The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show, Ashley Colby, or Jason Snyder. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: If you haven’t checked out the new Game B film yet, at initiation to Game B, you can find it at gamebfilm.org, enjoy. Today’s guests are Ashley Colby and Jason Snyder. Ashley is co-founder and instructor at Rizoma Field School in Colonial Uruguay. She’s an environmental sociologist with a PhD from Washington State University. And previously was an itinerate overland international traveler, Chicago Tribune travel writer, and a long haul 18 wheel trucker. Yeah. I love those 1950s literary novelist style bios are great, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. That’s the way you actually see the world and understand what’s going on out there.
Jim: And this is a return visit by Ashley. She was on EP 122, where we talked about her book and a bunch of other stuff. And her book’s called Subsistence Agriculture in the US. It’s interesting. Jason is an instructor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. And he’s been cultivating ecologically regenerative and resilient food systems in Southern Appalachia. Trying to develop a sense of place and how it informs the co-evolution of culture and ecology. And how traditional place based wisdom can be integrated with environmentally appropriate technologies and novel forms of social organization to foster human wellbeing and inclusion. Now that’s a mouthful, but it also like interesting stuff. So welcome, Jason and Ashley.
Jason: Great to be here. Thank you.
Jim: Yeah, this should be fun. I’ve seen the term that you guys have coined do more optimism floating around various corners of the liminal web over the last, I don’t know, year or so. And truthfully haven’t fought it really closely, but what I’ve seen look like good stuff. So the best I can tell by doing a little bit of detective work, it looks like Ashley is the one that actually coined the expression. Is that right?
Ashley: Yup. Yup. Although I do like to point out that it was literally because of Jason and our conversations that I even thought to say it. It was in reaction to him. So I don’t want to take all the credit.
Jim: So what do you guys mean when you say doomer optimism? I mean, it’s kind of an interesting tension filled phrase, right?
Jason: Yeah. I love terms that create this kind of inherent tension. I think they open up a lot of space for insights and synthesis. For me, the doomer part is just the recognition in a really deep sense that there’s a lot of existential risks out there that humanity is at a crossroads. I focus a lot on the ecological climate side, but of course, people focus on the singularity and political decay, institutional decay. Of course, the Game B analysis of Game A dynamics, a couple of technology is resonant there. So it’s trying not to be naive. Right? But the optimism part is, well, we don’t want to become fatalistic, we don’t want to become nihilistic or depressed. Oh, it’s just, we’re all going to die. We have to move forward as if there’s hope. And so trying to find pragmatic ways to do that. And oftentimes it takes a form of thinking about how do you build resilient communities? How do you build regenerative communities?
Ashley: Yeah. And the only thing I would add to that to start with is that it seems to us, or it seems to me that a lot of us were sort of already doomer optimist before we knew of the term or before we made the term up. Basically a lot of us were in the mental space where we recognized that there’s a lot of challenges out there, there’s a lot of crises. Yet despite that we’re working on something, working towards something. And then, we sort of found each other on Twitter and started talking about the different things that we were working on and what overlaps and what’s different. And then coined the term, looking back on the already existing things that we were doing. But it’s not a utopian description of what we want to be, it’s a sort of backwards description of what already is in our lives. What a lot of people are already doing and working on.
Jim: Yeah. I saw a very nice short statement from Jason where you said doomer optimism isn’t an ideology or an action plan. It’s an openly sourced structure of feeling.
Jason: Yeah. Yeah. So I took that idea from some of the discourse around meta modernism and structures of feeling and how humanity kind of goes through these different structures of feeling or stages, although it’s not always so linear. And to me, I don’t want it to be like this ideology, I don’t want to see it that way, I don’t want it to become a religion or a utopian ideal. We know that those often lead to bad places, it’s really just an orientation towards the world. It’s kind of existential, an existential orientation towards the world of, again, even in our personal lives, knowing that we’re going to die. Reckoning with that fact, not trying to pretend it’s not going to happen as much as modernity kind of distracts us from that reality. But once you do that, once you kind of metabolize that knowledge or society, as we currently know it, it might break down in ways. That kind of clears the space for an appreciation of the moment of vividness in life, and wanting to move forward in a more grounded, pragmatic way. At least that’s how I relate to that as a sensibility.
Ashley: Yeah. I think for me, the only thing I would add to that is, it’s in orientation, at least for me, toward action and toward experimentation. And so I think like, when I think about the doomer part, I’m pretty well steeped in the environmental sociologists environmentalist world. And I have to say that there’s quite a bit of doomerist pathology, like psychological pathology in that world. People are sad and anxious, depressed and sort of stuck, a lot of people are extremely stuck. And then there’s also a pathology around I don’t know, self-adulation or something, it’s like, don’t do this, don’t do that if you want to save the environment. If you want to save the world, you must suffer, kind of attitude. And I just feel like there are probably more fruitful and psychologically healthy approaches toward optimism, towards what it is that we’re trying to work towards. Whether it’s Game B or permaculture or whatever that are practical, actionable, and just sort of… Yeah, I mean, fun, fun too. You know what I mean?
Ashley: There’s just, I think in a lot of the doomerism there’s just not a lot of fun at all. There’s no real route toward fun or something exciting or something joyful or how to make connections. So I think my orientation is a lot towards the human side, the joy, the humanity, and all the different ways in which people are finding meaning and I guess like new models for us. Because we don’t have a lot of models with that right now.
