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 are scat­tered, we are strewn across the coun­try once again.

Micah Saul: Exactly. You are in Washington DC. I am in Clarksville, Arkansas.

Anderson: And that is nuthin’ if not classy. So, this conversation’s one we’ve been plan­ning for a long time. It’s with Douglas Rushkoff.

Saul: Yeah. Before we talk too much about it, when I’ve men­tioned to peo­ple that we were going to get Rushkoff, the response has either been, Awesome!” or, “…who?” So I think we should prob­a­bly give some quick back­ground on who Rushkoff is.

Anderson: Douglas Rushkoff is a media the­o­rist, and has been since the ear­ly to mid-90s. He has writ­ten sev­er­al books. He’s done Frontline doc­u­men­taries as well. So he’s real­ly ver­sa­tile. I always hate to use the term pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al” because it sounds pre­ten­tious, but they exist. I think they’re good things. Douglas is one of them. His intel­lec­tu­al odyssey has been fas­ci­nat­ing. He’s talked about media exten­sive­ly, but he’s also talked about the slope of cur­ren­cy in eco­nom­ics, and he’s talked about the need for dig­i­tal lit­er­a­cy in a demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety. You know, he’s one of these thinkers who brings in a mul­ti­tude of dif­fer­ent ideas and sort of weaves them togeth­er in real­ly cool, unex­pect­ed ways.

Saul: One of the cool things I think about the fact that he has been…well he’s been a media the­o­rist for so long and in exact­ly the right years. So when he first sort of sprung into the pub­lic eye, he was very much asso­ci­at­ed with the cyber­punk authors and cyber­punk cul­ture in gen­er­al, ear­ly Wired mag­a­zine. But he was very much a tech utopi­anist, right. They were look­ing at the sort of trans­for­ma­tive pow­ers of the ear­ly Internet, and the Internet was going to democ­ra­tize every­thing.

And as the Internet and as the tech indus­try has evolved over the years, you’ve also been able to fol­low the evo­lu­tion of his own thought on it to where he is now, which is cer­tain­ly not a tech utopi­anist. Much more crit­i­cal of tech and what it does to us as peo­ple.

Anderson: And also root­ing it with­in these oth­er sys­tems, too, you know, when we men­tioned eco­nom­ics ear­li­er. And all of that stuff is going to come to play here. So I think this is a real­ly neat con­ver­sa­tion. I’m very hap­py with how it turned out. He opens up a lot of new issues and uses a lot of new lan­guage to describe old issues that we’ve seen before, some of the big ones being what is know­able. And if we think about my favorite back and forth of two adja­cent episodes in this project was Robert Zubrin and Wes Jackson, and that was large­ly a con­ver­sa­tion about what can we know. And Douglas is going to jump in on that con­ver­sa­tion and talk about it in some new ways involv­ing quan­tifi­ca­tion and the ways that cap­i­tal­ism has encour­aged us to see the world.

Saul: Right. So… Shit, I was just about to do my stan­dard here you go. So, I’m not not going to do that.

Anderson: So hard to not do that.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: You know, we always get to these points, and we have real dif­fi­cul­ty segue­ing out of our nice descrip­tion, and it’s like god, we want one pithy sen­tence that just gets us out of this awk­ward intro­duc­tion and into the damn con­ver­sa­tion.

Aengus Anderson: So let me just ask you the pre­pos­ter­ous­ly big ques­tion, which is, what is the cri­sis of the present? If you were to name one, and that’s a total­ly sim­plis­tic thing… But some­thing that we real­ly need to be think­ing about that you address in your work.

Douglas Rushkoff: I hate to go meta on you, but—

Anderson: Oh, no. Go for it. This is a ridicu­lous project. We love the meta.

Rushkoff: I mean, for me the cri­sis of the present is pre­sen­tism itself, or what I’ve been call­ing present shock. You know, it’s the effort by so many peo­ple to get the effects that we used to get over time in the moment. So, whether it’s Wall Street peo­ple try­ing to some­how reap the har­vest of an invest­ment through the trade rather than over time. Or peo­ple try­ing to some­how catch up with the periph­er­al input com­ing at them from their var­i­ous Twitter and Facebook feeds. Or peo­ple try­ing to make sense of the world by draw­ing con­nec­tions between every­thing in the moment rather than look­ing at any sweep of his­to­ry or some cause and effect of where things came from. You end up with kind of a present-based soci­ety. Which is cool in some ways, if it was gen­uine­ly in some Tao now, but is freaky bad in oth­er ways if peo­ple no longer have tem­po­ral con­text. And when they don’t, you end up with all of these what I would con­sid­er resul­tant crises. Which is kind of the impa­tience of the Tea Party, or the apoc­a­lyp­tic fan­tasies of every­one from Kurzweil to Pinchbeck.

The inabil­i­ty of peo­ple to tol­er­ate wait­ing or being, and their utter con­fu­sion with liv­ing on a dig­i­tal land­scape or in what we’d call a dig­i­tal media envi­ron­ment… They don’t real­ly see the dif­fer­ence between a real­i­ty that’s shaped by the sweep sec­ond hand, and one that’s shaped more by the sequen­tial log­ic of the dig­i­tal clock, and that they’re real­ly dif­fer­ent things. 

Anderson: I mean, it seems like essen­tial­ly there’s a prob­lem here and that’s we are a bio­log­i­cal organ­ism that deals with a cer­tain amount of infor­ma­tion and deals with it bet­ter or worse depend­ing on how much is com­ing in. And we have a lot com­ing in. Is that part of this?

Rushkoff: It’s part of it—

Anderson: Or is it how it’s com­ing in?

Rushkoff: I’m less con­cerned with how the bio­log­i­cal organ­ism is sort of receiv­ing all this flood of data. In oth­er words it’s not the data smog or the infor­ma­tion over­load, or the fail­ure of fil­ters. But it’s more the way that we are try­ing, as lit­tle bio­log­i­cal beings in time, the way we’re try­ing to have more than one instance of our­selves. You know, we’re try­ing to be in more than one place at the same time. So there’s Google iden­ti­ty and your Facebook Identity and your Twitter iden­ti­ty. You’re in all these dif­fer­ent places and peo­ple are expect­ing you to kind of be in all those places at once. And the dom­i­nance of your incar­nate exis­tence seems to be fad­ing in rela­tion to that.

Anderson: That’s real­ly intrigu­ing because I’ve had peo­ple in this project talk about sort of data smog or gluts of infor­ma­tion. But this is very dif­fer­ent. This is definitely…you are demand­ed to be in mul­ti­ple loca­tions at once. Which seems like a very dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. What are the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that?

