Aengus Anderson: Well, we've been gone for like over half a year.

Micah Saul: Yeah… Oops.

Anderson: Sometimes life intervenes. We've…or I've made noises about this on Twitter and Facebook if you follow us there. The project isn't entirely dead, we've got ten episodes left in the can which still need to be edited. We'll probably keep doing this at kind of a snail's pace in future years. But, you know, the big wave of conversation production…kinda stopped.

Saul: You know, that's not to say that we've died. Certainly all sorts of things have happened in life that caused this, you know. You bought a house. I got engaged. But this as a project is not something that we ever saw having a concrete end. But—

Anderson: Right.

Saul: —we're reaching the point where I think it…it changes, it slows down. But we want to keep it going.

Anderson: Totally. And the only way to pick up the original pass would be to get like, massive funding from somewhere. And we certainly gave that a valiant effort, and we may apply for a couple more grants, but it's just a whole lot of work, you know. At this point I'm working a full-time job so, that certainly cut back in my editing time.

Saul: That said, we have started some interesting things back up.

Anderson: And this episode is kind of one of those things. It's not going to be like any other episode in the project. It's a panel we did at South by Southwest.

Saul: We are as shocked as you are. We pitched this…I'm not going to say as a joke. Because we did want to give this talk.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: But we pitched it fully expecting it to never get accepted. For those that don't know, South by Southwest is a big conference that happens in Austin every year. It's got three components: music, film, and interactive. The interactive component is… Well, it's a mutual masturbation session for the tech industry.

Anderson: That's pretty well put.

Saul: And so, of course we decided we were going to pitch a talk at this conference called "A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing: The Myth of Disruption," in which we took what we've learned from The Conversation and applied it directly at the tech industry, in the heart of the beast.

Anderson: This is something that grew directly out of The Conversation, right, and a bunch of episodes in which we've talked about different definitions of progress. And often the feeling that we've had, and not to generalize too much but… The folks who have a really intense tech background? don't always have a humanities background? And that makes talking to people in a lot of other areas difficult. There's just not the language there. And so when you'd get into a question of progress, it felt like a lot of our more tech thinkers had a pretty big buttoned-up idea of progress that wasn't in conversation with anyone else, where it felt like a lot of the other ideas of progress we heard did talk to each other.

Saul: Right. So we pitched this talk way back in July of 2013, of last year. And we found out in September that we got accepted, surprising both of us.

Anderson: Kind of horrifying.

Saul: Actually horrifying us.

Anderson: Because then when we had to get stuff together. And that's what you're about to hear.

Saul: We should preface this by saying two weeks prior to the talk? after we'd been working on it for a while, we found out that scheduled at the exact same time was Edward Snowden's first public appearance since the leaks first came out.

Anderson: And that basically guaranteed that we would have an audience of zero. We did somewhat better than that; we had an audience of about forty. And after ten minutes of speaking we had an audience of about twenty.

Saul: Which…I don't know. I was pretty proud of.

Anderson: And we still don't know… I mean, did everyone want to go see Snowden? Did they find us shockingly boring? Or were they from a tech background and didn't like the idea that we were essentially suggesting that the progress that's implicit in everything the tech industry does is actually an extremely narrow definition of progress and actually we don't think it's a very good one. That would be a pretty good reason to not want to listen to us.

Saul: We're not really sure the answer to that. We leave that as an exercise to the listener. And so with that, we would like to introduce…us!


Aengus Anderson: Shall we?

Micah Saul: Mm hm.

Anderson: Alright.

Saul: Why the hell are you here? Don’t you know Edward Snowden’s talk­ing right now? [laugh­ter]

Anderson: We’re glad that you are, though.

Saul: Yeah. You may have noticed the lights are out, and the screens are off. It’s because we’re radio peo­ple. So…we’re we’re doing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent than I think most peo­ple do here. So feel free to like, treat this as a radio show and close your eyes if you want to. That way you don’t have to look at us.

Anderson: Yeah. It’s a lot eas­i­er that way. And because we draw a lot of what we’re going to be talk­ing about today from a series of radio projects, one of which has been going for the past two years. And so we’re kind of used to work­ing in the the­ater of the mind we thought the truest way to do that would just be through voice. So it’ll sort of nerdy, sort of cere­bral, sort of sci­ence, sort of human­i­ties. Should be fun. Want to [crosstalk] intro­duce your­self first?

Saul: So we should just jump in, yeah. I’m Micah Saul. I’m an ontol­o­gist in tech, in San Francisco. But I’ve also been work­ing with Aengus on this radio show which I think he will give a much more in‐depth descrip­tion of.

Anderson: Yeah. And I’m Aengus Anderson. I’m trained as a his­to­ri­an but I’ve been work­ing media for a long time and doing radio more recent­ly. Past five years I’ve spent kind of on and off trav­el in the US and talk­ing to lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple about the past, the present, the future, record­ing stuff that’s sort of jour­nal­ism, sort of oral his­to­ry.

And the project that we’ve been work­ing on for the past two years is called The Conversation. And in a nut­shell it’s a big sprawl­ing project, but I was dri­ving all over the US and talk­ing to real­ly inter­est­ing thinkers in a lot of dif­fer­ent fields. From peo­ple who come from faith tra­di­tions, to NASA sci­en­tists, to envi­ron­men­tal peo­ple, and basi­cal­ly ask­ing them to talk about what sort of futures they want­ed and why. And that always of course turns into a phi­los­o­phy con­ver­sa­tion. And when I would start telling them about each other—which is anoth­er premise of the project; what hap­pens when you tell these peo­ple about each other’s ideas?—you get some real­ly inter­est­ing back and forth. But you need a com­mon lan­guage for that, and that lan­guage is phi­los­o­phy.

And I think when we both start­ed work­ing on the project, our philo­soph­i­cal vocab­u­lary is very small. And we learned to… I don’t know, we start­ed grap­pling with a lot of new con­cepts, which sort of dove­tailed right into what we’re going to be talk­ing about today. Things that have to do with what is progress? What is the good? Stuff like that. So, want to just jump right in?

Saul: Sure. So, raise your hand if you think all of the world’s prob­lems are solved and you know, there’s real­ly noth­ing bad going on, everything’s kin­da good. Yeah.

Anderson: I was expect­ing to see a least one per­son being bel­liger­ent.

Saul: So, as the show advanced, we real­ized that there are a lot of peo­ple real­ly real­ly wor­ried about the future, and they’re wor­ried about big, big things. We’re talk­ing things like inequal­i­ty. We’re talk­ing things like over­con­sump­tion of resources and envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse. Social col­lapse. Community break­down. General feel­ings of pow­er­less­ness against mas­sive sys­tems.

