I’ve learned and transformed a lot ever since I wrote and tried to live the Philosophy I had expressed back in 2013. In this post, I’ll summarize some changes and key lessons, in addition to those found in Revealing the Sacred, and trust others will find value in them too.
Moral Innovations & Local Environment Fit
A post I published in 2016, On Ethical Selection, where I developed an analogy between ethical and natural selection, contained a framework that partially shed light on why the Philosophy of 2013 had trouble working. Apparently, moral innovations need as much of a local environment fit as tech innovations need a product-market fit if they are to survive and thrive:
Any behavior instantiating an ethical ideal is always exhibited in a certain context, a local environment. Depending on the reactions of that environment, some ethical behaviors and ideals have a higher probability of being selected, reproduced, and championed, while others are ignored, actively persecuted and go extinct or manage to survive only in unique niches.
A local environment can have a variety of reactions to different behaviors, instantiating different ethical ideals. For example, criticizing slavery today in the environment of the United States garners a different reaction than what it would garner in the same environment before the abolition of slavery.
Moral innovations can sometimes be led to extinction by internal inconsistencies and the reactions of their local environments or, at times, often through sacrifice and the relentlessness of small groups of adherents, persist and eventually change their local environments and become the dominant moralities1.
Obviously, the fit between a local environment and an ethical behavior or ideal says little about the moral worth of either. A just man may find himself in a den of thieves while a criminal in a group of good Samaritans. The same goes for what could be the end result of a certain point in the process. That a just man may eventually become a thief himself in a den of thieves doesn’t count as a proof of superiority for the ethical ideals of the thieves.
The interactions between the “design” (or content) of a behavior instantiating an ethical ideal and its local environment, nevertheless, does affect which will survive, change or become extinct. Understanding these interactions can help us answer questions like:
Will the inertia of a local environment neutralize an ethical trailblazer that doesn’t fit and lead it to extinction, or would the ethical trailblazer disrupt the inertia of the local environment, causing a phase transition to a new set of behaviors and ethical ideals?
What are some features I need to be aware of when introducing a moral innovation?
Would it make sense to stagger the introduction of certain moral innovations in certain local environments?
In short, how easy or hard would it be for certain parts of the world to accept moral innovation, and if yes, how much and how fast, and if no, why not?2
Moral mutations that diverge too significantly from one's local environment do not confer a perceivable advantage in it and are therefore neither selected nor easily understood. Thus, forms of life that try to instantiate them (e.g. a philosopher attempting to live on the Philosophy of 2013) simply do not have many chances of survival. Their survival is possible but not probable.
To give a concrete example, when Patreon came out I was very excited. Here was a platform that could be set up so that gratitude rather than need could support your work and livelihood. It was a way to test in practice the ideals outlined in my 2013 Philosophy. Yet in reality, only 2% of all creators on Patreon earn more than the federal minimum wage through the site, according to public earnings data—and I wasn’t one of them—and that number drops to 0.8% if we assume a $15 minimum wage instead of $7.253. Though I’m sure I did a number of things wrong when I launched my Patreon (hence why I often think of reusing it in some way), not to mention that competition is fierce with a lot of quality content out there, those numbers remain quite sobering.
The situation is not different for creators using YouTube. Using numbers from a study4 by professor Mathias Bärtl from Offenburg University of Applied Sciences, what is revealed is that “over 96.5% of YouTube creators aren’t making a full-time minimum income from advertising revenue on YouTube.”5
There are other factors to consider. For example:
…the time it takes for creators to qualify for YouTube’s partner program, which involves earning more than 4,000 valid public watch hours in the past 12 months and more than 1,000 subscribers. For YouTuber Cathrin Manning, it took nearly two years to accumulate these results. After monetizing, it can still take time for a video to reach $50 in earnings. Even at that rate, creators would still need to make 491 videos per year to reach $24,544 in earnings from advertising revenue. If a creator considers cash flow, that $50 needs to come in within a short amount of time.6
Moreover, creators have to be careful lest their political views deem them not “advertiser friendly” and thereby see their videos demonetized7 or have their views censored, something Hong Kong creators, among others, discovered during the recent pandemic8.
