Co-creating comprehensible ecologies of care beyond the human

Nurturing bioregional and planetary health

The moon is greeting the Matariki sunrise

Today is Matariki, the start of the Māori new year. The days are getting longer again in the Southern Hemisphere.

Traditionally, Matariki was a time to acknowledge the dead and to release their spirits to become stars. It was also a time to reflect, to be thankful to the gods for the harvest, to feast and to share the bounty of the harvest with family and friends.


This is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of how an understanding of human scale is an integral part of the social fabric in Māori societies, and how this maps to the concepts of scale in evolutionary design.

Understanding culture as a dynamic evolutionary process

Evolutionary design allows organisations and people to participate in the evolution of a living system and to integrate their knowledge into a living system that includes humans, non-humans, and human designed systems.

Cultural organisms (whānau) act as the primary economic units for equitable resource sharing.

Before Māori came into contact with Europeans, whānau comprised the elders, the pākeke (senior adults such as parents, uncles and aunts), and the sons and daughters together with their spouses and children. A whānau generally numbered between 20 and 30 people. Depending on size, they could occupy one or more sleeping houses, known as wharepuni. Large whānau had their own clearly defined compound in the papakāinga (village settlement) or fortified . Whānau also had their own plot in the kūmara field, and their own fishing and hunting places, eel weirs and berry trees. The small size of the whānau and the close nature of its internal ties made it an efficient group for subsistence activities. The whānau was self-sufficient in most matters except defence, when it usually depended on the iwi (tribe) or hapū (sub-tribe).


Cultural species (hapū) act as the primary political units, upholding and evolving the shared social operating model of the species. 

Iwi and hapū descended from the same canoe would sometimes act in opposition to each other. But if tribes from another waka region invaded their domain, the waka bond would be used to form an alliance against the intruders.

Reasons why new iwi and hapū formed

New groups also continuously split off as populations increased. Pressure on such resources as crops, forests, rivers, lakes and sea fisheries was an especially important factor causing larger hapū to break into smaller ones. New groups could also form through forced migration, defeat in war or other disagreements such as breaches of custom, loss of mana (status) or land, and family infighting.

Sometimes separate groups merged with each other to form new groups. Alternatively, very large and strong whānau (extended families) might develop into hapū in their own right. Recognition by other groups as a separate and new hapū was important. New sub-tribes were recognised if, for example, they had a leader with mana and skill in diplomacy, if they were able to strengthen the identity of the hapū by political marriages, or if they were known for their fighting prowess.


The use of Māori terminology illustrates that we can draw on many centuries of lived experience with human scale, which we can understand in terms of cultural species and cultural organisms from an evolutionary perspective. The following diagram shows the ingredients for cultural evolution in terms of sets of human and non-human relationships:

  • Households include the relationships between 5 +/-3 people (11 +/-9 people in traditional wharepuni)
  • Cultural organisms include the relationships between 50 +/-30 people (25 +/-5 people in traditional whānau)
  • Cultural species (hapū) include the relationships between larger numbers of people and whānau
  • The global knowledge commons is abstract, it belongs to all humans

The global knowledge commons is a shared repository of collective wisdom and scientific knowledge that evolves organically via contributions from across all cultures.

All of the above can be related to the way human biological diversity manifests, and to the specific roles played by Autistic ways of being within cultural evolution. As agents of the cultural immune system, and as part of the relational nervous system of open knowledge flows between human societies, collectively, holotropic people play an essential role in de-powering relationships, creating a counter-balance against all attempts of “controlling” or “managing” cultural evolution at super-human scales, i.e. at the level of Iwi or states. De-powering, as still practiced by some egalitarian hunter gatherer societies, is needed to minimise the suffering on a finite planet that has been subjected to increasing levels of powered-up anthropocentric hubris for the last 10,000 years.

Note that the scale of a Māori whānau is such that all whānau include multiple people who we tend to label as neurodivergent in WEIRD societies, who amongst other things, are available as mentors for neurodivergent children. Also note that with the whānau acting as the primary economic unit, no household needs to worry about survival. Survival and collaborative niche construction are collective concerns at the level of whānau and hapū, where social contracts are consciously shaped and updated as needed. Similarly collaborative social dynamics are achievable in other contexts with the help of de-powered creative collaboration

In de-powered mode, conscious collective intelligence is constrained to and optimised at the scale of cultural organisms. We now know that all attempts to scale up collective intelligence by powering-up relationships are doomed attempts of wishful thinking by power drunk aspiring “leaders” that consistently and predictably reduce collective intelligence far below human scale. That’s why today, often individual intelligence surpases institutional collective intelligence.

The average person often has a good handle on knowing when our super-human scale institutions can’t be trusted, when they have become dysfunctional. But knowing that something no longer works is not enough for driving cultural evolution towards de-powered ecologies of care. This is where we need to distill wisdom from the global knowledge commons, to identify principles that optimise for cultural adaptiveness, and I would argue, exactly those are the principles that minimise overall suffering.