Anderson: It’s a cheery a bunch of peo­ple that we spoke to.

Saul: And this seems to be uni­ver­sal. I mean, many many peo­ple are hav­ing these con­cerns. But, you know, we all work in tech, right. That’s what we do. We look at the big prob­lems and we solve them—that’s what disruption’s all about. So let’s talk a lit­tle bit about how, if it has, how tech has addressed those big prob­lems. Or has it?

Anderson: Right. And I think some­thing that you get into when you start look­ing at okay, we’ve got this laun­dry list of prob­lems that a lot of peo­ple can agree on, and you start look­ing at okay well, here’s sort of the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy indus­try and their approach to solv­ing these prob­lems. And there’s an implic­it def­i­n­i­tion of progress that comes out of that.

But before we go any fur­ther there’s some­thing that like, if you’re some­one who’s kind of a soci­ol­o­gy nerd or a human­i­ties per­son you’d break sci­ence and tech the indus­tries, which are social cre­ations, from sci­ence the abstract prac­tice and tech­nol­o­gy the stuff, right. So, when we’re talk­ing about sci­ence and tech here we’re talk­ing about them as mod­ern social insti­tu­tions that are embed­ded with­in kind of a cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ic sys­tem. So, we’re talk­ing about prac­tice and cus­toms and things like that.

Saul: We’re not talk­ing about empiri­cism. We’re not talk­ing about the sci­en­tif­ic method.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: We’re talk­ing about how those things are used in mod­ern soci­ety.

Anderson: Embodied in research labs, embod­ied in universities…in all sorts of things like that. And so as we start­ed get­ting into this and we’re going well god, what are these…you know, we’re cer­tain­ly dri­ving towards some­thing, but what are the unspo­ken ways we would define progress? And what do we even… What’s the word for this type of progress that’s emerg­ing from the sci­ence and tech indus­tries? Because we’ve run into a lot of dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tions of progress, and so we need­ed a name. And we’re like okay, mod­ernist progress,” it’s an ugly name, but in a way that’s what we’re going to be work­ing with today. That’s what we think is the implic­it progress that comes out of the sci­ence and tech indus­tries.

And let’s actu­al­ly just break that down into its kind of con­stituent parts, things that we think you could trace out of— If you were like a philoso­pher look­ing at mod­ernist progress.

Saul: Yeah, what are the sort of core tenets of this phi­los­o­phy.

So num­ber one, we think it’s phys­i­cal­ist. So that is, the world is just stuff. It’s mat­ter. It’s mat­ter we can touch, it’s some­thing we can look at. And any spir­i­tu­al or moral or philo­soph­i­cal ideas don’t real­ly have any true exis­tence or true being out­side of…outside of soci­ety or out­side of your own head, right. They don’t have any real onto­log­i­cal exis­tence.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: Which of course leaves a lot of room for rel­a­tivism. If all of that is just per­son­al pref­er­ence or social pref­er­ence or social con­struc­tions, then…well it’s real­ly easy to say there is no moral good to any of them.

Anderson: Right. And I think what’s inter­est­ing is that if that’s kind of your first build­ing block of mod­ernist progress, the sec­ond one total­ly con­tra­dicts that. But this is what’s nice about an implic­it system—it doesn’t have to be like, coher­ent, right.

And the sec­ond thing that we were talk­ing about or think­ing about was sci­en­tism. And scientism’s one of these words that we bumped into after a series of inter­views and were like, What the hell do we call this thing that our speak­ers keep refer­ring to?” And it’s like oh, you just go and find the appro­pri­ate word sci­en­tism.” It’s real­ly dif­fer­ent than sci­ence. Being a sci­en­tis­tic thinker is very dif­fer­ent than being a sci­en­tif­ic thinker. And sci­entism is essen­tial­ly a faith in sci­ence as an end, right. Science isn’t the thing get­ting you some­where, sci­ence is the goal.

And that’s an ara­tional goal, which is anoth­er one of these words that we just keep stum­bling across, you know. Having sci­ence as kind of the endgame of progress…whatever that is—more knowl­edge, more something…it’s not some­thing that you can ratio­nal­ly say that’s good or that’s not. It is in essence—it’s a faith state­ment. That more knowl­edge is a good. And there’s no way to get that from rea­son.

And there are oth­er com­po­nents I think that come with sci­en­tism. Kind of the notion that over­com­ing human lim­its is a good. That extend­ing kind of our abil­i­ty to con­trol and manip­u­late the world is a good. So that’s anoth­er com­po­nent of mod­ernist progress.

Saul: Along the same lines, increas­ing com­plex­i­ty of sys­tems but sim­pli­fy­ing the­o­ries? Also part of sci­en­tism. And all of these are in some ways relat­ed to growth, which is I think anoth­er sort of core tenet of mod­ernist progress in that it’s fun­da­men­tal­ly growth‐based. Because it’s phys­i­cal­ist and because it’s sci­en­tis­tic. Because it’s phys­i­cal we can mea­sure every­thing. Because we can mea­sure, we can con­stant­ly seek to improve it. And improve­ment here tends to mean increas­ing, right. Increasing pow­er, increas­ing knowl­edge, increas­ing etc.

Also, because every­thing is phys­i­cal and so what we’re doing is as we’re grow­ing we’re get­ting more stuff, slow­ing that growth down seems real­ly freakin’ scary.

Anderson: Right, it’s like anal­o­gous to death, in a way.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: So yeah, you’ve got a growth bias in the sort of mod­ernist progress. You also have, I think, an assump­tion that sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy don’t have a use bias one way or the oth­er. That they’re kind of moral­ly neu­tral things and that cul­ture comes and applies its bias­es to it after­wards. That a tech isn’t biased in one way towards a cer­tain type of use or anoth­er type of use.

Saul: Right. And along with those bias­es there’s also the idea that it’s priv­i­leged. That the mak­ers and does of sci­ence— And again, every time we use sci­ence” here we real­ly do mean sci­ence indus­try not…science. But sci­ence can make priv­i­leged claims that are unas­sail­able by non‐scientists, either because they don’t have the under­stand­ing, or they don’t have the train­ing, or they’re just not…you know, they’re not a mem­ber of that priest class of sci­en­tism.

Anderson: Right. And what’s inter­est­ing is there’s sort of a jump you have to make there from the lay per­son not being able to under­stand sort of the inner work­ings of sci­ence or of a tech­nol­o­gy, and then it being assumed from there that they can­not under­stand the impli­ca­tions of it. And I think that’s some­thing that’s often kind of fuzzed over, in a way.

