the past forty years.