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: So I am here in beautiful Wyoming, and it is empty and desolate, and I was just camping at the side of the road because there’s no one out here and it doesn’t matter.
Micah Saul: I absolutely love that state. It is just…it is so pretty.
Anderson: It’s hard to beat. And between that the epic scenery and the epic emptiness…yesterday I was driving along and I saw this motorcycle pulled over at the side of the road. There’s no one there. It’s like oh, this looks terrible. Drove down the road a little further and there’s this sort of disgruntled-looking guy with his leather jacket on and he flagged me down. Turns out he’s an Olympic fencing coach out of New York and his GPS had told him there was a gas station out in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming and he’d followed it out there. And of course, man, there’s nothing out there.
Saul: I actually never believed that Wyoming existed until I got there, because I’d never heard of anybody going to Wyoming. I’d never met anybody from Wyoming. I was pretty sure it was just this big empty space in the middle of the country that cartographers were like, “Well shit, how did this happen? I’ll just call it Wyoming that’ll do.” So I was really embarrassed. But, Wyoming does in fact exist, and you’re going to be talking to a state representative in Wyoming, David Miller.
Anderson: Yeah. He’s in Riverton, which is up in the middle of the state, and that’s where I’m about to drive to. We heard about David Miller through House Bill 85, which has been christened by the press as “The Doomsday Bill.” And of course when it comes to different visions of the future, we’ve had a lot of people talking about collapse. We just led into this from Joseph Tainter, who gave us a pretty scary vision of collapse. And this is what Wyoming does when the federal government collapses.
Anderson: To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t a lot of states looking at that scenario.
Saul: And that’s really what attracted us to David Miller. This seems like a really interesting new idea.
Anderson: Interesting and provocative.
Saul: Oh, absolutely provocative. Actually, I think that’s one of the things I’m hoping to get from Miller is, what was his intent? Is he actually concerned about this, or is this a media event?
Anderson: And if he is really concerned about it, I want to know what he thinks the collapse is. You know, where that connects with our last conversation. And what we do in the eventuality.
Saul: Right. I’m also interested in why is this necessary now? I mean, it sounds to me like he believes we live in in one of those moments that we talk about, otherwise why would you be introducing this right now?
Anderson: So let’s see what he says. I’m going to point the car towards Riverton, and here’s David Miller.
David Miller: I’m a geologist. That’s what I graduated in. Got my first job at a uranium mine operating in Grant, New Mexico, and then was offered a job up here in Riverton, Wyoming at a building about a hundred meters from here. So I moved up here in 1977. It’s exploration, uranium exploration and uranium mining. All three mining methods, open pit and [sit to?], and also underground mining. I’ve worked in all three of those environments. Mostly expiration is where my love is, it’s finally mineral resources and exploring them and making higher values out of them.
Aengus Anderson: So you’ve got this long background in materials and geology. But you’re also in the Wyoming state legislature. And what brought me here is House Bill 85. Can you tell me about that?
Miller: You know, it got coined by the press as the Doomsday Bill, so it was headline news for the whole entire time it was going through the process. And all the Bill did was put together a task force to study Wyoming’s response to possible crises that could occur with our federal government continuing on the track that they’re on, which is grossly overspending and borrowing gross amounts of money. It’s not clearly sustainable in our mind here in Wyoming, where we manage our resource as well and we balance our budget every year. Do we have to sit back and ride this train off the track with everyone else, or can we think a little bit ahead and try to plan for a little bit and have some contingencies in place?
What happens if the dollar loses its value rapidly? Even a natural disaster situation. Maybe Yellowstone starts smoking, or maybe we have a big flood or something like that. Do we rely on government all the time, or do we try to set up this Wyoming-based infrastructure to respond to these things?
Anderson: As you know, with this series the idea of crisis comes up a lot. Let’s put some more flesh on this. What’s kind of the worst-case scenario, where a Bill like this, what’s it really responding to? What the real fear?
