The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets – Joe Lightfoot

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The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets

Joe Lightfoot

The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets

Somewhere along the way I seem to have unofficially joined a subculture or memetic ecosystem that I’ve come to think of as The Liminal Web. While there aren’t any hard and fast edges to this international constellation of thinkers and theorists it becomes pretty clear you’ve joined the fray when at least thirty percent of all the intellectual media you consume tends to emerge from this particular noospheric relay.

The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets

The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets

I commented in a rambling way at the twitter thread (comments on the blog, oddly, are turned off?):

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6 thoughts on “The Liminal Web: Mapping An Emergent Subculture Of Sensemakers, Meta-Theorists & Systems Poets – Joe Lightfoot

  1. The discussion continues – here’s my contribution:

    There’s so much important stuff in this whole discussion. I am going to go through my thoughts in quite a plodding way, so some might want to mute this.
    Notable, of course, that we have no appropriate forum for this (or too many forums) – I’m involved in this conversation across two blogs, several Discords and Slacks, more than one Mighty Network, Facebook, and here. And thanks to all these walled gardens and lack of threading, it quickly becomes incoherent and unmanageable. I might try to track in Roam, I might try to reflect in my book. Very little of it is compatible.
    Technology *might* help here – actual open, data-centred SOLID web is, apparently, finally getting there. But that doesn’t mean the walled gardens will go away!
    So, I have some experience of trying to bring people together like this. And we can’t even do this in systems thinking – never mind the whole systems | cybernetics | complexity field (because that in itself is, unfortunately, controversial). I can’t even do it in UK public service transformation.
    I’m currently in two groups trying to do it with groups of real, post-conventional people (two because there was a split – predictable!) – with many past groups having failed. And as others have said, bringing ‘post-conventional’ (debatable language, I know) people together is like herding cats^n.
    Why is this? Well, we know the problems with families, we know the problems with radical belonging. We know the problems with atomisation. We know we’re special, and we want to hang on to that – but we’re human so we want to belong.
    So it’s optimal to belong to a club of rebels, but that’s an edge-of-chaos thing, not a stable point – because too much of a club and you’re not a rebel any more, too much rebel and you’re not a club.
    There is good theory on this – both Oshy and Beer identified systems dynamics which need to be maintained:
    – Homogenise and create stability AND differentiate and increase ability to adapt
    – Integrate, feed and support each other, moderate behaviours AND Individuate and maximise autonomy
    (see and connection to human need )
    But while the theory makes some of the challenges visible, it doesn’t solve them.
    First of all, there is rivalry: ‘wrecking synergy to stake out territory’, there are ‘ego’ traps , and there is capture by people who just don’t care .
    Plus there’s a genuine need to make a living, some of which relies on or requires ‘brand’ and ‘theory’ and ‘distinction’ and ‘USPs’ etc etc.
    There is genuine commitment to one’s beliefs, research, methods – which sometimes verges on lock-in. So there are both genuine distinctions and defensive ones (which means each can be disguised or claimed as the other). We can’t just ‘let it all hang out’ because some of it is toxic, cancerous. But as soon as we make distinctions, we’re into control.
    All of these, by the way, are likely to be viewed from the outside as ‘off-putting’. And are mostly – like this discussion – theoretical discussions between mostly white men (even more off-putting). We haven’t yet found a way to ‘huddle’ despite those differences.
    So I sadly anticipate the next rounds of intentional community collapse, the stories of the sociopaths and abusers and the people trying to hold a space which could never be held 😦
    And, of course, there are a lot of shadow rewards. It’s ‘easier’ to build castles in the air than change. It’s ‘easier’ to be a hero or a victim than to work together.
    We are, of course, stuck with *not* being family, not being able to come round for a cup of tea, except in small local circles. And family *itself* – is a mixed blessing, is something that is what it is, not everybody has it, it can’t necessarily be created.
    [sh… I’m being a public intellectual]
    What could help? Technology, perhaps – if DAOs and discussions can be actually interoperable – and we can do something about the walled gardens. Wider inclusion, diversity, being grounded in real work – these definitely help. But I need to go to my day job now…


  2. The comment I’m using to share this to various other groups and places is:

    Joe Lightfoot has done a nice exploration of the ‘liminal web’ (as he’s calling it). This is a real and interesting space… It nicely maps out some territory, some commonality, some distinctions and some tensions. But.

    Something about this analysis just brings me back to an old discomfort (which I allude to in the comments) – can’t quite put my finger on it though?


    1. Good discussion going on twitter:

      What I have to add so far:

      So far I have something about glibness, facile, trite, a lack of humour – for a few, not most. And potential hidden agendas. The wrong kind of sincerity, dammit!

      just nailed quite a bit of it:
      “It’s white men talking over again to the same white men about abstract stuff.”

      Another aspect (in the bits that irk me) is a lacunae of critical thinking in certain fields – lots of admiring edifices built on the critical thinking of others, less ironic radical introspection. (Some of the buddhists get a pass ;-))
      Oops, am I talking about adult development?

      Original points:

      What I said (including cross-links to other pages herein:

      My little list

      It’s hard to say this without sounding ‘off’, but/and – liking the reflections and dimensions in your actual piece, I feel there is in this list a lot which is:


      Who are our fellow travellers?

      I very much see that there are a large number of movements aligned with my views on systems/cybernetics/complexity and their application, including but not limited to the list below

      I’m not sure that’s *helpful* (sorry) – and it says something about me for sure… but somehow I think it needs to be said.

      (And there’s a lot missing – of course – because these are imaginary lines that can only be turnd into history in retrospect).

      More and more these days, I find myself referencing and thinking about

      @Meaningness’s (and

      @vgr’s Be Slightly Evil).

      This may be all a reflection of my discomfort with the accommodations necessary for success (or jealousy at success).

      For me, there’s a set of retreats in:

      postrat sincere, nonlegible, warmth and whimsy
      grounded practitioners who are doing and living the life they espouse
      (and, for the latter, it’s those who are doing so with a consciousness of continuity of history, with their traditions honestly come by – I’m deeply suspicious of those who claim something new, or have dredged up the old)…

      sorry – half-formed thoughts – but I think there’s something (important) there.


      1. Ah, synchronicity! 😀
        The Very Bad Wizards talking about Scott Alexander talking about Nick Land:
        Episode 221: Granite Cocks vs Robot Overlords — Very Bad Wizards
        1- if you think you can summon demons but haven’t learned that the first rule of summing demons is ‘don’t summon demons’, stop.
        2- if you frame the problem as ‘we need to create a better demon, otherwise we’ll lose to the demon, stop. (And stop with that game theory shit!)
        3- if you think you understand the broad sweep of human development over thousands and thousands of years…


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