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, Micah’s off working, so Neil and I are going to cover this one for you.
Neil Prendergast: It’s good to be back. I feel like I’ve been gone a little bit recently, so it’s good to be back in the swing of things.
Anderson: Well, you guys oscillate back and forth, one taking one episode, one taking the next episode. It’s sort of like a sine wave.
Prendergast: Yeah. And it’s not like we are trying to avoid each other. We actually get along quite well. Just sort of been the the recent pattern for reasons of circumstance.
Anderson: Or maybe it’s just that sine waves are inevitable and they’re naturally reoccurring. And everyone of course is going to be wondering why the hell I keep talking about sine waves. And you’ll discover, because I’m foreshadowing today’s conversation.
And today’s conversation is with Chris Carter. He’s the founder of MASS Collective down in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s this incredible learning space. If you imagine this gigantic, beautiful old brick building filled with every sort of creative thing you can imagine, and people there to help you use them and learn with them, that’s kind of what MASS Collective is.
We wanted to talk to Chris because he’s kind of created a different educational model and also, he’s gone through the traditional educational model and dropped out. It didn’t work for him. Taught himself electrical engineering, he’s really a kind of pull yourself up by your own bootstraps guy, and then created a space where people could learn in the way that he’d always wanted to learn.
Chris Carter: The idea behind MASS Collective actually started rather organically. My background is in physics and electrical engineering. And I really, throughout the course of various different friendships, fell in love with art and with music and with a lot of creative endeavors that were outside of my own. And I began to realize that the same insanity that drove me was the very same thing driving my friends. And once we started sort of collaborating on projects together, we found a kind of common language through what we were working on that allowed us to kind of learn from one another. And it was this very interesting apprenticeship‐style learning. It was something that I hadn’t really experienced before.
When you talk about learning and traditional educational styles, there’s this very common inclination to try and force information upon people rather than having them just kind of discover it of their own volition or discover it by accident. And that was sort of the style that my own learning came from, this accidental discovery.
I really wanted an environment where this common language that my friends and I had created through application of information could be applied and could kind of be in a way standardized, but standardized in its lack of standardization, I suppose?
Anderson: That’s really intriguing. And you mentioned common language, which is of course—that’s one of the big currents in this conversation…
Anderson: But I’m really interested in what you and your friends were establishing as a common language.
Carter: So, we would work on various different projects, everything from… I had friends who were sculptors who wanted to start producing kinetic sculptures. And I would help them out with the electrical and mechanical engineering aspects of that. And in turn, I would get this very intimate view of the process of sculpture, something that was completely foreign to me. And because we were taking the information and directly trying to apply it to this project at hand, it became very valuable and very relevant.
So, MASS Collective is actually an acronym. It’s Music, Art, Science, Social Collective. And the idea is to sort of encourage people to take on projects that are outside of their comfort zone, that are outside of what they would perceive as their own area of specialty. And do so motivated purely by their own creativity. So we ask that people just dream big and then figure it out as they go along.
It’s also there to function as a public workspace. One of the difficulties in this style of learning is that there’s a lot of infrastructure. There’s a lot of physical infrastructure that’s required. You can’t really talk about woodworking, as an example, unless you have woodworking equipment at hand. So we’ve tried to be as thorough as possible in setting up the facility that covers the basics. We have everything from a wet lab which houses biochemistry and chemistry to photography labs, ceramic studios, textiles studios, music recording studios. A machine shop. I mean, the list goes on and on. And the space itself is actually designed in such a way where we encourage people to kind of peer over one another’s shoulders and see what’s going on. We see ourselves as filling the gap between traditional academia and apprenticeship‐style education.
Anderson: What is it about tangible… The kind of hands‐on quality of this that works better? And what are its limits?
Carter: Well, its limitations obviously are that it’s very difficult to grasp abstractions. It’s viewed currently as being supplemental to the sort of abstractions that you’re presented in traditional academia. So we in no way mean for this to, at least initially, replace some traditional form of education.
Anderson: What do you lose when you don’t have access to this stuff? A lot of people breeze through the education system, and they’re concerned with other things. Testing, admissions to colleges…
Anderson: Careers, salaries, things like that. Why should we know this stuff?
Carter: Well, I don’t think necessarily that you need to know any biochemical technique. But moreover, it’s the sentiment that you can continue learning things which are beyond your scope. Or beyond your perceived scope. And I think that that’s an incredibly important thing to recognize. I think that’s extremely important. So later down the line when they’re contemplating some problem that they might have, my hope would be that they would approach problems with a newfound confidence.
