Chris Dancy: Welcome to Mindful Cyborgs episode 51, the agency show. Hey, wel­come, Sarah. Welcome, Klint. Nice to be back with you guys.

Watson: Hi, Chris.

Klint Finley: Hey.

Watson: Hi. Klint.

Dancy: I feel ade­quate­ly aroused from our our guest last week. And we’re back again to talk with Eleanor. Hi, Eleanor.

Eleanor Saitta: Hey! Happy to be back.

Dancy: So, great stuff you shared with us last time. We kind of dove into the quan­ti­fied self, and then we kin­da got back to sur­veil­lance. And I real­ly love it when­ev­er you start going into agency, because I think that kind of answers a lot of— It’s the inter­sec­tion for a lot of things for me.

Just on a lit­tle side, per­son­al note, what made you inter­est­ed in all of this? Was it see­ing the Internet change, or…?

Saitta: I mean, I don’t know. You just fall into this kind of thing. So par­tial­ly, I end­ed up…I worked at NASA Ames. I worked at IBM’s Human Factors Lab when I was in high school. My dad was an archi­tect, which ends up kind of drag­ging you into think­ing a lot about how cities work and how build­ings work. And how peo­ple per­form in space. A lot of the roleplaying…the things that I got from role­play­ing that even­tu­al­ly led to me find­ing and being inter­est­ed in Nordic larp and that kind of per­for­mance of social scripts… Kind of grow­ing up on the Internet, just see­ing all of this stuff col­lide. This is kind of what you get that sur­faces out of it.

Watson: Now, I have a follow-up ques­tion, which is, you describe your­self as a bar­bar­ian, and I won­der how that fits into the whole pic­ture. And what that actu­al­ly means.

Saitta: I mean, that’s kind of a joke. But it’s basi­cal­ly that you know, there are times when the appro­pri­ate reac­tion is to work with­in sys­tems, and there are times when the appro­pri­ate reac­tion is to work out­side of sys­tems to replace them with new sys­tems that are more func­tion­al. And I think that we are liv­ing in the last days of Rome, and it is time for some Visigoths.

And, you know, I would real­ly like it if the way that this tran­si­tion hap­pened could be that we kind of peace­ful­ly and gen­tly learn how to build sys­tems in par­al­lel to the ones that we have and move over care­ful­ly. Because I don’t real­ly like what hap­pens when sys­tems just crash. But it is def­i­nite­ly also time for some real sys­temic change, and in so many areas.

Watson: I like that, because it’s both kind of tongue in cheek but also actu­al­ly quite profound.

Finley: Maybe we can use that to segue to pick­ing up where you left off in the last episode in kind of talk­ing about some these con­nec­tions between things like Briar and urban­ism and sur­veil­lance activism. Where does all this fit togeth­er, and where you see it all going?

Saitta: Well, let me just sketch out a few things real quick. So Briar, bri​arpro​ject​.org, is a decen­tral­ized, delay-tolerant mes­sag­ing sys­tem. And it just runs on phones, etc. It does­n’t have any kind of cen­tral serv­er. There’s no there there, there’s just the network. 

It can deal with sys­tems that are offline. So, one of the one of the big deploy­ment sce­nar­ios that we actu­al­ly tar­get is dis­as­ters. So you know, hey your net­work has just blown up and you’ve maybe got the Red Cross they’ve got some satel­lite links. And you’ve got a bunch of phones, and some of them can talk to each oth­er. And let’s turn this back into some­thing functional.

And that also works in protest sce­nar­ios. It works in kind of high­er secu­ri­ty orga­niz­ing sce­nar­ios. It also works in just like, I’m run­ning around town on a Friday night and hey, I’m com­ing in and out of the sub­way and there isn’t actu­al­ly ubiq­ui­tous Internet.

Kind of the first app that’s get­ting shipped there is just a mes­sag­ing app. But one of the things that we want to look at doing, and kind of where that’s going in the longer term, is look­ing at some­thing like Taarifa, which is a real­ly inter­est­ing sys­tem that’s basi­cal­ly on a crowd­sourced information-gathering sys­tem with work­flow built on top of it so that you can get, for instance, [a] report of, Hey, there’s a water point that’s bro­ken in Dar es Salaam.” Or they’ve got a big World Bank project deployed. Let’s get some­body to ver­i­fy that, get some­body to approve a fix, get that fixed paid for, get it jobbed out to a con­trac­tor, get them to fix it, get it ver­i­fied, and then noti­fy every­body in the chain. Which is an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful thing in a sit­u­a­tion where you don’t real­ly have the kind of con­ven­tion­al Western infra­struc­ture man­age­ment sys­tems that we’ve come to expect. And it’s a much more light­weight way of stand­ing up the same thing.