Rushkoff: Well, I guess the biggest ram­i­fi­ca­tion is peo­ple refuse to accept the real­i­ty of the cycles of time that affect who we are. There’s this sense in a dig­i­tal uni­verse that time is somehow…generic? One sec­ond is the same as the next is the same as the next. And as far as the computer’s con­cerned, or Facebook’s con­cerned, that might be true. As far as human beings are con­cerned, it’s not true at all. The more we learn about neu­ro­chem­istry and cir­ca­di­an rhythms and bio­log­i­cal clocks, the more we see that oh wow, sero­tonin lev­els change over the course of a month. Acetylcholine lev­els change. Dopamine lev­els change. That each week, real­ly, of the lunar cycle seems to be dom­i­nat­ed by one neu­ro­trans­mit­ter or anoth­er, which makes cer­tain weeks good for sys­temic think­ing, oth­er weeks good for social­iz­ing, oth­er weeks good for get­ting a bunch of work done.

If you just ped­al to the met­al and kind of ride roughshod over those, you don’t just lose access to these sort of great high lever­age points and this abil­i­ty to do things at oppor­tune times, but you also defeat sort of your nat­ur­al rhythms and screw your­self up. It’s why shift work­ers end up get­ting can­cer. It’s because they’re not wak­ing and sleep­ing when their bod­ies kin­da want them to. They’re work­ing against their mela­tonin on the sim­plest lev­el.

Meanwhile, if you do under­stand the way time works, that time isn’t gener­ic, you can sort of begin to dis­tin­guish between what the Greeks used to call kro­nos and kairos, the two dif­fer­ent kinds of time, where kro­nos is sort of the time you mea­sure like it’s twelve o’clock, it’s one o’clock. The num­ber time. And kairos is real­ly time as oppor­tune moments, the tim­ing, the readi­ness. And peo­ple who have retained a sense of kairos always seem to be in the right place at the right time. And that’s because they’re rec­og­niz­ing what maybe looks to peo­ple now like some New Age weird­ness but is the con­tours of tem­po­ral real­i­ty. It’s not all the same. It’s dif­fer­ent, you know.

So in uphill moments you do cer­tain things, and down­hill moments you do oth­er things. Our nega­tion of that for me coin­cides with our nega­tion of the com­plex­i­ties of nature, and our nega­tion of the pecu­liar­i­ties of what it means to be human. There’s a lot of peo­ple, a lot of them sup­pos­ed­ly on my side of the kind of the technologically-interested folks who real­ly believe we can just upload con­scious­ness, or tran­scend what it means to be human, or accept that human beings are just one stage in information’s inevitable rise to greater com­plex­i­ty—

Anderson: There’ve been a few of them in this project.

Rushkoff: And that’s all caca. You know, what that is is peo­ple who’ve so inter­nal­ized the Christian Apocalyptic escha­tol­ogy that they don’t even see how informed by reli­gion they are. And these folks, it’s usu­al­ly the ones who are the loud­est athe­ists, you know. The ones who are out there telling every­one else who doesn’t believe in their par­tic­u­lar sys­tems the­o­ry. These are the folks who are actu­al­ly the most steeped in a reli­gious par­a­digm that they just can’t see.

Anderson: Right, it’s com­ing in through cul­tur­al back­doors.

Rushkoff: Right. Wherever they get ner­vous, what­ev­er lit­tle sci­en­tif­ic fact that they actu­al­ly have no expla­na­tion for, is usu­al­ly where you find their belief sys­tem, their com­plete­ly unsup­port­ed hand­wave. Which is no dif­fer­ent than the Creationist hand­wave about where we all came from.

Anderson: And can you ever get away from that, you know. In this project—

Rushkoff: You can’t get away from that. And that’s…just…fine. The only thing that you have to do if you know you can’t get away from it is know that you can’t get away from it. So the way some­one like like me or Jaron Lanier might accept this is to say you know, there’s just stuff. Weirdness. There’s strange­ness that we can’t quite…grasp. And before we rel­e­gate human­i­ty to the dust bin, we should prob­a­bly you know, cope a bit, or accept that humans are inter­est­ing and strange. That no, the DNA codon doesn’t seem to explain every­thing. That it’s very envi­ron­men­tal­ly and sit­u­a­tion­al­ly deter­mined, as well. And this obses­sive need to nail it all down denies us access to all of these oth­er great tools for obser­va­tion which are sub­tler, weird­er tools.

I mean, it’s every­thing from what’s mak­ing you sweat? What’s giv­ing you a hard-on? And these are things that you can’t reduce quite as eas­i­ly as you can reduce the data on a web site into ASCII, too.

Anderson: I’m inter­est­ed in oth­er cul­tur­al assump­tions about quan­tifi­ca­tion itself. A theme in this project has been see­ing quan­tifi­ca­tion and sort of mar­ket think­ing spread every­where. And is quan­tifi­ca­tion itself some­thing that we’re over­ap­ply­ing? Is that part of the the cul­tur­al world that we live in that is a prob­lem?

Rushkoff: Yeah. I mean, it’s inter­est­ing. What you’re talk­ing about goes kin­da all the way back to Plato and Aristotle. When you quan­ti­fy things like we all start­ed to do again in the Renaissance, you’re imply­ing this kind of for­mal cause for every­thing, or these sort of absolute forms. And they are very use­ful as con­structs, but they are con­structs, right. The exact. Certain things are dig­i­tal and per­fect. Like, how many kids do you have? Two. You’re not going to have two and a half kids. I mean, if you do, that half child’s going to be—

Anderson: Just going to be total­ly screwed up.

Rushkoff: Yeah, exact­ly. This is a bad thing. So there are cer­tain things that are dis­crete like that. But there’s a lot of things that are not dis­crete in that way. It’s fun­ny, even… It’s inter­est­ing, in Talmudic law, or it might even be Torah law, you’re not allowed to count peo­ple.

Anderson: Really?

Rushkoff: Yeah, you’re not allowed to do a cen­sus. There’s prob­a­bly all these polit­i­cal rea­sons for it, but it’s also the idea of mak­ing peo­ple dis­crete count­able units. But there was a lot that was gained by quan­ti­fy­ing things. And it real­ly had to do with deal­ing with a world in which the feu­dal lords of medieval Europe were no longer accept­ed as kind of the own­ers of every­thing. The world changed from one where their own­er­ship was jus­ti­fied as an act of God to one where their own­er­ship was jus­ti­fied math­e­mat­i­cal­ly.