And so, if we kind of break down mod­ernist progress like this, what’s inter­est­ing is that, why is this implic­it? Why isn’t this some­thing that we talk about kind of in the open more often? And some­thing that we’ve sort of run into is that you know, we talk to a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple who have oth­er ideas of progress, and those typ­i­cal­ly come from philo­soph­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties, faith com­mu­ni­ties, things like that. And they’re real­ly in the open about how their asser­tions of what is good, they’re ara­tional, you know. Maybe they come from some angst‐ridden philoso­pher sit­ting on a block of stone, maybe they come from some rag­ing prophet, but there’s no cloak of empiri­cism. There’s no cloak of sci­ence to give them legit­i­ma­cy. They’re philo­soph­i­cal state­ments, or the­o­log­i­cal state­ments.

And what’s inter­est­ing about mod­ernist progress is that unlike these oth­er things, it can kind of…cloak—it can make itself seem nor­mal, because it draws on the legit­i­ma­cy of sci­en­tif­ic research, right. So, you can have empir­i­cal research which yields actu­al data about the world, which is knowl­edge, and it can take that and it can go, Here’s what is.” And then it makes this quick jump to, Here’s what ought to be.” And David Hume in the 18th cen­tu­ry was like, No, that’s a fal­la­cy. You can’t do that. You can’t go from is to ought.” But we do it all the time. And you see it with a whole lot of different—kind of how sci­ence is often applied in the pub­lic space.

Saul: Right. So, I think it’s… When you remove that sort of sense of legit­i­ma­cy from mod­ernist progress that it tries to gain from empiri­cism, you start to see that this def­i­n­i­tion of progress real­ly does just draw… It’s no dif­fer­ent than any oth­er. It comes from ara­tional beliefs, unques­tioned beliefs.

But if you fail to see that… If you fail to see that the empiri­cism does not grant legit­i­ma­cy to the beliefs, then it’s very easy for that just to become…normal. Which is I think what it is in the indus­try but also just in gen­er­al these days. This—

Anderson: Right. It can super­sede oth­er belief sys­tems, right. Because it’s nor­mal, it’s assumed phys­i­cal­ism, these oth­er tenets of growth, they’re good. And you can pile things like philoso­phies and reli­gions on top of that. But you can kind of nev­er get beneath that until you rec­og­nize that it is a sys­tem like them.

And of course, the ques­tion is why should we care about this? And what we kept run­ning into again and again is like, a lot of dif­fer­ent thinkers who would say, Well you know, mod­ernist progress isn’t doing the best job of answer­ing our ques­tions. It’s steer­ing the log­ic of our civ­i­liza­tion in a cer­tain direc­tion that may not be the best direc­tion, and may not be as pub­licly debat­ed as we would like.”

And there are ample exam­ples of this sort of thing. I mean, if we want to go to the past you can look at social Darwinism in the 20s being a very strange appli­ca­tion of evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry, but. And it made the is/ought jump, right. You can say, Well here’s the evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry applied to biol­o­gy,” and then kind of go, Well, then soci­eties ought to look like this to mir­ror evo­lu­tion­ary the­o­ry,” and you end up with some real­ly creepy social poli­cies. And while you can look back at social Darwinism in the 20s and go ha ha, that was then, what did they know…we still do things like that.

Saul: Right. More recent­ly, I think the bell curve is an exam­ple. I’m sure many peo­ple many peo­ple here have at some point in their edu­ca­tion dealt with that. And if you actu­al­ly look at the sci­ence behind it, it’s… There’s sci­en­tif­ic claims, and then there’s this insane jump to how we should act because of that.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: There are plen­ty of oth­er mod­ern exam­ples. Neither of us were at the pre­vi­ous talk, but I was read­ing the descrip­tion and… You know, light green envi­ron­men­tal­ism” is this new phrase that’s been thrown around recent­ly,

Anderson: Right.

Saul: …which is the idea of tech­no­log­i­cal progress being able to reverse the man‐made envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse that we’re caus­ing.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: And…you know, there’s a big ques­tion there. Is that actu­al­ly prac­ti­ca­ble? And is that more based on tech utopi­anism and mag­i­cal thought than actu­al real sci­ence.

Anderson: Right, and if you real­ly want­ed to have that con­ver­sa­tion you prob­a­bly have to break down mod­ernist progress and have it out in the open.

And anoth­er thing which seems pret­ty apro­pos of Edward Snowden speak­ing right now is that with say, dig­i­tal rights or sur­veil­lance you have you know…if you’re fol­low­ing kind of the path of mod­ernist progress, you could say that well, we’re going gung‐ho into devel­op­ing a lot of tech­nolo­gies that make sur­veil­lance real­ly easy. And we’re putting the devel­op­ment of those tech­nolo­gies way ahead of any con­ver­sa­tion about why we’d want them or what they’re for, right, because we are priv­i­leg­ing devel­op­ment, just the fur­ther­ing of cre­ation, over the ideas of oth­er progress, which might be pri­va­cy. I mean, that could be anoth­er ara­tional def­i­n­i­tion of progress.

Saul: So, I think that’s a per­fect place to jump into what we— What we real­ized as we were going through the project is I think these beliefs are some­thing that both of us…had, in some way or anoth­er.

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: Because they are so nor­mal. And it was real­ly inter­est­ing to talk to peo­ple and hear peo­ple talk about oth­er ideas of progress that are just com­plete­ly removed from these ideas of progress, from growth, scientistic‐based progress.

Anderson: Yeah, and we got a bunch of these and they came from peo­ple across the coun­try. And I mean, a bunch of them are going to sound real­ly com­mon­sen­si­cal, but when you won­der if that is an end rather than just sort of an acces­so­ry goal, it becomes a real­ly kind of chal­leng­ing thing. So the idea of say, equal­i­ty as a dif­fer­ent mea­sure of progress. If that’s what you’re work­ing towards, if tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence need to push you towards equal­i­ty, that’s real­ly dif­fer­ent than push­ing towards more sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge. Environmental qual­i­ty, you know. We talked to a bunch of dif­fer­ent thinkers who all came from dif­fer­ent approach­es, and some would argue that like well, the envi­ron­ment, the exis­tence of the nat­ur­al world has an innate val­ue that’s non‐rational, and that pre­serv­ing that is a form of progress, right. That should be an end, they would argue.

Saul: And that could be pre­serv­ing it for the sake of all oth­er life because all life has some intrin­sic val­ue. Or it could be pre­serv­ing that for pure­ly self­ish rea­sons. Because it has some val­ue to us as humans. It’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly an anthro­pocen­tric ver­sus bio­cen­tric divide, it’s the idea that it could be good for either.