Now, I’d like to com­bine that with some­thing like Briar so you can do that with­out need­ing that kind of cen­tral struc­ture. You can build a cen­tral struc­ture out of a decen­tral­ized sys­tem. But you can’t do it the oth­er way around. And this then means real­ly inter­est­ing things about estab­lish­ing light­weight polit­i­cal and infra­struc­tur­al sys­tems that work and can be demo­c­ra­t­ic in more mean­ing­ful ways.

Now, to take a clus­ter like that and make it actu­al­ly do any­thing, you need to under­stand how a city works. You need to under­stand the social rit­u­als that go with these kinds of sys­tems. You need to build social­i­ty around a sys­tem like that. And that’s one of the many rea­sons why I find a lot of the Nordic larp stuff real­ly inter­est­ing, because it’s basi­cal­ly a toolk­it for social prototyping.

Watson: So, I’m not famil­iar with Nordic larp­ing. Can you give us a lit­tle bit more on what makes it Nordic?

Saitta: So, it’s Nordic because it comes from the Nordic coun­tries. And there’s actu­al­ly dis­putes about oh, it should be pro­gres­sive larp” or what­ev­er. But it’s basi­cal­ly you know, live-action role­play­ing kind of evolved every­where in the world some­where in the mid-80s, and peo­ple start­ed run­ning around the woods hit­ting each oth­er with foam swords. And then, kind of because of the more col­lec­tive cul­ture in Scandinavia, peo­ple first thought, Well, let’s start tak­ing this… You know, I know this is a fan­ta­sy world and all, but let’s start tak­ing our cos­tumes a bit more seri­ous­ly.” And by the mid-90s they were at the point where it was real­ly not okay to show up at a seri­ous game with machine-sewn under­wear. Because some­body might see them, and you know, it’s real­ly not okay.

But then at a cer­tain point, it shift­ed towards look­ing at char­ac­ter, and sto­ry, and world, and that kind of stuff [in] a more in-depth way. And they’ve been telling some real­ly amaz­ing and deeply emotionally-moving sto­ries there.

The first game that I end­ed up play­ing in was called Just a Little Lovin’, and it was played at [?] out­side Oslo a few years ago. But it was set in a sum­mer house in the Hudson River in Upstate New York. And it was sett over three con­sec­u­tive Fourth of July par­ties in 82, 83, and 84 in the gay scene at the start the AIDS epi­dem­ic. And it was an incred­i­bly mov­ing sto­ry. It was a recre­ation of a cer­tain point of his­to­ry that con­veyed a much deep­er under­stand­ing of what that meant and what it meant to be alive then than I’ve got from any oth­er per­spec­tive. But it was also an embod­i­ment of that his­to­ry. And that’s a very dif­fer­ent thing. It gives you a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent kind of under­stand­ing of what a social­i­ty means.

Watson: I imag­ine that kind of has the effect of pro­duc­ing a lot of empa­thy for the con­text, right?

Saitta: Yeah, and that’s why I talk about it as a pro­to­typ­ing sys­tem for social scripts. Because you can write out a social script. You can write out a frame. You know, we’ve got tools from psy­chol­o­gy and ethnog­ra­phy to talk about what hap­pens. But under­stand­ing what they mean emo­tion­al­ly is a lot more dif­fi­cult. And there’s a great talk at last year’s Nordic Larp Talks from Eirik Fatland, who was say­ing, I don’t know if Nordic larp is impor­tant; Nordic larp design’s def­i­nite­ly impor­tant.” Because it’s a toolk­it for pro­duc­ing and eval­u­at­ing and crit­i­ciz­ing the emo­tion­al impact of social scripts, which is des­per­ate­ly, des­per­ate­ly need­ed. And it’s a tool that sur­faces of the pow­er and the agency and kind of how all that stuff goes and moves around, which is exact­ly the kind of tool we need if we’re going to take some­thing like a Fitbit or a GCHQ, JTRIG, soci­etal manip­u­la­tion pro­gram, or an Ushahidi or Taarifa kind of infra­struc­ture man­age­ment sys­tem, or a social net­work, and try to under­stand what they mean. Especially if we’d like to under­stand what they mean before we deploy them at the scale of an entire society.