And sure, a diploma’s motivating. And sure, graduating middle school or high school or getting your PhD, even, is very rewarding. But it’s the application of the things that you know that are more rewarding, in my opinion, than any of that.
I think following any large technological shift, you get this huge paradigm shift in culture. I mean, take for example the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution brought about globalized education in a way that was completely unprecedented. And the educational infrastructures that existed as a result of the Industrial Revolution were excellent at breeding with primary education factory workers, and with secondary education people capable of designing and building and running factories.
We’re no longer in that age. It’s in my opinion a paradigm shift. And I think it was catalyzed by the advent of the Information Age. So, nowadays we’re completely inundated with information. There’s so much of it that we either can’t trudge through or just won’t have time to trudge through. And I think what we’re seeing with the shortcomings of traditional academic models is purely a result of not being able to keep pace with this drastic social change. Every model that we’ve had in the past will need to be revisited. And not in the least of which is education. There’s this great TED talk by Ken [Robinson], and he says that education doesn’t need to be reformed, it needs to be transformed.
Anderson: If we go back in time to 1890 or 1900, we’d also go back into a time where people look at education very differently. Try to create a populace that is really… Has a common language again. And in this case a common language related to politics and civics and your civic duty and, to some extent, critical thought. Speaking English so you can fit in. Crafting American citizens in a way. And so if we’re playing with new educational models I’m curious, do we still need that sort of common denominator? Or should we have lots of different models producing lots of different types of…
Carter: No, I think a fundamental understanding is definitely still absolutely critical. If we go back to a time where we didn’t have some form of basic understanding of the world, we would find sort of a stark desert of disability to communicate. Part of the reason why we can exchange information so freely in the modern era is because we do have common languages, common understandings. And even if there are cultural divide or geographic divides, we still can at least agree on a few things.
Anderson: Does it feel like that—the part of the paradigm shift we’re experiencing now is losing that? You know?
Carter: I don’t think so. I think it’s building on it. In iterative processes like education, it’s extremely unwise to go backwards. But what is important is that you keep being open‐minded about your iterations rather than getting trapped in this rut of just repeating the same revisions in slightly different ways.
And again, I don’t expect organizations like mine will be an immediate solution. They’re not comprehensive and they’re not nearly as well fleshed‐out as the infrastructure that we currently have. But what I hope will spring from it is some case study that can then be applied to the larger whole and actually changing education in a positive way rather than just sort of tearing it to the ground and saying oh, it’s all worthless. Recognizing the value in the infrastructure that we currently have and then being prepared to abandon the things that don’t work.
Anderson: There are a couple axes that I sort of plot every conversation on. I always think of central/local as one of them. And education is something that can be approached in both ways. If you’re more on the libertarian end of the spectrum you might think maybe we have some common standards, maybe we don’t, but schools sort of figure it out for themselves and maybe you can address these in different ways.
Anderson: And there are other people who would say no, if you want to have a coherent populace you’ve got to have this centrally sort of decided upon and administered. And no, it’s not going to be perfect but you’ve got to guarantee everyone gets the same thing. Where do you sort of stand on that central/local spectrum?
Carter: Well, I think standardization obviously is done to try and create some common denominator, some least common denominator. I honestly feel like a lot of the ways in which education is changing is very subjective and it’s very much a product of its local environment. So I think that honestly, the sort of provisions that we’ll see are going to be localized. Locally driven, locally administered, locally created.
But again, with the amount of dissemination of information that we have today, I’m hard‐pressed to imagine that there won’t be some common denominators. I think of it as being somewhat analogous to social unrest or revolutions or a Renaissance, where no one sat down and agreed upon what the art would look like or what the music would sound like. But yet, in any given area there seem to be pervasive themes. And I think the same will be true of education and the way it’s restructured.
Anderson: I think—you know, we’ve talked a lot about the tangible so I want to bring in some tangible examples of other places and other people who I’ve talked to about education. I’m thinking of a response from a philosopher I spoke to named Lawrence Torcello. And he said the crisis we face as a society—which is a huge crisis—is one of stupidity. And essentially how that’s manifesting is that we can’t even agree on the same elements of reality?
