Micah Saul: This project is built on a hypothesis. There are moments in history when the status quo fails. Political systems prove insufficient, religious ideas unsatisfactory, social structures intolerable. These are moments of crisis.
Aengus Anderson: During some of these moments, great minds have entered into conversation and torn apart inherited ideas, dethroning truths, combining old thoughts, and creating new ideas. They’ve shaped the norms of future generations.
Saul: Every era has its issues, but do ours warrant The Conversation? If they do, is it happening?
Anderson: We’ll be exploring these sorts of questions through conversations with a cross-section of American thinkers, people who are critiquing some aspect of normality and offering an alternative vision of the future. People who might be having The Conversation.
Saul: Like a real conversation, this project is going to be subjective. It will frequently change directions, connect unexpected ideas, and wander between the tangible and the abstract. It will leave us with far more questions than answers because after all, nobody has a monopoly on dreaming about the future.
Anderson: I’m Aengus Anderson.
Saul: And I’m Micah Saul. And you’re listening to The Conversation.
Aengus Anderson: Well we’re back, and we’re being a little bit more punctual this time.
Micah Saul: Yes, a mere week later as opposed to… Oh god, what was it, a month?
Anderson: Yeah, it was basically a month. We won’t do that to you again.
Quick news update, we just got fiscal sponsorship from San Francisco Independent Arts and Media. That fiscal sponsorship I realize sounds like they’re funding us—they’re not. But what they are is a really awesome nonprofit, and they partner with small projects like this one and let us work with them for our financial aspects. Which basically lets us apply for grants as a nonprofit, without actually being a nonprofit. So, if you know of any grants that would be suitable for The Conversation, shoot us a note. And of course you know where to get us, it’s email@example.com.
That is all nitty-gritty technical stuff. Let’s talk about this episode.
Saul: This was down in Austin, Texas. Carlos Perez de Alejo, who is one of the cofounders of Cooperation Texas which is a nonprofit that is dedicated to organizing other cooperatives. Sort of a meta co-op.
Anderson: And co-ops are something we’ve been thinking about and talking about for a long time. They’re really intriguing because you know, this is a project full of people who’ve got vast, radical, fascinating ideas about the future. A lot of them are pretty abstract. Now, co-ops…exist. This is a very different way of running and structuring a business. It’s a totally different set of priorities. But it’s happening in this current economic paradigm. So we’ve been wanting to talk to someone who knows how to set these things up and can sort of talk about them as a movement. Are they taking off? Are they struggling? What are they?
Saul: So there were all sorts of places we could have gone, and we had a bunch on our list. Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland was one of the most obvious choices, just because they’re very well known. They’re fairly large. They’ve been successful for several years. But they kind of seemed too obvious, in a way? So we found Texas.
Anderson: Right, because we assume that if you’re going to be starting a co-op of co-ops or a viable model, then it would be interesting to see how they exist in an economy that is less friendly towards organized labor. That doesn’t have that industrial heritage. And if something can make it in the extractive and service sprawl that is Texas, it seems like it can probably make it anywhere. So that’s what took us to Cooperation Texas.
And before we get into this, one quick sidenote. This is probably the shortest interview I’ve recorded in the project. It was fifty minutes. So it doesn’t dive into quite as much of the philosophy as we normally like to have in a good Conversation episode. But that said, there’s still some of it in here and we think the episode covers a lot of ground that’s valuable for other reasons. So, let’s go to Carlos.
Carlos Perez de Alejo: Well I think there’s three things that really set cooperatives as a whole apart from a conventional business, and that’s joint ownership, democratic control, and member benefits.
In terms of joint ownership, rather than having say, one or two people who own the business, in the case of a cooperative its member-owned and those members can look different depending on the type of cooperative. So you could have a cooperative that is owned by its workers, a cooperative that is owned by its consumers, a cooperative that is owned by its producers. And each person that is a member has an equal ownership stake in the business. And so, that entitles them to certain rights and responsibilities, such as democratic control. So usually that takes the form of one member, one vote. And then in a conventional business, a sort of driving force is the profit motive, is to make a dollar. Whereas in a co-op the driving motivation is serving the needs of their members. So, in a worker co-op that might mean the need for dignified work. In a consumer co-op that might mean access to healthy food.