Watson: Yeah, I like the kind of pro­to­typ­ing aspect of it.

Finley: Has it start­ed to spread beyond Scandinavia much yet, do you know?

Saitta: It’s start­ing to. Actually, next week is the big annu­al con­fer­ence. This year it’s in Denmark. It kind of rotates between the four Nordic coun­tries. And there’s an increas­ing num­ber of Americans and folks from else­where in Europe. There’s a whole set of par­lor games, which are kind of like short­er larps (jeep­form” is anoth­er word for them) that are kind of playable and tend to come with com­plete scripts. So they’re one of the ways that this stuff is start­ing to spread out­side of its con­text. Although I still think that a lot of the longer, larg­er games are a lot more interesting.

If you’re inter­est­ed in Nordic larp, there are two books, The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp and The Nordic Larp book. Both of them are avail­able in the wiki on nordiclarp​.org. The Nordic Larp book is a com­pendi­um of doc­u­men­ta­tion from about thir­ty games that gives a pret­ty good overview of the his­to­ry of the dis­course some of where it’s going to now. And then The Foundation Stone is a col­lec­tion of I guess twenty-four his­tor­i­cal essays plus a few com­mis­sioned ones that look at—from from the his­to­ry of the dis­course that kind of explain the the­o­ry and the way we think about these. So, those are two pret­ty good entry points if you want to under­stand what’s actu­al­ly going on there.

Dancy: And it looks like you have some amaz­ing videos on your site on larp. 

Saitta: Yeah, the Nordic larp talk videos are all pret­ty impres­sive. They’re kind of TED-style talks designed for an out­side audi­ence, to kind of spread the gospel.

Dancy: Where in the Nordics is this, or is this all over?

Saitta: All over.

Dancy: I’ve spent a lot of time there and I have a lot of friends there, and no one’s ever told me about this.

Saitta: Well, they’re clear­ly hold­ing out on you.

Dancy: They are hold­ing out on me. Trust me. Daniel, Rita, if you’re lis­ten­ing, I’m com­ing after you.

Saitta: I mean, in Denmark espe­cial­ly, larp is kind of thought of as a kids’ thing. And so when when we say Nordic larp, and this is one of the rea­sons why there’s the debate about chang­ing the name, this is real­ly kind of like art-house larp, right? This is a small com­mu­ni­ty with­in that group. But in Denmark, more kids larp every month than play foot­ball. There are I think at least two schools that are kind of ninth and tenth grade—I for­get the term, but the city kids come into the coun­try side and the coun­try kids go into the city side, and they mix every­body up and it’s sort of this gap year sort of thing. And there’s two of those schools that are taught entire­ly through larp. So, it’s actu­al­ly rel­a­tive­ly mainstream.

Watson: Is it like a larp Rumpsringa?

Saitta: Kind of? Yeah.

Dancy: It’s inter­est­ing that it’s the Scandinavian coun­tries. One of things I found last last year, because last year I trav­eled way too much for my health… But the coun­tries I went to where they spoke more than three lan­guages native­ly, just like you know, We just speak five lan­guages. That’s just the way it works.” They seem to be way ahead in every way possible.

Saitta: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think in this case this is a lan­guage thing as much as it is a social­i­ty thing, that these are very col­lec­tivist cul­tures of a cer­tain kind of col­lec­tivism that allow weird—you know, like they’re lib­er­al but col­lec­tivist. And that has end­ed up kind of real­ly shap­ing this as a movement.

Dancy: Yeah. I don’t think it’s real­ly the lan­guage thing, but I just noticed the Nordic countries—one of the first coun­tries I went to where peo­ple spoke three or four lan­guages auto­mat­i­cal­ly, with­out even think­ing about it. And as a col­lec­tive, you’re right. I mean, when I go to Helsinki or espe­cial­ly Sweden, they just do every­thing dif­fer­ent­ly as a col­lec­tive. And you have to kind of—it makes me won­der. And some of the tech that’s come out of that area has been real­ly inter­est­ing. It just makes you real­ly question—was it Nokia. Nokia’s a Nordic com­pa­ny, isn’t it? 