Miller: Well, I told you about the book I’m reading. It looks at Weimar Germany. The public sector retirees are devastated, government workers are devastated, because government wages don’t go up fast enough to keep up with the inflation that’s occurring. And it gets you to thinking you know, what’s the solution to our debt crisis? Sixteen trillion dollars or so is apparently the official debt. Are we ever going to pay that many off? And I think the answer’s no, because of the way the federal reserve and the banking system is set up, that you always want to have inflation. And frankly most people don’t take the time to figure out that inflation is the way for those people who set up the system to basically game the system.
More and more people are realizing that it’s a rigged game. And right now it looks like we’re in the beginning of the rigged game kinda coming to its end point. As we see what’s happening in Greece, Spain, the whole Euro area, are we going to see the same thing here? I don’t see why not.
Anderson: So on the ground, for a person in Wyoming, what does the world look like if if the game’s up?
Miller: I think Wyoming’s a great place to be. We’re pretty much self-sufficient. We can survive here in Wyoming. We have agriculture base, we have a mineral base, we have natural gas all over the place, coal. But again, there needs to be some sort of governmental unit helping organize these isolated areas if there wasn’t a connection with the federal government.
You know, I actually don’t even think this’ll happen. These were all what-if scenarios. But we have real things going on at the same time. And it’s just not this administration that caused these problems. This has been going on since the Federal Reserve was created. So, everyone’s kind of been in the game. You can look at history, the Greeks and the Romans, and everyone. This is what governments always did. They debase their currently to keep the social programs going longer and longer. At some point everything has to come to a head. Either you denounce your debt, or you hyperinflate. Those are the two endgames. Which will it be in this country? I don’t know the answer to that.
Anderson: It’s interesting that you mention that. The last guy I spoke to was a historian, and he’s written extensively on the collapse of civilizations.
Anderson: And we talked for a long time about the Western Roman Empire. And when it sort of hits the boundaries and there’s no one else to gobble up, it no longer has the energy to support this incredibly complex infrastructure. In the short term, it solves that by devaluing the Roman currency. In the longer term, it solves that by…falling apart.
Miller: Right, right.
Anderson: What what do you think of the ideas of complexity and collapse?
Miller: You know, you look at the the Roman Empire, and how long did it really last? Five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred years? It’s actually an amazing success story. And you look at our country, you know, we’ve only been around two hundred years. And maybe for a hundred years as as the power that we are. So has it taken one hundred years exactly for us to squander that incredible wealth that we built up? I don’t want to say that, but you know the picture is starting to become clearer. That’s the image I have right now.
Anderson: A lot of people I’ve spoken to really worry that we’re at a point where we may collapse, we have finite resources, an economy based on limitless growth, growing population. Things are so interconnected, if one thing goes it all goes. You know, I was telling you about Jan Lundberg, who’s thinking about energy, and for him the worry isn’t so much that we’re going to run out of resources, it’s that we’ll have a crimp in the supply chain that’s long enough to cause social chaos, and then the system falls apart because it’s interrelated. So there are a lot of people who’ve put really scary ideas of the future forward. Do you think there’s any merit to those? Are those things we should be considering at all?
Miller: You know, of course you can envision what he was thinking about. Our electrical grid in this country is getting somewhat antiquated. It’s not keeping up with the times. The ideas from frankly the green side, the renewable energy side of having more local sources of energy so you don’t have to have these huge infrastructure projects of power lines. Things like that. That makes a lot of sense from a stability point of view. I don’t necessarily agree that it need to be solar panels and wind turbines. I frankly think nuclear is the cleanest, green, sustainable, dispatchable and scalable energy out there. But that’s a different part of the conversation.
It’s a pendulum moving back and forth, and we’re on this side now were the sky’s falling again. I don’t necessarily think the sky has to fall. I think we can come back from the cliff. But how do we do that? I kind of go back to Frederick Baptiste who wrote a book called The Law. It was written I believe in the 1840s; a French guy. And there’s lots of profound things in there that he says, that basically anytime we pass a new statute, a new law, you’re taking from someone and helping someone else. Whether it’s right or wrong, that’s exactly what you’re doing. So be very very careful when you’re writing new laws all the time. And I frankly think we have way too many laws. That it hampers society.