So, the cre­ation of con­tracts and char­ters and mon­ey sys­tems and finan­cial rules, and even two-column account­ing, all came down to the imple­men­ta­tion of math­e­mat­i­cal and log­i­cal mech­a­nisms that served the extant own­ers of stuff. So how do peo­ple with mon­ey make mon­ey by hav­ing mon­ey? How do peo­ple with own­er­ship of land make mon­ey by extract­ing val­ue from that land? How do we look at the rest of the world, these pre-colonized regions like America and Africa? How do we quan­ti­fy them? How do we lay them out in such a way that what­ev­er might be con­sid­ered the innate, inalien­able rights of peo­ple or to regents or indige­nous pop—how do we just break it down? The lon­gi­tude and the lat­i­tude line, and here’s this ter­ri­to­ry and here’s the com­pa­ny that gets it? 

So, the world ends up increas­ing­ly abstract­ed into these more numer­i­cal val­ues and regions. So, place becomes ter­ri­to­ry, and ter­ri­to­ry becomes prop­er­ty. Property becomes lease, and lease becomes deed. And deed and title become mort­gage, and mort­gages become deriv­a­tives. And deriv­a­tives become cred­it default swaps. So we end up with all of these increas­ing­ly abstract­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tions of real­i­ty.

And yeah, in such a world of course you’re going to walk around think­ing of things in terms of this prop­er­ty val­ue ver­sus that one. What are my met­rics? So that your life ends up locked down into into kro­nos, real­ly. Into this sin­gle time­line instead— Something like the brain is a multi-dimensional tool through which you can con­tin­u­al­ly rein­ter­pret your past. The most beau­ti­ful thing about your past, I think, is that it is change­able. I can look at my past in one year and say, Oh, look­it. That’s the upbring­ing of a trou­bled, neu­rot­ic child.” And the next year I can under­stand it as, Oh, well look at that as the upbring­ing of a young artist in a trou­bled soci­ety.” That abil­i­ty to change con­text, for the past to be liq­uid, I think is so impor­tant for us as humans. It’s not impor­tant for us as mar­ket seg­ments, as con­sumers, as… If your object is to make human beings more and more pre­dictable, and more and more pre­de­ter­mined, then MyLifeBits or some­thing is a great way of look­ing at it. It’s weird. And that’s maybe I’m just gen­er­a­tional­ly wrong, you know—

Anderson: I don’t think it’s a gen­er­a­tional thing, based on the con­ver­sa­tions I’ve had. In this project we’ve been talk­ing about monism and plu­ral­ism, in terms of just think­ing about the uni­verse and what makes it up. And it seems like a lot of the the things we’ve been talk­ing about here, in terms of what are those weird aspects of mem­o­ry, or of per­son­al­i­ty, what are those things that defy quan­tifi­ca­tion, and then what are the val­ues of quan­tifi­ca­tion, what do we get from it? It seems like both of those sort of ulti­mate­ly stem from a philo­soph­i­cal place where you look out at the uni­verse and you say, There is one kind of thing, and it is mat­ter, and it is pre­dictable.” Or you look out at the uni­verse and you say, Maybe there is more than mat­ter that we can mea­sure or per­ceive.” Or we only have the tools [crosstalk] to per­ceive the mat­ter and not the oth­er stuff.

Rushkoff: Yeah, but if those of us who are on the there’s more here than meets the eye” side… If we rel­e­gate that kind of argu­ment to the weird­ness” side, that’s unfair. So it’s like, the ratio­nal­ists end up with the entire­ty of cap­i­tal­ism on their side.

Anderson: And all of Newtonian sci­ence.

Rushkoff: And all of Newtonian sci­ence. And we end up with me, RU Sirius, Jaron Lanier, and the New Age com­mu­ni­ty.

Anderson: And maybe the Marfa lights.

Rushkoff: And the Marfa lights, right. The multi-trillion dol­lar engines of cap­i­tal­ism are increas­ing­ly depend­ing on the quan­tifi­ca­tion of human activ­i­ty. So you’ve got the mar­ket research firms like Axiom and Claritas, or if it’s the big data firms like Opera and EMC at this point, whether you’re try­ing to pro­mote con­sump­tion or fight ter­ror­ism, the quan­tifi­ca­tion, mod­el­ing, and sta­tis­ti­cal reduc­tion of human activ­i­ty to pre­dictable algo­rithms, really…it’s a real uphill bat­tle to fight that.

Anderson: It’s inter­est­ing because you’ve used new lan­guage to describe some­thing I think I’ve been see­ing, but I haven’t been talk­ing about direct­ly in this project, which is a rift between peo­ple who are more inter­est­ed in quan­tifi­ca­tion and the peo­ple who feel that quan­tifi­ca­tion has more lim­its.

Rushkoff: Yeah. And this is real­ly what folks like Norbert Weiner were try­ing to warn us about when they were look­ing at the begin­nings of sys­tems the­o­ry and sort of pre-fractals, and say­ing, Well, the pur­pose of this stuff is not to reduce human activ­i­ty to computer-quantifiable leg­ends, but rather to try to ele­vate com­put­er activ­i­ty so that it has some feed­back.” We’re try­ing to make com­put­ers more human, not humans more machine-like.

Anderson: I was hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion with my co-host the oth­er day when we were talk­ing about one of the the bio­hack­ers I’d recent­ly inter­viewed, and we were talk­ing about how he frames all of his under­stand­ing of the human mind in terms of com­put­er metaphors, both hard­ware and soft­ware. Do you think there’s any way to sort of avoid that we will project our cur­rent tech­no­log­i­cal sys­tems as our metaphor­i­cal lan­guage on what we are, and to some extent try to con­form our­selves to our metaphors?

Rushkoff: No. Well, there’s no way around that. But we can at least be con­scious of it, and con­scious of, you know, when we had a clock­work uni­verse and we equat­ed humans with machines. Oh, we’re going to wind her up.” Or when we were in a radio and tele­vi­sion based uni­verse and we start­ed to talk about every­thing as waves. I’m being on the fre­quen­cy,” and all that. Now we’re in a com­put­er age, and we’re think­ing of our­selves as well as RAM and hard dri­ves and get­ting with the pro­gram. As long as we’re aware that these are metaphors then we’re fine. The minute we think it’s real is when we get awful­ly screwed up. 

Anderson: And do we gen­er­al­ly seem to think that it’s real?

Rushkoff: Yeah. I mean, peo­ple are los­ing the abil­i­ty to engage with metaphor at all, actu­al­ly. We don’t…

Anderson: That’s an inter­est­ing com­ment. Can you explain that more?

Rushkoff: Yeah. I mean we’re we’re in a world with real­i­ty TV. Stuff that’s actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing. We don’t under­stand para­ble. We don’t under­stand metaphor. People look at the Bible as a his­tor­i­cal record of human­i­ty rather than a bril­liant set of metaphors about the human con­di­tion. And they end up deny­ing them­selves the rich­ness of what it is, and lock­ing them­selves into some real stu­pid­i­ty. And then shut­ter­ing them­selves as to the actu­al his­to­ry of where this stuff came from. If you under­stand who wrote this stuff and when it hap­pened, the audi­ence it was intend­ed for, you end up get­ting some­thing real­ly deep.

