Micah Saul: Oh my God, it’s me.
Aengus Anderson: Oh my God, it’s you. And even crazier, it’s an interstitial episode.
Saul: Oh my God. We haven’t done one of those in…
Anderson: How long has it been?
Saul: Uh, the election?
Anderson: Wow. That’s an intermission. I guess that’s probably merciful for everyone else, but if you’ve made it half a year without us subjecting you to one of these, it’s about time. If you’re a new listener to the project, now you can hear us talk about some of the workings that go on behind the scenes. But before we proceed we should just say that you and Neil really aren’t the same person. He’s just busy right now.
Saul: Yes. It’s kind of hilarious that I think we’ve succeeded in the three of us all being available…twice…since we added him?
Anderson: It’s sort of like an amazing alignment of planets or something like that.
Saul: Yeah, exactly.
Anderson: So, without Neil we will go ahead and talk about some of the structural things that have been on our minds lately. And potential dare I say futures? for the project?
Saul: Ooh hoo hoo. Before we get into the futures, though, I kinda want to talk about the past real quick. Because I just realized May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. We are over one year old.
Anderson: Good God. Somehow we did make it through a year. I’m still posting episodes recorded in 2012 and will probably be doing that for a couple more weeks. If you’ve been listening closely, following episodes as they go up, you’ve noticed that I’ve slowed the pace a little bit. That’s because I’ve been doing a lot of stuff behind the scenes.
Saul: Yes. You wanna talk about some of those things?
Anderson: Basically, we financed the project. You and I did. And with some really generous help from our listeners. So we ran it a full year out of pocket. We think it’s a cool project and we want to keep doing it. But to do that, we need to get funding. And we feel that in order to get funding we need to raise our visibility.
So a lot of what I’ve been doing behind the scenes—invisibly, ironically—is trying to raise our visibility. Writing lots of articles… I had a piece in Boing Boing recently talking about digital liberties and how they don’t connect to other parts of the Conversation. So I wrote a challenge to the digital liberties community and said you’ve got all these sympathetic people out there, can you frame your issue in a way that would appeal to all of these other groups? You know, that’s something that we talk about and that we see a lot in The Conversation, people framing things in that way. And it’s curious that throughout this project we really haven’t seen that with digital liberty. So that’s an example of the sort of work that I’ve been doing behind the scenes to try to raise awareness of the project.
Saul: Have you gotten much response from that yet?
Anderson: Gotten you know, kind of the initial spike of responses. And beyond that it’s been really really hard to get this project any visibility. And so I’m still working on it.
Saul: And this is the part of the podcast, which if you listen to podcasts you know you get all the time, where we ask, “Hey tell your friends. And if you get a free moment, if you’re listening through iTunes go write a review. That stuff actually really helps.” So if you think this is a cool thing, want to see it last, want to see it get more visibility, give it a try. Please. Thank you. That would be awesome.
Anderson: You know, we have no marketing budget, right. And there’s only a finite amount of time of the day. And a lot of that time for me has got to go to editing and to other moneymaking activities to try to propel this thing a little further. And so with all of that, we do need you guys to proselytize for us if you can. And if you like the project. And we hope you do.
So that’s sort of where we’re at in terms of right now. And where we’re looking as if we can boost our listenership, we would love to get one or two articles written about The Conversation somewhere. And then we want to start approaching people who could help finance us maybe through another year of production. Or if we could turn it into a longer-term project. We’ve been examining every idea that we can, thinking you know could we partner with an academic institution? Could we turn it into more of an oral history thing, really make it a time capsule? Could we collaborate with public media? And if we had to do something like that, how would we have to change our format? Can we find a wealthy benefactor somewhere? Can we crowdsource? There are a lot of questions that we’re sort of going through.
Saul: Yeah. And if you guys have any thoughts, we’d love to hear ’em. For both of us the important thing is that we keep this going. Because as I’ve said before we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think it was an important project in some small way. Richard Saul Wurman calls us out and says you know, we’re not gonna change a goddamn thing. I don’t know. Maybe let’s try and prove him wrong.