Anderson: And we are incapable of having a conversation—
Anderson: —because we aren’t educated to at least have enough self‐doubt to think that we might be wrong sometimes. So you end up with these different points of view that are all completely self‐assured and you can’t have what he sees as a democratic conversation about pressing needs like dealing with environmental problems and economic problems.
So for him that stems down to an education system that is long failed.
Carter: Well, one that lacks a way of communicating reasoning and logic. Because that’s one thing that I feel is absolutely imperative, the ability to recognize you know, frankly…bullshit. And also to be able to catch ourselves on it and acknowledge our own fallacies in reasoning.
And so I think perhaps in that way yeah, the educational system has failed to produce people that have all the tools to not just analyze the society at large but themselves in a very objective and cold perspective.
You know, I think honestly it’s the overarching structure that’s the problem. I know plenty of people who are wonderful teachers but cannot communicate information in the current educational structure that we’ve created for ourselves.
Anderson: Right, right. Oh, but something that was really motivating Lawrence Torcello was the idea that sort of, this is a moment that really matters. And if we mismanage our civilization, that really comes back to bite us in the ass. Do you think the stakes are that high? Is he being dramatic?
Carter: In the context of any you know, natural system, any perturbance of order leads to chaos. So I think that’s maybe what he’s getting to, is that if we don’t rectify this problem, if we don’t stabilize the system, then it’ll just degrade wildly into chaos. And I think that that’s probably accurate. But, from chaos emerges patterns, emerges orders. And regardless of the means by which it resolved, the resolution is usually a lot more peaceable.
Anderson: It’s difficult to talk about those transitions, because they would be so awful.
Anderson: Right. And a lot of people have talked about you know, we live in a moment where environmentally we are maybe beyond the point of no return—
Anderson: You know, economically we’ve got a very complicated system that needs to work for all of these mouths to be fed. And so a lot of these people give me these really scary scenarios and say, “Well, it could collapse. But don’t worry, we’re optimistic there’s something better on the other side,” right.
Of course there’s this problem, between here and the other side something happens. But of course that’s no consolation if you’re in Bangladesh and it floods, right.
Carter: Right. And, well… And it’s sort of an atrocity to just accept that because chaos exists and because atrocity exists means that we’ll emerge from it with some smaller but stronger whole. That’s a sort of gross lack of humanity. I don’t think that the inevitability of chaos emerging makes the problem not worth addressing. It’s how you actually act to stabilize the system that’s important.
Anderson: Hm. So it’s sort of like, beneath everything for you there is this giant sine wave—
Anderson: —between order and chaos?
Carter: You know, given the fact that is a large, complicated, natural system, then yeah. I think that it’s definitely cyclical. Societies go through these periods of relative calm and then horrible chaos. They go through that in various different facets of society, independently. It’s when all of them culminate that you really have a problem. So if we can address this one problem as a chaotic system then perhaps we deter the greater problem.
Anderson: Pretty early in the trip, I was in Utah talking to a complexity theorist. He’s an anthropologist and a historian, and has written this monster book called The Collapse of Complex Civilizations. He’s interested specifically in social complexity as a problem‐solving tool. And you add layer after layer of this. And of course each layer of complexity uses more energy, more social resources. But they always always always get to the point of collapse.
He really created an airtight argument and it left him very pessimistic. It’s just this complexity machine that gets beyond the point of repair. He feels like we’re maybe thirty to sixty years out from really hitting what he calls a “reduction in complexity.” Which is a bad thing. It’s just this…this euphemism. What do you think of that? I mean, I just sort of tossed that out there.
Carter: I mean again, natural systems oscillate between chaos and order. On complex systems such as societies, on minuscule systems. You can get air turbulence which all of a sudden stabilizes itself and becomes this laminar air flow, and then for seemingly no reason whatsoever will degrade into chaos and it’ll just go through these oscillations over and over and over again.
That’s just the bumping of air molecules against one another. It’s fairly convoluted physics, but compared to the complexities of our society and what motivates our society and what catalyzes change in it, it’s a relatively simple problem. And even the air turbulence problem we have difficulty modeling. So I think it’s a ridiculous and megalomaniacal position to be in to think that we can actually rectify the system indefinitely. I don’t think that that’s possible. I think, given the fact that there are so many variables, that there are so many points that can change, it’s constantly going to drift through order and upheaval.
Anderson: I want to talk a little bit more about you were saying it’s kind of the megalomaniac in us that thinks we can know all of this. So, one of the big questions in this project is what can be known. There’s been a whole variety of people who have real confidence that we can sort of do better than the natural world in a lot of ways. And we can do better by understanding it.