So our inabil­i­ty to engage with metaphor and alle­go­ry denies us of the sort of dimen­sion­al per­spec­tive we need to under­stand where we’re at, and flat­tens out real­i­ty into this, again, this time­line, which is not the only way to under­stand what’s what’s hap­pened and what’s hap­pen­ing.

Anderson: I’d like to explore a hypo­thet­i­cal here. We’ve talked about our notions of time, our notions of maybe not appre­ci­at­ing some less-quantifiable things in the world. Where does that take us if, as a large cul­tur­al mind­set, it con­tin­ues?

Rushkoff: Quantifying the entire­ty of real­i­ty isn’t as much of a prob­lem as accept­ing that data set as real­i­ty. What hap­pens is we lose aware­ness of and access to all the nooks and cran­nies that haven’t been quan­ti­fied. It’s one of the main argu­ments I make in Program or Be Programmed, the one that gets dig­i­tal enthu­si­asts so upset, is that there’s noth­ing hap­pen­ing between the sam­ples. There’s noth­ing there. The sim­ple real­i­ty is we’ve sam­pled what we know is there to sam­ple so that we can come up with a num­ber to explain each of those things. 

But any of the things we haven’t tak­en into account aren’t there. They’re just not there. It’s dead space. And real­i­ty isn’t like that. Still, there is more infor­ma­tion in a sin­gle square inch of soil than we have ter­abytes to record. There’s so much going on that we just don’t know. If we real­ly knew it, we’d be liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world. We don’t. We just don’t.

Anderson: Do you think it is know­able?

Rushkoff: I don’t think so. I mean, I think it keeps going. I think it keeps…going. And if it is know­able, then we’re at a tiny .00001% of fig­ur­ing out what’s there. Maybe it’s know­able in some oth­er civ­i­liza­tion. But with the tools and record­ing devices and met­rics that we’re using, no. It’s not. It’s not know­able.

Anderson: This makes me think of this awe­some back and forth that hap­pened just by pure coin­ci­dence in this con­ver­sa­tion. Are you famil­iar with Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society? We had a real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion about what can you know, and sort of when you’re mak­ing envi­ron­men­tal changes in pol­i­cy deci­sions, what do you feel you’re jus­ti­fied in doing. And his feel­ing was we can under­stand sys­tems well enough. There are no lim­its on the plan­et because our cre­ativ­i­ty is unlim­it­ed. We can ratio­nal­ly rearrange the uni­verse to suit us. 

And the sub­se­quent inter­view I record­ed was with a guy named Wes Jackson. And he’s on com­plete­ly the oppo­site end of the spec­trum, even as a sci­en­tist. And he said we can’t know. The prob­lems are too big. We are embed­ded with­in the sys­tem. Our actions feed back to us in ways that we can­not ratio­nal­ly under­stand yet. And it may just be that the sys­tem is sim­ply too com­plex.

Rushkoff: Right.

Anderson: But that because of that, you need to be real­ly care­ful with how you tread in terms of try­ing to ratio­nal­ly rearrange the world.

Rushkoff: Right. I mean, it’s the dif­fer­ence between think­ing of humans being made in God’s image or humans being gods our­selves. If humans are made in God’s image, and let’s use that alle­gor­i­cal­ly for now, it means that we’re not quite ani­mals but we’re not quite God, either. We’re some­where in between.

So, we are con­scious. We are cre­ative. And we are also embed­ded, right. We’re also made of this stuff and in this stuff. So, we’re more aware of it than a rock or a worm or a dog, but we are still inside the sys­tem. We’re still, you know, the fish in the aquar­i­um can’t real­ly know what water is because it’s all we know. And there’s some real­ly super duper obvi­ous stuff that’s star­ing us in the face that we don’t see because it’s just…there. And we have to try to intu­it a lot of these things.

So yeah, I think that we are both respon­si­ble for con­form­ing the world to our designs. Certainly we’ve gone far enough that we can’t go back. But we are unqual­i­fied to make the kinds of huge, sweep­ing uni­ver­sal and over­sim­pli­fied changes that we want to make. 

Anderson: That puts us in a weird posi­tion, doesn’t it? Like, unable to reverse, almost forced, in a way, to make deci­sions that we’re inca­pable of mak­ing well.

Rushkoff: Yeah, but that’s the chal­lenge of being human. And that’s why we have the arts, and reli­gion, and com­mu­ni­ty, and all these oth­er things that help us… They help make these choic­es less stark. They cre­ate expe­ri­ence and buffers around things. And we’ve got guys like…even like Bucky Fuller, who help us see that real­i­ty is a design chal­lenge. And that once you under­stand that, you move a bit more gin­ger­ly through this. And that brings us again back to the prob­lem of cor­po­rate cap­i­tal­ism as cur­rent­ly prac­ticed. Everything has to get big­ger faster. That’s not great.

Anderson: Where does all of this when you just see the world in terms of stuff… What’s kind of our worst-case sce­nario? And then, what’s a bet­ter sce­nario?

Rushkoff: The worst-case sce­nario is that this quan­tifi­ca­tion of real­i­ty into a top line and a bot­tom line of a cor­po­rate bal­ance sheet…is we end up oversim­pli­fy­ing our real­i­ty into dis­creet mea­sur­able units that negate or avoid some oth­er press­ing, unrec­og­nized met­ric that then bites us in the ass to the point where the plan­et becomes unin­hab­it­able by our species.

Anderson: So there’s a real prob­lem down that road.

Rushkoff: Yeah, I think. But if you aban­don the imma­nence of the escha­ton—

Anderson: And can we define escha­ton” real quick?

Rushkoff: A big big change. If you don’t think that we’re about to have a big big change, then we either need a rather rapid accep­tance of the new nor­mal and what might to many look like a com­pro­mised vision of the future. But to me it looks like a much hap­pi­er vision. What if we in a sense retire colo­nial­ism? Really retire it, and say, Okay, we’re in a new phase. It’s not about con­quer­ing new things,” and what if we’re like, Okay, we’re going to move towards a more sus­tain­able view of real­i­ty.” There’s that. There’s folks like Howard Bloom… I still don’t know if he’s sane or insane, but he would say, No, you just got­ta push push push for­ward. If we don’t push for­ward, the Arabs are going to push for­ward on us,” and…

Anderson: Complete Hobbesian sort of mind­set.

