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: We’ve got a rock star.

Micah Saul: Yes, yes we do.

Anderson: How cool is that? We get to talk to a rock star, or I got to talk to a rock star. You didn’t.

Saul: I did not. And a real rock­star, not an intel­lec­tu­al rock­star, who we’ve cer­tain­ly had. But no, no, this is this is a rock star. I mean, Claire from YACHT. You met up with her right after a shoot for Vice mag­a­zine.

Anderson: Yeah, I mean, as you the lis­ten­ers are are won­der­ing, What is this band that fits into The Conversation?” YACHT is real­ly some­thing else. I mean, they call them­selves a band, a busi­ness, and a belief sys­tem. There’s a lot more going on here.

Saul: Yeah. How many bands do you know that have a clearly-crafted…manifesto is the wrong word, but real­ly it lays out a philo­soph­i­cal belief sys­tem that they base their band on, and every­thing they do around.

Anderson: And it’s a real­ly well-developed one. And as Claire will men­tion lat­er in this inter­view, prob­a­bly a lot of bands have atti­tudes like that, but YACHT is real­ly delib­er­ate about putting them out in the open, which is one of the rea­sons we found them. And they talk about a lot of ideas regard­ing the future. They explore ideas of utopia and dystopia. I’m real­ly glad that we have a musi­cian in this project now.

Saul: Yeah. You know, I feel like the arts have been rel­a­tive­ly poorly-represented. But yeah, we’re get­ting there. Art is show­ing up again.

Anderson: And we talk a lit­tle bit about art in this con­ver­sa­tion, but we also just talk about a lot of oth­er themes that have popped up in the project. So, let’s just jump into it shall we?

Saul: Sounds good.


Claire Evans: Well, YACHT is a now ten year-old band, mul­ti­me­dia con­cep­tu­al pop group. The name YACHT stands for Young Americans Challenging High Technology. It’s tak­en many forms of the last ten years. It began as a solo project of my band mate and col­lab­o­ra­tor Jona Bechtolt, who’s is not with us at this moment in time, but… I mean, he’s alive, but he’s just not hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion with us. He start­ed it in 2002 as a way of exper­i­ment­ing with com­put­ers to inject some kind of punk rock ethos into elec­tron­ic music. I joined in 2008. We trav­eled all around the world, and were a two-piece band for many years, made a record called See Mystery Lights that is sort of the first record of YACHT’s cur­rent incar­na­tion, even though there were many records before.

A cou­ple years ago, we added a band. So now we tour with a rock and roll band of two oth­er peo­ple as our live band. And we make records and we make a lot of oth­er things. We make a lot of phys­i­cal objects. We make texts, we make all our own music videos, do all our own design. We have a kind of per­son­al phi­los­o­phy that we share with fans in the form of sev­er­al books that we’ve writ­ten, as well as just kind of a larg­er con­ver­sa­tion­al tone that is imbued into every­thing that we do.

Anderson: And that’s what obvi­ous­ly drew me to you guys.

Evans: I would imag­ine.

Anderson: There’s a lot going on. Tell me a lit­tle bit about the phi­los­o­phy, because most bands don’t get— I mean, you have like, ontolo­gies and semi­otics and things like that. And like, I don’t see that when I go to the Grand Funk Railroad web site.

Evans: Well, may­be the Grand Funk Railroad have their own— I mean, I think every musi­cian has a kind of phi­los­o­phy, it’s just not always artic­u­lat­ed as direct­ly as we do it? For us, it’s just a big part of our approach to music. We treat art-making as though it was some­thing of a spir­i­tu­al prac­tice. It’s like the inher­ent mir­a­cle of mak­ing some­thing out of noth­ing for us is not just a fun way to pass the time and make a liv­ing, but it’s also just a kind of basic mag­ic that is appeal­ing to us. And we always are try­ing to walk around that ques­tion and artic­u­late why it’s pos­si­ble, and how it’s pos­si­ble, and how we approach it.

We sort of began as a philo­soph­i­cal band. In 2008 we were liv­ing in a small town in West Texas called Marfa, which is known among oth­er things for hav­ing an opti­cal para­nor­mal phe­nom­e­na called the Mystery Lights of Marfa, Texas, The Marfa Mystery Lights, hence the name of our album, See Mystery Lights. Which we sort of thought was a lark, and then we went and saw it for our­selves and real­ized that we were just a cou­ple of 21st cen­tu­ry kids with this very sim­plis­tic approach to infor­ma­tion. We always thought that the answers were at our fin­ger­tips. We both grew up as com­put­er nerds. We both had the sense that there was no real mys­tery left in the world, or some­thing. Neither of us were very spir­i­tu­al peo­ple.

Then we saw this thing which was objec­tive­ly para­nor­mal. I mean, it’s para­nor­mal in the sense of being out­side of the nor­mal expe­ri­ence. There are peo­ple that believe it’s aliens and go— I mean, there’s no con­clu­sive facts about what it is. But for us com­ing face to face with some­thing that was actu­al­ly and com­plete­ly objec­tive­ly mys­te­ri­ous, real­ly rearranged the way that we thought about every­thing, about our work and what we were doing. 