At human scale, we nurture good company one trusted relationship at a time.

Super-human collective intelligence evolves organically, beyond human control, in terms of the evolution, growth and decline of cultural species, over multiple generations. By definition, it is beyond human comprehension. No one is “in power” at the steering wheel. In fact a powered-up steering wheel compromises cultural adaptability and collective intelligence.

Social construction

Philosopher Hans-Georg Moeller has written an excellent book on the predicament that plaques all super-human scale societies, You and Your Profile: Identity After Authenticity, in which he describes the evolution and limitations of identity technologies. Specifically Hans-Georg Moeller elaborates the notions of sincerity – which was dominant in pre-industrialised societies, authenticity – which was dominant during the era of mass media, and profilicity – now dominant, catalysed by the emergence of social media. 

The book offers an astute analysis of the “civilised”, i.e. neuronormative human social realm. It accurately describes the paradoxes that affect all identity technologies when society is constructed from an anthropocentric perspective, i.e. as independent of the bigger ecological context of the non-human world, and in ignorance of the limits of human scale cognition and human biological diversity.

It turns out that the factors that make the neuronormative world so confusing for Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people can be effectively conceptualised in terms of the paradoxes thrown up by the identity technologies of sincerity, authenticity, and profilicity, and it becomes clear why, from the perspective of the institutions of a hypernormative society, Autistic people ought to be pathologised. 

Interestingly, the paradoxes thrown up by sincerityauthenticity, and profilicity – which are very real in the modern world – can’t take hold in the same way in de-powered human scale societies, in which people relate to each other based on joint experiences over extended stretches of time and mutual trust. I can recommend Hans-Georg Moeller’s book to anyone who is struggling with unmasking. The topic relates to the motivation that led to the AutCollab website, which is summarised in the first AutCollab blog post: Social – The big misunderstanding.

Our hypernormative civilisation has become fully decoupled from the non-human world, everything that matters in our super human scale civilisation is social construction, from all perspectives, from top to bottom and from the very bottom to to the top. There is no more room for non-socially-constructed sensory experiences in the physical realm, or for the biological needs that we share with other forms of life. 

The two things missing from the above roundtable, which is otherwise excellent, is awareness of how human scale and human biological and cultural diversity at human scale determine the parameters that define and shape healthy human cultures, diverse and small scale indigenous cultures.

In the case of the Australian continent indigenous cultures have allowed humans to carve out ecological niches that avoided the trappings of super human scale and the complete destruction of local ecosystems for 70,000 years – until WEIRD people turned up, who were not only dismissive of diversity but also scale blind.

Unmasked human life

Unmasked human life is an impossibility at super human scale. 

I would also add that unmasked human life is not about discovering your true WEIRD “self”, which is a modern social construction, but about understanding our lived experience, agency, and purpose in terms of an ecology of care. Our life is best understood in terms of the life-long relationships with humans, non-humans, mountains, oceans, and other super human ecological sources of life, that we co-create and nurture throughout our lives – yet all of these are compromised within hypernormative cultures. The anthropocentric hubris of powered-up civilisations is immediately and intuitively obvious from a holotropic or indigenous perspective.

Human wellbeing can only be understood in terms of the health of comprehensible (i.e. human scale) ecologies of care. It can neither be understood in terms of “self”, which is what most Western medicine and psychology is about, nor in terms of what Hans-Gerog Moeller describes as the abstract super human scale public peer, which is what the modern digital sphere of corporations, social media, and governments is all about.

Ecological blindness

Destruction of the oceans

What is out of sight, is largely out of mind. Sadly, during my lifetime I have witnessed the impoverishment of marine ecosystems in multiple geographies. The Pacific Ocean is my home. The oceans are the source of all life, and they connect all the ecosystems on this planet. The talk on Ocean Apocalypse by Jeremy Jackson about the state of the world’s oceans from 10 years ago offers an accurate introduction that remains valid. The Last Ocean documentary about the Southern Ocean shows where we are today, and how the socially constructed logic of profit trumps everything else.

The limits of comprehensibility

Anthropocentric hubris is not limited to the subordination or dismissal of all other forms of life. When we attempt to apply the scientific method in complex domains and transdisciplinary contexts, we run into the limits of science and into cultural paradigmatic bias within science.

Becoming conscious of human cognitive limits and recognising that these limits are just as real, immutable, and relevant for our survival as the laws of physics may allow us to avoid the fate of earlier civilisations, and to embark on a path of radical energy descent.

Being able to design, build, and use technology does not equate to understanding all the implications. The language systems that we create with the help of software can either amplify the unique human capacity for compassion and creative collaboration or they can amplify social competition and the brutal power politics that characterise primate dominance hierarchies, resulting in a powered-up collective learning disability.