Carter: I don’t think that that’s…even remotely accurate.
Anderson: You don’t think that our science or our understanding or our technology can get us to a point where we can make those decisions?
Carter: No, I think our understanding, again, is iterative. With each new iterative approximation, we become closer to the truth. But I don’t think it’s possible for us to ever truly know…anything. We live in this world of infinite remainders. And try and quantize those and to try and calculate our way out of the box is extremely naive.
The fatalistic in me screams, “Sit on your butt, don’t do anything.” But I’ve never been the kind of person to just sort of sit around and wait for the inevitability of demise. I suppose it’s driven in a way by existential angst and also existential conquest. And perhaps for me, subjectively and selfishly, it means navigating the system throughout my lifetime and then hoping that I’ve at least helped in some small way to contribute some bit of meaningful information to the next generation so that they can navigate.
But again at some point it’s going to crop up, chaos must happen.
Anderson: A lot of people are working towards navigating the present. But they’re working towards creating very different presents. And they all have different definitions of the good. Throughout our conversation, what’s kind of been the underlying definition of good?
Carter: I think that I would like to see a world where people are granted the opportunity to pursue what they love to do and be educated in a wide array of fields so that they have a greater creative pool to draw from. And also that they make an attempt at being objective about their views on the world and their own personal philosophies, and have the courage to change them when they recognize that they’re wrong. Having a fundamental understanding in this society of logic and of reasoning ix extremely important, and that would have widespread impact.
Anderson: I want to bring in an alternate definition of progress and good, from a neoprimitivist I spoke to.
Carter: Oh, god. I can see where this is going. But yeah, humans are a bacteria, plaguing the Earth—
Anderson: No, not at all. No. Very different than that. Humans are great.
Anderson: Life is great.
Anderson: Technology is not the source of value, though. The source of value is in one’s relationship with other humans and one’s relationship with the natural world. And his name’s John Zerzan. He would argue that technology is actually just getting us further and further away from sitting down and having a conversation. Going out and providing your own sustenance.
Carter: It’s interesting and you know, perhaps this is my own contradiction to be evaluated. I’ve oftentimes felt like the more technology we develop, the more we get away from the natural world. The more we sort of teeter ourselves on the precipice of extinction. In the natural world there are all of these lovely checks and balances which are extremely cold and very unforgiving.
Take for example poor vision. Poor vision in a pre‐agrarian society is an extremely bad problem to have. Poor vision means that you may not potentially be able to catch your next meal and that the likelihood of you starving is substantially higher than someone with keen vision. If left to its own devices, societies of people with poor vision would be virtually nonexistent in a pre‐agrarian society.
The same is true of resistance to various diseases. And as we develop technology, we make things like glasses and antibiotics, we drive people away from from natural systems which stand to serve this sort of regulatory function, this system of checks and balances to keep the human population from doing something stupid like overpopulating. In industrializing, we’ve done a whole lot of undoing of natural checks and balances which predicated upon our ability to actually be able to outthink nature.
A really good example of why this’ll come to bite us in the ass is monoculture. We’ve found crops that were ideal for meeting public demand. If you clone the plant that grows bigger and faster and then copy it then yeah, you’ll get a heck of a lot of plants and a heck of lot of food. The problem is is if you have one virus that comes along that targets that one specific specimen… It’s exactly what happened in the potato famine. It wiped out their entire food source.
And so that was one isolated example of industrialization and of technology coming back to bite us in the ass. And I think that anyone involved in the study of biology or even global markets as a whole will tell you that exact same story, that we’re sort of stacking a mighty tall house of cards.
It’s a sad problem to have, because the solutions that we keep coming up with are more convolution, are making the house increasingly higher. But again if given the choice between having to live with technology and without, working to divert ourselves away from the harsh callousness of the natural world and build something better despite the fact that it’s inherently more convoluted and just as susceptible as the previous, I would rather make the effort.
The idealist in me wants to believe in a world where we are actually capable of transcending our own conquest for power? And instead focus more on the social aspects of our humanity. I don’t know, I like to imagine that it’s possible.
