Episode 32: The Conversation and the Election
Micah and I have been talking about a new interstitial episode for several weeks but, with the election last night, we decided to pick up our microphones and talk about the relationship between the political conversation and The Conversation. Relationship is probably the wrong word there—rupture might be more accurate.
Long before we devised this project, both of us were concerned that the American political conversation was divorced from substantive issues, especially the interconnected tangle of economy and environment. In fact, this lack of political substance was one of the concerns that caused us to undertake The Conversation in the first place. Given that, we’re going to take this opportunity to revisit these ideas and sharpen our definition of what is (and isn’t) The Conversation. We’ll also interpret the current political conversation through the lens of systems thought, which featured in my conversations with Morton, Korten, Jackson, and Whitehead.
Should it be surprising that the more you speak with people who talk about crisis that you, yourself, begin to think the world is in crisis? (Even if it, perhaps, isn’t?)
I mean, I understand we can talk about “systemic problems” that we are powerless to bugfix, and yes those might be annoying and should (probably) be attended to. However, if we keep falling back on the idea of Ragnarok, do we risk either 1) creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, or 2) a non-insignificant chance that the sky is falling?
Micah and I launched this project because we were concerned about the future. It shouldn’t be surprising that, after many interviews we have curated, we continue to feel that there are systemic problems that warrant discussion–we are just as affected by confirmation bias as anyone else. Hopefully our subjectivity is out front and, whatever one thinks of our interpretation, The Conversation is readable in other ways.
Could the Ragnarok metaphor be self-fulfilling? If it implied despair I would say yes, but because it demands further action, I am less sure. At the same time, the metaphor is legitimately useful. Ragnarok has given us the language to talk about a phenomenon that we keep running into in unrelated interviewees: the sense that we have to try to improve the world despite our intellectual recognition that our problems dwarf us. It’s not a perfect metaphor–in Ragnarok you know that you’re going to lose whereas, in our conversations, many people think we’re going to lose but few profess to know it absolutely (Tainter and possibly Lundberg are the closest exceptions I can think of, and they still see recovery later).
Perceptions are important, but it’s important to make sure they don’t overshadow the substance of the conversations themselves. Hopefully we can accept contrary argument and evidence rather than filtering the world so heavily that we only perceive what we already believe. Even though we are subjective narrators presenting the views of subjective thinkers, it doesn’t follow that all arguments are equally valid. While acknowledging my own attitudes, I hope that I find Wes Jackson’s critique more persuasive than Zubrin’s because of the actual solidity of their respective arguments. A recurring critique of the people Micah and I have been calling “systems thinkers” is that our global economic and social systems rely on limitless growth in a finite environment. Even if Micah and I were junior-league Cassandras, I think that critique alone would be too significant to dismiss as merely an annoying bug to fix.
But I know what The Dude would say to me here: “yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
I’ve been meaning to thank you for listening and taking the time to write great comments before, but this is finally my opportunity. We’re glad you’re here!
Why do Americans vote for the lesser-evil rather than the greatest good? I’m guilty of this too – I should have voted Libertarian, but fear of the greater evil and fear of casting a vote that wouldn’t matter as much got the the better of me. Are our politicians making the same weak choice everyday?
If I ran my marriage and other relationships based on fear and the lesser evil and not the greatest good, I’d soon find myself at war with everyone around me and then alone.