And then over the 150 years, cooperatives have developed a core set of principles that really unites cooperatives, regardless of type. Things like open and voluntary membership, democratic member control, autonomy and independence, concern for community, cooperation among cooperatives. And these really serve as the foundation for the cooperative model internationally.
Aengus Anderson: So, cooperatives are fairly old, and yet you know, this is a project that’s obviously interested in new ideas and new things. And it seems like there’s been a lot of talk about cooperatives that I’ve heard in a way that it seems like maybe there’s either a resurgence of them, or they’re changing in some way. And a lot of people have mentioned Mondragon…
de Alejo: Mm hm.
Anderson: Can you talk a little bit about that?
de Alejo: First off, historically whenever we start to experience the shocks of economic crises, which is cyclical in our current system, we start to see that spike in interest in cooperatives and it’s not a coincidence. You know, when the system isn’t working we look for other systems.
And so Mondragon has become a very… It’s been a model that people have been looking at for a long time. It’s been around since the mid-1950s in the Basque region of Spain. It was originally started by a local Catholic priest. And it’s by far the largest integrated network of worker-owned cooperatives in the world. And when you put it in the context of the broader economic crisis in Spain where you’re seeing unemployment at twenty-plus percent and you compare that to Mondragon, where you’re seeing unemployment at say twelve, thirteen percent comparatively—so your kinda cutting it in half—people are starting to ask well, why is that? What makes it different?
What happened in Mondragon is that because they have such an integrated network really acting on that principle that I mentioned earlier of cooperation among cooperatives, rather than laying people off and putting families out on the street, instead they shifted people around the network so that if one co-op wasn’t doing as well, well let’s see if we can place you in another co-op that’s faring better in the economy so as to maintain your job. A core part of their mission is really creating dignified jobs for folks in the Basque region but they’re really an international network at this point.
Anderson: So, I think of Texas is having sort of a different political and economic situation. What is Cooperation Texas doing, and what is it like to try to start cooperatives in this sort of environment?
de Alejo: Well…so you know, Texas is a unique place in that really we’re one of the most unequal states, economically speaking, despite the rhetoric of Governor Perry around the economic miracle. You know, when we start to hear things like, “Well, we grew X number of jobs in the last few years or so,” which is you know, for most people this inherently good thing, right. Well, we’ve created jobs. But few people take that step back to say well, what kind of jobs? And in Texas the bulk of the jobs that have been created over the years have been largely minimum wage jobs. And the reality is that it’s very tough for working families to get by in Texas.
And so these are the sort of conditions that prompted the birth of Cooperation Texas in October of 2009 with the basic belief that everyone deserves equal access to dignified work. And we face a number of barriers and we’re very honest about that. But we felt, like many people around the country, that business as usual is not cutting it. And at the moment we’re facing a systemic crisis both in our economy and in the environment, and it demands a systemic response.
And so we started with the mission of creating sustainable jobs by developing, supporting, and promoting worker owned-businesses. And so we’ve started to build a small network here in Austin. Our first business that we launched was a worker-owned vegan bakery called Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery. Just this past year we launched the first worker-owned green cleaning cooperative in Austin, with a group of women who had faced a range of abuses in the cleaning industry anywhere from low to no pay to you know, harassing bosses, intimidating workplaces, to now going on and collectively owning their own company. We’re in the process of launching the first worker-owned brewery here in Austin. And in the coming year we’ll be working with a group in San Antonio to set up a worker-owned sewing cooperative.
Anderson: A lot of people in this project have talked about our economic situation broadly. But I would like to touch on it again here. What are cooperatives responding to in the bigger economic picture?
de Alejo: Well, I think particularly when you look at the current crisis, it’s the result of in a lot of ways increasing levels of inequality. I think it’s probably well understood by a lot of your listeners that increasing concentrations of wealth equal increasing concentrations of power in fewer and fewer hands. And so to the extent that we take democracy seriously, I think this is where co-ops generally and worker co-ops in particular can play a really significant role in addressing the question of wealth distribution.