You know, anoth­er really—going even far­ther down the intrin­sic val­ue of all things world—there is… We talked to one guy who… Well, he’s a neo­prim­i­tivist. He’s self‐described as a Luddite. But he, you know, his idea of progress is real­ly inter­est­ing to us, which is that unmedi­at­ed human inter­ac­tion and inter­per­son­al expe­ri­ence is incred­i­bly impor­tant. And any progress that isn’t mov­ing towards that, he’s not inter­est­ed in talk­ing about.

Anderson: And kind of actu­al­ly con­nect­ing in with that, there was a woman I spoke to in Seattle who works with the Happiness Initiative. They’re essen­tial­ly bring­ing Bhutan’s idea of Gross Domestic Happiness to the US and apply­ing it in Seattle. And she put forth an idea of progress which is still mea­sured, but it’s some­thing that essen­tial­ly looks at like free time, qual­i­ty of life, access to space. A lot of the unmedi­at­ed inter­per­son­al stuff. Community you know, is some­thing that a lot of peo­ple talk about in terms of progress. Like can you real­ly talk about progress as a soci­ety if you end up hav­ing to move to dif­fer­ent cities all the time for jobs and that dis­rupt your com­mu­ni­ty net­work every time? Is that com­mu­ni­ty net­work a thing that we should be con­sid­er­ing part of progress? [crosstalk] And then of course—

Saul: And then of course.

Anderson: Oh yeah, go for it.

Saul: Then of course there’s an ele­phant in the room of course in that anoth­er core phi­los­o­phy that I would sug­gest the major­i­ty of the world is a part of are faith tra­di­tions, right. And faith tra­di­tions have a very dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of progress.

Anderson: Right. A lot of def­i­n­i­tions of progress.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Which we don’t need to get into, but it’s pret­ty self‐evident that often­times those def­i­n­i­tions of progress would ques­tion why are we design­ing our civ­i­liza­tion one way or anoth­er.

Saul: And the thing about all of those ideas of progress is that they are in fact philoso­phies. They are all try­ing to answer the big ques­tions. Questions of what, and why, and how, and who are we, and what are we doing here, and why should we be doing it. And usu­al­ly, they answer those ques­tions explic­it­ly.

And as we thought about it we real­ized that all of those ideas of progress can answer those ques­tions with­out the help of sci­ence or tech.

Anderson: Right. They almost live in sep­a­rate uni­vers­es.

Saul: Right. And you know, we came up with the idea that under­stand­ing quan­tum mechan­ics will nev­er tell you why to treat anoth­er per­son with dig­ni­ty. Which… So if tech and sci­ence aren’t required for those ideas of progress, and aren’t required to answer those big ques­tions, can they answer those big ques­tions?

Anderson: Right. And are we assum­ing that they can? And I think some­thing that is kind of intrigu­ing here is that… I mean, essen­tial­ly to answer a ques­tion like that you have to real­ly size up the val­ue of the sci­ence and tech­no­log­i­cal enter­prise as a whole, right. Because we can point to dif­fer­ent things. We can say well, the print­ing press mas­sive­ly expands lit­er­a­cy. That seems like that’s an unequiv­o­cal good, right, But you still end up with you know, czarist Russia in the 19th cen­tu­ry being large­ly illit­er­ate and hav­ing print­ing press­es. Or you know…

Saul: Having this. Having the Internet in my pock­et means I can access all of the world’s knowl­edge like [snaps fin­gers] this.

Anderson: Which seems like…

Saul: Which seems like a good.

Anderson: A good thing, right.

Saul: But then you look at North Korea, or Iran, or even China. Where they also have this in their pock­et, and they can’t access all the world’s infor­ma­tion. They can access only a very small part of it.

Anderson: Right. And so I think you end up with sort of this… We often com­mit this tele­o­log­i­cal prob­lem where we say well, things are pret­ty good for us now… (And they are.) And we have all this amaz­ing technology—it must have led us to this point. It must inevitably get things here, to where we are. But I think when you start talk­ing to a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple about the future, and espe­cial­ly when you start look­ing at oth­er his­tor­i­cal exam­ples, you see that often these tech­no­log­i­cal advances can take you to a whole hell of a lot of dif­fer­ent places. And they aren’t always good.

So try­ing to size up the enter­prise as a whole is a real­ly dif­fi­cult thing. And often it seems like it’s hard to put a val­ue on it. Like maybe it just— You can’t say it’s good or it’s bad, right. And that when you start talk­ing about progress maybe that’s just a sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tion. So you have to almost set tech­nol­o­gy aside and say like, let’s not try to eval­u­ate this as a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive.

Saul: Right. So if we do that. If we set aside the val­ue of mod­ernist progress and the results of it, we start to see that maybe we need to real­ly fix those prob­lems that we were talk­ing about up at the start. That we need to dis­rupt things a hell of a lot big­ger than just oth­er tech­no­log­i­cal indus­tries and oth­er indus­tries that are embed­ded in our sys­tem as it stands.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: In order to real­ly solve those ques­tions, we need to look— We need to dis­rupt the ara­tional ide­olo­gies which under­pin the sci­ence and tech indus­try. And in order to do that we have to dis­rupt the econ­o­my.

Anderson: Right, and it then becomes also a polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. You have to dis­rupt pol­i­tics. So rather than nec­es­sar­i­ly say­ing this phone is going to dis­rupt things in a way that lib­er­al­izes the world or makes democ­ra­cy blos­som or some­thing like that, you have to say well, you know, this phone could be used in a hell of a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. Maybe rather than fix­ing on the phone as the end, what we need to do is we need to say, Uhh, we don’t like the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion here. Let’s have that be the goal and let’s see if maybe we can use the phone as the tool.” But ulti­mate­ly we’re not real­ly car­ing that much about the phone. We’re car­ing about the end.

Saul: Right. You know, there’s nev­er going to be an app that pre­vents misog­y­nists from treat­ing women like crap. The exis­tence of web sites is not going to help with bul­ly­ing of LGBT stu­dents in our schools.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: An app is not going to make you val­ue the exis­tence of the life of the ani­mals out­side.

