A Futurist Gentleperson’s Club: Part 3

under-the-pergolaUnder the Pergola at Naples, Umberto Boccioni

This is part of a series of posts outlining my ideas for a Futurist Gentleperson’s Club.  See Part I and Part II for background.

I am trying to promote the idea of a private club for futurists in the Bay Area, and I have gotten a lot of criticism for my choice of aesthetics and narrative framing. I don’t want to get too sidetracked by these things, so in this post I want to describe what I envision as a typical “day in the life” of the Futurist Gentleperson’s Club.

We are considering a range of spaces, from a single large meeting room to a house, but, for the purpose of this article, I assume that we will at least have a suite with some sort of food service capacity. Ideally, we would have a set of suites and some outdoor space. Many private clubs even have bedrooms, where members can sleep after staying too late, or have guests stay who are visiting from out of town. We have yet to see what we can fund with our subscriptions.

I’m not personally a morning person, but perhaps others would want to do “Breakfast at the Club.” If enough people RSVP, then a catered breakfast would be provided in the dining room. Each breakfast might have a dedicated topic such as, “What does sustainable development of the Global South look like?” Others might prefer to use one of the available rooms to do a group meditation or something. This is the Bay Area, after all.

From mid-morning until lunch time, the club could be an excellent coworking space for members who are self-employed. Why go to some random coffeeshop when you can code side by side with fellow futurists? The casual conversation is bound to be easier. Having a shared interest should always provide a conversation starter for meeting new people. Coworking spaces are very popular now, and they are not cheap. Working at the club might be an excellent alternative.

The club will provide lunch whenever enough people RSVP, until we get big enough to provide regular meal service. I also like the idea of “learning lunches,” scheduled once a week, during which a speaker talks on a specific futurist topic that they are an expert on. Maybe we can get some longevity or AI researchers to discuss their latest work. Meeting and learning over food and drink should be the primary function of this club.

After lunch, coworking would continue. The club can also serve as a venue for other groups who are aligned with futurists, such as a science fiction book club or an AI Meetup. Hosting regular events, which welcome the public, will provide a good way to recruit new members and bring in fresh ideas. I would certainly like to hold my East Bay Futurist Meetups in such a club. Coffeeshops are loud, have terrible food, and generally terrible decor. Proper interior design and food service would make this a wonderful venue.

Evening dinner and drinks at the club are a time honored tradition that we futurists would be sorely amiss to neglect. I’m sure we can find an excellent chef to plan and prepare outstanding and healthy meals tuned to the odd tastes of futurists, which I expect swerve strongly towards paleo or some such direction. Again, a weekly dinner event could serve as an anchor to bring people in.  

After dinner, the club would host weekly evening salons with speakers or perhaps debates. Possible topics might include:

  • Providing food, water, and energy to a growing world
  • A review of the simulation argument, for and against
  • Bostrom’s (Eliezer’s) Superintelligence
  • Consciousness uploading for fun and profit
  • AI safety: opportunity costs or human extinction?
  • Longevity research: pros and cons
  • Futurist ethics: human genome hacking, wireheading, and ad blocking augmented reality
  • Automated unemployment: the end of the Luddite Fallacy or more unsubstantiated hand wringing?
  • You get the picture.

And, on nights when nothing is planned, I hope that we can encourage a lively nightlife of unstructured drinking, arguing, and games.

Unstructured Time
The greatest value of a club is to have a place to go when you have nothing else planned, just a place where you will be welcome. David Schneider-Joseph sees parallels between this and a Sudbury school. Just show up and let’s learn together. Bert compared it to a punk house, where people are free drop in and be themselves. (Though I will insist that it be kept cleaner than a punk house, of course.) But a persistent place, always open and welcoming, will be what sets this apart from all of the various Meetups and salons that we might attend. This is a home away from home for futurists.

For these unstructured times, I envision a web application that will allow members to RSVP for specific timeslots in which they will be planning to attend the club. These RSVPs will be visible to other members, making it easier for us to reach critical mass or avoid crowded times, as might suit our preferences.