Jim: Yeah. I like that a lot. In fact, you guys said a lot of the right, good words about this negative energy, which unfortunately has permeated some parts of our broader community. The word I think of, what you didn’t mention that here all the time is despair, right? Isn’t that sad that people would despair, right? We can’t predict the future, maybe the world will end, right? And maybe we’ll get struck by a 10 kilometer asteroid and people say, “Whoa, what happens if that happens?” Put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye. There ain’t a God damn thing you can do about it. But on the other hand, if you keep your optimism up, you keep swinging, there’s a fairly good chance that something will come up. I’ve never been able to understand what benefit there is in despair. I mean, if nothing else, I’ll take some of the other mother fuckers with me when I go, right? Totally out numbered and surrounded Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “Hey, we’re going to make them pay.” Right? Despair, just a useless idea. And that’s one of the things I really appreciated as I dug into the work that you guys are doing. It was that you’re upbeat. You say, “Hey, we don’t know, but hey, what’s the alternative, but to give it a go?
Ashley: Right. Right.
Jason: Exactly. And I would just say what differentiates it from say what I would call naive optimism is I think it’s also… So it’s pushing back against the despair, but it’s also pushing back against the kind of naive optimism of some people who place all their faith, for example, in technology to save us. Right? Okay. There will be massive geoengineering projects to handle our climate crisis, there will be, this or that. We’ll go to Mars to solve over population, the over population problem.
Jim: Fusion energy, solve all our problems. Right? Might happen but…
Jason: It might happen. It might happen. And I’m definitely not anti-technology, I certainly wouldn’t characterize myself as that. But I like to… Today I posted on Twitter, I consider myself of the Illich and Schumacher school of techno optimism. Which I feel like is more focused on the human scale and human kind of center technology. As opposed to just hoping that the singularity will take care of us all and we’ll get to full luxury communism or whatever it is, techno luxury communism. I forget what that’s called.
Ashley: Yeah. I would add to that. I think somebody posted sort of a thread of their chicken coop, and it had all these different ways in which they automated their chicken coop. They put an automatic door on it that shuts when the light is low enough in the day and an automatic waterer and an automatic warmer for the water. And a lot of techno optimists are like, “We just need a fully automated food future.” And I was like, “Yes, on that scale. That dude’s scale, it’s in his house. That appeals to me, so I think… But I think to me what’s interesting and really beautiful about the doomer optimist umbrella is the just wild experimentation that so many people are doing. And no one’s really inviting them to come out of the shadows and show us. Show us what you’re doing, this is so cool. Let’s all share. And then other people are looking at the thread and saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to try that. I never thought to do it like that.” And it’s just this sort of horizontal sharing of experimentation and knowledge. And it’s sort of giving people heuristics and examples that are practical and like philosophically robust to think about at least if not to act on.
Jim: Yeah. And this is probably a good time to tell our audience about places they can go and learn more about doomer optimism. There’s a doomer optimist podcast, which is actually fun. People who listen to me know that I don’t listen to too many podcasts, but I actually enjoy dipping in and out of the doomer optimist podcast. You can find it on YouTube, you can find it on apple podcasts, I guess you can probably find it on most of the podcasts listeners out there. And they also have a good Substack, doomer optimist Substack. And as always we’ll have links to those on our resource page at jimracho.com. So there’s a lot you can dig into and what I do like about what I saw, certainly no means all of it was that mix of philosophy and can do. Here’s how I actually butchered a Bison, right?
Ashley: Yeah, totally. And it’s been a nice kind of umbrella term because then it sort of means whatever you want it to mean, pick your doom, pick your optimism is what I always say. And so it’s kind of nice people can just project themselves onto it. I don’t know, Jason, maybe you want to describe how our podcast works, it might be a good opportunity here because it’s kind of turned into the collective project. So maybe that would be interesting to talk about.
Jason: Yeah. Well that’s what we’re trying to encourage, is we kind of coined the term and popularized it. Of course Ashley coined the term, but we started popularizing it. But we really want to see it as a collective, it doesn’t belong to us, we’re not the gurus, we’re not the leaders. And so both with the podcast and with the Substack, we’re encouraging as many people to take ownership of the process as possible. So, if somebody wants to conduct an interview on the platform, granted that we’ve interviewed them first, that’s like usually the rule, although not always. Then they can book an interview and host it on our platform with the Substack which Ashley started, and this is her idea, the mini manifestos. It’s like, we don’t want just our definition, it’s not like us two are going to write a manifesto and that’s what doomer optimism. She encouraged many people to write manifestos of what it is. And we got, I don’t know, we got like 15 or 20 of them or something.
Ashley: Well, we have 10 parts and each had like two or three. So I mean, close to 30.
Jason: Yeah, so 20 or 30.
Jason: And so that was more on the philosophical. And now what we’re doing with the Substack is inviting people. We’re doing a series called Action Oriented where we’re inviting people to basically write about something practical, something actionable that they did, that they can share and other people could perhaps replicate or adapt in their own context. And so, yeah, that’s kind of where we’re taking it, is we’re trying to find that balance between the philosophy. I’m very interested in the philosophical aspects, but we also don’t want to get too philosophical, too abstract. We don’t want to end with talk, it’s like what are people actually doing? And oftentimes it revolves around livelihood strategies, revolves around permacultural type of setups. But it doesn’t have to, right? We’re also interested in novel ways people are using technology, we’re interested in… I’m interested in the affordances perhaps of Web3 distributed technology, things like that. And so we’re trying to keep it open and we’re trying to empower as many people as possible in the process.
Jim: Yeah. One of the themes that I think you both hit on also is localism and certainly some of your guests as well. Is that, particularly if we’re thinking about a bundle of trajectories that might go to the doomer side. There’s a lot to be said for localism and the ability to be able to robustly handle fluctuations in the external world, by building our relationships and building our capacities locally.
Ashley: Yeah. I definitely feel like there’s a huge localist strain in doomer optimism. I think in general a lot of what overlaps between people’s interests has to do with, I guess, a sort of more human scale world. I mean, a more scalable world where there’s the ability to forge deeper connections, deeper meaning, more meaning in work, more meaning in life. And I think in general, there’s just this sense of malaise and depression about the way the options we have available to us. So localism to me is just this sort of catchall term for a more human scaled, I don’t know, sense of livelihood. I don’t know if Jason, you have a better description than that.
