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The Culture Hack Curriculum

Deep Dive: Cultural Evolution

Narrative environments

At Culture Hack Labs we are interested in how we can evolve culture through narratives. To begin to unpack this, first we need to define where our culture currently is. As we grapple with unprecedented ecological and social crises, there can be no doubt that human ‘progress’ has amounted to a more precarious existence for all of us. In the face of the last four hundred years of unrestricted ‘human progress’, we must ask questions about the actual meaning of ‘being human’ as we envision this transition to a post Anthropocentric world, what it will mean to be ‘post human’? The humanist ideology found its roots in Ancient Greek, Vedic and Proto European belief systems that rejected the deities of our collective animistic mythologies in favor of a new value system of pragmatism, individualism and self determinacy. This newfound individualist fervor fueled a new understanding of Man (as it explicitly refers to White European Men), that as Rosi Braidotti explained in her book The Posthuman, instills a set of mental, discursive and spiritual values. 

These values which emphasize human agency, freedom and a misplaced notion of absolute morality, became the emblem of Europeans as an unparalleled colonial and imperial force in the world, rooted in the demotion of the ‘other’. That is Man is defined in what he is not: female, black, poor, heretic, etc. This similar logic was reinforced by the period of Enlightenment that followed.This structural, cultural and political system has become the dominant force behind progress in all its forms and has infected every part of our lives. Therefore, we must make a critical distinction between its espoused and intrinsic values and ultimately deconstruct the deep belief systems that justify it. It is clear that, in this tradition, progress is against life and against people; and the espoused values of freedom, pragmatism and unbounded human potential have not been realized. However we see instead a life-destroying impulse that is driven by a cultural code of ‘survival of the fittest’. This drive, which has had a multitude of expressions in the last four hundred years, frames the world as merely a resource for human endeavor. It is this specific mind virus of consumption, which is blind to the interdependence and contingency of human life, that must be addressed and transformed.

Explore further: Rethinking the Apocalypse

An often overlooked part of the cultural analysis that is at the heart of our work, is the identification of narrative environments. Narrative environments are habitats in which a certain species of narrative forms may live and flourish, creating the basic conditions for them to thrive. The new challenge for narrative work is not merely the deconstruction and analysis of human subjectivity but the development of a non-anthropocentric view with life affirming ethics. This quantum view of the world sees subjects, individuals and all things as intimately bound – we are not together but we are united in our differentiation, united in our diversity and united in our fate.

These times of catastrophe, collapse and breakdown show that our understanding of who we are and what our purpose is in this web of life needs a critical reappraisal. To imagine what will come will require a new set of values, belief systems and narratives, yet will reinstantiate many of the archaic values at the roots of our cultures. In these times of unprecedented crises it is critical that we collectively develop a set of orientating coordinates that help us navigate the uncertain and complex terrain of the inevitable transition. In this time of instant messaging, endless pixels of information, sponsored research posts, labyrinthine conspiracy theories, and positivist science have failed to be antidotes to our drift towards entropy and self-annihilation. To address this we must orientate to coordinates that can function as a better set of truth criteria for the narratives that govern every aspect of our lives. Narratives are not only sense making machines in the face of uncertainty, they are the very substance of our social reality; and therefore it is critical that we can understand what cultural evolution means in terms of narrative forms.

Given the evolution of the control systems described above, we can identify four types of narrative environments:

Figure 1: The 4 Narrative Environments

In Figure 1 above we see four narrative environments plotted along two axes:

The vertical axis measures Coherence, which describes how unified or diverse the narrative forms within the narrative environment are. Low coherence means greater diversity of belief systems whereas high coherence means more homogeneity in belief systems. Recall from Module 1 that belief systems are distillations of our shared mythos into ‘ways of being in the world’. That is to say belief systems dictate the conditions for truth and provide the justifications for the actions we take. These belief systems are the ‘production machines of culture’ because they enact cultural truths (those truths that are unquestioned in any cultural context) into everyday practices and norms. 