Anderson: Right, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t going to like, give you a hug when you need it, right. So those are all things that would come from oth­er def­i­n­i­tions. Like the com­mu­ni­ty is there to do some of that oth­er stuff, which is a total­ly dif­fer­ent def­i­n­i­tion of progress. So I think prob­a­bly what is emerg­ing at this point is that we don’t— This isn’t like an anti‐science or anti‐technology pre­sen­ta­tion at all, but it is say­ing that we think progress is a hell of a lot big­ger than a con­ver­sa­tion about sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and dis­rup­tion is real­ly a con­ver­sa­tion that needs to be about the eco­nom­ic sphere, about the polit­i­cal sphere, and maybe about the prac­tice of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy and how it relates to those oth­er spheres.

Saul: So I think what would be inter­est­ing is… Because this is an idea of you know, the future belong­ing to everybody—not just the futur­ists but to human­i­ties and indi­vid­u­als, I think we’re gonna flip the nor­mal South by Southwest thing on its head and try and turn the rest of this hour into a con­ver­sa­tion. Like we’ve now had a con­ver­sa­tion, raised a lot of ideas… We hope. Do any of you have any­thing to say about this, want to talk about this? There’s mics up front. Anybody?

Anderson: Jump on in. See, we’re used to doing these long‐format con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple and when you’re sit­ting up at the head of a pan­el it’s like not con­ducive to actu­al­ly you know, unmedi­at­ed inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tion.

Saul: We were actu­al­ly hop­ing they were going to be a lot less peo­ple so we could just cir­cle up the chairs and talk.


Audience 1: As long as your general life philosophy is relativistic, you have no mandate to actually do anything. Because if everything is relativistic, neither one is better than another. And so there is… You can't say there is a good or a bad, there's only a different.

Micah Saul: Sure.

Audience 1: And without good or bad you have no mandate to change. So how do you deal with that?

Aengus Anderson: I think that's where you need a big society. I mean, I think this is where democracy really excels as a system. Because unfortunately—like I mean, if you look at history there have been so many definitions of good and bad and usually they're just settled by who wins the war. And we often try to settle that through conversation, kind of knowing that we're going to have a bunch of definitions and that ultimately unless God shows up and says like, "Hey guys, This is how you do it," you know, or someone comes up with a nice theorem to say "this is what's good and this is bad" and you can empirically prove it, we're always going to have to have that sort of conversation to kind of figure out like, what do we collectively think. You know, what kind of the common denominator of good that we can settle on?

Audience 1: Your point is well-made. I'm not suggesting that that… I mean, empirically that is correct. But the dominant philosophy of our age is essentially relativistic. And as long as it is relativistic, there is no mandate for change. Because if one option is as good as another… You know, without a moral value, and saying this is good, this is bad, there is no energy. There is no impetus. There's no reason to to select one value system over another.

Anderson: Absolutely. And I think what's interesting is of course that we all do…we feel impelled to select those value systems in our own lives, and other people are selecting them all the time. And so it's just kind of in the process of out of all of those selections, it seems like that conversation emerges and we do start to change even if there isn't like you know, on a bigger picture, there's no compelling need to change, right. Like, we're going to change because we almost…we have two within ourselves, and other people have to, and those things don't square.

Audience 1: But if you go to nine out of ten universities and go to the philosophy department, what you get is a relativistic message. Partly for political reasons in the sense if you make any outright assertion, you open yourself up to attack.

Anderson: Mm hm.

Audience 1: Very straightforward. It's much easier to say, "Whatever you believe is fine, I'm just here to facilitate." And for obvious reasons, this is public education so you have feedback from the community and so forth and so on. But nevertheless, as long as the dominant message of our age is relativistic… And I'm not suggesting… Yeah, I'm not here to tell you what to believe or anything like that, right. It's just that as long as you have this overall message that it's all the same, or all of value, there is no incentive to change. Because one is not better than another.

Anderson: Right. And that's something that you know, as we've had these conversations with different thinkers all over the place, a lot of them need to differentiate between relativism and, often they talk about moral realism. And so it's tough, right? Because you want to be as open-minded as you can, and you want to say okay, well there are all these different ways of thinking about the world and believing things. And that you don't want to say, "I'm right,"you know. You've got that down but you also want to say, "Some of these definitely feel wrong." And that's kind of— I mean, there's no real way to logically have both of those.

And that's where people talk about— I'm thinking specifically of a Rutgers law professor named Gary Francione. He's a really interesting guy, and he's written a lot of books about veganism. And he was talking about like, how do you get between moral relativism and also the sense that there are things that are wrong in the world? And he was talking about moral realism, which is something that I have…trouble with, because it's still kind of an assertion that some things are good and most definitions of progress will kind of come together on that.

For instance, not killing…generally a good thing. He would say okay, we can put that in the realm of moral realism, where you can have a lot of different traditions that accept that, but also say that like, you know, killing is generally bad. It's sort of like a… I mean, it's just an elaborate dance to get around some thorny stuff that's hard to resolve, I think.

Audience 2: Thanks. As someone from the Amish community who's spending more and more time in the tech scene, I'm wondering where you guys see there being space for displacing this idea of progress, and where these other kinds of visions of progress and stories of progress can actually live. And I think my own struggle has been about rather than hiding out and being in a community with a very different kind of progress, how can you bring that kind of moral agenda into our systems and into our technologies?

And so who have you spoken to that's really trying to figure out ways of actually hacking our ideas of progress from the inside without just opting out or going into an Amish community or more minimalist off-the-grid lifestyle or things like that?

Anderson: That's a good question. You want to jump in on that one? I was thinking like the first thing that came to mind for me… Because it seems like a lot of the people who've give us really radical definitions of progress that like, surprised us? were opting out, you know. In a way that doesn't feel like it's as constructive as maybe it could be.

But I'm thinking of Wes Jackson here. Wes Jackson's interesting.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: He's a scientist and he had a really different definition of progress.

Saul: Right. So Wes Jackson is a…he's a researcher down at The Land Institute? In Kansas, or—

Anderson: Yes. Salina, Kansas.

Saul: Up from here. And he's working on— I mean, he's a scientist. He is a biologist, and he is hacking genomes left and right. But his vision of progress was very interesting. And he… In fact, we got some of the best quotes about slowing down growth from him than we did from anybody else, which was surprising considering he's very much a part of the tech and science industries.

Anderson: But he sees them as vehicles to a different type of progress, which is… You know, he's one of these guys, he's more in the environmental camp of thinkers, so he looks at agriculture, which is his interest. And he goes okay, well we've got this really bizarre mass agriculture system, and is there any way that we could create like, basically a prairie-like ecosystem, so something that has a variety of different crops, that's perennial, and could you have that be food-producing in a really meaningful way? That maybe isn't quite as good as industrial agriculture but is close.