At this point, it is important to note, that:
This is not exclusively a YouTube problem: Spotify announced in February that only 7,500 creators out of 8 million got paid $100,000 from the platform in 2020. That’s 0.09% — and that number was up 79% from the year before.9
All the above constitute interesting data points to speculate on with respect to our digital “local environment” and what kind of agents and moral outlooks it selects.
Is it really the case that the vast majority of content creators produce content not worthy of decent compensation or do we just live in a culture that doesn’t sufficiently reward creators?
Does the architecture of our tech platforms fail to equitably compensate creators for the value their content provides?
Has the culture that Big Tech established, where services and content are often free to the end user, in exchange for capturing and selling user data to advertisers and third parties, negatively affects small and independent creators that don’t use that business model and have neither the willingness to engage in it, nor the technical expertise or big audiences necessary for it to work?
Can a creator who produces content outside the Overton window, make a living in today’s online environment, and what are the risks associated with doing so?
Reflecting on such considerations made me add more nuance and realism to my current philosophy compared to the one I held in 2013. How would I honor what I loved if the way I had chosen to do it didn’t offer the best chances of doing it sustainably?
Loving the Message can be Why you Charge for it
In the quote from On Ethical Selection earlier, I mentioned that, other than the fit between a moral innovation (e.g. “All my works for free, pay what you want if you think their valuable” that I had in my 2013 Philosophy) and its local environment (e.g. an online culture where free content is the norm, and money is mostly made by tech platforms through ads that leverage big datasets rather than individual creators), another factor that affects the survival of moral innovations are internal inconsistencies—and it is one, in hindsight, glaring inconsistency, rather than any fit between my moral innovation and its local environment, that dealt the deathblow to a certain mindset in my 2013 Philosophy.
The origin of the inconsistency can be traced in this metaphor found there:
I find it ironic that a lot of people who claim they have a message to spread and want to help others, life-coaches, motivational speakers, self-help gurus etc. nevertheless make money a pre-condition for accessing that message. A monetary exchange by its very nature excludes those who have no money to exchange. While making money is not necessarily a bad thing, when someone puts money as the necessary condition for receiving their message, they implicitly signify that it is less important than the money they require in order to give it, for if you have none, you won’t be getting the message. Irrespective of what they may say in theory, in practice they are saying that getting your money is more important than delivering their message. This is a fundamental distinction between the professional and amateur mindset. Between the sophist and the philosopher. Between doing things for the sake of the things themselves rather than as a means to something else. Between doing something in the spirit of love and doing something for money. In light of this line of reasoning and in accordance to my ideals, there is no monetary requirement to enjoy access to my works.10
There are a few considerations that are missing from the metaphor above. Firstly, a message doesn’t exist in isolation and wasn’t created out of thin air. In my case, it literally took decades of personal effort and a significant amount of resources for its quality to get to the point it enjoys today. The schools, colleges, and universities in which I was educated and got my degrees in philosophy required a significant amount of funds. The same goes for my upbringing and the extraordinary experiences I’ve had the luck, audacity, and privilege to enjoy and learn from. Thus, the preconditions for the generation of these messages cost a lot.
Secondly, there is no message without a messenger. There is a living breathing being that discovers, channels, generates, and develops the message and/or delivers it. It, too, needs resources to live and carry out the process that leads to the discovery, generation, development, and successful transmission of the message. If we were to also consider the material manifestation or implementation of the message with whatever equipment, services, spaces, organizations, events, practices, and personnel it may require, then the costs, of all kinds, rise even higher.
So, someone putting money as a necessary precondition for receiving their message may not be doing it because they believe that “getting your money is more important than delivering their message” but exactly because they believe that the message is too important for it to stop being generated and/or delivered due to lack of resources and/or bad financial planning. It may be the very love of the message that motivates them to ask for the resources that will keep it being generated, developed, and/or circulated.
The objection raised would be valid if the resources for that process were firmly secured but the individual or organization, instead of redeploying them on the mission relating to the message, preferred to unreasonably accumulate them for consistently selfish extravagant expenditures while doing little to leverage them to distribute the message to those who needed it but couldn't afford it.