We real­ized that most of human art and cul­ture for most of my his­to­ry came out of this, a reac­tion to the mys­te­ri­ous or the numi­nous. You know like, there was a time not long ago, per­haps before the Industrial Revolution if you want to define it, but may­be more recent­ly than that, when we were sur­round­ed by mys­ter­ies. Before the occult became a kind of sci­ence. Before astrol­o­gy became astron­o­my. Before mys­tery became med­i­cine, and knowl­edge became cod­i­fied with the sci­en­tific method. We lived in a world of pure chaos, where the fun­da­men­tal work­ings of the uni­verse we just thought of as being the­se capri­cious whims of gods and demons. And that has defined a big part of what the art-making expe­ri­ence has been for most of time. And we’ve lost touch with that, I think, a lit­tle bit.

So we became real­ly fas­ci­nat­ed with with mys­tery or with the unknown, and then that sort of fed into a big­ger obses­sion with the human rela­tion­ship to the uni­verse, and rit­u­al, the way that we cod­i­fied that rela­tion­ship through sci­ence, and through phi­los­o­phy, and through spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and through art, and all the dif­fer­ent pur­suits that aim to answer the same ques­tions, which are you know, what is life? How can you make some­thing out of noth­ing? And where do we come from?

And then from then on we’ve just sort of built a kind of per­son­al phi­los­o­phy that includes what I’ve been talk­ing about and some oth­er things. And we use it as a spring­board to have con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple that are inter­est­ed in hav­ing those kinds of con­ver­sa­tions.

Anderson: That’s what I was going to ask, yeah. Why be so open about it?

Evans: Well, I don’t know. I think for us, if we came across artists that we admired and liked and we want­ed to know what drove them, we would want access to that. It’s just a ques­tion of trans­paren­cy, I sup­pose. If we can provide that in a sim­ple way, then may­be peo­ple might be inter­est­ed. It’s real­ly as sim­ple as that.

It’s also a way of engag­ing peo­ple direct­ly. I think if you walk into a room and say, Hey, I’m mak­ing music,” you know, Let’s talk about it!” there’s not a lot of con­ver­sa­tion can hap­pen. But if you walk into a room and say, I believe in extrater­res­tri­al life and free infor­ma­tion, and I believe that we live in a chaotic and cen­ter­less uni­verse where every­one is as empow­ered to be a god as the next guy,” then there’s a con­ver­sa­tion there.

Anderson: Is there ever.

Evans: Yeah! Then peo­ple can say, What? No!” Or, What? Yes!” And then dia­logue hap­pens. And for us that’s all it real­ly is. And it’s a very muta­ble thing. I mean, our our belief sys­tem is some­thing that changes as we dis­cuss with peo­ple what they think about it. And it’s some­thing that is kind of community-built, a lit­tle bit.

Anderson: You guys talk a lot about self-empowerment. What is the mes­sage you want to con­vey by talk­ing about that? Because pre­sum­ably there’s an idea that shar­ing that is good, or you wouldn’t be doing it, right?

Evans: Yeah. I sup­pose. Um…it comes from the sense that if we live in an infinitely-expanding uni­verse, then no indi­vid­u­al per­son or nation or idea or plan­et is in the cen­ter of it. We are all the cen­ter of the uni­verse, to our­selves. And that means that our real­i­ties are as valid as the next person’s real­i­ty. What Robert Anton Wilson called the real­i­ty tun­nel. You know, every indi­vid­u­al has their own real­i­ty tun­nel, and that we have as indi­vid­u­als the capac­i­ty to dec­o­rate those real­i­ty tun­nels how­ev­er we see fit. We can live an utter­ly sub­jec­tive real­i­ty that pleas­es us, and we can design that real­i­ty, and we can choose what we believe. And that’s a big part of being human, is the fact of that free­dom of choice. 

Of course, that means that you can choose to become some kind of insane big­ot. But it also means you can be a…however you define a good per­son. The idea sim­ply is that every­one can write their own holy book if they want to. Everyone can define the world as they see fit and live in that def­i­n­i­tion of the world, and it can be as valid as the next guy’s expe­ri­ence.

That’s most­ly just designed to make peo­ple feel like they can do what­ev­er they want, and on a sort of small kind of cul­tur­al scale. People can start start bands, or become artists, or take non-traditional career paths and they don’t have to feel like they’re doing some­thing wrong, or they’re step­ping out­side of what is expect­ed of them. That they are liv­ing a finite expe­ri­ence, that it’s com­plete­ly with­in their right to define, and that their minds are the lab­o­ra­to­ry that they are the chief sci­en­tist of But I rec­og­nize that’s kind of a flawed, you know—that there are holes in that.

Anderson: I was going to ask if that was moral rel­a­tivism.