There’s a lot of advocates that argue for what’s called asset building as a way to address wealth inequality. Usually that is aimed at the individual level, so finding mechanisms for encouraging particularly low-income folks to invest in starting their own small business, or invest in home ownership. But again it usually takes place at the individual level. And you can see impacts there. But I think when we’re talking about worker cooperatives, for example, rather than having one person start a business and hire ten, twenty people, in this case you have those ten, twenty people collectively owning the business and so you multiply the impacts that you can have. And at the end of the day, you keep those jobs locally rooted and these workers have an equal stake in seeing that business succeed.
Anderson: What I wonder is, with something like a cooperative, it is so rooted in place. And it also seems like there might be some difficulty in scaling? Can you have a cooperative that say, grows to the size of Sony and therefore is able to do the sort of massively intricate, multilayered production process of say and electronics firm? Or, do cooperatives just by their structural nature, are they limited to the types of enterprise they can pursue?
de Alejo: When people look at the cooperative model, again particularly worker co-ops, they think, “Well that sounds great. I can maybe see that working for ten, fifteen, people maybe twenty. But beyond that how do you really take democracy to scale as well, right?” You know, we’re seeing the limits of political democracy in our country with the size that we have. And again the distribution of wealth that we have.
But I’ve seen worker cooperatives function with yes five, ten, fifteen people. I’ve also seen them function with three, four hundred people. But I think especially in light of the dual crisis, again in our economy and the environment, we should be asking ourselves whether we want to grow businesses at that rate or whether we want these massive companies at that scale.
Anderson: What I was trying to get to with that last question is sort of the notion of, can we have all of the doodads that we love you know, the laptops and the things like that, if we say, switch to a society that was composed almost entirely of cooperatives? Or is there a structural thing in the cooperative that would make that hard? You kinda have to have these giant public-owned companies to amass the capital to make these gigantic investments.
de Alejo: I mean, again going back to sort of what’s at the core of the cooperative identity is really meeting their members’ needs. And so I don’t see why you couldn’t have cooperatives that are producing all these sort of…doodads and whatnot. I see that as perfectly feasible. Again I think it’s more a question of to what extent does that production contribute to increasing ecological crises, or to what extent is it extractive and depleting current resources? I mean, these are the kind of questions that we’re going to be having to ask ourselves regardless of whether we’re a cooperative or not.
Anderson: I talked to a guy earlier in the project name Gabriel Stempinski, and he’s really interested in web sites that encourage people to share stuff. And he’s interested in that for two reasons. One because he feels that we have a lack of community, and that we’re atomized as a society. But also because he sees that as a major critique of the current economic system.
And listeners have responded to this on the site, and a lot of them have said, “This is nice but it’s not a meaningful change. It’s still kind of growth-based capitalism.” And that’s something I want to get into with cooperatives as well. So say we restructure and we shift from public companies to cooperatives. But do we still rely on kind of the underlying logic of growth? I mean, is that something that a cooperative really addresses, or does it exist kind of within our current economic system and logic?
de Alejo: Yeah I mean, I personally think that we need to move beyond this sort of grow or die motivation that exists within the current economy. And I think that the cooperative model is suited to addressing those concerns, especially because the co-op model is geared toward serving member needs and not driven by profit at the end of the day. That is something that bodes well for the model in terms of sustainability.
Again, that’s not to say that there aren’t co-ops out there that are unsustainable in some ways. But these sort of no-growth questions are things that I think the broader cooperative movement really needs to start talking about in a more active way.
Anderson: I kinda want to get back to the things you were just mentioning, kind of the underlying value assumptions of the cooperative movement. Where did those come from, this notion of democratic control being a virtue? The notion of, to some extent, equality.
de Alejo: Well, the the original cooperative principles were born out of the experience of a group of weavers in Rochdale, England in the mid-1800s, who in the sort of peak of the Industrial Revolution were facing pretty horrendous working conditions. Tried to organize a strike. It failed, and so a lot of them sort of got together and said, “Well, what are we gonna do?” And they ended up sort of pooling their resources together to start the first consumer-owned co-op.