Rushkoff: Yeah. Maybe, you know, maybe he’s right. I’ve lived a shel­tered Western life. The thing is it’s just hard to look at it all as war­like. And I think it’s kind of a joke also for Westerners and some to think that we’re fight­ing over the fate of the world, when you’ve got the Chinese there who’ve been doing some­thing else for as long as the Jews, real­ly. You know, they’re an old civ­i­liza­tion. And they are not impe­ri­al­ist. Or they haven’t been. They’re not out there col­o­niz­ing places. I mean, they’re try­ing to get resources now, that’s true, and make busi­ness arrange­ments. But China’s always been basi­cal­ly where they are. Japan invad­ed China. China isn’t busy invad­ing Japan. They look at them­selves as here we are” and they’ve got this weird elite that kin­da runs their thing. They’ve got this sense of a civ­i­liza­tion that they’ve been a part of for a long time. And some­times I won­der if our future may end up look­ing a lit­tle bit more like China than theirs look­ing like ours.

Anderson: So, I can think of a few exam­ples where they col­o­nized peo­ple, but yeah not many. I mean, the Middle Kingdom is the Middle Kingdom.

Rushkoff: Yeah.

Anderson: At the same time it seems like now their focus is on eco­nom­i­cal­ly growth in a way that seems very…Western, in a way that cap­i­tal­ism seems to be able to port over to oth­er cul­tures with rel­a­tive ease. 

Rushkoff: It seems Western, but I look at it more as them see­ing this as one tool they can use to feed their peo­ple and man­i­fest their des­tiny as the great Earth’s empire. But I feel like they look at China as their plan­et, you know.

Anderson: So, let’s run with that view. So, there is this sense that if you’re okay with your bound­aries, whether that’s the Earth or China or your local com­mu­ni­ty in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Whatever it is. To actu­al­ly be con­tent­ed with that and not fix­at­ed on growth as an end…as a good, in a way. What replaces that, in terms of where do you get val­ue in your life, right? Because I think for us there’s a real sense that growth is nat­ur­al, right. And that’s not always stat­ed, but I think it’s like…to think of oth­er val­ue like, where do you get it from? Is it in the con­ver­sa­tion that we’re hav­ing here? Is it in hav­ing a meal with some­one? What are those sources of val­ue that let you be with­in your local space sus­tain­ably?

Rushkoff: Yeah. Well, that’s inter­est­ing. I mean you could trace progress back to cap­i­tal­ism and the need for growth of cap­i­tal. Once we start­ed bor­row­ing mon­ey from cen­tral trea­suries, it had to be paid back at inter­est, so you had to find more mon­ey to do that, so you need­ed to grow, right. So, implic­it in our eco­nom­ic mod­el is growth. If it doesn’t grow, the rich get poor, and that is intol­er­a­ble. That doesn’t work. It breaks.

But you could also look at progress all the way back to the inven­tion of his­to­ry, with the inven­tion of the alpha­bet and the Axial Age, when we shift­ed from kind of a cir­cu­lar civ­i­liza­tion to a lin­ear one. And that’s when we got the Jews and the cal­en­dar and the notion of well, next year we could be bet­ter than this year, and the year after that we can be bet­ter than that year. And it wasn’t about grow­ing, so much as progress. Progress meant becom­ing more eth­i­cal, or clos­er to God, or what­ev­er it was.

Anderson: So you get a notion of progress first, and lat­er progress and growth are con­flat­ed.

Rushkoff: Yeah. And there’s a lot of ways to look at nature as grow­ing, and you know it’s very Darwinian in that sense. But you know, you could also look at nature like the rain­forests or the coral reef. Yeah, things are com­pet­ing, but they’re com­pet­ing in a kind of home­osta­sis. I mean the good thing about home­osta­sis is, you know, it lasts a long time because it’s bal­anced.

Anderson: Right.

Rushkoff: When you keep mov­ing, when you keep dri­ving, it’s weird. I mean, we’ll see. I just don’t… I don’t have enough faith in our abil­i­ties to see this kind of Monsanto Genentech future where we real­ly crack the fun­da­men­tal codons of nature in time for us to get our­selves out of this mess.

On the oth­er hand, I under­stand the argu­ment that for every one of me that’s talk­ing like that, I’m just slow­ing down those who are ded­i­cat­ed to it. That every thing I say against cap­i­tal­ism, every Occupy moment, is hurt­ing American industry’s efforts to bring us into a bright genetically-modified cyber future. 

Anderson: Which by some def­i­n­i­tions of progress would be great.

Rushkoff: Right. I mean, if they are the only way out, then we’ve got to go with Howard Bloom and Kevin Kelly, ped­al to the met­al. That any­thing oth­er than full speed ahead is a greater prob­a­bil­i­ty of fail­ure.

Anderson: In this con­ver­sa­tion we’ve talked a lot about dif­fer­ent sources of val­ue that don’t involve ped­al to the met­al plung­ing into this future. How do you make the case for that in a world where a lot of peo­ple con­flate growth and progress, and con­flate more com­plex­i­ty and progress, and maybe don’t see the steady state as any­thing of virtue?

Rushkoff: Well, then I think the eas­i­est way to argue for mod­er­a­tion is…even if we are going to rad­i­cal­ly trans­form nature and human­i­ty, we can also remove the require­ment to do so. In oth­er words, if you want to build a great nuclear fall­out shel­ter, cool. You go do that. I can also work to reduce the prob­a­bil­i­ty of need­ing one, at the same time. I’m more inter­est­ed in that part. Partly because I don’t want to live in a nuclear shel­ter. And part­ly because I don’t think it has to go there. 

Anderson: So this isn’t bio­log­i­cal­ly writ­ten in what we are.

Rushkoff: I don’t think so, but it may be. You know, boys will be boys.

Anderson: That’s the most ter­ri­fy­ing appli­ca­tion of boys will be boys” that I’ve ever heard.

Rushkoff: Well, you know, you know. But I don’t believe in inevitabil­i­ties. That’s part of what I like about being alive, is that it seems at least like there’s more than one pos­si­ble future.

Anderson: We’ve pushed off against the idea that cur­rent log­ic can take us down to some pret­ty dark places. A bet­ter place looks like…what?

Rushkoff: Well, I’m more a pre­sen­tist than a futur­ist. So I would say a bet­ter place looks like…having din­ner with the per­son who lives next door to you. Knowing who they are. A bet­ter place is shar­ing the same snow­blow­er on your block. The bet­ter place is eas­i­est to imag­ine, and ulti­mate­ly get to, if we look at it in terms of our incre­men­tal moment-to-moment choic­es.