Saitta: Nokia’s Finnish, yeah.

Dancy: Finnish, yeah.

Finley: And Erickson is Swedish.

Dancy: Yeah, so it kind of makes you want to go back and look at some of the his­to­ry you know, three or four hun­dred years ago for the area, just for the king­dom of Denmark and find out what the heck hap­pened. Why did­n’t it spread any fur­ther south?

Saitta: I think part of it is that some of that kind of col­lec­tivism is a cold coun­try thing, and I’m, you know, con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing wild­ly here. But you know, there is some­thing very impor­tant about like, Hey, if we don’t all band togeth­er, we’re all going to freeze sep­a­rate­ly,” that that instills a cer­tain kind of dis­ci­pline. And this is true in a lot of Canada, too. Kind of the worst thing you can be is like, We’re gonna ostra­cize you. And when the win­ter comes we’re not gonna do any­thing. You’re just going to be alone. And that means that when your fire goes out, if you can’t relight it on your own you’re gonna die. We’re gonna cut you off from that col­lec­tiv­i­ty.” And that actu­al­ly ends up being an incred­i­bly pow­er­ful lever in terms of how peo­ple orga­nize social­ly and how peo­ple see their duty to the col­lec­tive. Because it’s not actu­al­ly dri­ven by fear, it’s dri­ven by like, I have a sense of duty. I’m respon­si­ble for every­one around me.

And this shows up a lot in larp, where­as in kind the American larp culture—and this has changed in some places—but there’s this default of, I am respon­si­ble for hav­ing an inter­est­ing game. I’m respon­si­ble for what hap­pens to me.” This kind of base indi­vid­u­al­ism. And I think what made Nordic larp pos­si­ble is this notion that, I am respon­si­ble for every­one else around me hav­ing an amaz­ing game. And they’ll take care of me I don’t need to wor­ry about me. I’m respon­si­ble for every­body else around me. 

Dancy: It almost kin­da like a mind­ful Borg.

Saitta: Yeah. Yeah. No, it is. And I mean, it has its down­sides. If you look at Jante Law, which is the kind of Danish set of social norms, there’s a lot of stuff that as an American is like wow, you can’t real­ly be indi­vid­u­al­ist. There’s a lot of this kind of tall pop­py syn­drome that has real down­sides, too. But you know, it has upsides as well.

Dancy: I nev­er like to ask peo­ple to prog­nos­ti­cate, but when I have some­one on the show that just to seems to real­ly be think­ing about things in a way I find just tit­il­lat­ing, I’m just so excit­ed to hear you speak. 

You talked a lit­tle bit about the promise of the Internet and what we were look­ing for­ward to before, kind of the web 2.0 thing in 2003. And you’ve talked a lit­tle about about where we are now and shared some doc­u­ments with us and oth­er things that you believe have hap­pened. And kind of this tak­ing sys­tems and align­ing them nat­u­ral­ly and cre­at­ing them in your bar­bar­ian role. How do you wish to see this play out may be that’d be a bet­ter way than ask­ing you how do you think it’ll play out.

Saitta: So, I guess one of the things I will— On the on the prog­nos­ti­ca­tion side, one of the most hum­bling things that hap­pened, year before last, was I met a bunch of folks who are kind of— (This is right after the ini­tials Snowden rev­e­la­tions.) Who were a bunch of the grey hairs who’d done a lot of the ear­ly Internet design. And we were talk­ing about pol­i­tics and the pol­i­tics of the Internet. And what they showed me was that the pol­i­tics that they built into the Internet had bred true, in real­ly deep ways. Which was incred­i­bly hope­ful, because it told me that like, look it’s pos­si­ble to build a sys­tem that has pol­i­tics, that has a view­point, that has a way of under­stand­ing the world, and it will actu­al­ly work, you know. And that to the extent that the Internet is a free place, that free­dom was put in there and it was put in there in inten­tion­al­ly. Which I think is just deeply fas­ci­nat­ing and incred­i­bly hopeful. 

So, a lot of this is I want us all to build sys­tems that let us push our col­lec­tive agency out into the world. That pay atten­tion to the social impact they have. And I want to see those sys­tems win. And I think that that’s some­thing that we can do, and I think it’s some­thing that we can do togeth­er. But it requires a cer­tain care to… You know, let’s build sys­tems that enable pow­er to and dis­able pow­er over. Let’s be very care­ful with the kinds of things that we build force mul­ti­pli­ers for. 