Out of that experience they developed an original set of principles that defined the sort of modern cooperative model. And since then they’ve been reshaped through the International Cooperative Alliance, which is I think the largest membership-based organization at the international level that unites co-ops. And they’ve really refined those principles over the last 150 years. They don’t come out of this theoretical exercise, it comes out of the concrete experience of what worked for them at the time. You know, you could trace cooperative forms of work back to when humans first put their feet on the planet. But when it comes to the sort of modern cooperative model, people trace those roots back to what they call the Rochdale Pioneers.
Anderson: I’m kind of interested in the values as they contrast with broadly-held cultural values about growth and competition. Our conversation’s coming on the heels of a conversation I had in New Orleans with Walter Block, who’s an anarcho-capitalist. I mean, you can’t get any more free market.
de Alejo: Mm hm.
Anderson: I’m trying to imagine our conversation with Walter here and what he would say. And he would probably go, “That cooperative model’s a great thing. You guys go and do that. But there are a lot of other people who are going to be doing other models, and you may not be able to compete with them. Maybe we’re still living in a culture where the bottom line matters the most.” Can the cooperative survive or do you need a different sort of social mindset, or do you need a regulatory structure to encourage it? Or will they just be obliterated by these giant public companies?
de Alejo: I mean, those are real concerns that cooperatives are facing right now, you know, especially as a result of a lot of the free trade agreements that have been passed over the years and increasing globalization. You know, Mondragon is facing this despite how strong they are and how much of a model they are. The economic crisis hit them and they’re having to compete in this globalized market, which is why they’ve started to branch out into South America and other parts of the world.
So cooperatives are not immune to these things. And so I would argue that while cooperatives need to play a role in making this transition toward a new economy, that we also need to combine our efforts with social movements on the ground in these different places. That we can’t do it alone and we shouldn’t be under the illusion that we’ll be able to take things to scale to where one day the sort of captains of industry will just hand over the keys to us and say, “Well, you can have your cooperative economy. You beat us.” I don’t think the world works that way.
Anderson: What does the world look like if the cooperative model fizzles out and we follow the same kind of economic logic we’ve been following for a while? Where does that go?
de Alejo: I think we’re looking at feudalistic patterns of ownership, of wealth. We’re looking at increasing levels of ecological destruction. I mean, we have an economy that is a wealth-concentrating system and therefore an increasingly undemocratic system. We have an economy that is based on the idea grow or die, as I mentioned earlier, on a planet that has finite resources and so it’s a fundamentally unsustainable economy. I don’t think that we can stand the current economy for much longer. I don’t want to think about what what things would look like if we were to stay on the current path.
Anderson: I’ve talked to, as I mentioned, a variety of folks in this project. And when I’ve told them about thinkers who view the current economy as unsustainable, some of them have said human creativity is infinite, and our ability to find new resources and to solve problems is infinite.”
de Alejo: I mean, simply put I think that’s an incredibly arrogant statement that ignores extreme levels of inequality and human suffering that have taken place that have resulted from I think that very kind of thinking. You know, I don’t know that arguments along those lines should even be taken seriously at this point. If you really take stock of what’s happening around the world, there’s not much merit to that level of arrogance. I don’t think we can tolerate it for much longer.
Anderson: Another question I think that’s come up in terms of this has been sort of a tension between social equity and a decent standard of living for everyone, and also environmental sustainability. Can we balance these things? Can we both bring a lot of people into the middle class? So say we have cooperatives and they take off globally.
de Alejo: Mm hm.