Jason: No, I resonate with that. I would just add that I also really resonate with the modify or cosmopolitan localism or networked localism and that’s… so it’s not kind of our great, great grandmothers localism necessarily, although includes many elements of it, but we’re also connected through the internet. Right? And I think that’s a great affordance, that’s a great benefit that we should utilize. And so what we’re doing now today, all being in different parts of the world, having conversations, sharing insights, I think that’s a great thing. And so finding that balance, this kind of creative tension between localized lives in physical space but being connected with other localities all over the world and having this kind of collective intelligence at larger scales I think is also really important to ultimately make 21st century localism viable.
Jim: Yeah. That’s absolutely important. Of course, very much part of our Game B thinking which is, we’re not going to go back, we’re going to go through and onward. Right? Then so let’s use everything that’s been created, but let’s use it smartly for human wellbeing rather than to squeeze the last penny out of the stone. Right? Nothing wrong with solar energy, nothing wrong with the internet. Maybe, maybe in limited doses, nothing wrong with virtual reality though. A little concerned about where that may take humanity.
Ashley: Yeah. And I think in general, Jason and I tend to share a skepticism toward a tech accelerationism, but I don’t think that that necessarily, we talk a lot about making sure that just because we have that frame, that doesn’t mean we want to preclude people who might have like really big ideas about Web3, for example, from coming under the umbrella and coming to be a part of the collective. We had Matt Perkowski come write a mini manifesto and he’s pretty hardcore tech, I don’t want to use the wrong term. What would you call [crosstalk 00:17:12]?
Jason: He’s also the homesteader too-
Jason: …which is interesting. Yeah.
Ashley: Yeah. And Jordan Hall came on the podcast, that one hasn’t come out yet. So I want to be sort of a warm skeptic, I want to be agnostic, but I want to provide a platform. But I also think that the skepticism I think in general there’s a lot of group think, there’s a lot of the permaculturalist talk to themselves and the Web3 people talk to themselves and nobody’s talking across. And I think the skepticism in some ways is accelerating or strengthening everybody’s ideas. We should be able to talk across these differences and sort of be skeptical in a way that makes each other’s ideas stronger or more legible to an outside audience, et cetera, et cetera. So I think part of the idea too is to kind of ward off the groups think which is happening so much. And people just finding other people… to find a place where we can sort of butt heads politely, if that makes sense.
Jim: Yeah. And certainly, at least in my view, Web3 lots of interesting ideas there, but much to be skeptical about as well. A week doesn’t go by somebody doesn’t toss me a business plan for some Web3 thing and at least nine times out of 10, my answer is now, why would you need the Blockchain to do this? Wouldn’t it be 10 times cheaper, 100 times faster and 1,000 times more resilient to do it a different way? And then oh, Blockchain, Blockchain, Blockchain, and they go talk to somebody else. Right? On the other hand, there are some things that only can be done on a trustless public ledger. So, let’s get smart and understand what these affordances are from things that Web3 is developing and let’s go do those kinds of things. But keep in mind, there’s lots of things that one can do on the net that Web3 is just, frankly, a distraction and a price increaser. So, it requires some discernment about our technologies and not to, as you say, bandwagon along and think that Blockchain is the magical answer to all the world’s problems when it ain’t, it’s just another kind of shovel basically. So you need to be the kind of hole that Web3 is good for that use Web3 but don’t treat it as if it were a religion. I see a lot of that unfortunately at the moment.
Jim: Of course the same was true in Web1, I lived through the very end of my business career was the dotcom boom. Right? All kinds of ridiculous crap came out. Right? And then it popped it burst but then I selected [inaudible 00:19:47] to people, the end of the dotcom boom did not mean that end of the internet. Quite the contrary, it basically cleaned out the brush, the crap and that which was reasonable continued forward and got bigger and faster and stronger, probably too fast. And the same is true about Web3, there will be a Web3 burst and much of the underbrush will be cleared out. And those ideas which actually have merit actually have utility in the world will move forward and probably make a big impact. So, I’m with you on understand that it’s not entirely bogus, but understand that there is a lot of bogosity running around the concept called Web3.
Jason: Yeah. I like to call it a healthy skepticism and we definitely try to engage with it. So for example, soon we’re going to be interviewing Gregory Landua who’s co-founder of Regen Network, and he’s really into regenerative finance. And we really want to get into these issues of I think that there is a great possibility for our financial system to be geared more towards ecological regeneration and regenerative agriculture. But we also have a, I would say healthy skepticism, of the translation between the qualitative and the quantitative. Right? And if you’re trying to measure certain aspects of ecological health does it have to be reductionistic in order to actually put it on a ledger, for example. And so, we want to explore these issues, right? Not that we don’t want to foreclose them, but we also don’t want to jump in there as like religious believers right off the bat. So healthy skepticism, I think is our attitude. [crosstalk 00:21:30].
Jim: This actually pull something out from the old history of business automation, back in the 80s I used to always tell people, do it on paper first, figure out what you’re trying to accomplish before you automate it. And I’d say the same is true on Web3, figure out what it is you want to do before you decide even if these Web3 technologies are appropriate. Ashley, go ahead. I cut you off. Sorry.
Ashley: It’s okay. Yeah. I was just going to say, I think like thinking back to my research, not to get too deep, but I think we’re in this historical moment where there’s just all sorts of crisis and all sorts of experimentation. And I think basically in times like that, a lot of people are looking for one single answer that solves everything. They’re like, just give me Web3, that’s going to be it. And we’ll be like saved, but we’ll be in the promised land, to use religious terms. And I think that for me the skepticism is to make sure that we don’t go all in one thing, but instead be open to like the experimentation and cross pollination across different strategies for dealing with crisis or for bringing in the next world, whatever it’s going to be.