Anderson: And that’s as good of a use of our time as any.
Saul: Yes. So, if we do continue it on, what that means is more conversations. And towards that, Aengus is coming back up to San Francisco in a couple months, or in a month.
Anderson: Right. Because we also feel that if we want to establish this project more, obviously we need to keep going. So I’ve raised enough money just on my own to get up to San Francisco and hopefully maybe get ten more interviews between SF, and then I’m going to go down to LA and try to pick up some more there.
Saul: the other thing is if you happen to be in San Francisco or nearby… Aengus just did this down in Tucson and we’re going to give it a try in San Francisco as well, hopefully, which was a live listening event. Cut our blather out, played an episode…
Anderson: Put your blather in!
Saul: Yeah, so cut our usual blathering before and after out, play just the actual conversation, and then had a long discussion afterwards. We don’t know what time, we don’t know a place yet. We’re still just starting to think about it. But if that sounds like it might be interesting, stay tuned. We’ll have more information soon. It will be sometime in the first maybe two weeks of June.
Anderson: We’ll make noise on Twitter and Facebook and we’ll announce it in one of the podcasts. So let’s draw the line there and let’s move on to some other things we’ve seen over the past six months. We’ve got so many new conversations. The project is really involved in a lot of ways. You know, we talk all the time about connections we’re seeing. And we want to talk now about connections that we’re not seeing.
Saul: Yeah. We really noticed it most especially with with James Bamford. But also I mean, since our last interstitial, we’ve launched the new website. And you can look at that map and you can see where there are things that are a little sparser. Everybody talks about the environment. Everybody talks about the economy. Community, technology, that’s…everybody’s talking about those things.
But when you get to something like say, digital liberties, which isn’t even on the concept map because only one person has talked about it. Or art and music. We’ve had artists and musicians, but nobody outside of those fields are talking about it. So you wanna just jump in on one of these and start like, trying to figure out what that’s all about?
Anderson: Yeah. And I mean the digital liberties one… Let’s just take that for starters for people aren’t familiar with what digital liberties even are. Because I think a lot of us aren’t talking about Internet privacy, talking about surveillance, talking about…it brings in a lot of things like copyright. You know, who controls the Internet? These are a lot of things that are being really actively fought over in Congress, and yet they really are invisible elsewhere.
I mean, The Conversation may not be representative of what Americans are thinking about. But it is a cross-section of really smart people who are engaged and care. And the fact that on multiple occasions I’ve talked to people about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is a group that is really active in fighting for digital liberties, a lot of causes that I think both you and I support personally—
Saul: Absolutely. I’m donating money to them every time the Giants win a baseball game this season.
Anderson: Now our donations have been publicly disclosed, because I don’t have any money to give to anyone. But anyhow. So the EFF, they’re doing incredible work. And I’ve mentioned them multiple times to different people in this project. And nobody knows who they are. And that is interesting to me.
Saul: Because they’re not some fly-by-night organization, either. They’ve been around for a long time. So to have them just be completely unknown…I don’t know, I guess outside of the bubble I live in, is sort of surprising to me. And concerning.
Anderson: And we have to ask why is it invisible? You know, we talk a lot about language in this project. Is it the language of that? Does the idea of digital liberty seem to abstract? Does it seem too techy?
Saul: Is it too new? Have we just not internalized that yet? I mean, I think that’s probably a part of it.
Anderson: Right. And that I think part of the big concern as well. That when will we internalize it? Like, how much ground are we going to have to lose while people are not paying attention to the issue, to make people pay attention to the issue?
Saul: It’s an incredibly daunting task, right. I mean, how do you get people to care as much about their privacy online as they do about their privacy in their home?
Anderson: Right, and it feels like part of the case you got to make is that look, that matters. That connects to everything you do. It connects to are you an environmental activist? Are you concerned about carbon emissions? At some point, you will want to be out there making noise in the streets, maybe. Or you’ll want to be lobbying for some kind of change. And if you want to do those things, you don’t want to be surveilled.