So he's sort of reinventing the agricultural wheel, in a way, because he sees this crisis of food and water and growth. And for him, he's using a lot of really interesting research to get there. So he's something like, he could be creating a real model that people might use. That has scientific legitimacy. But also like, suggest very explicitly a different definition of progress at the end, which isn't booming growth for its own sake. It's sustainability within a very complicated ecosphere. Which she feels is like, generally too complicated for us to fully get our heads around. You know, all the ins and outs of how the ecosphere works.

Saul: I think to more directly answer the question of how do you…within science and tech, how do you disrupt that idea of progress? And the way you do that is, I think you need to find some other idea of progress. You need to have some other sense of the good which is not based on science and tech. You need to actually remember that these are tools and not an end unto themselves.

Anderson: And also not to be a Luddite while you're at it, right?

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Because I'm thinking of the primitivist we spoke to who's got some really interesting ideas of progress that I think are valuable, but he's so rabidly anti-science and technology that there's no way to take him seriously.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Even though…I mean he's an incredibly smart thinker. But he just— He doesn't— He never makes the case that his philosophy could be incorporated into anything; it's just not pragmatic.

Other questions? Nonsense? You can throw things at us.

Audience 3: I'd be curious to hear more of your thoughts on disruption within financial services. As this being one of the underpinnings capitalist society. Is there room for anarcho-capitalist philosophy within this socially- and government-regulated sphere? How much disruption is truly possible under these circumstances?

Anderson: That's a good question. Man, that's something that we talked about a lot in this project, and we got a lot of different answers from different thinkers. The guy who comes to mind right now as you ask that is a guy named John Fullerton for me, and he was the head of JP Morgan in the mid-90s. And he really turned his back on the financial sector, at least in the traditional sense, and started this weird little group which is like a think tank in Connecticut now which is trying to think of other ways where we can… It's very pragmatic so he's trying to think of other ways that we can incorporate stuff like that into a system that already exists like this. He's not some dreamer who's going, "We need a different type of economic system." He's like, "Okay how can we bring some of those ideas into a functional thing?"

And man, he's a downer to talk to. He is a real downer to talk to. But he makes some really interesting points, and I think with him you know… I think the first kind of axiom that he starts from is that you can't have an economic conversation without having an environmental conversation at this point. Because they're both so interwoven.

And I remember he kind of— Oh god, he left us with this awful choice, which is something that I think [Saul: Oh God.] keeps him up at night, too. Which was essentially that like, if you want to achieve sustainability, you've got to rein in an economic system like ours in such a way that it will actually—it could collapse, because it is predicated upon growth. So, you can have sustainability and collapse the economic system. And he's like, "Well that's…that's a bad answer. So what happens if you just let the economic system go? Well, you have another sustainability problem because it keeps growing, and when it has a resource crisis then the economic system collapses."

And so, he was trying to figure out like okay, how do you take this giant ship that's basically got a huge amount of momentum on it, and start tinkering with it in a way that doesn't…you know, I mean we depend on this for the distribution of all of our goods, whether that be financial or more tangible stuff. And I think what I liked about him, it's like here's this incredibly smart guy and we're sitting down talking, he's like, "I don't know." And I mean, I don't think that we've come to any…epiphanies about this either. I think what we've come to appreciate more is sort of the massive complexity of the economic environmental system. And that once you start tinkering with it, once you start disrupting it, you really don't have any guarantee of things getting better. Like, we've built the house of cards very tall, and I think that's why you know, even though this project has probably left us both thinking about really different ideas of progress, it's also made us a lot more careful about what we would suggest disrupting, you know.

Saul: Because…you know, I think that— This is sort of off-topic from this conversation, but the biggest takeaway I had from this project, which is actually still ongoing, is really starting to rethink the idea of complexity as being a good thing. And you know, we've talked to thinker after thinker about complexity and how interconnected everything is that, you know, in some ways these systems we've built are too large for humans to comprehend anymore. They've moved beyond our brain. There was actually a philosopher who was at Davis but is now…? Where is he?

a He's at Rice, actually.

Saul: He's at Rice now. And he was actually here on Friday, I believe, named Timothy Morton, that we talked to a lot about complexity and the idea of these…he calls them hyperobjects, which are often manmade systems that are so large that…they cannot be comprehended anymore.

Anderson: Right, and they essentially have kind of emergent properties of behavior. Like the economy.

Saul: Like the economy. Like global warming was another example he gave. And his book Hyperobjects just came out; it's supposed to be awesome.

Anderson: So that's probably a really poor answer to your question, of essentially saying like, we have no idea

Saul: No idea.

Anderson: —how you could actually begin to disrupt the financial system without making a big mess. But I think that's as candid as we can be, we just don't know.

Saul: I think the important part is that people actually are talking about it. you know.

Audience 4: Hi. I was just wondering if you've across the writings of Daniel Quinn, and whether or not… Like, he kind of referred to this notion progress in our culture as kind of riding a bicycle over a cliff. You can pedal faster, you can pedal in different ways, but you're still going to fall. And I'm just kind of curious to [speaker either trails off or question is cut]

Anderson: I believe he's in my gigantic spreadsheet of names of people I really want to talk to. And this has been something that's been growing over a couple of years. And I don't know as much about him specifically, but certainly that analogy has come up in other people, and I know people we've interviewed have referenced him. And if this project keeps going on, I will try to get to him. And then hopefully we'll post an interview for you.

Audience 5: So you've talked about progress as being very linear.

Anderson: Mm hm.

Saul: Mm hm.

Audience 5: Right? But if you break it down to really simple terms and you think about nature, right? The deer are born, it's a good year. The grass grows, so they eat a lot of the grass. Or they overeat the grass and then they all starve next year and they get thinned out. It's kind of cyclical. And if you look at human history, similar things, right? They grow up. They get big. They eventually die. Why are you thinking linear and not cyclical?

Saul: I think that's…a huge, huge question and really important question, and thank you. I think we were talking progress today as being linear because we were talking about modernist progress, which is linear. But we have talked to certainly plenty of people who say that the idea of progress itself is just false.

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: That change is what happens.

Anderson: Yeah, and I don't think I would want to be on record as saying that I thought progress was linear.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: But definitely that I mean, I think you bring up a great point in that what we're working—or what a lot of these folks who are talking about different definitions of progress—are working against is the idea that it is a linear thing. And certainly, you know myself being a historian, a lot of what you're working with is overturning the work of earlier historians who charted linear progress, typically through like a chronology of great white guys. And then you're revising it and you're going okay, well actually here are all these other ways we could measure progress, and it's this really uneven thing, and it's… I mean, if you were to think of it as like a stock ticker, it's a totally different ticker based on what definition of progress you plug in, right. And that is based on the historian and what they value.