Ashley: Then all the new social institutions. If fundamentally what we’re trying to do is build new social institutions it has to be through that act of experimentation. The answer isn’t all prepackaged for us so it can’t be, it’s necessary the process. So for me the religious sensibility thing is really on my mind a lot, because I see a lot of people doing this kind of cult-like activity where it’s is like, oh, we’ve got one big guru leader and the leader has all the answers and we’re going to follow them to the end and I’m going to defend them. The Bitcoiners, extreme Bitcoiners are like this, not all of them, because many of them are wonderful and think a lot about decentralization, et cetera. So for me, it’s let’s stay away from the extremes. Let’s try to stay in the middle in the experimenting zone and cross pollinating ideas.
Jim: Jason, do you have anything to say about that?
Jason: I don’t have much to add. I like to think I’m a theory of change pluralist that we need many different experimentations and reality itself will ultimately select which ones are the most robust, but it needs a lot to select from.
Jim: Yeah. I usually add one other thing. I call my approach coherent pluralism. There does need to be a small handful of general principles if humanity’s going to make it through the bottleneck here that may well be coming at us. But beyond those small handful of principles, let pluralism bloom, right? I talk about how Game B communities so-called proto-Bs just pick one domain, sex one of everyone’s humanity’s favorite topics. I can imagine a proto-B that operates like a upper middle class Victorian village, right? Everybody nice and proper, at least on the outside, who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. I imagine another proto-B that’s a free love sex call. Right? And they could both be proto-Bs. Right? And I don’t think there’s anything that says they couldn’t be so long as they honor a small number of very basic principles about respect for the caring capacity of the land. How we think about competition versus cooperation, how we think about satisficing versus maximizing use, a few things like that. But in terms of how you live your life day to day, there really ought to be lots of pluralism the same way you all are skeptical of gurus I’m also very skeptical of anybody with their book that says utopia in the cover, right? It all almost never works that way. In fact, we looked at the history of such things. It usually ends up being hell on earth.
Ashley: Totally, totally. And I do think that we’re adjacent to a lot of people who are like they could be considered utopian in some of their models. There are a couple of people I know of personally who are literally trying to build European style towns from scratch in the United States. And they’re trying to like literally build a town, a walkable community. And it seems in some ways like a utopian project, but from what I understand of the people doing it, one of them is kind of secret about it, the other one’s not. They are trying to do it in an iterative way in the way that you build a couple of things and you see how people react and on and on. So I do think there’s also like a weird…. we’re in a weird world where it can be like leaning toward utopianism, but maybe there people are trying to reign it in and try different big projects that any moment could take a turn towards utopianism with the wrong leadership. You know what I mean?
Jim: Yeah. I think it’s something at the scale of building a European town seems perfectly reasonable to me. Right? I know at least two projects. It’d be interesting if they’re the same too, probably are. One in Texas and one in Nevada. And I think experiments even at that relatively large scale, hundreds of millions, maybe a billion here and there, those are worthy experiments and nice ones, certainly encourage people to give such things to try. And even if they fail, I guarantee you we’ll learn something along the way.
Jason: Yeah. That’s really it. I mean, I think in terms of core principles or values, I think we all kind of align with systems thinking iterative experimentation but not fully relying on stumbling into emergence. But there is some we’ve had a conversation where like what the minimum viable design that encourages this coherent pluralism as you say. And I think that’s really interesting question and we don’t really know, say you’re building a eco village or a European style town. How much do you want to pre-plan ahead of time and how much do you want to just let evolve. And I think that’s a really interesting question to engage with and that also that’s like a meta iteration or many different experimentations of what is the minimum viable design criteria to get both some coherence, but also not the uniformity.
Jim: That conversation going on the Game B world right now is proto-Bs are starting to form up. I think of one that is going to be quite tight in its definition and others that will be intentionally quite loose in their definitions saying, Hey, we don’t know. We’ll try to think it through, but we’re not going to be prescriptive about how this thing’s going to evolve. Take a more evolutionary kind of Gardener’s approach, I suppose, rather than a survey at all out [inaudible 00:28:04] all out is how it’s going to happen. So I know which one I’ll bet on it’s likely to work, but I could be wrong. So it’s good for people to try different things. Now, one thing that listening to your podcasts and looking at your essays and things, one thing I didn’t see much of was I call the mesoscale.
Jim: Most of the people are thinking in terms of family homesteads or maybe slightly larger. When I think of the mesoscale I think of the way humans have lived for thousands of years in communities around the Dunbar number, right? 150 people, villages essentially. And so my own thinking continues to be attracted to trying to nurture or bring into being communities around that size. I think they provide something extra to the nature of human wellbeing and raising a children. I hate to steal the horrible cliche. It takes a village to raise a child, but at some level it’s true. Ashley, you know how many hands you would really like to, right?
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. You know what? I think probably it’s interesting, how this is evolving is kind of mirroring what I think in general the discourse has been evolving over time where people are trying to figure these things out. So I think people’s mind at first when you think like okay, we need to make an entirely new society. It either goes to like the individual. And I think of the Jordan Peterson, clean your room, pull yourself up, clean yourself up, get yourself in order, individual first or they’re thinking like totally the globe. And I’m thinking like Regen Network type stuff. It’s like we need the entire globe to be able to coordinate, to benefit ecological health. And I think we’re just now starting to sort of go up the scale from at least most of the doomer optimist that I see go up the scale from the individual to the family and people are now starting pretty heavily to talk about what community building means and looks like. I’m thinking about these people who are trying to build villages, but I think people are over and over, I mean, I focus specifically on people who want to have a homestead and a lot of the people who want to have a homestead are asking much more about community than the homestead.