Even here in Riverton, Wyoming. Our local farmers market folks are getting hammered. There’s nothing worse than going to a legislative meeting and you have a church group there where the state agriculture department Has passed some rules and regs that don’t allow them to do bake sales anymore. The legislature probably passed some legislation requiring safe food. The rules and regs are made up by a bureaucracy. And they have people out there enforcing it. And so you’re empowering these government workers to go out there and impact the private sector. In bake sales, lemonade stands. We’re impacting all those people. That’s not my intent as a legislator.
Can we go back to what made America successful? Private enterprise, not government determining what works and what doesn’t work. Let individuals have a free reign to be able to do things and decide what society’s demanding, and let them go produce it. I think we can go back to that. It’s not gonna be easy, because there’s a class of people that depend on that Social Security check, farmers depend on their PILT payments. They give them money not to grow things.
I don’t think that’s what our founding fathers meant for the vision of America. You know, we need some safeguards for people that really can’t survive in society, people that may have physical limits in their mind or their body. We need to take care of those people. But the number of people we’re taking care of now that are fully intact is just outrageous. Society will collapse in that scenario.
Anderson: So that’s kind of the worst-case scenario for you.
Miller: That’s the worst case. Well, to me that’s, uh…you want to carry it to the absolute extreme, you’re looking at Stalinist Russia.
Anderson: Why now? We’ve had a lot of different moments where society has had a really large government. I mean, World War II comes to mind for me. Why is this particular moment a moment where we need to be thinking about that, or where we need to be thinking about something like the Doomsday Bill?
Miller: I think we’ve reached a point where the rules and regs are such that private sector companies can’t function in this environment anymore. If you live by every rule on the books, you’re breaking some law almost on a continuous basis. That’s not correct. And they’re all the best-intentioned laws. They’re all for the children. I just…when people say it’s for the children, that’ll get me going. Because there’s nothing better for children than a healthy home and good jobs for the parents.
Anderson: Right. So, why now? Is this the moment of like, there’s so much that it will implode if we don’t deal with this? Or is the whole Doomsday Bill thing just…drama?
Miller: It ended up being just drama, at this point. It was a serious note, and I don’t know if it really would have done any good. But do the billions of dollars Wyoming has in reserve, do they need to remain in US treasuries, or should they be invested in real assets? Gold, silver, or farmland, or coal deposits, or something like that, that aren’t going to decrease in value. You know, humans don’t live long enough to understand the span of history. So we repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Anderson: And that seems like a worrisome thing.
Anderson: So, for you it seems like the social good is a freer market. Is that a fair…
Miller: We’re going to get more creative people doing more creative things advancing society faster. One of your last interviews was the gal about the space exploration, and you had one before that on mining other planets. And I just remember thinking when I was sixteen years old in 1969 when we landed on the moon that wow, that’s really something significant. In my lifetime, that to me has to be the most significant thing. Why don’t we have colonies on some of these other planets? To me, that’s the way mankind survives if we want to survive into perpetuity. That’s the only way, is to get out there and explore, and get bigger and use our resources we have here to get out there and and colonize the universe.
Anderson: So there’s a sense of of growth, I think, [crosstalk] that we’re getting into
Miller: I mean, that’s a huge, expansive thought. But that’s in my mind what humankind is capable of doing. Maybe not in the next hundred years, but we have to keep advancing all the time. We can’t go back. I like this thought of holing up somewhere in a small little house with the wood stove and having a forest out my back door and being able to survive off the grid and all that. That’s appealing to me, too. But is that realistic for eight billion people? It’s not.
All those people in China, all those people in Laos, all those people in India, they’re all striving to become middle-class people, too. And they have that right. And I think they can achieve it by technology and by allowing more free market enterprise.
Anderson: So we don’t live in that now, I guess.
Miller: In some areas, we do. The the Apple model, with all their apps and things like that, I think that’s brilliant. And I want to see more of that. But I don’t want to just see it in that sector. I want to see it in all sectors. I want to see it in food. Right now, food production in this country is grossly concentrated in very few large multinational corporations. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Mining is the same way. The US companies Anaconda and Kennecott used to be the powers of the world back in the 1950s. What happened to all that? Well, it was rules and regulations and lawsuits. We don’t consume less of those things.
