The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Nora Bateson. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Nora Bateson. Nora is the president of the International Bateson Institute. Hi, Nora.
Nora: Hi, Jim.
Jim: Great to have you back.
Jim: This is her second time here. Nora is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator. Her work asks the question as to how we can improve our perception of the complexity we live in so we can improve our interactions with the world. Nora wrote, directed and produced the award-winning documentary An Ecology of Mind, a portrait of her father, the legendary anthropologist, Gregory Bateson, though, calling him an anthropologist, puts him in way smaller of a box relative to the actual things he did.
Jim: She’s also written a quite beautiful book called Small Arcs of Larger Circles, which I have read, where she writes about her personal approach to the study of systems and complexity. Some of her current work that I find most interesting is her work on warm data. Warm data is information about the interrelationships integrate elements of a complex system. Focusing on qualitative dynamics, it offers another dimension of understanding to what is learned through quantitative data, IE, cold data. And you can learn more about warm data and even potentially sign up to have one of your groups do some warm data labs at Batesoninstitute.org/warm-data-labs.
Jim: All right, but today we’re going to talk about something very different. Something that neither of us, I think actually officially have on our list of things we work on, but it turns out that something I’ve been bitching about for a while. And I think I talked to Nora a little bit when we were chatting about something else and she a similar feeling and I said, why don’t we talk about it? I think other people would be interested in this. And this is, I guess we decided to title the talk A Return to Earnestness. My take on it is I’ve kind of gotten quite tired at the levels of irony and such and inauthentic stances that so many people seem to be taking these days. It feels like people are moving further and further into simulating life and not actually living life in a grounded way. What do you think about that, Nora?
Nora: I mean, I agree with you, Jim. And I think we feel it in our bodies somewhere, that there’s this tonality around all this very opinionated and usually, frankly, pre-scripted material. And what I really sense in that, and I think sense is the right word, is that there hasn’t been an inquiry into whatever the topic is that might render us as individuals in a state of confusion, contradiction, blur. And that to be in that blurry in between is too risky. And so there’s a kind of reductionism of the necessary rigor that it takes to wonder if maybe your opinion or the information you have is not enough. And so there’s some kind of thing that’s happening in this sarcasm and irony that is this cheeky brush off of the possibility of open ended lostness, which is frankly so needed right now.
Jim: Yeah. And it strikes me there’s something almost cowardly about it, right? We’re in a very tough situation as humanity. Our modernism has accomplished miracles, but it has no breaks. It’s rushing forward towards the cliff and has no obvious built in means to stop it. And yet we retreat into an ironic stance where it’s really hard to make sense of reality. And I did a little research back, I don’t know, six months ago into this question. I didn’t know that much about the evolution of modern irony, but I’ll lay out a little bit of what I learned. People who study irony have laid out essentially three layers, actually there’s a fourth, but that’s too scary to even get into. So I’ll just lay out the three.
Jim: One is we start with sincerity, or earnestness, as we call it’s pre irony. But the first layer of irony is basically basic classic irony of the sort, like for instance, Shakespeare’s full of dramatic irony where one character doesn’t know what the other’s doing. I think of Othello as the classic example of that, but Macbeth, Hamlet, they all have the classic irony. And then there’s also just the classic first level verbal irony where we go to a movie with a bunch of friends and walking out, one of them says, wasn’t that a great movie? When obviously it was a huge stinker, right?
Jim: That’s a normal part of human life. However, I would comment that in the online world, the text based online world in particular, even simple first degree ironies, very dangerous. I can’t count the number of flame wars that got ignited over the years where people misinterpreted ironic stance or statement, simple statement, clearly ironic, at least from the author’s perspective, but the readers go, ah, how can you say that? And often we go to the races. And I think this is my overall critique on the ironic stance is that it adds noise to the system, right? It doesn’t add any value. If I have to think on whether you are being ironic or sincere, and there’s a significant chance I’m going to make a mistake, how can that be adding value to the conversation?
Nora: Yeah, I think there’s something about humor, though, that is … I mean, playing with language, playing with meaning, playing with each other in communication is necessary. Okay? It’s survival. We have to have that. So there’s this need for … I mean, when you’re playing in the humor realm, you have this ability to find the edges of an epistemological positioning or epistemological perception, just what are the limits? And humor plays with those limits.