Ashley: Because the homestead doesn’t do anything if you’re around all other people in the community that are completely isolated and nobody else around you is producing anything. And if everything goes to pot your little homestead’s not going to be anything. So, I would just say it’s kind of nascent. I don’t know if you have a different read on the situation, Jason.
Jason: No, I agree. I think we started by focusing at the family scale, but I certainly think that we need to think in terms of nested scales. So, individual, family, village, say watershed or bioregion and planetary and figuring out how to navigate the proper balance across those scales, recognizing that the family and community scale are going to be the most dense in terms of connections and that’s where the localism comes in. But ultimately, if we’re thinking about ecological regeneration, we need to think about larger scale coherence, let’s say a bioregional scale or watershed, right? If you have incoherent ownership and political and economic structures up and down a watershed, then it’s not going to turn out well. You can be doing all the best things and if your water is polluted, say for example, then it’ll lead to conflict or something else and won’t lead to good places.
Jason: And so, by the same time, I think that for a lot of people, the first step is to reclaim your life. Kind of the clean your room attitude of like, it does start with yourself and taking responsibility for you or your life, your family, and your neighbors, getting to know your neighbors. And that really has to be the foundation. And then I think once you have that foundation, there’s a lot of opportunity again, for networking across in a kind of broad scale fashion to achieve larger scale coherence. And so we are getting into that, like we’ll probably be interviewing Joe Brewer pretty soon and he’s all about the bioregional scale and of course region network is more of a planetary scale. And so, yeah, we’re inching our way in that direction, I would say, Jim, the mesoscale, as you said.
Ashley: But you know what, I would just add one thing, Jason, which is, I think that there is a sort of resistance or a hesitance to jump to the village or community scale before going through the individual to family scale and figuring those skills out first. Because I think in general, the tendency is to want to jump right to community. And like I told you when we talked about my book, Jim, this idea where we’re going to build community by sitting in a room, talking about building community is not how you build community. You build it by working together on projects. So I think figuring out for yourself as an individual, what’s driving you forward? What is your passion? For me, for example, it’s education. So, okay. I want to to get into education, my whole family’s involved in that. Now I have a project to bring to people and then we can work together on that project of education and we build community out of that project. But if you start just by thinking, like I want to build community, let’s figure out something to build a community about. It’s like, it’s very awkward and it doesn’t tend to work out. So I think that is intentional, the idea of working on the individual to family and figuring out what it is that your goals are, what are you adding? What are you working toward?
Jim: I’m going to push back here a little bit, and I’m going to suggest that while there are some people that can do it at the homestead level, that is a rare set of personal characteristics that can actually pull that off. And that for 90, I’m going to pull a number out of my ass here. So, making no claim that this is any scientific basis at all, but 98, 97.5% of people would be way better off trying to make the transition into a community that includes a fair bit of division of labor, right? The amount of work necessary to actually run a family farm, to get there from being a goofy ass person living in suburbia, with soft hands, who’s never even operated a chainsaw, give me a break people, right? That’s a way too big a leap for most people. Few maniacs can do it. Probably the three of us are examples of three such maniacs, right? But it’s not the way to bet. And so my own personal bet is that doing it at the village scale, where there is division of labor and no, you don’t have to be a jack of all trades to survive, but rather you can contribute in one area and you can learn in one area, come up the curve.
Jim: You can learn all about how to milk goats, right? And in the community where we have a nice herd of goats, you are a very valuable and productive citizen if you can be sweet to the goats, not scare them, make them love you and milk them twice a day. Right? That is a true contribution to the community and something that particularly a soft handed suburban, I would be good at, right? Goats like soft hands. And so there’s more affordances for plugging in people into the village context. Further from the human wellbeing perspective, the mesoscale was again, where we spent five, 10,000 years, depending on where in the world, at least in the west that we been at. The mesoscale, in some parts of the world where it’s almost exclusively extended family, the Middle East is famous for this. You go to a village of a couple hundred people in Middle East, they’re all cousins, right? In Western Europe, not so much, but they are all very similar scales. And so either it was your extended family, or it was your face to face community. And that’s really how we lived up till about 1900. And then in 1900, two powerful forces, started accelerating to replace that organic meso layer.
Jim: One was the market, right? The US probably more like 1880, something like that. And where the market more and more and more, you no longer bought your horseshoes from the blacksmith in your village, but rather you got them from the Sears catalog and you got a whole box of them. Right? And yes, horseshoes became a lot cheaper, but the whole organic relationship with Ashley, the farrier went away, right? It was making the horseshoes, et cetera, or the blacksmith. We still have the farrier who puts them on, but we no longer have the blacksmith really that makes them. Then the other one that took away the meso community was the government. So we essentially have family and face to face community, which are very human, very organic, and annoying too. I mean, we all have families. We know our families can be annoying, but they’re real, they’re human. And we replace them with cold and sterile mechanisms, government and the market. And I’m fairly convinced that people are crying out, even though they don’t know it, most of them, for that meso level sense of wellbeing, where they are embedded in a community of that intermediate size.
Jim: And so for both reasons, I’m putting my bets down on community first, knowing that it’s harder, it’s a bigger jump, but I think that it one, allows far more people to plug in and two, it solves a whole lot more about human wellbeing.
Jason: Yeah. I generally agree with you, Jim. I think part of what we’re doing is we see what we’re trying to counterbalance what we see as the over scaling, the atomization, and trying to encourage people to say, Hey, we need to learn some skills again. That’s skills with our hands of growing things. I’m one of those soft handed suburbanites academics who just recently started home study and I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m learning. And my strategy is, I’m not going to already made, say village that has say Game B values, but I plant myself in a rural community and I’m trying to get to know my neighbors. And I feel like the more skills that I have, the more useful I can be to my neighbors to develop patterns of functional independence. The long term plan for myself and my children is to have these mesoscale communities. Right? And I think both models can work.