The horizontal axis describes how narrative forms define Identity within their environment; which can either focus on the individual self or on the other end of the spectrum focus on collective interdependence.

The four narrative environments can be explained as follows:

The Disciplinary narrative environment (A) contains narrative forms that show a high degree of coherence but that express a low empathy field, that is, they are within the ‘self’, tribal’ range. The narrative environment of the disciplinary society was first articulated by Foucault, as the means by which state apparatuses would gain power over society through an enclosure (of space-time), typified by the factory, hospital and asylum.

In the Control narrative environment (B) individuals are given ‘modulated’ freedoms that give the illusion of personal freedom and liberty, but that are ultimately grounded in control.

“In the disciplinary societies one was always starting again (from school to the barracks, from the barracks to the factory), while in the societies of control one is never finished with anything – the corporation, the educational system, the armed services being metastable states coexisting in one and the same modulation, like a universal system of deformation.”

Deleuze, Postscript on the Societies of Control. (1992)

In simple terms, it is a system of control that gives people the illusion of freedom.

In the Dialogic narrative environment (C) you find deep diversity and cultural resilience. This is obtained by dialogical interactions between many heterogeneous viewpoints. This capacity is particularly suited to developing discourses between varying cultural codes and spaces.

The Communitarian narrative environment (D) displays high levels of coherence with high levels of interdependence. This capacity is particularly suited to local resilient communities that work together to preserve life, and thrive together.

In Figure 1 above we can see a natural shift between environments A & B in neoliberal systems, and also between C & D in resilient systems. In its ideal form, narrative environments that display the highest level of resilience will move between environments C & D, as needed. These environments are founded in a basic value of interdependence. 

The table below maps the narrative environments described above to paradigms and geographic examples.

Narrative EnvironmentParadigmExamples
DisciplinaryReligious NationalismIndia, Israel
ControlSecular AuthoritarianismUSA, China, Russia
CommunitarianDemocratic ConfederalismRojava, Chiapas
DialogicPluralist DemocracySweden, Canada

The Culture Hack Labs System Syntropy Framework

At Culture Hack Labs, we believe that the current moment of transition requires a much greater shift in our collective consciousness. This shift requires a transformation of the understanding of our world, not merely as interdependent but deeply entangled and animistic. This view of reality reveals the world not just as interconnected but as mutually caused; for example we do not see ‘nature’ as something we must save but as something that we ‘are’. Examples of this type of narrative environment are found in ancient wisdom cultures around the world, and the few remaining ones display the highest levels of social, ecological and cultural resilience.

The mapping below describes a fifth narrative environment, which represents a shift to a post-anthropocentric paradigm, that we call interbeing, The interbeing narrative environment can be best described by two integrated qualities – post-anthropocentric and pre-dualistic (before any conception of separation).

Figure 2: Evolving Culture to Systems Syntropy

Using the above diagram as a map we can give the following current examples for each narrative environment:

Narrative EnvironmentParadigmExamples
DisciplinaryReligious NationalismIndia, Israel
ControlSecular AuthoritarianismUSA, China, Russia
CommunitarianDemocratic ConfederalismRojava, Chiapas
DialogicPluralist DemocracySweden, Canada
InterbeingEcological AnarchismTemporary Autonomous Zones, Indigenous Communities

Through the shift of the basic understanding of identity within these narrative environments we can evolve to the Interbeing narrative environment. This is interrelated with a more animistic and quantum understanding of human identity based on entanglement, co-agency, interdependence and dependent origination (i.e. “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist”). 

The onto-shift: Another way to describe the shift of our understanding of identity towards interbeing, is an “onto-shift” (an ontological shift: a fundamental shift in how we view and understand the word). The new ontology here is a non-anthropocentric, life-centric way of being. Bollier and Helfrich describe the “onto-shift” as an escape from the onto-political framework of the modern West in which nature is seen as separate from culture (see module 1), and “a  recognition that relational categories of thought and experience are primary” (Bollier & Helfrich, 2019). In other words, we need a new language to open up a different reality16.The mapping below describes a fifth narrative environment, which represents a shift to a post-anthropocentric paradigm, that we call interbeing, The interbeing narrative environment can be best described by two integrated qualities – post-anthropocentric and pre-dualistic (before any conception of separation).