Evans: I sup­pose it is. I mean, yeah. I mean, for us it’s like, every­body is free to design their own world as long as they don’t hurt any­body else. And as long as they are con­sis­tent­ly able to peer out­side the edges and ask ques­tions of oth­er peo­ple and be curi­ous. It’s about…yeah it’s about sort of an end­less seek­ing, an end­less curios­i­ty, and an end­less sort of remod­el­ing of your own point of view, based on what peo­ple around you are say­ing.

Anderson: Okay.

Evans: I don’t think that’s like…a for­mu­la, a func­tion­al for­mu­la, for the human race. But I think it’s a func­tion­al approach for par­tic­i­pat­ing in cul­ture and feel­ing empow­ered to make art, which is real­ly our pri­ma­ry focus.

As a rock and roll band, we reach a lot of young kids, teenagers, and stuff. And we have a lot of dis­course with them. And we get a lot of emails from kids who, you know, who live in small towns, or have super-religious fam­i­lies, or feel alien­at­ed for some rea­son or anoth­er. And for them, real­iz­ing that they have access to their own futures and that they can define how they want to live if it’s some­thing they believe in strong­ly, that they’re not alone in that. That’s real­ly a pos­i­tive thing, I think, for the world, you know. These kids can step out from the shad­ows of the com­mu­ni­ties and the sort of ideas that they are raised in.

Of course, I mean, that is may­be the most fun­da­men­tal thing about ado­les­cents. But it can be empow­er­ing for kids that don’t real­ize that they can do that. So there’s that, you know. And I think that that’s good for the world in a small way, because peo­ple who are engaged with the things that they love and who are liv­ing a life of their choice, those peo­ple are bring­ing a pos­i­tive ener­gy to the world. Just to get a lit­tle bit…juju-y There’s such a thing as a pos­i­tive ener­gy, I think. Yeah.

Anderson: What is the cri­sis of the present? And of course, that’s imply­ing that there is one.

Evans: Right.

Anderson: And there may not be.

Evans: Individually, I think the world is becom­ing so com­plex, the chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion are becom­ing so diverse, the more we find out about the uni­verse the more abstract and strange the ques­tions become, and then no one is suit­ably equipped to answer them. But I think that that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. I don’t see it as a cri­sis, nec­es­sar­i­ly. I think it can be con­ceived of as a cri­sis if peo­ple are too stuck in their own world­views.

But I think if there are peo­ple who are able to take a step back­wards, take that prover­bial zoom out, and real­ize that everybody’s kind of doing the same thing in dif­fer­ent ways, and be able to step from one per­spec­tive to the oth­er and ask dif­fer­ent kinds of ques­tions based on where they are at any given moment time, then it just becomes a game. I think it becomes joy­ful and engag­ing. I don’t think… I sup­pose it depends what your goals are. I mean, I’m not inter­est­ed in find­ing the answer to any­thing. I don’t think there is the answer to any­thing. I think real­i­ty is so fun­da­men­tal­ly sub­jec­tive that the best we can do is just have fun ask­ing ques­tions. And if we have the tools now to sort of step from one cul­ture to anoth­er eas­i­ly and engage with peo­ple direct­ly, then we have…there are more fun ques­tions to ask. 

Anderson: Do we live in a moment where old ways of explain­ing the world aren’t ade­quate any­more?

Evans: That’s a great ques­tion. I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s dif­fi­cult. I think we live in a time now where we have this con­stant dig­i­tal simul­tane­ity around us. It doesn’t seem to be just one con­ver­sa­tion or one cli­mate, you know. There are infinite frag­ment­ed cli­mates, where in some sub-cultural real­i­ties we are on them at the cusp of a sea change, cul­tur­al­ly, where every­one is becom­ing more accept­ing, or becom­ing more engaged polit­i­cal­ly, or less engaged. I mean, there are many dif­fer­ent ways of expe­ri­enc­ing the real­i­ty. You know what I mean?

I feel like, when you’re talk­ing about his­tor­i­cal time, the way that infor­ma­tion was dis­sem­i­nat­ed in the 19th cen­tu­ry meant that there could be the­se kinds of sea changes, I think. Like, books were writ­ten, peo­ple read the books, and that’s it. That’s what hap­pened, you know. 

Anderson: Right, and there was a very lim­it­ed num­ber of books.

Evans: Yeah, and there’s a very lim­it­ed amount of sources of author­i­ty, or sources of dis­course. Whereas now, everybody’s in charge of their own con­ver­sa­tion. So, if there is a sea change would we even notice it, because are we too sub­sumed into our own sort of com­plete­ly medi­at­ed indi­vid­u­al real­i­ties?

Anderson: Right.

Evans: Or is that the sea change? Is that what it is? 

Anderson: And in that case, that seems like a sea change that was brought about with­out con­ver­sa­tion, you know, in the same way that so much of the Industrial Revolution changes every­thing, but isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly some­thing that was reflect­ed on in the same way a polit­i­cal change was.