Saul: I’m thinking about the subpoena to Twitter to get Twitter messages of Occupy protesters.
Anderson: And a lot of this stuff, it’s really contentious about whether it’s legal or not. Like, we don’t know; it’s grey. And so the laws are being fought over right now. So, there’s just one example of a connection that we haven’t seen, and ways that it matters and ways that it maybe could be seen.
You know, another one that’s been really absent, surprisingly so, or maybe unsurprisingly so, race and gender. You know, at the beginning of the project we talked a lot about class. And I really didn’t expect it to start popping up with the frequency it did. It seemed like it took us a long time before we sort of hit that. And maybe that was our own kind of changing of the guests, in a way. Maybe we pushed in that direction. But maybe it’s also the result of Occupy really raising class as an issue.
Race and gender are used rhetorically in a lot of different conversations. You know, we’ve heard people… You know, Robert Zubrin talked about race and environment in a way that was…you know, I think really enriched his conversation. But it wasn’t the main thrust of it.
Anderson: And so we’ve had a few where that’s been the main thing. You know, Roberta Francis with the ERA. Very recently Scott Douglas. Earlier, Henry Louis Taylor. But it seems like the conversations that focus on that as a central issue focus on that, you know.
Saul: Right. And it’s also, I mean…comical, if it wasn’t so depressing that the main conversation about gender was with a woman. And the two main conversations about race were with black men.
Saul: When those are the main thrust of a conversation it’s because there’s actually a stake in it. And the white males that make up the bulk of the people we’re talking to, well…turns out they don’t really…care, much.
Anderson: Or they care, but they see other issues as—
Saul: Or they see other issues as [crosstalk] more urgent.
Anderson: —more urgent.
Saul: And I think actually, going back to our last interstitial, you and I do the same thing.
Saul: Right? I mean, we were talking about the outcome of the election and how there were race and gender issues there. But we were more concerned about what we called the broader issues.
Anderson: Mm hm.
Saul: And that… I mean, that right there. We are just as guilty of sort of dismissing the race and gender question. Because…well, because we’re comfortable white men.
Anderson: And the other thing is, I think of all the things to talk about, those two are the scariest. Especially for white men. That can feel like treacherous terrain. Not only are they less likely to see it than other people, but I think they’re a lot more hesitant to go on record and talk about it. I was going to mention that we do have one person who really was an exception to talking about that, Gary Francione.
Anderson: He talks about nonviolence in a very big way. And for him, race and gender are a huge part of that. And I didn’t use all of it in the final edit. But for him, those are really integrated into a whole platform of thought.
Anderson: Which I thought was something very cool. But yes, otherwise I think that I agree with that generalization. At the same time, though, I think there’s something that we need to look into or at least put on the table, is that we’re looking at all of these different issues and there’s sort of an apples and oranges quality to them. And so for a lot of people who you sit down and you say “what is the crisis of the present?” If you’re thinking about climate, I think you can make an argument in a lot of ways that that could be, or maybe is, and probably will be, more urgent than the race issue.
I don’t know if I believe this, but let me just run with it for a second because I think there’s an argument to be made there, in that it is an existential threat. If you ruin the climate, so many people are affected that you sort of can’t even deal with things like the race issue. So I think it’s really tough because we have different frames of reference for people, and what is existential for one group… You know, if you’re in a group that’s being discriminated against, race is in many ways an existential issue. Whereas if you’re not, then you might see the existential issue as being climate or an economic collapse that leads to a famine. And it’s…I mean, God I don’t want to get into comparing those things.
Saul: It’s dangerous territory.
Anderson: I feel uncomfortable putting this on the record.
Saul: I…yeah. So…moving on?
Anderson: Oh, what a pass the buck moment.
Saul: And I think that exactly sums up what I was just saying. Of accusing us of being just as guilty. Like, it is hard to talk about these things, especially coming from a position of privilege.
Anderson: Yeah. And that’s something that we were talking about and gave us real difficulty when we were working with Oliver Porter’s episode.
Saul: Mm hm.