Anderson: There seem to be moments in history where a lot of ideas change, and usually there are a lot of people in conversation, maybe not directly. Maybe it’s the Renaissance where it’s…there’s really a zeitgeist of the era. But maybe it’s like the US Revolution and there are a lot of people like, in the room together and they’re talking about we have systems that exist that aren’t answering our questions. There’s a better future possible that we can achieve in some way. And they’re creating solutions that look insane. And will look normal a century later. Or something like that.
Anderson: And so we’ve been talking about sort of like, how do you make a better system?
Anderson: So I wanted to throw that sort of hypothesis at you and say, do you think that holds any water? You know, there are people in this project who’ve been like, “Oh, change is sort of a gradual thing that’s always happened.” There’ve [been] other people who’ve been like, “Yeah, it’s definitely this big break moment.” There’ve been other people who say, “Conversation doesn’t matter at all. It does happen in break moments but it’s environmental catastrophes, it’s…” So there are a lot of different ways to sort of riff on that idea.
Carter: There’s really a choice. There’s really a choice as to whether not you want to try and precipitate upheaval and uprising and drastic shifts that you were talking about. Or whether or not you want to try and stabilize the system and ride the changes out and get the system working a little better before, down the road, it breaks down.
I think the reason why you’re hearing such drastically different responses is because they’re both on opposing sides of that formula. You’re never going to to be able to escape this system where collapse is always on the horizon. But what you can do is struggle in humanitarian capacity to make it better for as long as is possible. So I think that that’s firmly where I sit.
Anderson: Do you think conversation matters?
Carter: I think people that have interest in solving similar problems should start a discourse. But I don’t think it’s entirely necessary that everyone sit down and decide what the real problems are. There again I think that’s where creativity comes in, and where being objective and logical comes in, is it allows you the opportunity to identify problems and solve them with a degree of autonomy.
And whether or not you’re doing that in parallel with other people, or whether or not you’re doing that purely autonomously, is really irrelevant. What you want is a society that’s capable of that. Which is why there again education is such an important aspect to it. So if we can solve some of the issues circling education, I think that we make one hell of a step in the right direction towards foregoing the collapse.
Anderson: Does that leave you optimistic?
Carter: It’s my own idealism that keeps me moving forward and hoping that I can make some change. In the immediate world around me and then the observations that I make of society as a whole, I usually become fairly pessimistic. So it’s this juxtaposition between my optimistic idealism and my observation. And rather than try and put the two at these sectorized portions of my mind and never the twain shall meet, I would far rather put them in combat together and see what resolve they can come to.
Aengus Anderson: So we’ve talked to a lot of people about optimism and pessimism. And a lot of people seem to be of two minds. But I don’t think anyone’s talked about pitting them against each other. So I liked that as an ending note.
Neil Prendergast: You know, we’ve seen so many people talk about education as perhaps the solution. And he’s kind of I think hopeful about education but also seems to not turn away from pessimism, either.
Anderson: Right. And I think if we pull that apart… I mean, we can get into education first, and I feel that his pessimism seems more rooted in a sense of human societies as an analogue of natural systems oscillating between order and chaos—there’s our sine wave again.
But let’s get to that in a moment. Let’s start with education first. It really feels like he feels that education’s issue is structural. It’s not a question of more education or less education, it’s really a structure of education.
Prendergast: Right. I mean, you really, listening to the interview, get the sense that this is an individual who enjoys learning. So there’s not any of a sense here that this is somebody who’s somehow become disenchanted with the educational system and then by extension also with learning. I didn’t get that sense at all.
Anderson: No, it’s kind of the opposite. It was like he was disenchanted with the educational system because he liked learning.
Prendergast: Right. It was almost like… There wasn’t a sense of social status that he thought should be attached to learning. That it really seemed to be more about the building of knowledge. Seeing what you can sort of figure out, but not really being concerned about climbing the class ladder, for example.
Anderson: Right. And there’s something I mean, just awfully refreshing about that. And maybe it’s the part of me that is kind of a nostalgic for earlier centuries’ ideals of education. Education is about self‐improvement rather than your economic function. And I felt that that’s in what Chris is pushing for here. And it’s not just about self‐fulfillment or self‐improvement, but he also really has a civic component, doesn’t he?
Carter: So, I absolutely do see that civic component there. And I think to me it kind of works in two ways in that it seems like the doors open to anybody who wants to really do something there. Then also the other way in which it seems to work is that when they leave, the notion is that they’re going to somehow do something that betters the community.
Anderson: And I really felt there was a connection with Torcello there.
Prendergast: Ah. How so?