Evans: Yeah.

Anderson: It just sort of…flowed.

Evans: Yeah.

Anderson: Yeah, do you think this is a unique his­tor­i­cal moment? I mean, every­one says you know, Every moment’s unique!” But of course there are some dif­fer­ences, right. Technology’s legit­i­mate­ly real­ly chang­ing thing.

Evans: It may be just an act of tem­po­ral chau­vin­ism, but I do think we live in a unique moment. I think that we’re liv­ing in a moment where the means of dis­cus­sion are shap­ing the dis­cus­sion itself, which, I mean that is how the­se things hap­pen. I mean, the print­ed word, I think, changed the way dis­cus­sions hap­pened.

Anderson: Yeah.

Evans: You know, one-way media, tele­vi­sion and radio, changed the way that dis­cus­sions hap­pened. Now we’re in a world of two-way media, and three-way media, or infinite-way media, depend­ing on the way that you look at it.

So yes, it’s new. Where do we go from here, you know? Is there going to be a new method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that comes along and is more rad­i­cal than what’s hap­pen­ing right now? It’s hard to imag­ine. It’s pos­si­ble, though.

Anderson: Does it gen­er­ate mul­ti­ple real­i­ties?

Evans: Subjec­tive­ly, yeah, I think so. There’s a mil­lion Americas inside of America because of this. There’s a mil­lion glob­al com­mu­ni­ties inside of a sin­gle glob­al com­mu­ni­ty. It just depends how far out you zoom, I guess. Like, if you’re zoomed in all the way, then the only real­i­ty is the real­i­ty that you’re par­tic­i­pat­ing in in your par­tic­u­lar medi­at­ed tun­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and truth. If you zoom out a lit­tle bit, then you’re look­ing at like, sub-cultural trends across the social web. And you zoom out a lit­tle fur­ther, and you’re look­ing at the actu­al struc­ture of the Web and how infor­ma­tion moves across the plan­et. You zoom out even fur­ther, and it’s just like, one giant beep­ing light in mid­dle of the uni­verse, and who knows what that means?

Anderson: I’m real­ly glad you brought up the idea of infor­ma­tion and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of infor­ma­tion. It kind of bub­bles up in a lot of dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions but nev­er real­ly gets explored in detail because usu­al­ly peo­ple are going after oth­er things, and it’s sort of tan­gen­tial. And there’s a lot of stuff to talk about. And that’s the whole point of that idea.

Evans: Right.

Anderson: And so we were talk­ing about you know, may­be this pro­fu­sion of infor­ma­tion isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. I mean, may­be you real­ize you can’t know the world. And actu­al­ly I talked to a philoso­pher named Timothy Morton. When asked him about the cri­sis of the present, he said, Basically, the cri­sis of the present is our under­stand­ing that we can’t know.” It was the break where sci­ence gets you to this point of under­stand­ing that it can’t get you to the end point.

Evans: Yeah. No, I think that’s very true. I think that’s very true. But didn’t the wise already know that? I mean, didn’t like, Plato, say that about like, the fun­da­men­tal humil­i­ty of the smart per­son.

Yeah, I mean I think that the world is fun­da­men­tal­ly unknow­able. It’s valiant to con­tin­ue to try to break the atoms even small­er into small­er and small­er pieces. But then you just it’s just like, you just keep going…it’s turtles all the way down.

Anderson: But there is a prac­ti­cal side of that, too.

Evans: Yeah.

Anderson: And so there’s a big divide in this project between peo­ple who con­cep­tu­al­ize the future as hav­ing a cri­sis or a col­lapse, and peo­ple who think that’s pre­pos­ter­ous and things are get­ting steadi­ly bet­ter and so let’s toss the idea of cri­sis or col­lapse under the table because it’s so dra­mat­ic and so much fun to talk about. You know, for a lot of peo­ple, the cri­sis idea merges with the infor­ma­tion idea, where we run into this point where my god the world is now so com­pli­cat­ed and we can­not know.

Evans: Okay.

Anderson: So, you end up with this prag­mat­ic prob­lem where you can’t man­age, because the system’s are so com­pli­cat­ed. Effectively we build social and eco­nom­ic sys­tems to the point at which they col­lapse due to our own of bio­log­i­cal lim­its as peo­ple.

Evans: I don’t know. I read a lot of sci­ence fic­tion. And I have, because of that, I think, kind of this… One, like, sort of inher­ent ter­ror of all sort of cur­rent events. It’s like I read every­thing as the premise to a dystopi­an sci­ence fic­tion nov­el that is just begin­ning. You know, like any given thing could be extrap­o­lat­ed into a cri­sis?

But at the same time I think it also gives me a sense of the fact that I think a cri­sis is some­thing that is a reck­on­ing for peo­ple, you know. I think if we have an ener­gy cri­sis it will be awful, and I con­ceive of that as being a pos­si­bil­i­ty for my gen­er­a­tion, some kind of peak oil cri­sis or resources man­age­ment cri­sis where we have to fun­da­men­tal­ly reeval­u­ate how we live.