We live in a techno-cult in which technology corporations have taken on the role of sacred places of worship, and CEOs are the high priests, praising the divine qualities of artificially intelligent technologies. In the emerging technoverse, biological life is perceived as becoming irrelevant.

Social movements

The levels of success of social movements can be illustrated in terms of the abolition of slavery, women rights, and gay rights. All these movements have granted additional powers to previously marginalised groups, but within a framework of established powered-up institutions. The effect is similar to the effect of an arms race where the focus lies on ensuring everyone is armed / powered-up to comparable levels. We are already aware of the dangers of such an approach from the Cold War, and current armed conflicts between some of the most powered-up nations on Earth illustrate that the dangers have remained and if anything, they have increased.

Instead of further social movements based on powering up or empowerment, all those who are seriously committed to non-violence are well advised to frame their goals in terms of de-powering the many established super human scale institutions that are wrecking the rapidly dwindling remains of the Earth’s biosphere.

Eventually all powered-up relationships corrupt

Yes, change from the bottom up is possible. But as long as we are framing our goals in terms of powering-up further parties, instead of de-powering massively over-powered parties, all gains will be short-lived, and will ultimately be absorbed into the death cult of industrialised busyness. This week the American Medical Association announced the withdrawal of explicit support for Applied Behaviour Analysis

This is a big positive development for the Autistic human rights movement, but it does not protect Autistic people from abuse and exploitation going forward.

Instead of explicit slavery, industrialised countries and global corporations continue to stoke deadly economic wars internationally, and locally, many societies have become highly stratified by the abstract logic of the invisible hand, rolling back the improvements achieved by various civil rights movements for large parts of the population. All social operating models that tolerate institutions that cult-ivate – i.e. “normalise” permanent social power gradients, by design endorse and generate social stratification.

The differences between powered-up cultures are best understood as differences in the social dimensions that drive stratification. De-powering is the only path out of the death spiral of structural violence that all powered-up civilisations inflict on the less-powered-up majority of the living planet.

Continued belief in empowerment is only possible by ignoring an entire century of neocolonialism, the growth in stratified societies over the last 10,000 years, and now the amplification of socially constructed identity technologies with the help of artificially powered-up digital tools.

Nurturing shared understanding

At this stage in human cultural evolution, we have reached the limits of the linear format of human spoken and written language.

The human lens is a small non-linear modelling language for human social behaviour that allows us to understand living systems and to reason about such systems in terms of evolutionary processes. It consists of thirteen categories that are invariant across cultures, space, and time. The human lens allows us to make sense of the world from a human perspective, to evolve our value systems, and to structure and adapt human endeavours accordingly.

Ecologies of care beyond the human

Collaborative niche construction

The main difference between modern emergent human scale cultural species and prehistoric human scale cultural species lies in the language systems and communication technologies that are being used to coordinate activities and to record and transmit knowledge within cultural organisms, between cultural organisms, and between cultural species.

Colllaborative niche construction at human scale primarily relies on a critical lens and on environmental (re)engineering practices that result in new adaptive paradigmatic frameworks that are tailored around the unique needs of the members of a specific ecology of care and that are embedded in the local non-human ecology. 

Holistic bioregional ecosystems

In his excellent book How Forests Think – Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human Eduardo Kohn elaborates how humans are not only part of an ecology of care, and capable of nurturing relationships that extend far beyond humans, but he also reveals the fundamental patterns of semiosis and thought that are inherent to all forms of life, at all levels of scale.

The European conceptualisation of the individual human ego is a product of the misguided metaphor of society as a profit generating machine. A shift to ecosystems of human scale groups reduces the spurious complexity needed to support a monoculture, and it retains and even grows adaptive cultural complexity, i.e. the diversity that emerges when the human ecological footprint is aligned with bioregional ecosystem functions. Adaptive complexity saves energy – it is the result of humans engaging in collaborative niche construction as a part of biological ecosystems.

Faith in the diversity of human natures

Prof Agustín Fuentes uses the concepts of creative and collaborative niche construction to push back against the naive and misleading concept of “human nature” and presents a compelling case for a diversity of human natures, without resorting to any pathologising medical model.

Distinctively human characteristics that develop, in combination with one another, over the course of the Pleistocene history of the genus Homo that are of interest in assessing human (not primate or hominin) natures …

While components of many of these patterns can be seen in other organisms, their combination, interconnections and the ratcheting-up in complexity of their ecological impacts across the Pleistocene represents the development of a particular human niche. This niche is the context in which we can glean distinctively human patterns that might be considered components of human natures.

Fuentes Agustin. 2017. Human niche, human behaviour, human nature. Interface Focus. 7: 20160136.