Anderson: I think it’s the connection with the Enlightenment. And it’s a connection with Torcello but it’s also a connection with Mykleby in that both of those guys talked about the need for us to be self‐aware as actors. To be aware of our own failings. To be willing to…maybe not always compromise but to know where we can compromise and where we can’t. And to have a sense of a greater civic good. And I think you would get a real strong undercurrent of that with Chris.
Prendergast: And I think you’re right. I think the point that he’s making is one that is running through some of the other other interviews as well. You know, we keep on going back to what’s it take to have the Conversation. And it seems to me like he’s really struck a chord here that really a requirement is that we take responsibility for understanding ourselves about where we’re coming from.
Anderson: Kinda changing gears for a second here, there is a big assumption that we foreshadowed earlier, the sine wave, that’s beneath a lot of Chris’s thought. And so if we visualize MASS as being part of an education reform that creates people with a new type of creativity, better citizens, more adaptive, more resilient, probably more satisfied?, a lot of that is to combat the inevitable onslaught of chaos.
And I think we connect the dots here, that’s what this whole conversation leads towards. You know, we start with education, we end with the great oscillation between order and chaos. Do you buy it?
Prendergast: Well you know, it’s kind of funny. Because the oscillation between order and chaos seems so very well‐ordered to me. It’s such a nice, neat story, right? Well you know, those metaphors help one person explain it to another person but they don’t necessarily prove that the concept is actually operating, right.
Anderson: Well let’s let’s bring Joseph Tainter into this. We can’t not bring him into this. I mean this is his thesis. If you look at history for long enough, all you see is rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall. And if you wait long enough, one of those things is always going to happen. And there’s sort of a futility to resisting. You know, you can postpone—which Carter says as well. But you can’t stop it.
Prendergast: So then the question becomes what’s the human role in all of it if all of these back and forths are inevitable. That what’s the point of individual decision?
Anderson: Mm hm. Yeah, and I think that’s a very important question. What kind of society does an ideology like that create? Do you have a populace that feels paralyzed, like they don’t have the agency to affect change? Chris talks about kind of the need to keep trying, the need to sort of forestall chaos, the need to work towards more humane ends. Just like Tainter says that you know, we’ve got to try to have a conversation about this.
But both of them are pretty pessimistic that it’ll really…do anything in the long run. And I wonder if they’re both kind of pessimistic about that. Even if it’s true, is it a dead end ideology?
Carter: Well you know, I don’t think— I think they’re both pessimistic. But both Carter and Tainter are both people who are interested in education. And you know, Tainter described, probably in one of his most sort of positive moments in his interview, the sort of pleasure he took in educating younger people. And Carter’s doing the same, in a totally different way, not at a standard university. But if they really believed that this oscillation was fate, then there wouldn’t be any point. No need for education, you can’t do anything about it anyway.
But I think what they’re identifying is not fate but a trend. And if it’s a trend, then it’s something that can be changed a little bit. And ultimately I think that they’re both actually optimistic. At least they’re optimistic in their behavior.
Anderson: If I was to channel a little bit of Richard Saul Wurman here—
Anderson: —I would say that maybe they’re both a little bit optimistic about their own spans. That this effort to forestall can coexist with a full sense that doom is rolling in, but they’re just kind of trying to kick the can down the road a little bit. You know, I’ve had multiple people in this project—Oliver Porter was the last one, Gary Francione—who said, “Boy we’ve got some big problems coming down the pipeline,” and then saying this to me like, “I sure am glad I’m not your age.”
And so maybe part of the optimism with Tainter and Carter— And this is so dark and I don’t think this is necessarily true, but I think I do want to channel Wurman here and say like, let’s look at our self‐interest. Let’s put this in a Nietzschean light and say, are we just trying to push that chaos on to the next generation?
Prendergast: Well, I think that we have to be careful that when we sort of make that assessment that if we’re pushing the chaos down to the next generation, are we making it worse or are we simply trying to keep things together for a little bit longer? Those I think are two different propositions, right. And I think that Tainter and Carter seem to fall in the camp of, “Well, if we can forestall the problem and not make it any worse, maybe we’ve done something good and worthwhile.” And maybe saying that is also a way of saying, in a way with great humility, that we don’t actually know that we can solve all these problems. And maybe that’s the type of objectivity that Carter was really talking about.
Anderson: That was Chris Carter, recorded at The Goat Farm on November 28th, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Micah 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.