Anderson: And people are affluent and they can now afford new things. Does that inevitably take an enormous environmental toll? Can we have a clean environment and can we have a decent standard of living?
de Alejo: You know, I would have to hear a more concrete definition of what you mean by decent standard of living. I mean—
Anderson: Unfortunately this project is stuck in America because of my own finances so it’s been an American conversation. So when I say decent standard of living I’m thinking kind of what most Americans would think of as a middle-class standard of living.
de Alejo: Right. You know… One of my frustrations with what on the surface seems to be a healthy conversation around developing a more green economy has to do with the fact that underneath a lot of the rhetoric, ultimately what a lot of people are calling for, or a lot of advocates for a green economy are calling for in the United States in particular, is a pathway for us to maintain current consumption levels but feel good about it, right. So I can get my hybrid car and put solar panels on my house and these sorts of things. Without really taking into account again the question of finite resources and whether current levels of consumption in the United States are sustainable, period. Because I think people are rubbing up against this reality that we’re going to have to start doing something different. But I don’t think they’re willing to… I don’t think a lot of people are willing to give up. A lot of these amenities at the end of the day are just fundamentally unsustainable.
Anderson: And do you think that’s something that we can sort of get to rationally? Or is it something where you need to feel a crisis?
de Alejo: It depends on time and place I would say. You know, I think some people are certainly capable of coming to terms with the reality around them and changing their ways. I think others are going to have to be pushed a little bit, and that’s where I go back to this question around really finding that balance between starting to create a new economy that reflects a different set of values and principles, and combining that with efforts on the ground to resist the current economy, which is destroying lives and the planet around the country.
Anderson: Let’s have fun and look into the crystal ball. What’s the best-case scenario? Everything works out. Let’s just say the titans of industry hand over the keys and say, “Here you go.” What does a new economy look like?
de Alejo: I think we can talk about some common values and principles, some of which I mentioned earlier. But I’m not necessarily the kind of person that is in favor of blueprints because I think ultimately that economy is going to look different depending on time and place, and it should. One of the pitfalls that folks ran into, particularly in the Soviet Union and other places, is thinking that we have that silver bullet or this one-size-fits-all model that we can just sort of take off the shelf and apply in X location and everything will be alright. There should be a healthy level of diversity—you know, with a common set of values and principles that are guiding us. I would assume that there would be collective ownership, worker self-management of industries to a large degree, operating on that principle of cooperation and instead of competition. But again I would hope that we’d see a rich diversity of models.
Anderson: A lot of people in this project have talked about the individual. A lot of people have talked about the crisis of individualism. A lot of people have talked about the need for more individualism. And the need for more individual agency. And something I always wonder about with the individual, and especially in conversations where we’re talking about sustainability and sort of a long-term health and we’re also talking about sort of a collective good in a lot of ways… Can we have the same sort of individual agency that we’ve come to really expect I think in democratic societies and also manage sustainability questions? Or do they involve a level of collective thinking that will necessitate us giving up some of our sort of individual liberties?
de Alejo: That’s a big question. You know, I think to the extent that we’re serious about individual freedom, we can’t have that conversation in any meaningful sense without talking about liberation on a broader scale.
Anderson: How do you have a conversation between people who are saying you know, we really need to kind of zoom out a little bit, look at these larger issues and say, “Think of your individual freedom relating to these bigger problems,” and then have a conversation between them and people who say insuring the greatest amount of individual freedom and looking at people as atoms will ultimately result in a better common good? But that common good can’t really be looked at as a thing, or structured, because then you’re getting too authoritarian and too inefficient?
de Alejo: Mm hm. Well, I mean frankly with some of those people it’s just not worth having a conversation, I think. I’ve had multiple conversations with staunch libertarians that have been completely unproductive. And frankly I’m not interested in wasting my time in having that conversation with some of those folks because the ideological blinders are so thick that it’s not an honest conversation, it’s about scoring points or talking past people. And it’s just not productive at the end of the day.
The same logic that goes into the sort of individualist framework is the same that fed into neoliberal policies that have been completely destructive of economies. You know, you look at places like Chile, you look at the United States, you look at Mexico, where this logic has led us historically. And I think it has very little foundation to stand on. You know, you look at the period of the robber barons in the US and what led to having antitrust laws and all these sorts of things. I mean this is the same kind of logic that fed into these historical periods where I don’t think many people would like to go back to.
Anderson: So, is—
de Alejo: I’m not looking to convince them, is my point at the end of the day.