Jason: You can start with, okay, let’s just plop a community down and figure it out, or people where they are can have this paradigm shift, start learning things, not everything. Learn a few useful skills that are helpful for your neighbors and build it organically and connect with people who are already living in these places. Right? Respecting local customs and traditions to some degree or as much as you can. Yeah. I don’t know, Ashley.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I think you and I agree, Jim, everything you were saying makes sense. I think the only real difference for me is that I tend toward what Jason’s describing, this sort of organic building in place where individuals build some skillset. They don’t have to have a homestead where they figure everything out. But let’s just say, for example, a lot of the people I interviewed in Chicago, they started keeping chickens. Then they got to connect with these other chicken people. And then sometimes the chicken people met the bee people. And now they’re exchanging honey and eggs. And it becomes this sort of organic bottom of parallel village in place. And I think this way to get from point A to point B, Game A to Game B, it’s less of a big leap than I’m going to take my family out and I’m going to move to an eco village in Ithaca, New York. There is an eco village in Ithaca, New York that’s awesome. I’ve been to it, it works. It’s exactly what you described, Jim. It’s people own their individual homes, which is nice, and then people, that’s like the legal framework that makes sense for a modern American, but they have a shared community farm and they have shared tools and they have shared bicycles and all of this stuff, and they have ways in which they work together.
Ashley: But not everybody is going to take a leap of faith to move to an eco village like that, and not everybody would be able to. So I think for me, that’s fine and that’s a great path if that’s available to you. If it’s not, one thing you can do is build your capacities and start connecting with other people who are building their own capacities. They don’t have to be the same as yours. And then just see what blossoms and you have like a sort of secret. And the thing I like about the doomer optimism, feels like this kind of secret society, secret parallel society, where we’re all experimenting in our backyards and sharing it on Twitter and getting new information from one another. And I don’t know, it just feels like this is some secret that other people don’t really know about. We’re really enjoying ourselves.
Jim: Yeah, I see it now. And that actually fits into my nomenclature of pre-B, what should you do before you’re ready to join a proto B, right? And I lay out a long list of these things in my essay journey to Game B and I talk about all those things. Develop some actual skills, harden your body and your mind, harden your finances, right? You don’t want the bill collector to be chasing you into proto B land, so get your finances cleaned up. A whole number of steps of that sort. And I could see now how your approach is very congruent with that phase, right? It’s not the destination necessarily though. It may be the destination for a lot of people as far as they’ll get, but they’ll be better off for having done it. And as they accumulate skills, they’ll develop capacity and they’ll develop mental toughness and perhaps some financial resources, or at least not the anchor around their neck of the debt anchor. So when the time comes, they can make a move.
Ashley: And I would just add that almost always, when you’re building these capacities, if there’s skills you learn from other people, you build community too. And people underestimate this so much. And I think just getting out of your house and learning, going and taking a chicken keeping class or something. I took this class in Chicago, urban agriculture class in February and March, and it was just like, I met all these people and it’s a sort of secret society. And it was, I’m both learning skills and meeting people. And then, after the class ends, I’m calling people up like, okay, how did you actually do this in practice, what we learned in class? I think people really underestimate the organic normal ways that humans build community, or have in the past.
Jason: Yeah. One way I would think about it is that, I would like to think at least that the doomer optimist are helping to prepare the ground for ultimately village scale type of communities, proto Bs, Game Bs type communities to arise and flourish, both intentionally with more design and just to naturally arise. That’s one way that we could see our two projects as compatible or synergistic.
Jim: Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. I’m glad we had this conversation. I now see it, it makes perfect sense. Right?
Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jim: I can see how they overlap and they may not, right? Something may spin out of doomer optimism that you didn’t foresee, right? That takes a different road. And something may spin out of Game B that takes a different road to the earlier stages, but I can see how the two plug together pretty nicely actually, at least at the first order and that’s good. Let’s now though, turn a little bit to the slightly darker side. When I was doing a little research for the show today, I discovered that you guys got a pretty high profile convert, Tucker Max, right? I read Tucker Max’s book, Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, when it first came out, and oh my God, that’s actually a true story from his life, not a satire as some people think. And he was a choice asshole in his youth, to say the very least. And he’s the first to admit it. So it’s kind of interesting that he has taken to doomer optimism, though I would say his writings on it, a little bit more on the doomer side than the optimist. I think you guys had it, I didn’t look at it, but I think you guys had him on one of your podcasts.
Jim: What did he have to say?
Ashley: Yeah, he’s an interesting one and one of the two situations where we sort of got a large profile. The other one we got a mention from this journalist, Aris Roussinos in the publication UnHerd, on doomer optimism. And that was exciting, because it’s becoming a real thing. But Tucker turns out had a change of heart. This is me putting, I don’t want to tell his story from his perspective or my perspective or anything, but basically he went through a long period of psychedelic therapy, and it changed his whole perspective on life. And then he basically had a big break during COVID, where he was just like, what am I doing with life? I’m not spending enough time with my family. I’ve always wanted to get onto some land. I’ve always wanted to be closer to nature. I wanted my kids to be closer to nature. So, the pandemic gave him an excuse to buy a ranch. And basically he just has this sense that there’s lots of crises on the horizon, similar to us, and that the best way to prepare for that is to start producing some of your own food and building out a community, et cetera, et cetera.
Ashley: And so I think it’s pretty much well aligned. The only real way in which I diverge is that I don’t put a huge emphasis on second amendment stuff and defense, although having interacted with him, I’m starting to just think about it more seriously. I’m just like this normal squeamish person, who’s never had to think about second amendment stuff, so I don’t. But maybe I should. And so in some ways I’m trying to allow the diversity that’s falling under this umbrella to push my thinking a little bit or open my mind a little bit to things that I might not have been open to before. I don’t know if Jason, you have more to add on the Tucker Max part.