Maybe you will just want to curl up with a good book in the library. We should be able to stock a pretty decent collection of excellent futurist titles, based on member’s suggestions. This is one of the things I think The Battery gets right, by the way, asking members to suggest titles for the library. Maybe you will want to have a drink with your fellow futurists. Or maybe you enjoy playing games like Settlers of Catan or some such. We should have a place for that. Where you can just show up and see what happens and feel perfectly at home.

Can you think of any activities or topics of discussion that I have overlooked? Questions, criticism, and suggestions are welcome, comment below.  If you are interested, please take this poll.

A Futurist Gentleperson’s Club: Part 2

George Eliot

George Eliot

I have been trying to generate interest in a private club for Bay Area futurists, based on the social clubs of Victorian England. This idea was inspired by the Neo-Victorian “phyle” or tribe in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. In my last post, I outlined some of the reasons why I think we need this sort of thing, which boils down to the fact that modern life is inherently socially isolating. I feel it myself, and I want a place to go and socialize with fellow futurists, night or day.

A lot of people to whom I mention this idea complain that the narratives of the Victorian Era are incompatible with futurism. Some focus on the prudishness and repression of that time. I think the main problem is that some people are unaware of the amazing progress that this era ushered in. The VictorianWeb.org website has a lot of good information about this time period. Here is an excerpt that conveys my point:

“In ideology, politics, and society, the Victorians created astonishing innovation and change: democracy, feminism, unionization of workers, socialism, Marxism, and other modern movements took form. In fact, this age of Darwin, Marx, and Freud appears to be not only the first that experienced modern problems but also the first that attempted modern solutions. Victorian, in other words, can be taken to mean parent of the modern — and like most powerful parents, it provoked a powerful reaction against itself.”

George P. Landow, Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University

I want to reconstruct a Victorian narrative that acknowledges this era for birthing feminism and socialism. The portraits in the library of a Futurist Gentleperson’s Club might be of Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Thomas Carlyle, Jules Verne, Jane Austen, and maybe Ada Lovelace. (We can argue about this later.)

This sort of social club was an important institution in Great Britain for hundreds of years prior to the Victorian period. Sometimes organized in pubs, other times in dedicated houses, the clubs of London were the nexus for political, literary, and even scientific thought. I have been reading up on how these clubs functioned. Here is a fun quote:

“(Humans are) said to be a sociable animal; and as an instance of it we may observe, that we take all occasions and pretences of forming ourselves into those little nocturnal assemblies, which are commonly known by the name of Clubs. When a set of (humans) find themselves agree in any particular, though never so trivial, they establish themselves into a kind of fraternity, and meet once or twice a week, upon the account of such a fantastic resemblance.”

– Excerpt from: Timbs, John, 1801-1875, “Clubs and Club Life in London: With anecdotes of its famous coffee houses, hostelries, and taverns, from the seventeenth century to the present time.”

These clubs were private places where people could relax and create friendships. They provided everything a home would have, such as: a dining hall, library, game room, bedrooms, and bathrooms. Men and women formed separate clubs during this era, but I see no reason to reintroduce that separation in a modern futurist club, thus the name “Futurist Gentleperson’s Club.” You are free to join the Pacific-Union Club if you disagree.   

I particularly like the ideals of the Savile Club of London. The main focus of that club is food and drink, good conversation, and games like bridge and snooker. They have frequent musical performances, including concerts in which members perform. The Savile Club has relaxed their dress code, but I would still encourage members to dress well (business casual). I also like the idea of discouraging cell phone use or restricting it to phone booths. Further, the Savile Club strives to keep costs low, so as not to exclude interesting members with more modest means.

Then there is this question of why should we have an aesthetic narrative in the first place? A chap at a recent East Bay Futurists Meetup preferred a space that allowed people to interact in any way they saw fit, without any preconceived notions. In my view, setting a clear narrative in a space gives participants a common starting point to work from, and should reduce barriers to communication. We need a little help understanding how to fit into a classic space like a Victorian library. I expect a properly designed, archetypal space to easily evoke the civilized, genteel, and intellectual aspects of one’s personality. Furthermore, if we choose our inspirational figures from this period wisely, perhaps they will inspire us to seek out the magnitude of progress that the Victorians accomplished, here and now in our own time.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the sort of club I am proposing. If you are interested, please take this poll.  Questions, criticism, and suggestions are welcome; please comment below.