Anderson: And I’ve gotten feedback from different listeners who’ve reacted very differently to it. As we would’ve expected.
Anderson: And I think wanted.
Saul: Mm hm. No, absolutely.
Anderson: But definitely a reminder that there’s so much context to what issues appear and what issues don’t appear within this project, and how people choose to connect them, or choose to ignore them.
Saul: Moving to less controversial singletons in our list of connections that don’t exist. We talk about big systems all the time, right. And how interrelated they are. And one of those big systems that again only a couple people have brought up is agriculture and food supply. Obviously we get that huge from Wes Jackson.
Anderson: Yep. It crops up pretty early with Jan Lundberg.
Saul: That’s what it was, yes. Jan Lundberg mentions it as of those interconnected systems.
Anderson: I talked about it a little bit with Francis Whitehead. We talk about slow food and scarcity and things like that. But it’s a major component.
Saul: Oh, we’re leaving out a huge one. We’re leaving out a huge one. Patrick Crouch.
Anderson: Oh, yeah. This is where you can tell we’ve done a lot of interviews at this point.
Saul: Yeah, exactly.
Anderson: But be that as it may, that’s really a small number.
Saul: Remarkably small, actually. Like, for being such a massive system and such an important system.
Anderson: You know, with food I wonder is it—or agriculture—is it just subsidiary to the environment as an issue? Where when people talk about the environment it’s almost implicit that they’re talking about agriculture? And so maybe it’s less of a surprise that we’re not seeing it that often?
Saul: Mmm, see I don’t know that it’s necessarily implied. They’re very related, of course, but I think they are…they’re different issues.
Anderson: Mm hm.
Saul: Wes Jackson does a great job of showing how they’re connected. But I think Patrick Crouch does a great job showing how food is its own separate concern.
Anderson: And while we’re talking about food we need to talk about another elephant in the room, water. No one’s talked about water.
Saul: No one has talked about water. And that’s…remarkable. That’s disturbing, actually.
Anderson: Yeah, I think that’s one that we’re gonna remedy real soon.
Saul: Yeah, I think we need to.
Anderson: I think there’s a lot that we can get out of a conversation about water. And there may be no better place to do it than the desert southwest.
So there you have a lot of things that we’ve been thinking about behind the scenes in terms of connections and a lack of connections.
Saul: Are there any others? Like, I’d be interested to hear what the listeners have to say. If they can come up with any things that just are glaring absences or things that seem so obvious that everybody should be concerned about but nobody actually appears to be…
Anderson: Right. These are things that could be sitting under our very noses and we wouldn’t’ve even seen them.
Saul: Right. Race and gender are so large that of course we notice those.
Saul: But, what are the other ones we’re missing. I mean, here. Hell, there’s one that just jumped out immediately: sexuality.
Anderson: Why haven’t we talked about that yet?
Saul: I have no idea.
Anderson: And what would be the right place to start talking about that issue? What is the cutting-edge question there? And that’s another one it would be great to get comments from people.
Saul: Yeah. So how’s that for a list of calls to action for all you guys?
Anderson: Basically we want you to write to us. And we want to thank the people who have.
Anderson: There’ve been a lot of you. I especially want to give a shout out to Andreas Lloyd. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing your first name right, man. But thank you for writing us some really thoughtful, interesting emails, and for being such a contemplative, cool listener of The Conversation. We really enjoy your stuff and we look forward to hearing from you more. And from all of the other folks who’ve written in, too.
Saul: Yes. One year it, it’s been a hell of a fun ride. Let’s keep this going as long as we possibly can.
Anderson: I don’t think I could say it any better. So we’ll sign off here and we will keep on marching forward. Shoot us notes. You know where to find us. And we will be unleashing some new conversations soon.
Saul: This is The Conversation. You can find us on Twitter at @aengusanderson and on the web at findtheconversation.com.
Anderson: So thanks for listening I’m Angus Anderson.
Saul: And I’m Micah Saul.
This episode at the Conversation web site, with project notes, comments, and taxonomic organization specific to The Conversation.