So I think that our ideas of progress have probably gotten a hell of a lot more flexible as we've done this project. And I think it has to be, right? Because everyone of these, like if you're looking at ecology you could say, you know… Or the health of the ecosphere, you could say human progress has just been going downhill. I mean, if you were a primitivist you would probably argue that. And you could certainly make some interesting cyclical arguments about progress. God, that makes me think of Joseph Tainter

Saul: Oh…

Anderson: This is probably the most depressing conversation we had in this project of depressing conversations—not all of them, but um…

Saul: We actually almost called this project The Cassandra Project, just because we knew how how much of a downer some of it was going to be. So Joseph painter is a…he's a historian?

Anderson: An anthropologist at Utah State in Logan. And he's written like, the authoritative book on the collapse of civilizations. It's like a thousand pages long. And it is both historical and anthropological.

Saul: And it is scary to talk to him. Because he… He's one of those guys that just says, No no, no. The system will collapse and I give it… Well, in the next seventy-five years there are five or six that could bring it down it."

Anderson: Yeah. And like whether or not you agree with him, he's got this really— Like, because he's been, I mean he's spent his entire career doing this stuff so he's kind of self-selected a lot of really depressing evidence? But at the same time he builds a really good case for sort of cyclical progress. Which, you know, when you're sitting there talking to him it's sort of like hard to muster another argument because he's so effective and it's hard to really cross-examine him. Which is a fun interview to do. But you know I mean, he gives you a really good argument that you've sort of got this undulating wave of history.

And I mean, he wouldn't say it's progress per se. He would say it's complexity. So you get increases in social complexity, increases in technical complexity, and then usually…I mean, he talks about—

Saul: You've worked up enough of an energy debt—

Anderson: That's it.

Saul: —basically is what he talks about. And once that energy debt comes due, then you have collapse. And then you start to build up again. But you never fully pay off the debt, and you always start from around the middle of where you were before. And so complexity is always building and so the debt is getting even higher and higher.

Anderson: Right. And maybe you could call that some sort of cumulative progress that he sees? But I don't think he sees it as a good or a bad thing. He's a really interesting thinker, definitely, for giving you a lot of different ideas of progress. Especially ones that can coexist. The idea of like, well maybe it's cyclical, maybe it's a little bit linear. Maybe it's all just depressing for him. I don't know.

Audience 6: I just have a process question, and that is you mentioned your chart of people you want to speak with. How have you… You know, what is your universe of people? Is there a criteria of who you're talking with? Is there a discipline, what discipline? Geography, are you talking to international people? How you're looking at the voices that're leading to where you are. And, your endgame. What're you doing with all this information? Will you be writing a book?

Anderson: Well I can answer the last part first. That one's easy. Every conversation that we've had is online. It's at findtheconversation.com, and these are really… You know, often they're drawn from incredibly long conversations I had with people. I've talked to one woman, a really amazing embedded artist with the city of Chicago, and we talked for seven and a half hours and I cut that down to a forty-five minute episode. So most of the episodes are a little under an hour in length. So that's kind of where all this has gone. That's the easy part to answer.

Saul: In terms of the selection criteria, or even just how we came up with names in the first place, I mean… So, we've been working on this now for I think two years as of like…now-ish?

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: And it started with the idea that we wanted to come up with people from every possible realm we could, right. So from the arts, from humanities, from science and technology. People that are known, people that are completely unknown…

Anderson: Skewing more towards the unknown.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: And I think that part of that is because we were looking for people who were really on the fringes of thought. And experiment, and things like that. And people you might…I don't know—ideally doing like, local pilot projects. And it proved to be very hard to find those. We found a lot of them, but it was harder work than finding national people who were kind of public intellectual figures who write books and [crosstalk] stuff like that.

Saul: Public intellectuals like, they already have their soapbox, you know. They already have TED. They have Southby.

Anderson: Yeah.

Saul: They have the bookstore. So we wanted to try and find people that didn't have those same avenues.

Anderson: Right. Like get the right urban farmer in Detroit. Get you know, a really oddball like a…oh, the Grindhouse Wetware guy you know, in Pittsburgh, who's doing like, [crosstalk] trying to become a cyborg.

Saul: Body hacking.

Anderson: Yeah. And so lots of stuff like that, trying to find those local people.

Saul: And then geographically, yes, it has all been United States at this point. Mainly because Aengus has driven everywhere for it.

Anderson: Right. Because actually another thing that we wanted to make sure of, especially because I was doing the interviews, is I wanted to do them all face to face. I felt that was truer to the concept of the project and also I hate interviewing people on the phone. You just get better conversations when you're in person. And they can be a lot longer, and they can be a lot more spontaneous. So that's kind of kept us from doing anything international. And then just our funding structure, which…is basically nonexistent, has made international work difficult.

But it would be awesome to do that, and we… Our listener base has been really broad. And so we keep getting really amazing recommendations from people overseas going like, "Oh. You know, are you going to be in Tel Aviv? You really need to talk to this guy." And we would love to do that. Because of what's really interesting is when you do a project like this, you start finding these big currents in sort of what people are thinking about. And I feel like we've got them for the US. And then foreign listeners write in and I'm like oh my god, we have no idea what people are thinking and talking about elsewhere. You know, we are so damn sheltered. So, it would be cool to do more of that.

Audience 7: Hey guys.

Anderson: Howdy.

Audience 7: Just wondering if you can talk a little bit about human rights in this context. Because to me, I read the UN Declaration of Human Rights a few months ago for the first time. I was just really struck by how kind of inarguably…good it is? and you were talking about the perfect good. And it's also the closest, it seems, like we have as a planet to defining progress in a good way, and it sort of ought to be. You know, things like you have the right to work and contribute value to society. And if you aren't given that you have the right to have your basic needs taken care of in the context of unemployment. And there's all these other you know, just basic assumptions about what people should have. But if you look at something like that in the context of the political debate over denying unemployment benefits, you know, Congress is actually violating a human right that people might not think about all the time. And so just, I feel like we have this list of whatever it is, twenty, thirty items that are things that we should strive for, and how do we just get to this basic understanding of all people should have all the human rights that we agreed on.

Anderson: I mean, that's kind of an interesting one because once you start talking about rights…oh boy does that get thorny. Because that's like… I mean, there's like… You could— That's something that philosophers get tangled up about all the time. Like, what should be a right, and what should you— You know, I think we have a real trend, an intellectual trend, towards saying let's keep things as… This isn't in practice, but we like the idea of stripping things down as much as possible and having as flexible a system as you can have.

