The Dark Forest

Tomorrow’s events:

  • Naturalising Sense-making w/ Dave Snowden. September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th. 2:00 PM ET. RSVP here.

  • Shame Breakthrough Bootcamp w/ A.J. Bond. Every Thursday @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.

Newly posted events:

  • Post-Script: Toxic Masculinity? w/ Buster Benson and Jon Davis (War Elephant). September 14th @ 6:30 PM ET. RSVP here.

  • Equality Complex w/ Liam Kavanagh. September 23rd @ 12:00 PM ET. RSVP here.


September 2, 2020

I had a strange series of interactions recently, which was mildly disturbing. I do not want to get into the holy details but a person I met since I started this project, and who I was recently getting to know, surprised me by saying they thought themselves intimately in touch with the divine, which granted them special knowledge, and they wanted special privileges because of this.

Needless to say, I had skepticism about their epistemology, which amounted to certainty in their knowledge because it is channeled, which they expressed with cryptic authority. This individual seemed interested in me for whatever reason, and this concerns me. They said I was one of the “good guys,” and I can still be saved, and it seems they thought they were responsible for the saving.

I wrote about fame before, and the risks it brings. I do not want to become famous, especially in the area of meaning-making, and especially in the area where you are at the edge of meaning-making. If you are at the edge of meaning-making you’ll come across people who are at the edge of a lot of other things.

Is The Stoa a public space? Should it always be a public space? At the moment it seems like a beautiful space, and it is large enough to attract people, yet small enough to attract the right people. People who are earnest with their unknowingness. Despite my sensitive side, I am not about the “let us invite everybody to the party” vibe and assume only good things will happen. 

Some people have a radical inclusivity bias, and that is just as dangerous as having a radical exclusivity bias. Structure is needed, and structure needs to be wise, to exclude those whose modus operandi is the entropy of structure, any structure. You do need some relationality with chaos as well. That is the job of stewarding a place such as this: having a balance that is impossible to place into a formula.

Yancey Strickler, who was a past facilitator at The Stoa, wrote an article called The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet that was quite good. He argued that people are escaping into “dark forests” to avoid all the negative consequences of being on the internet. 

The dark forests grow because they provide psychological and reputational cover. They allow us to be ourselves because we know who else is there. Compared to the free market communication style of the mass channels — with their high risks, high rewards, and limited moderation — dark forest spaces are more Scandinavian in their values and the social and emotional security they provide. They cap the downsides of looking bad and the upsides of our best jokes by virtue of a contained audience.

There are negative sides of this, as strange beliefs can fester in the dark, and as Yancey argued, a retreat from the “public square” of the internet—Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and others—will leave it unattended and undefended to be captured by those who are trying to manipulate our minds. 

It seems a mix is needed with a space like The Stoa. It may need one foot in the public square, and one foot in the dark forest, and I sense something more than a pay-wall will be needed to delineate the two.


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