But I don’t see that as nec­es­sar­i­ly being a bad thing. It kind of excites me, on some lev­el. I think that it would be nice to avoid those things, but I think that the human race tends to learn more by dis­as­ter than it does by fore­cast­ing. Maybe if we are dri­ven to a point of cri­sis, then we can invent a dif­fer­ent mode of liv­ing and then we can move for­ward. I think even­tu­al­ly things always bal­ance out. I hope that I sur­vive the cri­sis, what­ev­er it is. But I also hope that I become a mem­ber of a func­tion­ing new soci­ety that takes place after­wards.

I’m inter­est­ed in change, you know. I think any kind of mas­sive change is pos­i­tive, even if it may seem like it’s fun­da­men­tal­ly neg­a­tive at first. There’s a real­ly good sci­ence fic­tion nov­el called Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon. It’s like a 19th cen­tu­ry British sci­ence fic­tion writer. It’s a future his­to­ry, essen­tial­ly, of the human race. And it doc­u­ments the rise and fall of I think thir­teen or four­teen dis­tinct dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the human race. He imag­i­nes the sort of demise of the human race, but then it comes back, and we revolve com­plete­ly as a dif­fer­ent species from a few sur­vivors, and then they die off for a dif­fer­ent rea­son. And then by the end of the nov­el we’re like, birds liv­ing on Venus, but we’re still, you know…the thread is unbro­ken. And I see that as being a kind of pos­i­tive and hope­ful way of look­ing at the future, you know. Like what­ev­er hap­pens, we will just change form.

Anderson: That’s an inter­est­ing idea.

Evans: That’s com­plete­ly I think a lit­tle bit of an eva­sive way of approach­ing your ques­tion, but I think that’s how I think—

Anderson: Yeah, I wouldn’t… I don’t see that as eva­sive at all. It just makes me jump over to tran­shu­man­ism.

Evans: Yeah, sure, we can go there. 

Anderson: Let’s do that in a moment. let’s talk about, though, the idea of cri­sis and sort of link that back to some­thing we were talk­ing about ear­lier, the idea of a dif­fer­ent future or a bet­ter future. What does that look like? I mean, oth­er than not col­laps­ing, which would be nice. Or may­be col­laps­ing and form­ing into some­thing else. But, what are the…I’ve got to be care­ful with words here…say, val­ues or qual­i­ties that make that future bet­ter?

Evans: It’s hard to say. Open-mindedness, I sup­pose. I mean, a lack of dog­mat­ic sep­a­ra­tion between peo­ple. A lack of… I think any future in which peo­ple do not feel like they have the moral high ground on oth­er peo­ple is a bet­ter future. Of open aware­ness of the fact that we are all fun­da­men­tal­ly the same, and that there’s no objec­tive­ly cor­rect way to exist in the world. 

The way that we con­ceive of utopia, in the West I sup­pose, is of an island. I mean, Thomas More’s Utopia was an island. As earnest and sin­cere as that pur­suit is, I think at the same time if you iso­late your­self from oth­er peo­ple, from the con­ver­sa­tion, from dif­fer­ence and from chal­leng­ing view­points and from con­flict, then you end up becom­ing myopic, and that seems to always end in dis­so­lu­tion or fas­cism of some form. I mean every­thing from the Soviet Union, to the tran­scen­den­tal­ist com­mu­ni­ties of the 19th cen­tu­ry in the US, to you know, Jonestown, it’s like it all falls apart in one way or anoth­er. And I think the iso­la­tion is the prob­lem, and build­ing those walls, sort of dog­mat­ic walls around your ideas. 

A bet­ter future is one in which peo­ple are break­ing down those walls, uniso­lat­ing them­selves, and con­nect­ing with oth­er peo­ple. I think it’s dif­fi­cult to do on a large scale and I kind of can’t con­ceive of it [crosstalk] hap­pen­ing on a large

Anderson: That’s what I was going to ask. Are we bio­log­i­cal­ly capa­ble of that?

Evans: I don’t think we are, you know. I don’t think we are. I think a bet­ter future is a future in which we’ve either evolved past our lim­i­ta­tions and our inabil­i­ty to func­tion in large groups with­out pow­er strug­gle and with­out con­flict and with­out unequal dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources.

I don’t know how we can get past that point. It has to be a hard­ware thing, I think, at some point. We have to just either pro­gram our­selves dif­fer­ent­ly through some jump in bio­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion, or some jumpstart in hard­ware that we implant in our­selves or begin to con­ceive of.

Anderson: So there’s almost a notion there that any improve­ment that hap­pens has to be self-directed [crosstalk] and evo­lu­tion­ary?