This onto-shift towards an inter-being narrative environment will lead our cultural forms into greater levels of order to achieve the overall outcome of system syntropy, as it pertains both to social and ecological issues. Systems entropy refers to a lack of order or predictability, gradual decline and chaos whereas systems syntropy, a term popularized by Buckminister Fuller, refers to, “the tendency towards energy concentration, order, organization and life”. From our perspective, this is what cultural evolution means: the shift from entropic narrative environments to syntropic narrative environments, through a widening definition of identity; the emerging phase being an animistic/quantum view of Self.


  1. See Mignolo, W D. (2011) Chapter: The Darker Side of Enlightenment: A Decolonial Reading of Kant’s Geography, in The darker side of Western modernity. Duke University Press. Binary thinking is attributed to Enlightenment thinker Descartes and his separation of body and mind (Cartesian dualism). See postmodernist philosopher Derrida’s critical discussion of how one term is always given a more privileged position than its opposite, and the ‘logic of the negative other’ in western thinking. Derrida, J., (1978). Writing and difference. University of Chicago press; Morrison, T., 1994. Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. New York: Vintage.
  2. Read more about the evolution of the humanist idea of “progress” based on the demotion of the other as three systems of control in our annex.
  3. Read about: Post-humanism, posthuman subjectivity, and Life-centric egalitarian ethics: Braidotti, R, (2013) The Posthuman, Polity (or see a summary of her book: part one and two; learn more through a two part lecture series: “Memoirs of a Posthumanist” and “Aspirations” (or see lecture transcript); and Indigenous cosmologies: De Castro, E V (2007). “The crystal forest: notes on the ontology of Amazonian spirits.” Inner Asia 9, no. 2: 153-172.
  4.  Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Duke University Press. “Barad writes about intra-action, rather than interaction, to illustrate how entanglement precedes thingness. In other words, there are no things as such, just relationships — and these ongoing relational dynamics are co-responsible for how things emerge.”, from: Ladha, A. and Kirk, M. (2016). Seeing Wetiko: On Capitalism, Mind Viruses, and Antidotes for a World in Transition. Kosmos Journal.
  5.   Cave, D. (1993) Mircea Eliade’s vision for a new humanism. Oxford University Press, 1993. Cave develops Eliade’s idea of a “new humanism” for modern culture as a means to restore archetypal myths/symbols that can bring beings together; Hodge, H. N. (2013). Ancient futures: learning from Ladakh. Random House (or 1 hr film); Suppiah, S., Chattopadhyay, S., Nardin, A. C. F. D., & Couto, L. (2022). Possible Futures. In Transformation Literacy (pp. 45-60). Springer, Cham.
  6. See reference 2 for Foucault references. Young, S M, (2019). Michel Foucault: Discipline – Key Concept. Critical Legal Thinking; Read more about discipline and prisons as enclosure: Garland, D. (1990) “Punishment and the technologies of power: the work of Michel Foucault” (ch. 6). Punishment and Modern Society. Oxford.
  7.  See reference 4 for more. Deleuze, G. (1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3-7; Hui, Y. (2015). Modulation after control. New Formations, 84(84-85), 74-91. 
  8.  Read about political theorist Habermas’s concept of “Deliberative Democracy”: Eagan, J. L. (2007). Deliberative democracy. Encyclopedia Britannica; and critiques from Feminist scholars such as Nancy Fraser, Iris Young, and Chantal Mouffe who propose a more participative, culturally diverse public sphere: Rasmussen, T. (2010). Discourse as contestation. In The Internet Soapbox (pp. 34-46); Mouffe, C. (2000). Deliberative democracy or agonistic pluralism. Read about “Pluralism” – the affirmation of diversity and peaceful coexistence of different traditions, lifestyles, ideas and values (e.g. Interculturalism in Canada): Kastoryano, R. (2018). Multiculturalism and interculturalism: redefining nationhood and solidarity. Comparative Migration Studies, 6(1), 1-11.