Between 2.5 and 3 million years ago, the first evidence of members of our own genus, Homo, show up in the fossil record. At this point we know they inherited not only our primate capacities for complex and interconnected social lives, and possibly for an aesthetic sense and the experience of awe, but also the hominin patterns of bipedality and a greater use of their hands. In the hominins, the relations between morphology, behavior, and intense group cohesion were greater than in most other primates. In addition, shortly before we see the first sign of the distinctive human lineage, evidence suggests that our deep ancestors developed the ability to see stones as potential tools and to actively reshape rocks into new forms.

To this day, stone toolmaking is a feat that no other lineage on the planet has ever mastered. Today, after an 8- to 10-million-year run, we have emerged from great diversity as the only hominin left standing. We are the strangest primate and the strangest hominin. Just looking around ourselves (wherever on the planet we might be) and taking in all that surrounds us—thinking about the amazing buildings and histories, our diverse lives, wondrous discoveries, theoretical contributions, and marvelous prose and scholarly insight that has been and is being produced, it is absolutely clear we are more than simply a clever and complex bipedal primate.

From the book Why We Believe by Agustín Fuentes

Awe – falling in love with the diversity of life

Many others have arrived at a similar conclusion regarding the relevance of the experience of awe in the context of human lives and human wellbeing.

If we allow our capacity for awe to extend beyond the human social sphere, which is the default amongst holotropic people, we to relate to all of life across space and time. Pathologising the non-social interests of Autistic people is a really bad idea.

To be holotropic is to have naturally wide open sensory gates. To participate in/as the immense world without becoming overwhelmed, we holotropes have two central methods: in, by hyperfocusing our attention on one sensory or cognitive path, and as, through synthesising our experience into coherence. A sense of wholeness occurs through both of these processes – less consciously in hyperfocus, more consciously in coherence. 

To be syntropic is to be immersed and perhaps inventive. While autistic people are not the only ones capable of absorption, it is the signature of a holotropic life. Embodied coherence is arguably our true gift, that we can both receive and give. When we are able to abide in receptive open awareness, we find we are wholeness itself.

Helen Mirra (2023)

De-powered dialogue

The physical, relational, and internal dimensions of our existence are not disconnected, they exist within the context of the ecology that we are part of. De-powered dialogue with other living creatures connects our relational and internal presence, it allows for the unfiltered flows of lived experiences, thoughts, and feelings; it constitutes the foundation for lifetime relationships, including dialogues beyond species boundaries.

In Autistic dialogues we also need each other as co-pilots, to remind each other of the need to attend to essential routines and potential sensory overload.


1 in 5 people are considered neurodivergent from the hypernormative perspective of our industrialised society! Neurodivergent people and teams:

  • Adhere to idiosyncratic moral value systems rather than social norms
  • Are okay with exploring ideas that upset the “social order”
  • Spend much more time experimenting and implementing ideas that others would consider crazy or a waste of time
  • Have untypical life goals: new forms of understanding, making a positive impact, translating ideas into artistic expression
  • Autists in particular have unusually developed pattern recognition abilities and an unusual ability to persevere

Once more and more events far beyond human control force us to pay attention to the much richer metaphors of living systems, humans will rediscover the beauty of collaborating at human scale, and that co-creating beautiful works of art is the ultimate antidote against the emergence of social power dynamics and the competitive logic of hate and violence.

How then, given the current human predicament, do we engage with all the many super human scale institutions that are paralysed by paradigmatic inertia, stuck on a life destroying path, without further amplifying human and non-human suffering? A bit of neurodivergent human imagination allows us to reframe and creatively restrict the mode of engagement to one that is compatible with the dual commitment of de-powering and collaborative niche construction.

We can all contribute to de-powering and engage in collaborative niche construction by offering palliative care to abstract super human scale institutions, whilst at the same time working towards viable non-profit oriented human scale exit paths for the human and non-human inmates.

Marginalised populations have decades of lived experience with mutual aid, and are well equipped to offer both palliative care to institutions as well as non-profit oriented human scale exit paths for traumatised humans.

Life has learned to create conditions conducive to life

– Janine Benyus

Simple linguistic tools

Useful small tools developed by neurodivergent people for neurodivergent people.

A language for mutual aid in the small

Ecology of care – the journey towards a healthier relationship with the ecosystems which we are part of starts with the most powerful tool at our disposal, the introduction and consistent use of new language and new semantics.

Interfacing with a hypernormative world at large is a collection of small, simple, single-task tools, mostly designed to help neurodivergent people with tasks they find overwhelming or difficult. Most tools will use AI technologies in the back-end to achieve their goals. Currently this includes OpenAI’s models. As the tools and backend improve, the intent is to move to an open source alternative. The AI models used are general purpose models, and so the accuracy of their output can vary. Nothing returned by any of the tools should be taken as a statement of truth, only guesswork. Please use your own knowledge and experience to judge whether the result you get is valid.

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