Currently, my time is about living with a spouse with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and all that it takes to support her as well I can. My work is about building tools for a post-monetary society; creating a new meta-language to allow a vast expansion in social forms that is currently limited primarily by the world’s current statement of value: money. These two worlds have recently come together in ways worth writing about.
When describing my work-in-the-world, people are always asking me for more examples. Because abstract descriptions like the one in the paragraph above don’t really do it for folks. I get it. But it’s hard for me! When what you are designing is like grammar for a kind of language that doesn’t exist, it’s pretty hard to give examples of sentences in that language, because it doesn’t exist yet! But there are openings into what that language looks like and what it might feel like to “speak” it. Here’s the one that comes from the intersection of my two lives. It’s called DST (Death Straight Talk).
In the post-monetary world, value coordination isn’t reduced to a unidimensional bottom-line of money. We actually already live with one foot in that world. We are swimming in non-monetary current-sees like grades, credits, degrees, e-bay/Amazon/Uber ratings, food certifications of all sorts (USDA Organic, Fair-Trade, Non-GMO, etc)–the list goes on. We just normally don’t recognize them as “parts-of-speech” in a single “language.” When we do, new things become possible.
This is what happened to me around DST. Pretty much everywhere I go now I look at the world through the lens of seeing all the information token systems we use to coordinate our actions. Movie and train tickets are current-sees, so are postage stamps, and buy-10-get-1-free coffee cards, intake-forms, passports, and licenses, the list goes on and on. I look for the current-see life-cycle, the issuer, the redeemer, other co-functioning current-sees, and I look for the level of wealth the current-see corresponds to in our living systems model of wealth.
In December, Ellen got diagnosed with malignant pleural and pericardial effusions, which required hospitalization to get drains inserted to relieve fluid buildup in the sacs around her lung and heart (cancer cells muck up the usual flow paths). While in the hospital a protocol around a slightly lowered blood sodium level involved giving her “some fluids.” Seemed innocent enough. Well, in Ellen’s case, those IV fluids ended up causing pretty extreme swelling in her feet (she renamed her feet manatees). The swelling was bad enough on its own, but due to neuropathy from previous chemotherapy, meant that thereafter walking was almost impossible due to the pain in her feet. It took three weeks for the swelling to go down, and for Ellen to do more than hobble. This had a cascade effect on loss of muscle which still hasn’t returned.
It’s pretty clear to me that the protocol that triggered the IV fluids didn’t take into account increased swelling risk, that, it turns out, comes from protein loss from pleural fluid drainage. I really doubt it took into account added pain due to neuropathy. And I know for certain that it didn’t take into account quality-of-life assessment around the questions of balancing risk of loss of mobility for a person possibly in the last months of their life, because no-one asked.
At the end of January, I went to California to help co-facilitate a workshop on Deep Wealth Design principles. On the last day of my trip, I got word that Ellen was back in the hospital again. After the previous hospitalization we had talked lots, and felt pretty good, about how to communicate with the medical world about her specific risk around IV fluids to prevent immobilization by swelling. But this time around there was much more going on. The short version: I could tell that lots of hospital protocols weren’t going to take into account Ellen’s situation, and what she wanted given her prognosis of limited life span.
Then it hit me, probably because I was primed by the workshop: Medical staff have a current-see that they know how to pay attention to, the Do-Not-Resuscitate order (DNR). And it’s issued by the patient! I knew we need something like that, and that I had to have an acronym to refer to it. That’s how DST came to be. The rest of the story you know from my post on Ellen’s blog, but from a current-see perspective here’s the take-home: Adding a token issued by the patient allows re-evaluation of risks built into other protocols based on that patient’s stated understanding of what will create well-being for them.
Note that DST so far isn’t a real current-see, because, unlike a DNR, there’s no social agreement on its issuance, use and life-cycle. But just my words to nurses “pretend like she has a DST sticker in her chart” made it work as if it were. It connected the main current-see hospital staff has to work with, the chart, with Ellen’s particular place in the flow. It’s a pretty powerful example of the effect of current-sees on social systems, and my own beloved’s well-being in the midst of them.
I want this story to give you a visceral sense of how the social body gets built out of the formal information tokens we create Yes, underneath it’s the humans and their compassion and love and all that great gushy stuff that really matters. But the social body is built out of communication tokens and the agreements around their use –things like DST. We will lose what really matters if we don’t understand this. When we understand it, really and deeply, then we will also develop a kind of “language”, that can all “speak” to allow us to spin up various DST-like current-sees, and to evolve them on the fly.