Democracy depends on the institutions of public education and news for collective sensemaking. A government of, for and by the people must equip individuals with the basic ability to make sense of the issues that need government response.
In recent years, these foundational capacities have been damaged to such an extent that almost every consequential topic succumbs to vehement polarization. State and non-state actors have come to use the new media landscape as an arena for information and narrative warfare, making citizens the kind of contested territory of the great power game. Institutional decay, perverse incentives and the disruptive effect of new information technologies have contributed to a breakdown in sensemaking so complete that even base facts and reality are disputed.
Nearly no institutions are accepted as trusted authorities across party lines. Very few people have the training and information access needed to adequately understand critical and complex issues independently. Moreover, there has been an erosion of the culture of civic virtue and good-faith dialogue with opposing ideas; the earnest, constructive conversation required to bridge the gap and find a shared path is missing.
Our current media environment drives polarization, misinformation and outrage. Rather than providing the education and insight that empowers people to understand the world and become capable of meaningful participation, the media has debased the capacity for generative civic engagement and participatory governance. For an open society, this trend is existential.
To counter this trend, Helena has become a founding partner of The Consilience Project, a non-profit organization aimed at restoring the integrity of the epistemic commons. The project seeks to reboot the integrity of open society by advancing collective intelligence.
The Consilience Project seeks to build a body of social theory that will begin to outline the way out of our current state. There are already many news organizations, current affairs journals, science journals, traditional educational organizations, and political and social movements.
What The Consilience Project is seeking to do does not fit into any one of these categories. It focuses on the deeper, generator functions beneath the world’s major problems, drawing on the best of social theory while showing where existing theories and institutions are no longer adequate to fix the current problem landscape. The aim of the project is to help catalyze a cultural enlightenment that will develop a new set of shared values and capacities adequate to the needs of our time.
The Consilience Project is designed to have two arms: a publishing arm and a movement-catalyzing arm.
The publishing arm provides a type of novel coverage of current events: it makes explicit the insights and techniques – or the epistemology and bias correction – it employs. It provides essential education about media literacy and complex sensemaking while offering clear assessment of critical world events. There is particular emphasis on issues that are consequential and highly polarized as well as topics that are important yet remain unaddressed in the media.
The movement-catalyzing arm seeks to curate important projects within relevant disciplines such as public education, media literacy, journalism and social media. It reframes these projects as a nascent movement towards better sensemaking and healthier public culture. This arm intends to host innovation prizes to address unsolved issues and create forums to deepen important conversations through good-faith dialogue.
The Consilience Project is a non-profit that commits to being funded solely through donations. Nothing will ever be behind a paywall and there will be no ads. Data will not be collected and sold.
The project is also designed to end in five years, a design feature aimed to incentivize against it seeking a position in the power landscape.
It aims instead to catalyze a decentralized movement that is already nascent but not yet self-conscious, then retire, so there is no lasting center to be captured or corrupted.
The Consilience Papers
The Consilience Papers are a collection of interlinked, long-form articles that take three distinct forms: Theory Pieces, Situational Assessments, and MetaNews. Collectively, the Papers outline the problems civilization faces now and moving forward – both where they are continuous with and wholly distinct from the types of problems that have been faced in the past.
The Theory Pieces provide a grounding in the social theory that is necessary to understand and address the unique problems of today. Articles will be inter-referential and logically congruent, exploring the systems of social organization developed to date and establishing both the relevance and inadequacy of them in relation to our current moment. The deep problem assessments point to the design constraints for new institutions and approaches, as well as some specific proposals. Each of these articles will link to a number of adjacent theory pieces and related situational assessments.
Situational Assessments link directly to related theory pieces, providing context and real-world examples of the principles and philosophies described. These assessments aim to provide clear situational overview and insight on important current events and relevant pieces of history. The topics covered in the Situational Assessments are selected on the basis that they will help to generate the most comprehensive understanding of the world – and not necessarily just because they are happening now. The application of theory and epistemics is made explicit so the pieces are all stand-alone lessons, in addition to the knowledge and insight they offer on the specific topic.
When a Situational Assessment covers a topic that is publicly polarized, it will be interlinked with a Metanews Analysis. This provides an overview of how the polarization developed, explaining the techniques in use across the media landscape and detailing how the narrative fragmentation occurred. A Metanews piece specifically makes explicit the instances of misinformation, propaganda and narrative manipulation, as well as identifying the effects of media technologies in potentiating group think and other biases. A rigorous process for accuracy and bias correction is combined with an explicit emphasis on the epistemic tools being employed to increase individuals’ critical sensemaking skills.
The Consilience Papers constitute the core body of knowledge work at the heart of the Project, but the goal of the Project extends beyond social theory and an improved awareness of the problem. To address underlying societal vulnerabilities, a wider cultural movement is necessary.
In order to expand access to the ideas at the core of the Consilience Project, it will provide a curated resources directory, as well as original content including podcast dialogues, other media forms (animations, infographics, summaries), and related forum conversations. The Consilience Project will also become home to a generative community grown through structured forums, facilitated dialogues, partnerships, and innovation prizes.
The curated resources directory will comprise the best publicly-available sensemaking resources. This will include research tools, data sets, news sources, fact and bias checking sites, and educational resources. This will serve as a resource directory for the public and give shape to the landscape of the cultural movement.