Evans: Yeah, I think so. I think it has to— Yeah. I think it has to be jump­start­ed in some way. I mean, I’m not like a big Singularity dream­er. I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly believe that we’re going to reach a point where the human race becomes fun­da­men­tal­ly tech­no­log­i­cal and that makes us into super­men. I think that’s kind of like a weird… I don’t know, like very mas­cu­line point of view. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t see how it would work. But I can imag­ine that there must be some we where either by cri­sis and by neces­si­ty we refor­mat our mores and expec­ta­tions, or we some­how become a bet­ter species. But I think the human race is fun­da­men­tal­ly bound towards con­flict. The prob­lem is in the hard­ware. If we can some­how hack it, I’m open to it.

Anderson: Say we do get to a point where we feel that God, we’re in so over our heads with this world that we’ve cre­at­ed, the only way to do it is to be smarter, is to some­how actu­al­ly change what we phys­i­cal­ly are. I’m sort of inter­est­ed in what makes us human.

Evans: Yeah. Well, I don’t know, you know. I think ask­ing our­selves the­se very ques­tions is what makes us human. you know. Like, car­ing about this is what makes us human. Being con­cerned with being in over our heads is what makes us human. I guess that that lev­el of self-awareness and you know, self-doubt also. I don’t know if ani­mals doubt them­selves as much as humans do. 

Anderson: I hope not, for their sake. So that kind of gets us to the idea that I ask a lot of peo­ple about. Do you think there is any con­ver­sa­tion hap­pen­ing now? You know, we talked ear­lier about do we need to have it? Is this moment unique? But, is it going on?

Evans: I think per­haps the most fun­da­men­tal zeit­geist about the future that’s hap­pen­ing, at least in the devel­oped world, or the world that we’re talk­ing about right now and that we’re in, is aware­ness of and con­cern for the future. That seems to be a fair­ly new phe­nom­e­non in the human race.

Anderson: Ah, so you think peo­ple are talk­ing about the future.

Evans: I think peo­ple are con­sumed with thoughts and con­ver­sa­tions of the future. We’re con­stant­ly try­ing to fig­ure out what the future will bring, on an eco­nom­ics spec­trum, on a social spec­trum… When will civil rights be ful­ly insti­gat­ed for every­body? When will the econ­o­my fall apart? When will the Singularity occur? Like, what year will we have arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence? You know, and pro­ject­ing the future. Trying to under­stand tech­no­log­i­cal and cul­tur­al trends in order to make mon­ey or in order to be pre­scient. That wasn’t always the case, I think. I think for most of human his­to­ry it was just the present, was all that real­ly mat­tered. And per­haps a con­cern with one’s ances­tors. But most­ly just not dying has been the human imper­a­tive. Whereas now it’s like, how can we live longer? That’s the con­ver­sa­tion. Where will we be ten years, twen­ty years from now. 

And I think the fact that we live in this crazy tech­no­log­i­cal age hasn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly made interdis­ci­pli­nary con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen. I think that peo­ple who desire those kinds of con­ver­sa­tions can now seek them out effec­tive­ly, but it also allows peo­ple to con­nect more exclu­sive­ly with peo­ple that think exact­ly like them. And that has been per­haps dam­ag­ing. Maybe more dam­ag­ing than we think.

Anderson: Do you think con­ver­sa­tion actu­al­ly mat­ters? Is that what ends up mak­ing the­se big changes hap­pen?

Evans: I don’t know how much con­ver­sa­tion per­haps mat­ters on a glob­al scale. I think con­ver­sa­tion mat­ters because it’s one of the only things we can do for fun in life. You know what I mean? Like, if noth­ing else, then dis­course is stim­u­lat­ing and engag­ing and fun, and there is a sense of dis­cov­ery and curios­i­ty and play in a con­ver­sa­tion. In my mind, you know, that makes the indi­vid­u­al expe­ri­ence worth­while. And I can’t say if that projects out­wards to the race. I hope that it does. I hope that that’s some­thing that scales up and is ben­e­fi­cial, but I don’t know. I think being in con­tact with lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of thinkers and lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple who live their lives dif­fer­ent­ly from you and have dif­fer­ent points of view makes you as an indi­vid­u­al more cre­ative. And per­haps more excit­ed about day-to-day exis­tence. But if it strength­ens a com­mu­ni­ty and bet­ters the world? One can only hope.

Anderson: Are you opti­mistic about the future?

Evans: I think I am, you know. I think I real­ly. I’m para­noid about a lot of things, but I’m also opti­mistic, fun­da­men­tal­ly.

Anderson: Huh. Explain that to me.

Evans: I mean, I rec­og­nize the pos­si­bil­i­ty that there are a lot of things can go wrong. It depends on my mood, you know. Sometimes I believe in some kind of hor­ri­fic techno-rapture that will destroy us all. And some­times I think that the more human beings are born on this Earth, the more solu­tions there are to our prob­lems.


Aengus Anderson: So this was a very dif­fer­ent sort of con­ver­sa­tion.

Micah Saul: It was. It was refresh­ing in some ways.

