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.
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.
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?
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.
Anderson: It just sort of…flowed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Anderson: Which again runs you into the same dilemma we’ve already talked about in Torcello’s conversation.
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.
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.
Anderson: So thanks for listening. I’m Aengus Anderson.
Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.
This interview at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.