Jason: Yeah. Well, I would just say that there’s a lot of ideological diversity within doomer optimism, right? There’s more right wing folks, there’s more left wing folks. They often don’t get along. There’s various conflicts. People have different versions of doom, right? Tucker’s is very much kind of the political system version of doom. And I definitely don’t see the world quite like he does. Right? I have my own sensibility, but again, it’s an open source structure of feeling and he’s resonated with it, but I don’t want people to think that the Tucker Max version of doomer optimism is doomer optimism, just like my version or Ashley’s version isn’t doomer optimism. There can be many, many different ways people engage with it, but like you said, it’s a meme, it’s open, we’re not trying to defend it. And so people might use it in certain ways that I don’t ultimately agree with, and I’m prepared for that.
Ashley: I’m wondering Jim, if you have a thought. Not to turn the interview around on you, but Jason and I sometimes talk about, it is just a movement. It’s this idea describing people who already exist. If it goes in some direction that’s not the direction we would take, what do you do? I mean, just let it go. Right? I mean, more people involved in the umbrella of thinking about a different alternative type future. Good. Just let it go. But I’m wondering what your approach has been to that with Game B.
Jim: Oh yeah. We certainly have it, because we certainly have right wingers and left wingers and [orthogoblists 00:48:23] and capitalists and every sort you can imagine. And it’s actually a lot of work to keep the big tent from turning into a knife fight. Right? But one of the things we have done is prune the far edges, right? We were infiltrated by some actual fucking Nazis.
Jim: And once we discovered it, we booted them all. And there was also an attempted hostile takeover by some extreme wokies, and we booted them also. By amazing synchronicity, it was exactly at the same time and neither side knew about the other. So it was actually a wonderful signal to boot literal Marxist invaders and the Nazi invaders simultaneously. So we could be the Americans and the Brits and get rid of the Nazis and the commies all in one fell swoop, and that kind of felt good. But it’s a constant juggling match. And one of the ways I’ve done it in Game B, or we have done it in Game B, a group of people do this, is we have a flat ban on talking about contemporary political issues within the Game B context. And of course I flame off about contemporary political issues all the time in my outside of Game B persona, but within the Game B venues, I just have a flat rule. Unless you can tie it specifically to Game B in a specific way, no arguing about abortion, no arguing about gun control, no arguing about COVID or anything else.
Jim: And once we put that rule in place, that made a huge difference. Because we’re not here to solve Game A’s political problems, right? We’re here to look beyond that, boats at smaller issues, how do we get along in a village of 50 people, initially 25 people? How do we get along in coherence in a group of five people? Still not a fully solved problem. And how do we plant a seed that will eventually grow to be all our humanity? But in terms of arguing about the things that are argued about on the cable TV shows, none of that a lot.
Ashley: There’s enough of that in the world, right? Yeah. I think that’s really good advice. I don’t know, it’s funny now that I’m asking for your advice, it feels like doomer optimism is the child of Game B looking up for advice from you guys. I think there’s something too that you guys have been doing it for quite a bit, so it would be nice to have that kind of relationship.
Jim: Yeah. I’m happy. I think it makes a lot of sense. I actually think it forms this wider community that regionally got this buzzwordy name, The Liminal Web, right? I don’t think you were in Joe Lightfoot’s document, but you should have been, because it’s clear that you’re part of the family, right? The same way metamodernism is part of the family. I argue with the metamodernists, some, but I also acknowledge considerable debt to metamodernism and other Game B people too. In fact, there’s even on the Game B home website, there is a subgroup called Game B and metamodernism, where people who adhere to both strongly try to work on what does that mean. So, I think that we should think of most of these tendencies as being part of a broader search in parallel through design space and we can learn from you, you can learn from us and we should make sure we keep protocols open to always be available to each other, to help where we can be.
Jason: Yeah. I feel like I kind of came out of the metamodern, Liminal Web space with both end with Jared, but I think one of the skillsets that I picked up that is really helpful is this idea of memetic mediation and keeping communication open among these memetic tribes. And it can get nasty. We don’t have an explicit span against politics and people often do fight about politics on Twitter and stuff. The more left wing or the more right wing or the more Luddite or the more technophile folks kind of clash. And I personally just try to look for threads of commonality and try to set an example. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I get drawn into fights and stuff, but I don’t feel the need to police it. It might be less coherent in that way than Game B, but I think just trying to set a good example is my goal.
Ashley: Yep. And the only thing I would add bringing it back to the Tucker Max question is, I think this has the potential to go pretty mainstream. I think once Tucker started writing about doomer optimism, he said that he got a huge response from his readership, which is huge. And I think that generally people, and I argue this in my book, feel this sense of malaise and alienation and et cetera, et cetera. And they’re looking for some sort of model or heuristic to give them an idea of what’s possible. And I think that’s basically what we’re trying to do. And I think Tucker did that for his readership and I think his message could be extremely popular. It’s so in line with the American rugged individual, like, I’m going to get out onto a ranch and clear some brush and provide for my family. But having spoken with him privately, he really does value community a lot and he has these relationships with a few different families and they’re almost like a mini intentional community, which is probably unexpected.
Ashley: So I do think that as this becomes more mainstream, I get sort of freaked out because of that memetic mediation tool. Like, who am I? I don’t know what I’m doing. So I’m just trying to use my intuition to sort of foster, I think the anti-cult is what Jason and I keep saying, and to try to avoid dehumanizing language. And Jason and I have been talking about this a lot recently because it’s really easy to get frustrated and to start name calling the opposition, especially if they’re making fun of you. And so, Jason and I are trying really hard to model not dehumanizing language, anti-cult, just these general principles like you were saying, Jim, before.