Continued in Part 3.

A Futurist Gentleperson’s Club: Part 1


As of mid-June 2016, there is a homeless encampment under the freeway overpass at Brush and 5th in Oakland.  It’s a mess of tents, shopping carts, tarps, and miscellaneous junk.  A part of me is sad for the denizens of this mini shantytown, but another part of me wonders if these people haven’t found some sort of little tribe to be part of.  A tough tribe to be sure, but maybe a more authentic one than the forced, smiling faces surrounding those of us in a typical corporate office.

I confess that I feel the isolation of modernism.  We evolved on the savannas in little tribes, maybe the size that Dunbar suggested of around 150 people.  These groups would have been tight knit and had in-group loyalties and status seeking commensurate with their manageable size.  And then the agriculturists destroyed the hunter-gatherers, and the Industrial Age sucked the farmers into factories, and now this Information Age left my beloved Rust Belt in ruins.  So here I am, a high tech refugee on the West Coast of America, having left the smoking cinder of Buffalo behind.  I am shut away safe and sound in a little apartment with my girlfriend, isolated from tribe and family.  This is how we live now.

At least this is how liberals live, with our conditional obligations, we can go where the money is.  The conservatives in this country still recognize inherited obligations and they suffer the economic consequences.  There is something lost when we don’t know our place in the world, when we don’t have that satisfying certainly of our roles and obligations.  Yet I don’t wish to return to the parochial living of times past.  I don’t want to see the individual forced to submit to the expectations of small minded village jackasses, who will crush the spirit of the gifted and the nonconformist.

So we seek something else to satisfy our need for meaning, which Seligman calls the urge to be part of something greater than ourselves.  We see postmodernism tear apart the narratives of modernism, perhaps rightly calling it out as a white male hegemony.  And we move from the exploitive strategy to the explorative.  Now non-white, non-cisgender, non-heteronormative, (etc.) narratives are harvested by social justice.  Underrepresented voices are being heard in some circles now, and that should be a good thing.  I am just a white guy, so I can’t really say for sure, but I suspect that this intersectionality of social justice is going to draw more and more distinctions.  Your gender separates you from your race, which separates you from your class, and at some point you are just left alone in this world with no tribe to back you.  And that’s how the left looks now to me.  I agree with Haidt, today’s liberal does not value in-group loyalty.

You can hang out in postmodernism if you want to.  I don’t care.  But a lot of us are looking for post-postmodernism.  I see it in Kegan’s ideas, Integral Theory, the NrX, Scott Alexander on ecclesiology seems relevant.  Sarah Perry seems to be on a similar path.  Vassar says to try every paradigm.  Intentional communities are in there.  You might not agree that all of these are an attempt to find the post-postmodern.  But try to give me the benefit of the doubt here.

Still, I can’t see myself living in an intentional community, that is just too much.  I value my privacy and independence.  But I see an intentional community as a place for people to develop villages of their own choosing and to solve this problem of isolation.  I go among various scenes here and there, the Futurists, the Rationalists, the Hedonists, the Quantifiers, the Longevity Seekers, etc.  But these lack the permanence of a tribe.  Even my regular Futurist Meetup feels ephemeral.  

I find myself yearning for a 19th century English gentleperson’s club with pensioners snoozing in leather club chairs, dark wood wainscoting, a fire burning, copious books and booze, and maybe a butler around somewhere.  A place where one can have a meal or stay overnight in a pinch.  A physical place where one might seek the better sort of conversation or camaraderie at any time of day or night.  But I want to see a club based not on class or connections, but on thoughtfulness about the future and whatever shared values futurists might lay claim to.  

EDIT 7/3/2016:
If you are interested in joining such a club in the Bay Area, please take this poll: http://goo.gl/forms/Qdj0mvyhgknUgazr1.

Continued in Part 2.