The Rise of Social Alchemy

Tomorrow’s events:

  • Collective Presencing w/ Ria Baeck and Co-Hosts. Every Tuesday @ 3:00 AM ET. RSVP here. 90 mins.

An event to get excited about:

  • Shadow Sensemaking w/ Arran Rogerson and Alyssa Polizzi. May 12th, 19th, and 26th @ 6:00 PM ET. RSVP here. 60 mins.

Arran and Alyssa of the Golden Shadow return to The Stoa for a 3-part series exploring the nature of the shadow, the principles needed to play with our shadow, and the possibility of sensemaking with it.


May 3rd, 2021

It is helpful to look at Culture War 2.0 through the tripartite epistemics model. 

Most memetic tribes are completely cocksure about their third-order epistemics (objective), lack skillfulness in second-order epistemics (intersubjective), and have a complete poverty in first-person epistemics (intrasubjective), which is that embodied examined life stuff.

In the context of everyday communication, these epistemic modes show up, and once this tripartite model is grokked, you can easily spot which epistemics somebody is engaging in. Those who are mainly engaged in third-order epistemics make their conversations in service to figuring out what is true, and to determine what is right or wrong.

Second-order epistemics in conversation is about understanding. Want to know who the champ is at this kind of understanding? Carl fucking Rogers. The Gloria Films is well worth the watch. It is a film that shows a woman named Gloria engaging in therapy sessions with three psychotherapeutic heavyweights—Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and Albert Ellis—developers of the respective psychotherapies: Person-centered Therapy, Gestalt, and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

It was clear that Gloria resonated the most with Rogers. Perls seemed like he was running game on her, using ill-timed pickup artist moves, while Ellis was absolutely terrible, and went into galaxy brain mode, and probably made her feel stupid.

Gloria most likely resonated with Rogers the most because he was firmly grounded in ‘unconditional positive regard,’ unconditionally accepting her as a person, regardless of what she says or says she has done. He was also rocking the ‘reflective listening’ technique very well. This is the elegant technique that Edwin Rutsch’s Empathy Circle gamifies: you listen carefully, then repeat what you heard back to your interlocutor, in a way that affords for them to feel understood.

There are cool techniques being proposed for engaging in second-person epistemics during Culture War 2.0, like the ‘anti-debate’ I wrote about for Emerge, which Jonathan Rowson's Perspectiva is exploring. Bryan Caplan’s idea of ‘The Ideological Turing Test’ is also promising. This is repurposing the Turing test for ideological disagreements: instead of a computer tricking a human into thinking it is a human, can a liberal trick a conservative into believing that they are a conservative, or vice versa.

If you are not tapped into first-person epistemics though, then you’ll only engage in second-person epistemics about a person’s third-person epistemics, or to put this less like a galaxy brain: if you are not connected to your body, your understanding muscle may grow, but it will be limited through propositional knowing. 

All these cool intersubjective modalities or We-Space practices that we are doing at The Stoa, such as Collective Presencing and Circling, are ones that afford to speak in both first-person and second-person epistemics well. This is of course related to the famous question we often ask at The Stoa: 

What is most alive? 

What is most alive could be some galaxy brain thought you may have, but oftentimes it is some emotion, felt-sense, or perhaps even some daemonic knowing being channeled through you. If somebody wants to become a ‘live player’ they will need to get their three epistemics into the right relationship with one another. They will not only be able to speak to what is most alive, but they will be able to come alive.

If more people come alive, a new world comes alive. 

When one becomes skillful in all three epistemics, it is like you get a social superpower, and engaging in metacommunication becomes a lot easier. Metacommunication is the ability to step outside of whatever social game you are playing (or being played by), in order to speak about the social game you are playing, while artfully inviting a new social game to be played. 

This is a part of social alchemy. A.J. Bond and I are in the process of exploring and experimenting with all of these different modalities, in order for us to design a “Stoa Experience” (The Stoa’s version of a course) on social alchemy.

I am viewing this social alchemy thing as the alchemic process of getting all of the epistemics into the right relationship with one another in the conversational wild. Another framing that might be helpful is to use Martin Buber’s languaging. Social alchemy is having the capacity to transmute I-It relationships into I-Thou relationships.

Nobody is teaching social alchemy, because no one knows how to teach social alchemy. You can design social containers for I-Thou relationships to emerge though. This is basically what all these cool intersubjective modalities do. I’ve called that communitas crafting, which is a different thing than alchemically transmuting social dynamics in the wild.

The cool thing about The Stoa is that most people who find themselves here are already social alchemists, they are just not aware of this yet. I sense it would be good for them to become aware of this, as awareness of this could help us all play Game In-Between a lot better.

Most people who get plugged into the Game B scene are focused on systems-wide change, to help move Game A to Game B. This is cool, but too obvious. If we are not in the right relationship with how to do relationships, then we are going to smuggle in a lot of relational bullshit into what we are doing. This will be deeply corruptive.

To avoid this, we’ll need to do social alchemy, and to do social alchemy we’ll not only need to speak the three epistemics well, but we’ll also need to have multiple social literacies: a ‘chimp politics’ literacy, a ‘sexual marketplace’ literacy, a power literacy, a status literacy, a Cluster B literacy, a hypnosis literacy, a humor literacy, a cool literacy, etc.

All of these literacies are different, and they all can be weaponized towards I-It relational dynamics. Having a minimum viable competency in each will help defend against their weaponization, and being open in our awareness of them will mitigate our temptation to abuse them.

If you are frustrated that you might not be in service towards midwifing a new world, you can now wake up to the reality you are already a social alchemist and can begin to see each relationship as an opportunity for a new world to be born.


Support The Stoa @

Receive coaching from Peter and others @