People think we’re in this post-industrial age right now. But every one of us in America right now still consumes over a hundred pounds of materials per person per day. The country of Chad I think consumes four pounds. Who’s better for the environment, the person in Chad, or the person in America that consumes twenty five times the amount of resources of the person in Chad? Well, if you take a look at the countryside in both of those countries, our countryside’s a lot better-looking and more environmentally friendly than Chad. What came first? The wealth came first, to help us maintain. We have more forest now in this country than we did a hundred years ago. A rich society is a good society, and a clean society. It’s poor societies where resources get devastated, natural resources like the environment.
Anderson: Even though they’re being used by the rich societies?
Miller: Well, I don’t know what we’re getting from Chad that we’re using here in the US. I don’t think a lot. Again that’s another—
Anderson: Maybe for China or something.
Miller: Well, that’s another another misconception, is that we’re out there raping and pillaging the world to sustain this lifestyle, and that we’re running out of this and we’re running out of that. And we’re not running out of anything.
Anderson: So is there actually enough? Like, we know there’s a finite planet that we’re on and unless we somehow do get into space to find more resources, we know there’s finite stuff. Finite clean water, finite natural resources be they’ll oil or coal or whatever. Can we bring the whole world up—and this is setting aside the social and economic aspects of distribution—could we physically bring the whole world up to say, an American standard of living?
Miller: Once we create value somewhere so high that we can go to the moon or go to Mars and recover that value from that deposit there, to provide society the necessary elements that they need. I don’t know what what that is, but again I view mineral resources as unlimited. And it’s those—
Anderson: Because you’re thinking universe, not planet?
Miller: No I’m actually mostly just thinking on Earth. The Earth is so big, and has so much mass to it, that we’re really never going to run out of anything. Did we run out of whale oil?
Anderson: If we’d pushed that system, do you think we would have?
Miller: No, it wasn’t sustainable. It was replaced. It wasn’t replaced overnight. Oil won’t be replaced overnight. Nuclear power won’t be replaced overnight. Fusion nuclear power is the end game, almost, to basically have unlimited energy. I think the consumption will still peak, many times where we’re at right now. But the Earth can sustain that. You know, I don’t know what the population’s going to peak at. Is it going to be ten billion or twelve billion? But I think over the long term it would come down from that point and reach some sustainable number.
Anderson: So, if we have enough resources to say we can actually carry a sustainable population at a high quality of living, something a lot of people bring up, and this has been a huge divide the project between people who are anthropocentric, they’re interested in a world in which it’s essentially about us, and people who are biocentric. And the biocentric people will point out (and actually some of the anthropocentric people, too) that by exploring exploiting all of these resources, there are casualties in the natural world. And those are things that have rights of themselves. The anthropocentric people may see those casualties and say, “Well, maybe those things don’t have rights in and of themselves, but they feed back to us.” So there are two different sort of arguments, both of which end up saying, “Well, if we keep exploring and exploiting at our current rate, we’re going to kill a lot of other stuff and that’ll be bad.”
Miller: Before humans were even on this Earth, things were being killed off right and left, already. I don’t understand where that argument’s coming from other than to just try to scare people. Okay, and it’s a great argument to scare people that things are dying off. We don’t see monarch butterflies anymore, we don’t see frogs anymore. But I still see monarch butterflies, and I still see frogs. Again, it’s the Chicken Little syndrome. The sky’s falling. We have to do something.
Anderson: But we know there are certain species that we’ve lost.
Miller: Oh yeah, we’ve lost probably 99.99% of everything that’s ever lived. 99.98% were not caused by humans.
Anderson: But it’s different when we do it, right?
Miller: No, I don’t see how it’s any different. We’re a product of this planet. Did other things make other things go extinct in the past? Absolutely. Will something possibly make us go extinct in the future? Possibly. I think it’s pretty bold of us to think that we’re having that big of an impact. Global warming, global cooling, I put all this stuff in the same boat.