Any individual or organization that requires money to deliver its message does not necessarily believe that “getting your money is more important than delivering their message”. Nor does it mean that they don’t do things “in the spirit of love” and “for the sake of the things themselves”. For it is not the monetary requirement, on its own, that determines whether something is done out of love. In fact, as we’ve established, there can be times when the monetary requirement is there precisely out of love for the message, as it ensures the resources for its generation, propagation, and implementation.
In short, the requirements of a misguided moral purity I believed were necessary to honor my love for wisdom were not only unnecessary but sabotaged the very preconditions of that love being instantiated and its ability to nurture children.
After doing a variety of jobs to support my philosophical path and frequently sharing my learnings freely with those I’ve been blessed to meet along the way either in person or in writing, I decided it is now the time for the path itself to support the one walking it, by sharing what I’ve learned & still learning while using the funds provided by those who value my gifts, work, and service, to keep walking, learning, sharing, creating, and loving, in service to the benefit & evolution of all beings.
Which also explains why Numinous Quest, while having many posts that will be free for everyone, will have others available only for people whose level of support has transitioned to a paid subscription, allowing me to keep creating, discovering, developing, and sharing my message. Without some people paying, making free content is unsustainable and internally inconsistent with my latest realizations. In fact, the more people choose paid subscriptions, the easier it becomes to make more of my content free—not the other way around.
Revealing the Process
Throughout most of my life, I’ve been quite private and solitary about my philosophical practice despite it being a major part of my life. Others would only see some polished fragments (many of which are in my archives) that were the result of philosophical activity but not the activity itself. Not even my immediate family knows exactly what it is that I’ve been doing, and yet, after all “these years of temptation and experiment”11 I’ve come to realize that:
“...what has happened to me…must happen to everyone in whom a task wants to become incarnate and “come into the world”. The secret force and necessity of this task rules among and in the individual facets of our destiny like an unconscious pregnancy — long before we have caught sight of this task itself or know its name. Our vocation commands and disposes of us even when we do not yet know it; it is the future that regulates our today…it is only now, at the midday of our life, that we understand the preparations, bypaths, experiments, temptations, disguises the problem had need of before it was allowed to rise up before us.”12
It is only now, after four decades in this lifetime, that a “mature freedom of spirit which is equally self-mastery and discipline of the heart and permits access to many and contradictory modes of thought”13 has finally led,
“to that inner spaciousness and indulgence of superabundance which excludes the danger that the spirit may even on its own road perhaps lose itself and become infatuated and remain intoxicated in some corner or other; to that superfluity of formative, curative, moulding and restorative forces which is precisely the sign of great health, that superfluity which grants to the free spirit the dangerous privilege of living experimentally and of being allowed to offer itself to adventure”14
It is now that I finally feel ready to reveal more of my philosophical process and lead others through the rites of passage philosophical adventures require.
Even those who are not meant to travel with me, may derive some benefit from the captain’s logs recorded during my life’s quest. That’s another reason why I started Numinous Quest; to help fellow travelers with lessons learned, experiments attempted, dead ends reached, and challenges overcome, while generating resources to keep on traveling and logging my way out of Plato’s Cave. One more thread leading out of the labyrinth and back to the love that is waiting for us all.
There is some evidence for this here: “Minority rules: Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas”, the summary of the article being: “Scientists have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.”
See Less Than 2% of Content Creators on Patreon Earn Monthly Minimum Wage by Daniel Sanchez, published on Jan. 2nd 2018 (accessed Feb. 11th 2022).
I found the link to the study in the article YouTube and Patreon Still Aren’t Paying the Rent for Most Creatives by Herbert Lui.
A case mentioned in YouTube and Patreon Still Aren’t Paying the Rent for Most Creatives speaks of reductions of up to 80%.
F. Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Preface, section 4, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
F. Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Preface, section 7, with slight yet insignificant alterations, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
F. Nietzsche, Human All Too Human, Preface, section 4, trans. by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1986.