Which doesn't always mean guaranteeing rights, right. Because a lot of that I think comes down to the way people think about…and stop me if you think I'm nuts here, but like personal responsibility, or fairness. A lot of the rights conversation always gets into the idea of like, is a right an entitlement? And, you know… Ah, the fairness thing is the assumption that like, well some people are just not going to do anything—it isn't their right to have that. And so it's amazing how stuff that seems so self-evident can actually be disputed in ways that often also seem philosophically persuasive.

Saul: Yeah, in some ways it's… That's analogous to trying to look at modernist progress, right. Things that are just assumed to be true.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: And we assume that this is just…this is a given. But definitely I think those ideas are a important idea of the good that a lot of people ascribe to (at least ostensibly). But, they are just— You know, they are another one of those arational beliefs.

Anderson: Yeah, and what's interesting is that sometimes there actually are persuasive arguments against things that seem so commonsensical. And yet was something like the UN Declaration of Human Rights, I think about Francione again, the guy at Rutgers, and his idea you know— The case he was trying to make to me for moral realism. And I think that seems like one of those examples where you could say, "Now, this is a moral realist claim. Like, I'm not objectively saying that this should be true… But, come on guys," you know, which is essentially what I think his form of realism is. Like, would you really deny that like, food is a right? Like, would you feel okay saying, "Well, this person didn't work hard enough, let them starve?" And I think for him that comes down to a really visceral point; moral realism is a felt thing, and it can't be argued about in the same way.

Which is interesting, because if you're a conversation nerd like us then you're like well, you just took it out of the realm of conversation. And is that a type of fundamentalism? I don't know. Yeah.

Audience 8: By any rational standards I mean, it seems that the hard sciences have grotesquely outstripped the social sciences, in the sense that the social sciences are really on the verge of being irrelevant.

Anderson: Mmm…

Audience 8: Certainly they're treated that way. Certainly if you have a degree in social sciences and you try and monetize that, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of demand for that.

Anderson: Tell me about it. [Anderson and Saul laugh.]

Audience 8: I don't think I'm saying anything that anybody doesn't know. You know, I mean, you have the prospect of somebody like, a brilliant mind like Wernher von Braun devoting his energies to the V-2 missile and bombing London. Were you say okay, oh my god. You have this tremendous hard science development, and then you have no social science development, or it's clearly stalled.

I mean, we live in an era of cultural senility, right. I mean, what is new in the arts? What is new in literature? I mean, there is some new but if you look at the transformation between 1900 and 1960 and compare that over the last thirty years… I mean, the kids in high school are listening to Led Zeppelin. I mean, I wouldn't listen to stuff that was forty years old when I was in high school.

So, do you notice, do you see that sense of stagnation? And to what do you attribute that?.

Anderson: Are we allowed to talk about postmodernity in here without getting beaten up?

Saul: Go for it, I got your back.

Anderson: I mean… I don't know if this is a direct link, but this is kind of what just jumps to mind when you say that, is that a lot of the thinkers in the project who I found most interesting and maybe that you found most interesting as well, talked about a big part of the crisis we have is one of feeling really jaded, and really ironic, and really detached. And I think they would trace those sentiments probably over the same time period you're talking about. And they don't always trace it back to a philosophical shift. Because we never really think well, philosophy doesn't make a damn bit of difference when it gets out of the culture. But it does, right?

And what's interesting about I think some of the relativism, some of the discourse stuff that comes out of like Foucault and other postmodern thinkers is that you kind of get to feel really disempowered. You get to feel like ah, maybe I'm not that right, or maybe I can't effect change. And so the really interesting thinkers in this project are ones who like, take the good stuff from that sort of philosophical world and say, "Okay, well we can analyze power in X, Y, and Z ways, and postmodern thought gives us those tools." But we're not going to take it to the point where it critiques itself and then just becomes this implosion of nihilism, right.

And so we've had all these thinkers go like, "Okay, we acknowledge that there are a lot of discourses, that a lot of things are relative." But, does that mean we're just going to stop and go, "Oh, everything's relative, let's not try to make the world a better place. Oh, the deck is stacked against us," which it is. We're going to stop now? And so it's kind of like, what do you do beyond that?

And something that I know people have been talking more about in England (and this is where I wish this was an international project) is metamodernism, which is something I do not fully understand. But I think it's someone…and I can't remember the guy's name—it's a specific thinker, who is trying to go beyond the irony, beyond the jaded sensibility, and beyond maybe the pessimism that I think comes out of too much, or the overapplication of postmodern philosophy and lets you get to a different point. I think you see that in the arts as well.

That may just be a total bullshit answer. I don't know, I hope not.

Audience 9: …but I also think there's a lot of… I mean, I think that from that intersection, there's a lot emerging in arts and culture right now, and even in the last maybe like three to five years. I think this is also a place where an international exploration would be really interesting, because coming from the sort of…postcolo— Let me not say "postcolonial world" because there's not such thing. But from post-colonies, I think there's a lot of really interesting things that're emerging from that intersection between you know, well…here's the reality of development, post-development, postcolonial reality in a globalized society. And also here's technology. Technology in the developing world is being used in I think a lot more ways than it's being used here. That's also the context that I'm coming from.

And also I think within that, the arts— The intersection between postcolonial thought, technology, and art, and culture right now is really really emerging and incredible right now. Like, Volta in New York is going on right now, which is one of the largest art festivals in the world. And there's a huge developing world presence there, and I think it's because there is this intersection between… Getting back to this is what life is really like when you're trying to survive. And this is how we're using technology not because… For the idea of progress because we can, but because we have to. And we're in a globalized world, and so I think that that context would totally change this conversation, in a way.

Anderson: And that's why we do this project, because I didn't know about that stuff in New York especially. So it's like that would be…like, that will go on the giant spreadsheet.

And we're at eleven.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: Or, twelve.

Saul: Twelve.

Anderson: Whatever time zone we're in.

Saul: Uh…

Anderson: We're done.

Saul: Thanks for taking part in our experiment.

Anderson: So that was our panel. It was recorded on 10th of March, 2014. And we'll be back here soon with Joan Blades, the cofounder of MoveOn.org. But she won't be talking about MoveOn too much. We'll be talking about Living Room Conversations, a project that she's working on with the cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots that encourages people from different walks of political life to talk to each other. So it's right up our alley, and that will be…god, our first proper episode in a very long time. And there are going to be some great ones coming up after that. So, we'll try to pick the pace back up here.

Saul: Yep. We've missed you. We hope you've missed us. And we'll be talking soon.

Further Reference

This episode at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.


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