Jim: Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. We were aware from the very beginning of Game B back in 2013 that the cultish bad attractor is out there and we all have to, if we’re going to be operating in good faith, we all have to be realizing all the time that, that cultic bad attractor is out there. And work purposefully to diffuse it, make fun of it and if necessary, act decisively against it when it turns up. I think that’s, again, part of this Liminal Web phenomena and other adjacencies, right? Is doing this work without collapsing into cultism and us versus themism, other than at the limits. I’m happy to say, I’ll shoot commies and Nazis, but other than that, everybody else is welcome pretty much. And I make no bones about it, I’m a second amendment kind of guy myself. Right? And I’m on the record saying, I expect every proto B to have a militia, right? Not that it’s the militia lifestyle, bunch of fat boys from Michigan running around with their bottoms and their bellies hanging out of their a little bit too short cammie t-shirts.
Jim: But if the shit does hit the fan, these communities do need to be able to defend themselves. And even a relatively small amount of thinking and training, and most importantly is every defense person who does training will tell you, the skill’s relatively easy to teach. The mindset, that’s what you got to get people into. Let’s turn these squishy sociologists into people that if shit hits the fan, they’re prepared to do what they got to do, God damn it. And that’s, sorry, little ears there. Maybe the little ears don’t want to hear that kind of language, but that’s all right, too late now.
Ashley: No, I would just add one other thing. I remember Jason, a while back when we were talking about a big tent, used this metaphor, sort of like a bunch of small adjacent tents. Not everybody has to be in the same exact tents. There’s a lot of coordination and agreeableness required to be in the same tent, but we can be in nearby tents and we can have people going in between tents. And this is [crosstalk 00:56:38].
Jim: I like that.
Ashley: How Jason and I think of ourselves. I’ll go hang out with a narco-capitalist tent and then bring some insights over to the, I guess socialist leaning or the permaculture tent or whatever, and see if I can cross pollinate between the tents. But they don’t have to all be together in the same tent, and they will never be and we should just never even expect that or want that.
Jim: I like that. That’s an interesting and slightly different perspective on how to manage this thing. One last thing before we wrap up, one thing I did pull out of Tucker’s essays was I think one of the, just truest statements about the right mindset. Because he disabuses people of the notion that the classic prepper with a bunker and a bunch of guns is going to have any chance at all, right? That’s not the way anyone’s going to deal with any kind of scenario. If the world breaks, this is Tucker’s words. “If the world breaks down, it won’t matter how much food or water you have, unless you can defend it. And the best way to do that is to surround yourself with a community of people you can count on no matter what.” And I think that is actually the correct way to think about dealing with some of these downside scenarios, which are by no means guaranteed to happen, people out there.
Jim: One of the things we know from our complexity science is it’s really hard to make predictions, particularly about the future, right? And so there’s some bad scenarios, there’s some good scenarios, there’s some neutral scenarios, but being embedded in a community of people that you can trust if the shit hits the fan is really the correct way to be prepared for the biggest possible collection of trajectories. You’re not going to defend against them all. Some of them it’ll be overkill. Some of them it would be fine living in suburbia, right? Just having 30 days worth of food in your freezer. But for some of those intermediate bad scenarios, being in a community of people you can trust and have skills, strikes me as the way to live. One of the reasons I live where I live. We’re very remote, which is good, but more important, we live in a place with lots of people who still have the mindset and the skills to survive if they have to, frankly, without even breaking much of a sweat. Because they’re not that far generationally from working the land with horses and heck, our homestead didn’t get electricity or a phone until 1962.
Jason: Yeah. I really like Tucker’s statement. There’s no safe places, only safe people. And I think that really summarizes what you’re getting at. I mean, same here, Jim. I mean, I really love where I am in Appalachia, Northwest North Carolina, where this is a place where say the Foxfire Series was written, right? And so there’s still that kind of cultural memory, even though it’s not always on the surface, there’s still that cultural memory. And I’m in a place where I’m like 10 miles from a university town where I work, but we’re still kind of out in the country. And I really like that mix of being around people who still have these skills and I think are safe people, but at the same time not being so isolated and remote. I don’t think that will get you very far in worst case scenarios.
Ashley: Yeah. And the only thing I would add to that is I think in general with our obsession about progress, we have discarded people and full communities of people who have these skills, have a lot of necessary skills. And so part of my not so secret project is to recenter those people with those skills as the experts that they are before they’re gone, before their knowledge is lost. And so, I’ve been working on a couple of different projects where I’m really trying to center people who have been cultivating skills like homesteading skills, but not just that. Alternative education skills of cooperatives, people who are building just different institutions and have been doing it for a while and have made all the mistakes. That is absolutely essential. And then I think also, people who have skills that are specific to a certain bioregion, for example. I mean, I think so many people who have skills in Appalachia for example, are sitting on their old farms passing away one by one and no one’s going to them saying, what do you know? Everything you know is so essential for our survival. So I think to me, that’s part of my own personal project with doomer optimism is to try to advance that knowledge before it’s gone.
Jim: Wow. That’s great. Well, I think we went a little over our hour here, but this was a wonderful conversation. I’m really glad we did this, because it gave me a chance to learn more about what y’all are up to and dig in at least superficially into the doomer optimist’s materials. And I like what I saw.
Ashley: Nice. Well, thanks for having us.
Jason: Yeah. And I just want to say, I’ve known about Game B for a while and I’ve been highly influenced by Game B. I’ve listened to your podcast ever since about the beginning. And so, just so you know that your influence is definitely, and the whole Game B influence is definitely part of our DNA. So I just want to thank you for that, and doing what you do.
Jim: Well, thank you for that and thank you guys for what you’re doing, because y’all are taking it in another direction at a different scale and now I can actually see how all the pieces go together and let’s all go forth and do good work.
Ashley: Awesome. Thanks Jim.
Jason: Thanks Jim.