This is one of the rea­sons why I’m a real believ­er in kind of max­i­mal­ly decen­tral­ized sys­tems for infra­struc­ture. Not because I nec­es­sar­i­ly think that we actu­al­ly want ful­ly decen­tral­ized sys­tems for every­thing. I think that there are times when we want long insti­tu­tion­al mem­o­ries, because they’re real­ly impor­tant for things like mer­cy and jus­tice that we hold very dear. But, if you have a fun­da­men­tal­ly decen­tral­ized infra­struc­ture, you can build selec­tive­ly cen­tral­ized infra­struc­tures on top of that. And that is not true if you have a fun­da­men­tal­ly cen­tral­ized infrastructure. 

And I think that that’s actu­al­ly one of the real­ly impor­tant lessons of democ­ra­cy over the past three hun­dred years. If we look at the time of the American and French rev­o­lu­tions, like yes, there were closely-knit trade net­works. Yes, the vil­lage or the small town was a com­mu­nal object. But it was a com­mu­nal object made out of these kind of decen­tral­ized nodes of fam­i­ly farms, of indi­vid­ual pro­pri­etor busi­ness­es, which is not like a paean to the small busi­ness. It’s say­ing that there was­n’t an inher­ent cen­tral­iz­ing order built into the basic infra­struc­ture of society.

And it was­n’t until like the 1890s that the aver­age per­son was employed, as opposed to being what we would now call self-employed, which is now an aber­ra­tion, right. The aver­age size of a com­pa­ny did­n’t reach ten until the 20th cen­tu­ry. That’s real­ly inter­est­ing, because the 20th cen­tu­ry, when that tran­si­tion hap­pens to what is now real­ly these mas­sive­ly cen­tral­ized infra­struc­tur­al net­works, this is where we see that democ­ra­cy is bro­ken down, right. Because we no longer have these fun­da­men­tal­ly decen­tral­ized sys­tems that we can com­pose demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly centralized—not to not to invoke the specter of Leninism here—but demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly cen­tral­ized sys­tems out of.

So, I think that fig­ur­ing out how we look at the 21st cen­tu­ry, look at the way infra­struc­ture is chang­ing in this cen­tu­ry— And I think that in a lot of ways that infra­struc­ture and the dynam­ics, and espe­cial­ly the social dynam­ics of infra­struc­ture is going to be one of the defin­ing fea­tures of this cen­tu­ry. One of the defin­ing ter­rains of this century.

If we can rede­fine social infra­struc­ture and soci­etal infra­struc­ture to be more decen­tral­ized, we have the chance of cre­at­ing a new democ­ra­cy that will hope­ful­ly be at least as endur­ing and as real as the last one. 

Dancy: You know, you real­ly have me think­ing a lot about the ways that I did view things. One of the peo­ple I got to meet a cou­ple years ago Peter Diamandis. He’s a Kurzweilian, of that group. Did you know any of these names, Eleanor?

Saitta: I know Kurzweil. I don’t know Diamandis.

Dancy: So yeah, he’s found­ed their lit­tle Singularity University with him. And they have this, I would almost call this this the­ol­o­gy of abun­dance. You know, that tech­nol­o­gy is going to become and enable so much abun­dance that no one’s going to have to work, and every­thing’s going to be tak­en care of. And it’s just…it’s very like, Amway for Star Trek fans when you go into these events. 

But the one thing I’m notic­ing in lis­ten­ing to you, is in their kind of the­o­log­i­cal dog­ma about this abundance-type the­o­ry of this tech­no­log­i­cal, utopi­an future where machines wake up, is it’s all very cen­tral­ized. There is no decen­tral­iza­tion at all in their mes­sag­ing. If if any­thing, it’s all con­trolled this way.

Saitta: Yeah. And I mean, you know…personally I think that the Singularity is the Rapture for nerds. I think it’s ridicu­lous. But if we get away from that, I think that of course the peo­ple at the Singularity Institute think the Singularity is a great idea. Because they’re talk­ing about sys­tems that were designed to make their lives as easy as pos­si­ble at the expense of every­one else’s—

Dancy: Yup.