And this is where I dif­fer with the peo­ple who are smarter than me (You know, that Mark Crispin Miller, Naomi Klein, and you know, the impor­tant peo­ple out there.) is that I believe that the way to reha­bil­i­tate our intu­ition about how to do this, about con­nec­tiv­i­ty, is to take baby steps toward more con­nec­tion with oth­ers. To start con­scious­ly engag­ing in non-GDP-increasing activ­i­ties like sex and card games and play and shar­ing. And those are real­ly real­ly hard for peo­ple to do. It’s very hard not to share stuff with your neigh­bors but to accept shar­ing from your neigh­bors. Because when you do you feel like then you’re going to owe them some­thing, and some rela­tion­ship has been set up, and you’re hav­ing inti­ma­cy with strangers, and that’s…how it starts. It’s those baby steps that I’m look­ing towards.

Anderson: And this is kind of the the last lev­el that I like to take the con­ver­sa­tion through, is the idea of good. In here, it seems to be an aware­ness that you are more than just a quan­ti­fied being, and that you are con­nect­ed with oth­er peo­ple, and that there’s a source of val­ue form being with those peo­ple and shar­ing expe­ri­ences with them.

Rushkoff: Right. And that your long-term secu­ri­ty as an indi­vid­ual, and as a species, is not going to come from hoard­ing the stuff you need to safe­ly retire, but rather start­ing now to cre­ate a world in which it is safe for you to retire. And safe means that you have peo­ple who are going to help you. We have reached the lim­its of our abil­i­ty to defend our help­less­ness through acqui­si­tion.

Anderson: Where did these ideas of good come from? I mean, is this some­thing that you can get from any­where oth­er than a spir­i­tu­al place?

Rushkoff: You get it from hav­ing fun. I think.

Anderson: So it’s the act of going there, hav­ing the din­ner par­ty, play­ing cards, talk­ing to those peo­ple, being with them…

Rushkoff: Yeah.

Anderson: I’m curi­ous about the places where that doesn’t trans­late. Where it feels like there’s a split in real­i­ty between what you’re enjoy­ing here and call­ing the good, which moti­vates this whole vision of the future, and some tran­shu­man­ist who’s over here think­ing, I can make myself into some­thing else, exer­cise self-control and cre­ativ­i­ty, and that is a good.” Both of those seem like they’re ara­tional goods. Is there any con­ver­sa­tion that can hap­pen there?

Rushkoff: Well, if the tran­shu­man­ist guy doesn’t even care what I think about it, then he can go do that. You know what I mean? It’s like… But he seems to want to con­vince me of some­thing. So, I think that’s the begin­ning. Let’s spend some time with him con­vinc­ing me why that’s cool, and then me try­ing to find out what dri­ves that need to con­vince me. Cuz he wants me there, too? Why does he want me there, too? There’s ways to have that inter­faith con­ver­sa­tion.

Anderson: Yes, and it’s very much that. I mean that’s the word. It is a faith con­ver­sa­tion, in a way. This project is called The Conversation. And this project is kick­ing around a hypoth­e­sis, which I don’t know if it’s true or false but I want­ed to play with it. It’s that we live in a moment where our old sys­tems are no longer answer­ing our ques­tions. Do you think that’s the case?

Rushkoff: Yeah, I think that’s the case. But I also think that we have these oth­er sys­tems in the wings that are com­pet­ing for dom­i­nance, and are all equal­ly stu­pid. That the object of the game in these moments of wob­ble is to accept that there’s no all-encompassing sys­tem that explains it. There is no sys­tem. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to become alive again. And it’s just so hard, espe­cial­ly when our great­est minds are out there sell­ing cor­po­rate cap­i­tal­ism via sys­tems the­o­ry. It’s a shame that they’re so afraid to live with­out one of those all-encompassing sys­tems and begin to con­front and allow them­selves to be awestruck by the immen­si­ty and inex­plic­a­bil­i­ty of what’s going on here.

Aengus Anderson: So, do you remem­ber back to Timothy Morton talk­ing about the cri­sis of the present is the cri­sis of pres­ence?

Micah Saul: I love where these con­nec­tions pop up and where the project loops back on itself when you least expect it to.

Anderson: You know, some­how I real­ly was not expect­ing the num­ber of Morton/Rushkoff con­nec­tions that we got in here. But pres­ence.

Saul: Yeah, pres­ence.

Anderson: We talk about pres­ence in such a dif­fer­ent way in this con­ver­sa­tion than Morton did

Saul: Right. Let’s get at, real quick, for those that don’t remem­ber what Morton meant. 

Anderson: So, Morton’s cri­sis of pres­ence is essen­tial­ly the sense that we live at a par­tic­u­lar moment in his­to­ry where, through sci­ence and phi­los­o­phy and oth­er dis­cov­er­ies, we’ve been able to sit­u­ate our­selves in this gigan­tic bub­ble of space and time. And by doing that, we’ve lost our­selves. We’ve lost a sense of the present.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: It’s almost an exis­ten­tial sort of list­less­ness, if I could say that with­out sound­ing too absurd.

Saul: Interesting.

Anderson: Rushkoff’s cri­sis of the pres­ence is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

Saul: Right. Rushkoff’s cri­sis of pres­ence isn’t so much the large sys­tems that we’re embed­ded in and real­iz­ing we’re there, it’s the fact that we are…well, we’re in mul­ti­ple places at once.

Anderson: This makes me think of… Are you famil­iar with Padre Pio?

Saul: [Laughs] Very vague­ly.

Anderson: When I was in Italy in ’99, he was the man most recent­ly to have become a saint. And one of the mir­a­cle claims that I heard about when I was over there was that he could bilo­cate. He could be in two places. And by God, here’s Rushkoff talk­ing about our cri­sis now is that [crosstalk] we’re all doing this through tech­nol­o­gy.

Saul: We’re all doing that.

Anderson: And we’re not just bilocat­ing, we’re trilocat­ing. We’re being in even more places.

Saul: What’s the prob­lem with bilo­ca­tion, or trilo­ca­tion, or n-location?

Anderson: Well, for Padre Pio it wasn’t a prob­lem because he was a saint, but for us it is a prob­lem because we just aren’t big enough to be in all these places at once. That by being in all these places at once, our expe­ri­ence is deval­ued, I think.

Saul: I think pre­sum­ably in Rushkoff’s cri­tique of this, there was the sense that it’s espe­cial­ly deval­ued in cor­po­re­al space. So, this is a very dif­fer­ent cri­tique of social media and of the Internet in gen­er­al then we’ve got before in this project. This isn’t Andrew Keen’s solip­sism of the Internet. You know, this isn’t Zerzan’s cri­tique of a lack of com­mu­ni­ty and replac­ing real com­mu­ni­ty with fake com­mu­ni­ty.

Anderson: Right.

Saul: This isn’t infor­ma­tion over­load, or data smog. This is some­thing very dif­fer­ent.