Anderson: And so if we’re interested in a broader value shift, does that happen through conversation with other people, or does it happen through other means?
de Alejo: Well, I mean when you think about it people are turned on to new ideas through a variety of channels. So, for one person it might be a movie that turned them on to a new way of thinking or acting. For other people it might be a book or an experience or a conversation. There’s a whole range of areas that we need to be engaged in to have that kind of culture shift.
And so here at Cooperation Texas, we not only develop worker co-ops but we also go out into the community and talk, give presentations and workshops at churches, schools, community-based organizations. We put out educational materials in English and Spanish. We try and engage all kinds of different communities on these conversations. And so I think it’s going to have to happen at multiple levels. But I don’t think there’s any kind of silver bullet or one-size-fits-all. We really have to start thinking about all these different ways that people engage new material, and start to speak in a way that resonates with people.
Anderson: Do you think this is a moment that is particularly crucial?
de Alejo: I mean, I think it is a critical moment in our history. And particularly given the crises that we’ve been talking about, people in times of crises are more open to a different set of values, a different set of ideas. And to the extent that we’re capable of engaging that, now is our time I think. Again, more and more people are talking about the kind of questions that we’re discussing around new economy, thinking differently about our political systems, all of these questions.
You know, I think about even my family when the “Great Recession” first hit in 2007. I remember talking to my dad—and I come from a fairly traditional right-wing Cuban conservative family. And I recall having a conversation with my dad where his sister had just lost her job, her husband was also unemployed, and they were struggling and lost their healthcare. And my dad, who would have never made this argument otherwise and probably wouldn’t admit to saying he made this argument at the time, said to me, “You know, I just think everyone has a right to healthcare.” Which is a conversation I would have never been able to have with him previously, that started to open up as a result of the inescapability of the impact of the current crises that we’re in. And so I think the cracks are forming, not just here in the United States but around the world, and we’re seeing more and more people starting to open up those cracks and push for a more just and sustainable society.
There’s a shift in consciousness that is happening. I don’t really put much faith in the federal government. My faith lies with people on the ground and creating those solutions at the local level. And rather than having that trickle down like we mentioned earlier, ideally we’ll see more of a trickle up from the bottom up.
Micah Saul: I think the best place to start here is talking about conversation. Especially coming right on the heels of Walter Block’s conversation, Carlos’ talk about conversation is important to look at.
Aengus Anderson: You know, it seems like sometimes we get these things in pairs, just because of I’ll do two interviews back to back, and every now and then you get people who are so ideologically opposed to each other. And it feels like we got that with Zubrin and Jackson.
Anderson: And I feel like we kinda get that with Block and Carlos, you know. When I went in to talk to Carlos, I was thinking about Block. I’d just recorded that conversation a couple days previously. And the question being, is the interesting back and forth only possible as we talk about the two episodes ourselves, or would there be an interesting back and forth if we took both of those guys and put them down at a table next to each other?
Saul: And Carlos would argue…that there’s just no point to putting them at a table together. That they just…they could not talk to each other. Nothing practical would happen.
Anderson: So let’s break this down a little bit more. Because we’re the great optimists, apparently. We still believe in conversation to some extent. Why is it impossible? What makes this such a difficult thing to bridge?
Saul: That’s one of the fundamental questions of this project as a whole. I think it comes down to…they’re both operating in different realities, with a different set of facts, and a different set of underlying assumptions. And even though they may share the language between them, they probably mean fundamentally different things, right.
So Walter Block claims that if you boil his ideas down, at the root of it all is non-aggression. I think Carlos would probably say, “Yeah, non-aggression, that’s great.” Non-aggression means very different things between them, in the same way that non-aggression means something very different for Walter Block and Lawrence Torcello, or Walter Block and Francione. The words themselves just mean different things. So, I kind of understand where Carlos is coming from when he says that it’s not worth it for them to talk. I…don’t like it, but I certainly understand why he says that.