Saitta: —gain­ing more pow­er over soci­ety, right. When a bunch of old rich white men in Silicon Valley want to redesign the world and have an ecsta­t­ic vision of the future, it’s going to be hor­rif­ic for any­one who does­n’t look like them. And this hap­pens time and time again. If we had a Singularity Institute that reflect­ed the pop­u­la­tion of the world, that would be a lot more interesting.

I don’t think that we’re nec­es­sar­i­ly head­ed for a cen­tu­ry of abun­dance. I think that if we’re real­ly lucky, we’re head­ed for a cen­tu­ry of sat­is­fic­ing. I think that that would be a dream. That every­one has enough to eat, just. We have enough raw mate­ri­als, just. We have enough ener­gy, just. We man­age to just not kill the cli­mate. That would be… That’s, I think, about as much as we can hope for. But that also—like, that’s no lit­tle goal, right? that rep­re­sents a bet­ter out­come for human­i­ty than we have ever been able to dream of. Certainly in any kind of real­is­tic we could actu­al­ly make this hap­pen” sort of way. 

I’ve been lis­ten­ing to a lot of Utah Phillips, who’s an old American folk singer and kin­da polit­i­cal crea­ture. He’s love­ly. And he talks about the Salvation Army preach­ing pie in the sky, bye and bye.” But nev­er today, nev­er now, right? And the Singularity Institute are kind of pie in the sky, bye and bye, but they’re that for the tech­no­log­i­cal era. It’s once the machines gain con­scious­ness, and some­how the plu­to­crat­ic nature of the net­work that birthed them isn’t reflect­ed in their con­scious­ness that the abun­dance hap­pens. I think that we need to work for the abun­dance now. I don’t think that machine intel­li­gence is going to save us. But I don’t think we need it to. I think it’s kind of irrel­e­vant. What is rel­e­vant is mak­ing sure that rich old white man like the Singularity Institute aren’t the ones who are design­ing sys­tems so that they reflect and con­tin­ue to prop­a­gate their obscene wealth.

Finley: Eleanor, there’s some­thing else I want­ed to ask you about, because you travel—this is to make a huge understatement—but you trav­el a lot, con­stant­ly. I don’t get out much any­more, out­side of Portland. So I kind of just see the world as it comes to me through social media and so forth. But at least here in the States, there’s kind of a big feel­ing that the two biggest cur­rents that are essen­tial­ly rush­ing up against each oth­er, are the social jus­tice move­ment on one side, and then this reac­tionary move­ment where you have the Tea Party and Gamergate and all these things on the oth­er side.

And it’s hard to tell who’s win­ning any—if that’s real­ly a good way to put it—day to day. But that’s just kind of what I’m see­ing in terms a what’s hap­pen­ing local­ly. And I know abroad there’s things that wor­ry me, like that rise a lot of these far right, right-wing par­ties in Europe. But what’s less clear to me is how how much trac­tion they real­ly have in any kind of main­stream cul­ture. So, since we were talk­ing ear­li­er about Scandinavian cul­ture, we’ve been talk­ing a lot about decen­tral­iza­tion and democ­ra­cy, I was won­der­ing if you have any per­spec­tive on that on a glob­al level.

Saitta: I think that the kind of rise again of glob­al fas­cism is very real and very ter­ri­fy­ing. There are a lot of real­ly dis­turb­ing, dan­ger­ous cur­rents out there. But I think what’s caus­ing them is the same thing that caused them last time, is the rich have a stran­gle­hold on soci­ety, and this is what hap­pens when the rich refuse to… You know, when they get too greedy. When they take too much. When the rest of us can’t stop them. Because the rich are nev­er going to let us vote their mon­ey away. We’re going to have to take it away by what­ev­er means are func­tion­al. When that does­n’t hap­pen, you get fas­cism, you get more reac­tionary, hard left groups. And I mean, obvi­ous­ly I have a polit­i­cal bias. I think that the reac­tionary hard left groups are very much in the right. But that’s what hap­pens to soci­ety, that fas­cism is birthed by the rich. And this is one of the rea­sons why… You know, this is one of the prob­lems of cap­i­tal­ism, is that it gen­er­ates these are deeply hor­rif­ic out­comes for all of society. 