Anderson: With some of the oth­er ones, when I’ve gone in I’ve kind of known like, okay, this thinker pur­sues this idea, and they’ve devel­oped a the­sis about it, and we’ll explore that. And I can kind of go through all the motions in advance and real­ly know a lot of the con­tours that the con­ver­sa­tion­al will take. Whereas with Claire, I didn’t know quite as much, and it was excit­ing to sort of jump into this con­ver­sa­tion, go, Okay, where is it going to go?” and then dis­cov­er that she’s just real­ly inter­est­ed in con­ver­sa­tion and is real­ly open-minded. And it felt like we were able to talk through a lot of ideas. And so let’s jump in with YACHT’s ideas, and then we’ll talk more about oth­er things that Claire and I dis­cussed.

Saul: Yeah, that sounds good. So, I think the most impor­tant thing I real­ly got was their idea of self-empowerment. Like, every­body sort of makes their own life, makes their own uni­verse. Everybody is the cen­ter of the uni­verse. Yeah, it’s very much a do your own thing phi­los­o­phy.

Anderson: Now, what do you think Torcello would think of that? On one hand, I can see YACHT work­ing with­in our cur­rent cul­tur­al con­text and send­ing the­se mes­sages of be who you want to be” to peo­ple who real­ly need that mes­sage. In that way it made me think of Colin Camerer talk­ing about what’s good about tech­nol­o­gy? Well, the gay teen in the small town in Oklahoma has a ray of hope.

Saul: Right, right.

Anderson: And so I see YACHT in a way being that ray of hope. But what would Torcello say? That’s going to be my new bracelet.

Saul: Well I mean, you you men­tion it briefly in your con­ver­sa­tion with her when you ask her, is is this cul­tur­al rel­a­tivism. The answer to that, it’s not cut and dry. So, they are first and fore­most espous­ing an artis­tic phi­los­o­phy. This phi­los­o­phy is meant to be applied to music or art. 

Anderson: I think that’s a real­ly impor­tant dis­tinc­tion we need to make.

Saul: Right. The prob­lem, though, becomes when you’re putting a phi­los­o­phy out in the world, it’s…hell, it’s not even all that clear how you apply that phi­los­o­phy. Once you you’ve cre­at­ed an artis­tic phi­los­o­phy, it’s real­ly easy to then use that phi­los­o­phy in non-artistic pur­suits or just in your day-to-day life. And that’s when that sort of phi­los­o­phy starts to get scary. One imme­di­ate exam­ple that pops into my head (and she’s going to hate this, I’m sure), is The Fountainhead. It turns out Objectivism as an artis­tic phi­los­o­phy, actu­al­ly ain’t so bad. Kinda works. It’s when Atlas Shrugs hap­pens and Objectivism gets applied to the econ­o­my and pol­i­tics and every­thing else in the world that I Ayn Rand becomes, well, a demon.

Anderson: A lit­tle bit of us enjoy­ing our sub­jec­tiv­i­ty dis­claimer here. I know there are a lot of peo­ple in the series who would dis­agree with that notion vehe­ment­ly.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: But, they’ll dis­agree with you lat­er.

Saul: Another one actu­al­ly just popped into my head was the Futurists in Italy in the 30s. Again, an artis­tic phi­los­o­phy that the Fascists in Europe real­ly latched onto and includ­ed much of that phi­los­o­phy, much of that belief sys­tem in their larg­er social and polit­i­cal goals.

Anderson: There’s some­thing real­ly intrigu­ing about that that I want to get into more in anoth­er con­ver­sa­tion, now that you’re bring­ing it up. Thinking about ideas being applied in very strange ways across dis­ci­plines. I’m think­ing one that we do all the time, we talk about par­a­digm shifts. And this is some­thing a lot of peo­ple do, but that’s from Thomas Kuhn’s sci­en­tific phi­los­o­phy. And of course when you start apply­ing that to the human­i­ties and social sci­ences, you’re doing a dis­ser­vice to the orig­i­nal philosophy…maybe. It’s not always clear how well it applies. 

Yeah, let’s def­i­nite­ly bring that back in anoth­er episode, if we can. And to think about that here with YACHT’s artis­tic phi­los­o­phy and what does that turn into? Claire her­self says that it can jus­ti­fy you being a real­ly open-minded, accept­ing, empa­thet­ic per­son who knows that every­one has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. It can also lead you to being com­plete­ly with­in your own head and sort of dis­count­ing the exis­tence or feel­ings of oth­er per­spec­tives.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: And with­out a clear divide between them, I think you real­ly do you end up with exact­ly the prob­lem that Torcello is try­ing to get out of. How do you accept plu­ral­ism with­out get­ting into rel­a­tivism? How do you still con­demn neg­a­tive behav­ior?

Saul: She does give some answer to that, actu­al­ly. It’s the the fun­da­men­tal tenet of Wiccanism, An it hurt none do what thou wilt.” I mean, she says that. As long as you’re doing no harm to oth­ers, do what you want. That’s sort of the cen­tral tenet in…well, at least her phi­los­o­phy, I think.