You know, from yesterday to today I think it’s actually cooler, so are we in global cooling for this one day right now? Well how about this one week? How about this one century? How about this one millennium? We’re either doing one or the other, all the time. There’s change, that’s the fact. We’re not going to stay at the status quo.
Are we gonna lose some species due to human activity? I don’t see why we wouldn’t. I would say yes. Have we lost some already? Carrier pigeons I guess is an example. Yeah, we do impact, just like polar bears impact the seals. Just like…I don’t know what happened to the woolly mammoths? Did the Indians kill them all off when they came acro— I don’t know. What’s the answer to that? Everything has an impact on everything else. So does that have a value? I don’t know? I can’t really answer that question.
Anderson: In a project that asks the big questions about the good, what if you had a shorter, better life? And this is sort of the argument that John Zerzan brings up. For him, he’s into the idea of you know, really small local communities, no technology. And for him, what do you get? Well, you get a much closer relationship with your neighbors. You get much more quality time. You get a relationship with nature itself, with the land, which he feels, arationally, that that has value, right. And he was willing to say, “You know what? I guess that’s a spiritual feeling.” And I wonder if you can’t say exactly the same about the idea of material progress.
So on the other end, the second guy I interviewed was a futurist. And he’s into deep technological change. He’s into us genetically engineering ourselves and becoming greater organisms. Living forever, trying to extend life. He so anthropocentric that for him the only thing that creates value is himself, right. And everyone can do that. And he’s very libertarian in a sense. He really believes everyone should have their place to kind of find their own thing. He doesn’t want to impose on anyone else. But he believes that part of that freedom is for him to evolve beyond that.
And so it’s like, there are these really weird poles of thought and value. One is finding it all in himself. One is finding it in some abstract notion of spirituality that says nature is good. Where are we finding value in this conversation?
Miller: Well, nature is good. I enjoy clean air and clean water as much as the most rabid environmental person. I just think we can have the products of society, as well as having these things. Progress is a good thing. I’m just simply a realist. And I’m just trying to enjoy life, enjoy family, enjoy friends, and contribute to society as best I can. And I think providing energy, I think providing the metals that society consumes, that people have in their their iPads, in their iPods, in their iPhones… I think that’s an honorable thing to do. What else would you do? You know, why fight that?
Anderson: Right, and that’s what I’m really pushing towards here. We just mentioned a few things. Family is good, and time you spend with your family is good. So there’s a sense there that human relations are good. There’s a sense that a certain level of material wealth is good. Does that lead to the world of this futurist? Is it kind of…a slippery slope down there? Like, well when stuff is good…
Miller: I don’t know. I try not to get into those almost religious issues. I try not to mix government and religion.
Miller: Or my professional life with religion. To me that’s another subject. You know, like, to me the environmental movement is essentially a religious movement. You have to believe that this is going to happen. You have to believe that man caused global warming, is causing all these problems.
Anderson: You know, when you were saying keeping the religious question separate from corporate or government questions, for me this project is all about how do those things inform one another. when I talked to the futurist and I said, “Why do you want to live forever? Why do you want to genetically engineer yourself into becoming a different sort of thing? Those are value things, right? Where do you get that?” And he said it’s arational.
Miller: I think that’s almost human nature, though, again. I think were always peddling to go forward. We’re trying to climb that hill because the hill’s there. And that’s where I come from, is just finding another mineral deposit. That’s an accomplishment. Provide the minerals that society covets. They want it. They’re paying dollars for it. That’s what motivates me.
Anderson: So is the good, then, personal wealth?
Miller: No, no. It’s the journey, is the good. An honest journey. Doing things that don’t harm other people but contribute to society as you’re going down this journey.
Anderson: So we’ve got this idea of the good which is sort of people in a way who have freedom to do things with their life, to challenge themselves, to find their own sort of fulfillment. There’s sort of a counterweight in that we have to think also of collective needs. And it seems like that’s the role of the government in this ideal scenario? Because we can’t always just be alone, right?
Miller: I don’t want to take it that far. We really clearly need some government at some levels. You know, you want to say it’s for national defense. Well, I’m not even sure if we didn’t have governments we would have a lot of war problems. It’s almost a conservative anarchist point of view.
