Carin Ism

I work on governance innovation, on updating the tools available to distribute power and make/enforce decisions. I am the Director of Research at Bitnation, where I direct the Bitnation Future Governance Expedition, I am faculty in the future of governance at the Nordic branch of Singularity U. Before that I was Executive Director of the Global Challenges Foundation, I give talks on power and governance-related issues and offer advisory services to governments and IGOs. I am the chairman of Effective Altruism Sweden and run a live-in hackerspace in Stockholm and one in Amsterdam, both heavily informed by effective altruism. My current work emphasises applications of emerging tools for governance, ranging from algorithmic regulation to the power of escrow/multisignatories, reputation systems and what needs to be in place to get distributed autonomous organisations to actually work. If you do anything in the space of reimagining governance and power, do reach out. I am always interested in learning about new projects and perspectives.

Beyond this, my brain tends to ideate far outside of these specific domains. Apparently, it is yet to receive the memo stating that people should act like siloed entities and simplistic brands. Sometimes I indulge in these impulses and create art, lamps and literature. I publish some of the results here.

Why Ism?

Today I will focus on just one question often posed to me: Is Ism your real name? It is real in the sense that I use it all the time, everywhere. It’s my legal name. But it was not given to me at birth. It was what i continuously decided i wanted to be called. The reason I arrived on Ism being the most suitable option is because I love that kind of process and how it can be applied everywhere. We can take what has been arbitrarily assigned to us, examine it to determine whether the given and suggested really fits us, if it aligned with your ideals, be it ethical or aesthetic, and then, simply disown whatever in the given you deem suboptimal in relation to your values, your end goals. Because the fact of the matter is that quite a lot is given to a person who comes in to this world. And there is residue from thinkers, power struggles and ideologies, isms, if you will, in almost every practice we tend to take for granted, for inevitable and natural.


Go from the arbitrarily assigned to the consciously desired. [better version? You have agency as a person to align practices in relation to your values. You have the right and possibility to do that.]


Everything from the shape of classrooms, romantic relationships, or streets, or that we even have streets, has ideological roots that stem from times and ideas we don’t necessarily agree with today. I choose to be called Ism as a constant reminder to myself of that fact, of the long winding roots of most every prevalent practice and of the ever existing opportunity to disown what doesn’t agree with my values, the opportunity to align my actions and my life with my own values instead.


This practice is not new, Plato called it the fight against doxa, where doxa was those commonly held views and practices, how things were generally done, and philosophy, as he argued, is the practice of deconstructing the assigned behaviours and then, the wonders begin. Because beyond deconstructing the life and habit strongly recommended to you by your surrounding time and place lies the wonderful part.


Diamonds are not rare at all. They’re abundant product, but there’s a very well marketed, for over a century. Once you realise that might have concluded that supporting that is not aligned with how you want to live, you can start figuring out what way to show affection towards someone you want to keep around for a long time is right for you.


That opportunity to disown assigned convention as the starting point for how you act and instead start with defining your values, and deducting which behaviors are suitable as your navigating tool is a radical process, i must warn. People who live stringently to an ideal tend to end up breaking at least norms, maybe even laws, and the degree to which you apply this way of life is of course something that should be done in a way that, again, aligned with your interests. And one interest can be to not stand out from a group.


But the consciousness, the possibility to, at any point in during your existence, define, write down what holds value for you during the but 300 000 hours of life the average person is granted on this planet, what you cherish, what you want to leave behind, and  then optimize for that, is very powerful. But in how it feels and how, again, radical, or perhaps rather: transformative the consequences can be. Also, it puts the light on that what is progress is a given situation, what is success, what is right or wrong in a situation at the end of the day all depends on what you’re striving for, what end goal has been defined as. And I’d argue no one has more legitimacy in setting up that goal than you. So I’m not called Ism because I want to develop a dogma for others to follow, I’m called Ism as an encouragement to myself and everyone else to take inventory of the ideology embedded in all our everyday actions and then proceed to build a life, a universe even where you get to be and live your own dogma, where you get to live out and embody your own ideas.