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.

Saul: Right

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.

Miller: Okay.

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.

Miller: Yeah.

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.

Anderson: Right.

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.

Anderson: Definitely.

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…

Saul: Right.

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.

Saul: Right. 

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. 

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.