Anderson: So there’s a real sense of optimism there. Which is something I think is really intriguing, right. That people are capable…one, of actually creating a level playing field and not of gaming it. That that world is possible and that people are good enough to actually live in a world that looks like that.
Miller: You know, I think most people operate in that manner, more or less. But there’s always that percentage that’s out there gaming the system. I don’t know if the course of our human history who is going to change that much. Because I think we we just look at what’s happened in the past, and is it going to be any different. I’m scared for that, that we repeat, we repeat, we repeat.
Anderson: Is this a particular moment where we need to be talking about the future? And I’m asking that thinking of the Doomsday Bill, but also thinking of all the other conversations and the many people I’ve spoken to who’ve said this is a really important moment, whether it’s for social reasons or economic reasons or environmental reasons. And there are other people I’ve talked who’ve said, “You know, the whole premise of this is wrong. This is not a particularly critical moment in history.”
Miller: I don’t know if this is a critical point or not. I think in my lifetime this is the most interesting time I’ve lived in. Is that critical? It’s critical in my lifetime. Of course I worry for my children and grandchildren, what does the future hold for you? I think we can fix it. I think we have the resiliency to do that. We might be in for some rough times. But we’ve got to find solutions for that and get back to this engine that creates the wealth that America had in the past. And we need to resurrect that thought process. And to me the conversation is in a small way part of that.
Aengus Anderson: So that’s a very different voice in the project.
Micah Saul: I was hoping that we were going to get that sort of voice from him in this project. It’s a voice that we just haven’t seen yet before.
Anderson: And there were a lot of surprises there. I think the first thing I would like to mention is just something that he said off record which isn’t in the cut at all. But David is one of the only interviewees that actually went back and listened to a lot of the other conversations. Which is something that I think is just great and I hope we get more of that in the future, because it allowed him to really talk with a much greater depth and knowledge about the other people we’ve already spoken to. Like, he was right on the same page.
And he mentioned something that I thought was really interesting, and was a good reminder for us. He thought that a lot of the interviewees we’ve spoken to, especially about environmental issues, are treading water in the status quo. And of course we’ve chosen all these thinkers because we consider them to be pushing the limits of common sense, and a lot of times to really be questioning ideas of normality. But for him, he sees their ideas as being representative of most people. It’s a good reminder for us that of course everyone’s idea of the status quo is different.
Saul: Right. What it sort of points out is that the idea’s that you are bucking against are always going to seem like the norm.
Anderson: I mean, it’s a good point to bring in our own subjectivity, which is one of the nice things that we get to do with this project because we’re not journalists. That alone is just a great reminder to have.
Saul: Yeah. So I think the best place to jump in here is with what originally attracted us to him, the Doomsday Bill. I don’t know, I thought that was a pretty big surprise, that the Doomsday Bill is not really as radical of an idea as I thought it might have been.
Anderson: I had sort of the feeling of meeting the Wizard of Oz, you know. I’d come in expecting this giant monster of the Doomsday Bill, and then when David started explaining it more and explaining his attitudes about the future, it seemed like the bill was far more extreme than his actual beliefs about the future. I mean, he says it himself. It’s a dramatic note of warning that’s meant to spark conversation.
Saul: There’s no real idea that I got from him that he thinks we’re at a moment of crisis.
Anderson: Clearly he thinks there’s a lot wrong, but he also emphasized that he thinks we’re resilient and we’ll make it through this. Which makes me think well, a bill that is legitimately responding to a fear of government collapse, that would be the Conversation to me. But if it’s something that’s sort of doing that in more a rhetorical sense, to kind of capture people’s attention and go, “Hey, we really disapprove of how things are being run now,” that seems more like it’s part of our current political back and forth, and less part of The Conversation, with a big uppercase T.
Saul: Right. So, it seemed like if you had to boil it down to sort of one real goal, there was this desire to go back to this golden era of capitalism, right. He’s really looking at the past as the model here.
