We have a general idea what we want to be asking people, but what are we missing? Let us know in the comments below what we haven’t been asking that you want to hear answered. We’ll pick a few of these to bring up with our upcoming interviews.
Having listened to most of the existing conversations over the last two weeks I feel like there’s a major theme I’m hearing from almost every speaker that hasn’t gone acknowledged, partially because I think every speaker agrees on it: mistrust of authority. From Tim Cannon advocating biohacking as a way to open access to medical technology outside the control of corporations to Jenny Lee’s critique of media centralization, to obviously John Zerzan, even people seemingly as unrelated as Ariel Waldman (overcoming the limitations of a centrally-planned approach to space) and Tim Morton who’s flat ontology is maybe the most radically-decentralized vision of all.
I think this unanimous rejection of authority is one of the things that most makes the current moment seem like a crisis or dramatic change. In a lot of ways the chief struggle of the modern period was creating strong central authorities that were actually responsible to the people they governed. From democracy to religious tolerance to the well-regulated market capitalism, most of the key features that structured modern life were centralized authorities that were well-leashed enough to not trampel the rights of individuals.
Nearly all the participants in the conversation have lost faith in these institutions, either seeing them as too extreme — having broken off the leash and running rampant, as in most of the critiques of robber barron capitalism — or as too slow and tentative to deal with the coming crises — as in the predictions of “collapse” whether that be environmental or economic.
I’d like to hear some more interrogation of this attack on institutions. Is the sense of a contemporary crisis what causes us to lose faith in institutions or is it the other way around? Is it our loss of faith in institutions exactly what’s causing this crisis? If we re-committed ourselves to sustaining current institutions could we actually improve them to the point where they’d work as active shields against the current crises? Is there anyone out there who’s advocating that? Or, if our current institutions are hopelessly outdated does that mean the very idea of instituions is doomed? Is our new hyper-connected and incomprehensibly complex world simply too hostile an environment for stabilizing instituions to exist? Or could we start to imagine building new institutions in this environment? Who is doing so?
I’m really glad that, after half a hear, someone has finally used this thing!
So, to rephrase the question: could I find a radical centralizer who is willing to defend institutions? Or a non-radical thinker (maybe a political scientist or sociologist) who studies trends in centralization?
This sparks a few ideas.
I think the structure and premise of The Conversation is biased against exploring this possibility. One of the bars I try to set for interviewees is to make sure they challenge status quo thinking. This is very subjective, but I feel we know most of the arguments in favor of larger institutions and that centralization has been a dominant trend for some time.
Except for the truly radical centralizers. A communist or philosophically-inclined fascist might be interesting to include, but is communism defunct enough for us to consider it a new idea again? I’ve leaned against this, but there’s an argument to be made here. And where to find a fascist or advocate of totalitarianism who isn’t too loathsome to bring into the series? In my ideal world, I’d like to find an advocate of a centralized, anti-democratic, and technocratic state who is informed by Plato’s distrust. That guy has proven elusive outside of Europe, though Micah and I have both searched for him at different points throughout this project.
Do we need such extreme centralizers? If we keep the “new ideas” and “challenge the status quo” bar to entry, yes. Moderate advocates of centralized institutions may challenge the anti-authority status quo of this project but end up being a voice of the broader status quo.
So in terms of bringing in new interviewees to address this topic, we’re looking at: find extreme centralizers or bend the bar to entry… which we’ve done before (Peter Warren) and will do again (Richard Saul Wurman). Both of those sound possible to me, but I can also question localism and advocate for institutions more in my conversations.
Thank you for bringing this up. The more brainpower working on this, the better.
Interesting analysis. I love the idea of a “radical centralizer” as a hold out against all the ecstatic decentralized network-obsessed futurism. I don’t love the thought that they’d have to be a fascist or a communist, though — although I guess by your definition of The Conversation they would have to be some kind of conservative. The person who immediately comes to mind is documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis. He seems to have a deep belief in the traditional liberal democratic civil society that’s been slowly disolved since the 50s. This belief manifests itself in powerfully polemical films attacking various radical efforts to transform society (I especially recommend All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, episode 2: On the Use and Abuse of Vegetative Metaphors). What’s powerful about Curtis’s conservative position is that he doesn’t really advocate for a return to a former society (which would be troubling in many ways), but instead highlights the things that have been lost in some of our recent technosocial changes. It’s a powerful critical voice that would play something of the John Zerzan role of being a foil and a source of questions for all the other conversationalists.
Obviously, Curtis is British so out of bounds. But I wonder who would be a good American equivalent…
I tried to use the “Suggest Interviews”link it sends me to a page titled “Confirmed Interviewees”. So I’m going to suggest an Interview here instead.
I am wondering if you guys are familiar with the Sea-steading Institute? This is a group that represents a larger movement that supports long-term ocean habitation or “Sea-steading’. The Institutes’ mission is “to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems”. Essentially they wish to create new nation states. They wish to experiment with new social structures, new economic structures, and new technologies that are unacceptable elsewhere. These guys are certainly having ‘The Conversation”!
According to wikipedia: “The Sea-steading Institute, founded by Wayne Gramlich and Patri Friedman on April 15, 2008, is an organization formed to facilitate the establishment of autonomous, mobile communities on seaborne platforms operating in international waters.”
This movement is really fascinating to me because it begins a separation from our current understanding of nation states, which we’re traditionally associated with a land mass. This is a fist step into something very new- you guys talk about this slightly in your first interview with John Fife, where you consider what else is possible beyond nation states? Where do we go with our collective ‘Conversation” if it leads us to a point where we need to try new things? New structures of society and economics- Also where do we experiment with controversial new science, new beliefs, new anything…Now that we are out of new lands to sail away to and start anew. The ‘New World’ will perhaps have to be one we build ourselves. Once you are 200 nautical miles from shore you are no longer subject to the laws of any sovereign nation.
“When Seasteading becomes a viable alternative, switching from one government to another would be a matter of sailing to the other without even leaving your house,” said Patri Friedman at the first annual Sea-steading conference.
This perhaps will fall into your category of folks who believe that technology will save us.
Douglas Rushkoff would lead us to believe, with his world view, that we’ve got nowhere to hide… Or at least we would be facing major opposition form the corporatist powers that be. Maybe we can take the first steps down Chris McKay’s path leading to living on other planets through Sea-steading. Before we rush off to inhabit new planets we should consider inhabiting the ocean. We have allot to learn about co-habitation before we can leave this Spaceship Earth for greener pastures.
They were on my original list and we had traded a few emails. Unfortunately, they were in the midst of some staff upheaval while I was in San Francisco, so I wasn’t able to bring them into The Conversation.
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