Anderson: Well you know, it’s interesting because Carlos, you know, he’s not an ideologue in any way, right. He’s willing to try different ideas. And so Carlos seems like he really has a deep appreciation of conversation, but that there needs to be some sense of back and forth. That ideas need to not be all fixed in advance. And I wonder if Block feels exactly the same way. So I wonder if both of them would look at each other and go, “Boy, I sure wish this person was open-minded so I could have a conversation with them.”
Saul: I think that’s probably true.
Anderson: Now, is that false parity? Everyone says we would love to talk to someone open-minded—of course we all mean something different when we say that. How do we determine if someone else is being utterly dogmatic and they can’t have a conversation with anyone? Or, on the other hand, how can we figure out if it’s us being dogmatic and our blinders are on so thick that we feel that no one else can have a conversation when really that’s a problem within ourselves? You know, it seems like the difficulty we have is of course teasing out who is truly open-minded to conversation.
Saul: If suddenly we’re having to look at ourselves and question you know, if we are as open-minded as we think we are, like, are we even operating in the same reality? Do we know what facts we’re working with at that point? Is that maybe part of it? If we were to put Carlos and Walter Block at a table together, are we putting two people at a table that are going to be just drawing from a different network of facts, just fundamentally different truth?
Anderson: Which is daunting, right. Because I imagine if you actually were in that scenario, both of them would have armies of books and articles and studies that they could cite. And that feels like that gets us back to this problem we’ve been dealing with for so long, which is complexity. So maybe part of the issue that we run into in this project is that conversation becomes difficult because we have multiple realities backed up with their own sets of internally-validated facts. And if you want to actually start breaking those apart and going, “Okay well, some of these are really wrong,” then you have to have an enormous amount of time and knowledge because these issues are really deep. There’s a lot of literature out there. A lot of it’s bad. A lot of it’s contextualized in strange ways. A lot of it’s misquoted.
So if we’re going to start judging which facts are valid and which facts are not, I mean you could spend the rest of your life doing that. And maybe that’s why these different universes all live. And maybe that’s why we can’t tell who’s open-minded and who’s not. Because we can’t even get the facts lined up. This would drive a scientist nuts.
Saul: Oh my God.
Anderson: They would say there’s one set of facts.
Saul: As as much as it pains me to say this, scientific reductionism only gets you so far.
Anderson: And a lot of these things we’re talking about are humanities things, right.
Anderson: Or social science. You know. You can’t subject it to the same sort of empirical tests that you would physics. And that leaves us at a point where we’re looking at discourse. So if we’re looking at discourse, does that take us back to Carolyn Raffensperger?
Saul: Interesting. Keep going with that. What do you mean?
Anderson: So, I’m thinking of that point where she left us and she said, “You know, I’m interested in a lot of these other ideas. These ideas of people who I don’t necessarily agree with.” But she said, “I don’t need to have a conversation with them.” And that was… I mean, at the time I remember we talked about like is this deeply, deeply cynical? Does this mean that in our collective effort to talk about a better future we’re always condemned to it degenerating into a lobbying battle between a bunch of ideologues who have no common ground and are just sort of trying to pummel the open-minded middle? I feel like we’re looking at this question anew.
Saul: With a year between then and now of talking to other people. So maybe we have different perspective now.
Anderson: Maybe we’re ready for Raffensperger’s cynicism? Realism? Well, there are a lot of little details we could talk about about cooperatives, but I think we’ve just talked long enough about conversation, and I think that’s a pretty good place to leave it.
The next conversation is a monster, and I have hours and hours and hours of material to edit. It’s with Chuck Bowden. He’s the author of Murder City. He spent a lot of time in Juarez. And we are going to talk about what the future looks like when you’re looking at it from one of the most violent cities on the planet.
That was Carlos Perez de Alejo, recorded in Austin, Texas on December 10th, 2012.
Saul: And you are of course listening to The Conversation. Find us on the web at findtheconversation.com.
Neil Prendergast: You can follow us on Twitter at @aengusanderson.
Saul: I’m Micah Saul.
Prendergast: I’m Neil Prendergast.
Anderson: And I’m Aengus Anderson. Thanks for listening.
This interview at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.