Saul: I found that interesting because he does use arguments from history quite a bit, in much the same way Joseph Tainter does. That said, I was a little concerned that much of his evidence was influenced by personal experience of the past as opposed to a more empirical—
Anderson: Are you thinking— There are two points the jump to mind for me. Actually, they’re both climate change-related, species-related. The anecdote about people say we’re losing butterflies and frogs, but he’s seen them. And also with climate change, on a day-to-day basis some days it’s warmer, some days it’s cooler…
Anderson: That’s anecdotal evidence for something in both cases that’s well-studied.
Saul: That actually gives us an excellent excuse to talk about something which we talked about before going into the project, but haven’t really talked about on-air yet. We’re not really interested in going after that sort of thing. Like, when people are are using anecdotal evidence as opposed to empirical evidence, we’re not going to say, call them out on that. Because that takes us down a path that really prevents us from going at the deeper ideas, which is what we want to be doing.
Anderson: Absolutely, and that’s a concern I have in every conversation I record. Flow is really important. Those statistics don’t ultimately hamper our goal of trying to portray how people are thinking about the future. And I think that’s the same in this conversation with David Miller. His thoughts on climate and climate change are very different than I think the general scientific consensus that we have right now. That’s not something I want to get into in a conversation, because that ends the conversation.
Saul: Exactly. On that note, something I did appreciate was he was honest that he didn’t know. It’s always refreshing when people say they don’t know things.
Anderson: It seems to be rather rare, doesn’t it?
Saul: It really, really is. Speaking of refreshing, there was another area that I thought he differs from many of the other people we’ve talked to. He has a very Lockean view of humanity.
Anderson: That was cool, wasn’t it?
Saul: It was great, yeah. There’s only so much Hobbesian awfulness you can take before you just want somebody to say, “Hey, people are pretty alright sometimes.”
Anderson: There’s an optimism there, and I don’t know if I share it personally, and he would probably say that’s because I’m from a big city. But again, I think it’s interesting to look back to the past and then espouse a system like that, because I don’t think we see anything in the past (and he mentions this as well on the conversation at one point), he seems to be of two minds about it. We do sort of repeat ourselves and history is sort of a mess. And yet, he still holds out faith in a way that people are good enough that this sort of really minimalist government system can work.
Anderson: Man, I’d be lying if I didn’t kinda wish that I felt that optimism about human nature myself.
Saul: So, let’s talk about how he relates to other people we’ve talked to.
Anderson: Optimism is actually a really good connection here, because he mentions Ariel Waldman and her idea of progress, which he agrees with. And I think here we see a scientific optimist. The very character that I think Joseph Tainter is so skeptical of, the belief that technology will make everyone’s standards of living better. And there’s a real sense that things are going somewhere. There’s a strong tie with Max More, too.
Saul: I think the real question here is if scientific and technological progress is always moving us forward, does Miller end up being on a slope towards transhumanism?
Anderson: Which is interesting, because I know he finds the ideas of transhumanism absurd.
Saul: But is that really the… I mean, in some ways that seems like the logical endpoint from this idea that technological progress is always moving us forward.
Anderson: And actually, the way that David mentioned he tries to keep religion and politics, and religion and business as separate things… And I think if you do that, then you actually kind of give transhumanism carte blanche. If you believe in scientific progress as a good, then I don’t think you have a leg to stand on when you criticize transhumanism. And actually I think this’ll be something that’ll be interesting to talk to our next conversation participant about.
Saul: You’ll be talking to Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society down in Denver.
Anderson: Yeah. I think a lot of ideas that David brought up here in terms of scientific positivism, Robert is going to expand upon. He’s written about the case for Mars, which is heavily rooted in a tradition of scientific optimism. More recently, he’s written a book about environmentalism as an anti-humanistic endeavor. There’s a lot going on there, and I think David’s going to be a really good bridge between Joseph Tainter and Robert Zubrin.
Saul: We’ll be moving from talking about the past with Tainter, and honestly, talking a lot about the past with David Miller, into really just talking about the future again. Talking about Mars, talking about energy, probably the future of our world and how we relate to it.
Anderson: As long as we get flying cars, you know, I’m okay with the future. So I think we should head into the future right about now.
That was Representative David Miller, recorded July 11, 2012 at his office in Riverton, Wyoming.
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.