The forums will promote the type of good-faith, generative dialogue that leads to better shared understanding, and it will be seeded with experts practiced in the kind of dialectic that generates shared understanding of consequential topics. The intention is that, through a combination of discussion, moderation and social architectures, the Consilience Project can cultivate an environment that encourages higher-quality discourse and increased understanding of critical issues.
The innovation prizes will enhance the exposure of well-designed projects seeking to improve the information commons. These projects are likely to focus on: addressing issues of perverse incentives in journalism; countering social media algorithmic bias; fortifying public education in literacy and civics; improving academic science and peer review; and countering narrative and information warfare. The aim is to facilitate people and organizations that are already doing good work by connecting them with capital and community.
Foundational to the success and integrity of the Consilience Project is that it not fall victim to the same degradation that has afflicted existing media sources. In order to address the erosion of trust in the media and guard against the biasing forces that arise from perverse incentives and human fallibility, the Consilience Project has created a series of commitments to safeguard it from corruption.
Open Access to All Content: Universal access to information is necessary for a functioning open society. No content will ever be behind a paywall.
Freedom from Competing Incentives: The Consilience Project is entirely donation-supported, with no competing agendas beyond the stated mission. Neither the content nor its host site will serve as an income stream for the project in any way, and, to eliminate the possibility of manipulation or preference modification of its content, the Consilience Project will never sell our readers’ data or display paid advertisements of any kind.
Financial Transparency: As a US 501c3 non-profit organization, the Project’s finances are reported transparently to the federal government and publicly available on the FCC website.
Freedom from Donor Influence: To protect its content from influence, the Consilience Project will not accept funds from any person or organization that seeks to influence content through their support.
Quality over Quantity: The commitment to being free from financial influence presents potential funding limitations. If the amounts are limited, then the Project will simply be smaller and do less with full integrity.
Collective Attribution of Authorship: With the exception of possible occasional guest posts by specific individuals, all articles will be attributed to the collective authorship of the House. This allows readers to be engaged with the personality of the author; allows writers to be as truthful as possible, without regard for professional repercussions or competing incentives; and encourages the research and writing team to support the work holistically, without preference or possessiveness.
Authentic Diversity of Viewpoints and Backgrounds: Consilience team members and advisors have been and will continue to be sought from across the spectrum of political perspectives, industries, epistemic disciplines, as well as cultures and regions of the world. This multiplicity of viewpoints provides a more complete picture of any given issue.
Transparency in Methodology: Rather than guarding its methods like trade secrets in a competitive environment, the Project will open-source all resources and processes in the hope that others will replicate, adapt and improve upon its methods of sensemaking and reporting.
Expiration of the Project: The Consilience Project is set to discontinue operations five years from the date of its public launch. This deliberately finite timeframe is designed to make clear that the Project has no desire to hold long-term power in the media landscape. Its goal is not to be the center of a movement, but rather to support enough decentralized activity that the Project is no longer needed.
Making sense of the world, or ‘sensemaking’, is a function of the quality of information we have access to in society.
We receive information from a wide set of sources. Together, these make up the “information commons.” The ‘commons’ refers to the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, such as the air we breathe and the water we drink. In the same way our water supplies can become polluted, shared resource systems like information can be thought of as suffering from pollution. In the information commons, misinformation, disinformation, spin, and over-replication are the pollutant equivalents of heavy metals and excess carbon in the atmosphere.
In a polluted information commons, it becomes difficult to make sense of what is actually going on in the world. Unfortunately, unlike unintended externalities like air pollution, most people have a direct motive to pollute the information commons with information most helpful to them – pulling people towards their products, their party, their narrative, their organization – which makes said commons even harder to avoid pollution in. And yet it is the most consequential commons, because it is the basis of our choice-making for everything else.
Though accurate information is necessary to sensemake, it alone is not sufficient.
We must take one step further: in order to fully make sense of issues and events, it is also vital that people are equipped with capacities to know how to make sense of the information they are engaging with. This requires citizens to be equipped with information processing capacities adequate for the issues at hand, as well as the communication skills to engage and inquire meaningfully with others. The combination of information processing and communication capacities form the epistemic commons – the shared way in which people know how to make sense of the world.
A term used frequently in law and business, acting in “good faith” means that a party enters into a discussion or negotiation honestly, fairly, and sincerely, without intention to deceive or defraud.
Used in many areas of law but particularly regarding business contracts (Uniform Commercial Code 1-304 is actually called the Obligation of Good Faith, and it states that every contract or duty has “an obligation of good faith in its performance and enforcement”), the term “good faith” is intentionally vague. There is no official definition of the term—the extent of its interpretation is left up to the courts—but the goal of it is to ensure that parties enter into contracts with honest purpose and with sincere intent to perform the duties required, and with no intention of prohibiting the other party from receiving the contract’s benefits.
When used to describe a discussion, “good faith” means both parties are entering into the discussion with honest intent (presumably to find truth, or at least concordance), and that neither party will act deceitfully or unfairly over the course of the discussion.
Helena’s purpose is to identify solutions to global problems and implement them through projects. Each project is a separate, unique effort.
Sometimes, we believe that the most effective method to implement a project is through non-profit action. These projects are designated as “non-profit” on their associated project pages on this website. This page is an example of such a project.
In these cases, Helena operates projects that are led and funded through non-profit entities, including Helena Group Foundation. Helena Group Foundation is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization formed to conceive and operate projects that solve important global issues for the benefit of society.