Anderson: That’s the tran­scen­den­tal assump­tion, huh?

Saul: Right.

Anderson: Which again runs you into the same dilem­ma we’ve already talked about in Torcello’s con­ver­sa­tion.

Saul: Exactly.

Anderson: Speaking of under­ly­ing assump­tions, I was real­ly intrigued by the way Claire talks about mys­tery and kind of the knowa­bil­i­ty of the uni­verse, and her dis­cus­sion of when she and Jona saw the mys­tery lights in Marfa, Texas. The the­me of mys­tery, I think, is some­thing that going back and lis­ten­ing to this again I kind of wish we’d got­ten into more. I always have the­se moments lis­ten­ing back to tape where I’m like, Gosh, I sure should have fol­lowed up on this and this and this,” and mys­tery was one where that was a big, new idea, at least explic­it­ly in that way.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: And I hope we get that again.

Saul: I’d be sur­prised if we didn’t, actu­al­ly. Speaking of con­nec­tions, I think there’s one oth­er thing we should bring up here, and that’s her con­nec­tion with the tran­shu­man­ists and posthu­man­ists we’ve talked with. It seemed to me that her inter­est in the tran­shu­man­ist school of thought has to do with her ideas of soci­ety is not per­fectible.” Possibly, that’s due to bio­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions.

Anderson: I like that she’s very open-minded and sort of takes all of the­se ideas seri­ous­ly, and doesn’t seem to have a kind of knee-jerk reac­tion to any of them. You know, that she’s will­ing to say, Well, you know, may­be may­be we are bio­log­i­cal­ly lim­it­ed. Maybe we could improve some­thing.” But also at the same time will­ing to say, Okay, here’s look­ing at this sort of tran­shu­man­ist idea and the idea of chang­ing what we are, and that real­ly seems like a total dude fan­ta­sy.”

Saul: [laugh­ing] Yes. I loved that.

Anderson: It was a cri­tique that I think we’ve been over­due to have in here. And one that hon­est­ly you or I might not have made.

Saul: No. No, cer­tain­ly. I mean, I think, I don’t know that I would have seen it had she not said it.

Anderson: No, and it total­ly res­onat­ed the moment she did.

Saul: Yeah. Which is anoth­er rea­son that I think it’s vital­ly impor­tant that we we get more voic­es in here than just middle-aged white dudes. It’s some­thing that we’ve been strug­gling with. I don’t think we’ve talked about it much on tape, but it’s some­thing we talk about fair­ly often. That this project real­ly is pre­dom­i­nant­ly white and pre­dom­i­nant­ly male. And try­ing to get in those oth­er voic­es is so impor­tant, because I mean, hell as as we say in our descrip­tion of the project, nobody has a monopoly on the future.

Anderson: And what’s wor­ri­some is that we do our search­ing through the Internet, and there is sort of a cer­tain source bias you get there. And judg­ing by what we’ve been find­ing, actu­al­ly a cer­tain group of peo­ple does have a monopoly on dream­ing about the future. At least in what the Internet is pre­sent­ing to us as the pub­lic sphere. 

Saul: Which is just a really…well, it’s dis­heart­en­ing. So may­be now is anoth­er good time to put out a plea to our lis­ten­ers. Let us know, who are we miss­ing? What voic­es are we miss­ing? Please send us sug­ges­tions.

Anderson: Especially if you’re in the South, because I’ve pret­ty much wrapped up my Northeastern con­ver­sa­tions at this point, and I will be start­ing in to Washington DC and fur­ther on south going through pos­si­bly Northern Florida, def­i­nite­ly through Louisiana, absolute­ly Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma. So those are states we’re still look­ing for peo­ple and we still have plen­ty of open­ings left to bring peo­ple into the con­ver­sa­tion.

Yeah, if any of you have ideas, jump on the site, shoot us a note. We’ve had some real­ly good sug­ges­tions late­ly. But they haven’t nec­es­sar­i­ly been on the route that I’m on right now.

Saul: So I think that’s prob­a­bly it. Just one last thing I want­ed to men­tion is I real­ly enjoyed lis­ten­ing to this one. It real­ly does sound like two old friends just hav­ing a chat. She’s not dog­mat­ic, she points out where her ideas aren’t quite ful­ly devel­oped. I mean, I felt bad pin­ning her on the cul­tur­al rel­a­tivism thing because I think she points out that she’s not entire­ly sure where that goes. It was real­ly refresh­ing. Claire does not feel elit­ist at all.

Anderson: Which is kind of awe­some given that she’s the only legit rock­star we’ve spo­ken to. 

That was Claire Evans of YACHT, record­ed August 31, 2012 in Brooklyn, New York.

Saul: This is The Conversation. You can find us on Twitter at @aengusanderson and on the web at find​the​con​ver​sa​tion​.com

Anderson: So thanks for lis­ten­ing. I’m Aengus Anderson.

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.

Further Reference

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


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