  9.  Overview: Bell, D, “Communitarianism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; and examples of Democratic Confederalism: Öcalan, A. (2017). Democratic Confederalism. International Initiative Edition; and Zapatismo in and beyond Chiapas, Mexico (Global Social Theory).
  10. Ancient wisdom cultures tend to be Animistic and pre/non-dualistic, in which the sphere of sociality includes a spectrum of seen and unseen living beings including plants, fungi, animals, and spirits. See: De Castro (2004) Cosmological Perspectivism in Amazonia and Elsewhere HAU: Masterclass Series; Earthrise Studio (2021). Why Indigenous Wisdom Is An Antidote To The Climate Crisis; Forest Declaration Platform (2022). Sink or Swim: How Indigenous or community lands can make or break nationally determined contributions; See how ancient wisdom narratives have been used in Guatemala (Cura Da Terra) and Mexico to win environmental campaigns: Ladha, A and Sandoval, L, 2019. Campaign to defend Mexico’s sacred lake changes global activism. Truthout. 
  11. Watch video (1hr 50) on interbeing: Nhat Hanh, T (2012). Through the Insight of Interbeing. Dharma Talk. Plum Village. Naht Hanh, T. (1993). Interbeing: Fourteen guidelines for engaged Buddhism. Berkeley. CA: Parallax. Einstein, C and Ladha, A, (2020). Oppression, Interconnection and Healing. Kosmos Journal (read or listen). 
  12. Post-anthropocentrism criticizes species hierarchy and decentres the human in favor of Life-centrism (centring Life in all forms – both human and non-human, seen and unseen beings). This quality is similar to many Indigenous knowledge systems and western scientific theories of Gaia (Lovelock & Margulis, 1974) – in which the earth is seen as an animate and self-regulating organism. Two closely related concepts are post-humanism (Braidotti, 2013 – see reference 5 above) and animism (Bird-David, 1999). Read more about: the Anthropocene (Global Social Theory); Watch 8 min video: Ferrando, F. (2017). 5. What does POST-ANTHROPOCENTRISM mean?; Lovelock, J. E., Margulis, L. (1974). Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: The Gaia hypothesis. Tellus, 26(1–2), 2–10; Bird-David, N. (1999) ““Animism” revisited: personhood, environment, and relational epistemology.” Current anthropology 40, no. S1; Braidotti, R, (2013) The Posthuman.
  13. Pre-dualism, or non-dualism, is the quality of non-binary thinking found in Ancient and Indigenous epistemologies that transcend the Enlightenment era system of meaning that relies on binary oppositions (e.g. nature is defined in relation to what it is not: culture; self is define in relation to what it is not: other, etc). Non-dualism is about “being able to live and to be in relationship to multiple truths simultaneously.” (Ladha, 2019). Ladha, A (2019). Mystical Anarchism, a Spiritual Biography. Kosmos Journal; Descola, P. (2013) Beyond nature and culture. University of Chicago Press; See one page overview on binary/dualistic ways of thinking for activists. 
  14. Clark, J. (2020) What is eco-anarchism? The Ecological Citizen. (Suppl C): 9-14; An overview of Temporary Autonomous Zones by Beautiful Trouble.
  15. As the graph shows, as well as a shift in the understanding of identity, the interbeing narrative environment contains both low and high coherence. Recall, low coherence means diversity of beliefs and high coherence means homogenisation of beliefs. This is possible as the interbeing narrative environment, in which syntropic systems sit, is similar to panarchic and ecological systems – in which there’s diversity plus homogeneity (an example of this is the human body, in which there is a diversity in human organs, but the DNA itself is consistent throughout). This is one of the characteristics of syntropic systems. Read more about panarchy and systems thinking.
  16. Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (2019). Free, fair, and alive: The insurgent power of the commons. New Society Publishers