Anderson: But I won­der if Rushkoff isn’t actu­al­ly divid­ing the sort of…being in mul­ti­ple loca­tions from data smog in a way that it doesn’t need to be divid­ed. Like, is part of the prob­lem of being in mul­ti­ple loca­tions at once that you’re con­front­ed with the asso­ci­at­ed infor­ma­tion of being in all those places at once? Which seems like a data smog prob­lem.

Saul: Sure. I com­plete­ly agree with you on one hand. I think data smog and infor­ma­tion over­load is absolute­ly one of the con­cerns you get when you’re divid­ing your­self into mul­ti­ple loca­tions. But I don’t think they’re the same thing. I think if there’s a subset/superset rela­tion­ship here, it goes in the direc­tion of infor­ma­tion over­load is sub­sumed by this frac­tur­ing of the self. Because I think there are oth­er issues inher­ent in Rushkoff’s idea of being in mul­ti­ple places. 

Anderson: What are those oth­er things that make this dif­fer­ent?

Saul: Well, I mean, I think one sim­ple case is just we’re expect­ed to be ful­ly present in all of our loca­tions. Again, this is you know… Information is part of this, but also just being there, talk­ing to peo­ple, con­tribut­ing. There’s an input and out­put here. And you’re expect­ed to be able to receive all the input, but you’re also expect­ed to be able to pro­vide some out­put.

You know, there’s that that image of peo­ple sit­ting at a table at a restau­rant and both of them are on their phones hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions online. The prob­lem there is that they’re not also hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with each oth­er. That’s why we see that and we’re like, That’s awful.” It’s because they’re not ful­ly present in either loca­tion.

Anderson: Gotcha. So the data smog just applies to the infor­ma­tion in and how you’re pro­cess­ing it. But this is almost like even if you weren’t deal­ing with more infor­ma­tion than you can han­dle, you still couldn’t pro­duce enough to actu­al­ly be a full par­tic­i­pant in these places.

Saul: That’s sort of how I’m think­ing.

Anderson: That’s real­ly inter­est­ing. Yeah, I mean break­ing the inputs and out­puts apart is some­thing that I hadn’t real­ly done. Also think­ing about…you know, we were talk­ing a lit­tle ear­li­er offline about when you’re in mul­ti­ple loca­tions you can have dif­fer­ent faces for each of them, right. A dif­fer­ent per­sona that you’re expect­ed to project. And we were argu­ing about, is this real­ly any dif­fer­ent than at any point in his­to­ry, where you appear before the king and you have your court­ly face on, but you’re at the tav­ern after­wards, you’ve got your tav­ern face on…it’s not pret­ty. And is being able to do this now real­ly any dif­fer­ent?

Saul: Right. And I think what we were talk­ing about was, in the past there was, First I am this. Then I am this.” Now there’s the issue of simul­tane­ity. So to go back to that image of sit­ting at the restau­rant, if we’re hav­ing a casu­al con­ver­sa­tion at a restau­rant, and I get a press­ing email from work. So, I’m con­tin­u­ing to have that casu­al con­ver­sa­tion, but I’m now writ­ing a for­mal email on my phone. I’m not doing either of those things well. 

Anderson: And that also, you know we’re always inter­est­ed in unprece­dent­ed things. That seems unprece­dent­ed, in a way. If this had been five hun­dred years ago, you can’t be both at once, right. Or if you are they’d call you insane. Because you’re behav­ing as two peo­ple in one body. And yet when you have media there, you can be your pro­fes­sion­al, insipid cor­po­rate self writ­ing the email at the exact same moment that you are at the din­ner table with a bot­tle of wine in you. It’s odd to think that two or three or four faces of you can coex­ist now through tech­nol­o­gy in a way that maybe is total­ly dif­fer­ent than at any oth­er moment in his­to­ry.

Saul: And so in some ways, this kind of rais­es a dis­turb­ing ques­tion of, when you are able to be mul­ti­ple peo­ple at once, not one after the oth­er but simul­ta­ne­ous­ly mul­ti­ple peo­ple—

Anderson: Who are you, real­ly?

Saul: Exactly. 

Anderson: I don’t know. 

Saul: What is the real you?

Anderson: Hang on, let me check Twitter.

Saul: We can go from there into an inter­est­ing broad­er con­ver­sa­tion that you were talk­ing about with Douglas Rushkoff. You know, who am I real­ly? That’s one of the deep fun­da­men­tal ques­tions in life. And through­out his­to­ry, we have been work­ing towards fig­ur­ing out those deep ques­tions of life. Who are we? Why are we here? What sort of thing are we? And so that takes us into I think the next huge theme in this con­ver­sa­tion, which was, what is know­able?

Anderson: Yes.

Saul: And the idea of of quan­tifi­ca­tion in gen­er­al.

Anderson: Again, if we were talk­ing about which sub­sumes which, the ques­tion of knowa­bil­i­ty is the big ques­tion in the back­ground. But quan­tifi­ca­tion is I think this real­ly excit­ing new way that Douglas was talk­ing about it. So, quan­tifi­ca­tion. What the hell is quan­tifi­ca­tion? I mean, we’re talk­ing about a whole mind­set which he traces back to the birth of cap­i­tal­ism, in which we start think­ing about mar­kets, and we start think­ing about mea­sure­ments, and mea­sur­ing things in the world. And how does that spill over into areas that it seems like Douglas is uncom­fort­able quan­ti­fy­ing.

Saul: In many ways, I think it’s the fun­da­men­tal myth of our mod­ern soci­ety.

Anderson: Sweet, we got that nailed down.

Saul: I’m using myth of course in the philo­soph­i­cal sense, not the… I don’t want to imply that it’s false. I’m just…it’s the set of beliefs around a thing.

Anderson: Right. And what Rushkoff seems espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in is, I like his anal­o­gy that comes from his book Program or Be Programmed where he talks about when you were look­ing at things in the dig­i­tal realm, and this is essen­tial­ly what quan­tifi­ca­tion is, right. It’s putting sort of a dig­i­tal blan­ket over real­i­ty.

Saul: Right.

Anderson: You miss all of the unknow­able, unmea­sur­able stuff between the sam­ples. You know, the idea that there’s this whole murky world that we don’t even have the tools to look at. Like, all of our tools tell us that it’s not there because it’s not what we’re mea­sur­ing.

Saul: That was a real­ly cool, real­ly inter­est­ing anal­o­gy that I liked quite a bit. And it just got me think­ing… Is that an argu­ment against monism?

Anderson: I think we should go into this more.