I don’t know what the next big war is that America does­n’t start. And who knows, maybe America will start the war that makes all of this fas­cism come to a head. Because we cer­tain­ly seem to be doing it every­where else, and I can’t even real­ly say that American impe­ri­al­ism isn’t a reflec­tion of that. But, you know, that what­ev­er those wars are, are already and will be, will con­tin­ue to be, very much on the heads of peo­ple like Bloomberg and Gates and the Koch broth­ers, and the folks who who are throw­ing their mon­ey around and not giv­ing peo­ple agency in the world.

Dancy: You know, there’s one… You had a lot of hope in your mes­sage around the future and just enough. The one thing that I noticed when you were talk­ing about wars that, or the one kind of place that I seem to be lean­ing in my mind, is that in my own life, in my own prac­tice, my own con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice, I have great sat­is­fac­tion with just real­ly embrac­ing imper­ma­nence. This sys­tem will break. This sys­tem will go away. Another sys­tem will come. So, it does­n’t seem as scary to me. 

But the one thing I seem to strug­gle with, at least when I’m very emo­tion­al whether it’s I’m suf­fer­ing from a bout of depres­sion or anx­i­ety or what­ev­er it is, is that my lev­el of accep­tance of imper­ma­nence actu­al­ly seems to speed it up. And I know that’s kind of a…probably a delu­sions that I’m suf­fer­ing from. If I could just accept things fast enough they’ll die away quicker. 

But one of the things Sarah said on a show that Klint and I were on, I can’t remem­ber if we had a guest or not, was we wish peo­ple would just wake up. Which is you know, a real­ly nice kind of fun, rah-rah thing to say. But what is it going to take for peo­ple to just wake up? And why don’t they just see these things, you know. And it was very frus­trat­ing for us. Do you see, when you when you trav­el exten­sive­ly and when you talked with folks, do you see peo­ple start­ing to wake up?”

Saitta: I do, but I also live in a bub­ble, right. So, my per­cep­tions— And it’s and intentionally-created bub­ble. It’s a bub­ble that maybe hope­ful­ly lets me see the future, or at least lets me think about what it might unfold kind of where the cur­rents lie. And you know, there are places where it’s very good to get per­spec­tives out­side of that bub­ble, and there’s places where those per­spec­tives don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly do me that much good at all. So you know, we’ll see.

I think in gen­er­al that peo­ple don’t like change because change is often hor­rif­ic. Change is often not a very good thing in peo­ple’s lives. And I think that that’s true in part because most of the forces that are try­ing to change their lives are try­ing to destroy them and take all their stuff and give it to some­body else. I think that’s a pret­ty rea­son­able reac­tion to that kind of change.

That said, you know, there’s isn’t going to be a lot of choice, right. Change is going to hap­pen. I guess in a lot of cas­es I see my role in the world as try­ing des­per­ate­ly to build enough tools, and enough under­stand­ing of how they work and how they can be used, and to get that stuff out into the world enough so that when stuff inevitably breaks and falls apart and explodes in our faces, we’ve got kind of a first aid kit that we can reach for. Because peo­ple are going to reach out and make those changes when they decide to.

And although we might real­ly like them to do it soon­er, and although we can kind of have a con­ver­sa­tion with them about maybe doing it soon­er and talk about that kind of stuff, if we’re going to prac­tice what we preach, they have the agency to do that. It has to be their choice and their call when they do that. All we can do is try to be ready, try to give them the tools that they’ll need when they get there, and try to be patient and wait. And I think that that’s part of the accep­tance too, right? Is accept­ing that if you want every­body to have agency in their lives, every­body gets to have agency in their lives. 

Dancy: That’s such a kind of way of look­ing at it. It real­ly sus­pends the time and just allows it to hap­pen the way it should, and you just make the tools avail­able for peo­ple. And hold their hand through it. Which is such a nice way to end this show. Eleanor, thank you so much for being on the show. Such an absolute­ly thrilling­ly mov­ing day for me.

Saitta: Thank you for hav­ing me. 

Dancy: I wish I would have found your work before now. But I found it when I need­ed it, so that’s what’s impor­tant. Klint, Sarah, any thoughts before we wrap up?

Watson: No, that was great. Thank you so much for join­ing us, Eleanor.

Saitta: Thank you for hav­ing me.

Dancy: Okay, every­one. Be well.

Watson: Bye.

Finley: Thanks.

Further Reference

The Mindful Cyborgs site, where this episode’s page has addi­tion­al links and credits.