Saul: Okay. So, we’ve talked to peo­ple in the past in this project who will argue that the world is just stuff, and there’s noth­ing beyond that. Laying a dig­i­tal under­stand­ing of the world over what­ev­er the actu­al world is… Well, one form of dig­i­tal world is exis­tence and non-existence. So, if it either exists and is mea­sur­able, or doesn’t exist and is not mea­sur­able, that’s a very monist world. Then there’s stuff and no stuff. 

Anderson: And I think part of that exis­tence is also assum­ing that exis­tence is only mat­ter, right? 

Saul: Right. 

Anderson: Physical, detectable, through instru­ments.

Saul: Knowable.

Anderson: Knowable. And mapable. And Rushkoff is say­ing, now there’s a lot that falls in between. I like that he con­cedes that maybe it is know­able, but it’s so not know­able by us at any con­ceiv­able, rea­son­able time in the future.

Saul: Right. And I think there’s a cool con­nec­tion there with Wes Jackson, with Whitehead, with Morton again. But that one espe­cial­ly I think with Jackson’s attack on hubris.

Anderson: Yes. And if you can’t have the knowl­edge, what are you going for? Where do you get the sources of val­ue? Wes Jackson says the uni­verse is not just stuff. And this is from a total­ly non-religious stance, but there’s some­thing else intan­gi­ble. Rushkoff is on the same page. Both of them seem to think that that sort of belief in our abil­i­ty to know and con­trol can phys­i­cal­ly, as Rushkoff says, bite us in the ass at some point. But they both seem to object to it on oth­er grounds, on it reduc­ing our human­i­ty, or blind­ing us to some­thing more impor­tant, which nei­ther of them sit­u­ate in reli­gion. Which I think is inter­est­ing, because I can see how it might not be reli­gious, but it seems like that’s a very spir­i­tu­al assump­tion.

Saul: And I think you got into that a bit with Rushkoff in that fun­da­men­tal­ly this is a dis­cus­sion of faith.

Anderson: Yeah. Talking about, how can you have the inter­faith con­ver­sa­tion between him and a tran­shu­man­ist. And it’s inter­est­ing because he sort of flips it around in that the peo­ple we’ve spo­ken to who are sec­u­lar tran­shu­man­ists don’t frame them­selves as faith-based. Rushkoff frames them as faith-based. Do you think Rushkoff would frame him­self as faith-based? You know? I mean, when I asked him about the ulti­mate source of val­ue, he said fun.” Which is not a faith-based-sounding answer.

Saul: Is it not?

Anderson: Say, you’re Max More and you’re lis­ten­ing to this con­ver­sa­tion. And you’re hear­ing all this stuff about the spaces in between the sam­ples. And philo­soph­i­cal­ly you say, Okay, I acknowl­edge that.” But. Where is Rushkoff run­ning with that? I think More would observe that Rushkoff is just as faith-based as maybe sec­u­lar tran­shu­man­ists. If you’re going to call one faith-based, you have to call the oth­er faith-based for the same rea­son that Torcello point­ed out that at the end of the day this is all about ara­tional assump­tions, and no one gets away from that.

Okay, well clear­ly Rushkoff is com­ing at this from an ara­tional assump­tion which you could cer­tain­ly frame as kind of a spir­i­tu­al or faith-based assump­tion that there is some­thing between the dig­i­tal sam­ples. Is fun real­ly get­ting to that, or is that a cop out?

Saul: I think it depends on how you define fun. And if that’s not a cop out, what is? 

Anderson: [Laughs] Damn.

Saul: But—

Anderson: You’re in the project, man. You can’t cop out on me.

Saul: Ah, god­damnit. No, I think…to be entire­ly hon­est, I think that sen­tence is prob­a­bly a cop out. But I don’t think he meant it as one.

Anderson: No, I don’t think so, either. I was just think­ing because, that could have been exact­ly the same answer that Tim Cannon would’ve giv­en for a total­ly total­ly dif­fer­ent meta­phys­i­cal stance, and a total­ly dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal agen­da.

Saul: Exactly. So, I don’t think that’s actu­al­ly his answer.

Anderson: I mean, I think his answer is what comes after that.

Saul: Right, exact­ly. He imme­di­ate­ly fol­lows that by talk­ing about mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ty. This seems like a strong con­nec­tion with a lot of the peo­ple we talked to that are more project-based, doesn’t it?

Anderson: It does, and cer­tain­ly his approach to it in terms of let’s not obsess about the future in the long term so much. Let’s go out right now and have din­ner with our neigh­bors. And there’s some­thing I real­ly like about that. This is going to sound real­ly weird, but it’s like the under­ly­ing val­ue sys­tem has some strange sim­i­lar­i­ties with Zerzan’s val­u­a­tion of peo­ple and rela­tion­ships, but this is not prim­i­tivist at all, and it is imme­di­ate­ly appli­able. You can go out and con­nect with peo­ple around you now. You can find a sense of secu­ri­ty and mean­ing that is not at all relat­ed to acqui­si­tion. Like, pull your­self out of the quan­ti­fied uni­verse. You will find more val­ue out­side of it. 

Saul: So, let’s just real quick talk now about where he leaves us. There’s a real sense in the end­ing of this con­ver­sa­tion of acqui­es­cence in a very Morton-like sense.

Anderson: We’ve tak­en the Ferris wheel all the way around here, through our quan­tifi­ca­tion talk. And we are back at where we got on, aren’t we? We’re with Morton again.

Saul: Yeah.

Anderson: And when Rushkoff talks about, we have this sys­tem that we’re cri­tiquing, we’ve got all these oth­er sys­tems in the wings… Maybe the ones that we’ve spent the past six months explor­ing, and they’re all stu­pid. I love that. They’re all stu­pid. They’re all com­pre­hen­sive sys­tems, as Torcello would say.

Saul: Yes.

Anderson: And as such they’re all des­tined not only for fail­ure, but almost sort of wind­ing you as a per­son up to this point of dis­ap­point­ment, where your com­pre­hen­sive sys­tem doesn’t work and you have to rec­og­nize that. And why can’t you just let go? There’s an ara­tional sense of good. You also have a con­nec­tion with Whitehead, I think, who thinks very sim­i­lar­ly about sort of the vast­ness and com­plex­i­ty and, there’s not a sense of—

Saul: And unknowa­bil­i­ty.

Anderson: And unknowa­bil­i­ty, yeah. And you can acknowl­edge that. In a way, you can kind of sur­ren­der to that. But you don’t stop. 

Saul: You do what you can, to the best that you can, because you can’t not.

Anderson: Which seems to be the lowest-level jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for action that any­one offers us in this project. Maybe every­one offers us in this project. 

That was Douglas Rushkoff, record­ed October 19, 2012 at his office in Hastings on Hudson, New York.

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

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

Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.

Further Reference

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

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