Nora: But I think there’s something else going on here, which I sometimes call the ecology of communication. And it’s recognizing that in our communication, there are things that are possible, that can grow here. And while we are in communication, we’re constantly exploring and learning about what those limits might be. And I’m not really sure, and you’re not really sure. And actually it’s changing as we go along. So neither one of us should be sure. It’s completely appropriate as two living creatures, to be in a constant state of exploration about where we are in possibility.
Nora: Okay. So where I am feeling frustration with what’s happening with irony is in the initial inability to perceive the ecology of communication. Which I think is what you’re referring to in a way when you’re saying that the author didn’t mean it. But in the online space, there’s not enough other contextual information and so it gets misunderstood. There’s also a lot of contextual information that is pitting people against each other with very high stakes in polarized scriptings. And so it doesn’t take very much to make a bad joke. And so I guess that’s part of it is just recognizing what’s in the ecology of the communication.
Nora: And in that we have, I mean, honestly, it’s a mess. The world of information and communication is a mess right now. It’s like someone poured caustic sauce all over the structures of information distribution and reception. And at this point, anything you look up, you can look up the opposite and that’s true too. And does coffee cure glaucoma or cause it? Yes, both. And there’s plenty of information for both sides of that. So I think one of the things you have to have, if you have irony that isn’t harmful, is you have to have some degree of shared understoods.
Jim: Exactly, exactly. That strikes me as the essence of it, that when one is in strong link relationships with people and are already grounded at the emotional level, then irony can be fun. It’s an ingredient. Or if it’s in a context which is well understood, like in a play or coming out of a movie or something. But as people start moving up the irony stack, they do so long before they establish the relationship in emotional reality with the other person, what I’ve long distinguished as a strong link, as opposed to a weak link. And I would argue that, as people move up the ironic stack, the ability to make strong links and real emotional connection goes away.
Jim: And so back to this taxonomy of irony, so we have first degree irony, the dramatic irony of Shakespeare and making a sarcastic comment, which could be dangerous, online in particular. To the second layer of what I would call performativity where people aren’t actually being themselves, but are doing a role. And in so-called post irony, they’re initial doing it ironically, but they do it so long that it becomes unironic and that’s their life. A classic example is the hipster fedora, right? Originally that was done ironically by some guys, all guys in Brooklyn back in, I don’t know if it was the early nineties, I think. They were just goofing around and then other people saw that and started imitating them. And it actually became a sort of habituated behavior of people for this Brooklyn hipster 1992 thing, which was highly ironic intentionally, and it’s became post ironic. And so essentially people are living deeper in a simulation of life rather than a reality of life.
Nora: Whatever that is. And that’s the thing is that I think it would be a mistake to pit earnestness against irony in a binary. Because I think you can be earnest in your irony, too. There’s earnest humor and there’s earnest fumbling, but it may be more humble. And that’s interesting because in this performative thing that you’re talking about, boy, that’s interesting because I’m thinking about how we’ve been in these Zoom boxes for the last two years. And I went to a conference in person recently, just a couple weeks ago, and there was an overwhelming sense of what are we doing here in this conference? It’s so great to see these other human beings, but we can have this conference online. Let’s go build a fire, let’s go dance, let’s go cook something, let’s do something human together. And so this performative thing is very interesting right now when it’s face to face, because I definitely feel a difference.
Jim: That’s interesting. I have yet to go to a major event. Been to a few small parties with people that are coming out of our groundhog holes after two years. I may go to an event in June so it’ll be quite interesting to see how different it is after two years in isolation. And I hope that you’re right, that we realize that actually Zoom is quite efficient for some things, and we should not go all the way back. On the other hand, singing and dancing and having a beer and running barefoot around a bonfire at night, those are things you can only do face to face.
Nora: Let’s do that.
Jim: Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s do that non ironically. Let’s do that as a slightly evolved ape called homo sapiens. Which then gets me to my next level in the taxonomy of irony. And this is the one that I really find disturbing. And the experts claim that a fair amount of people, particularly younger folks, actually live in this space called meta irony where the whole point of one’s stance, and this is again where I think once irony goes from an ingredient to a stance is where it becomes problematic. But the meta ironic stance is where, essentially, all the time you are saying things where the whole point is to be difficult for people to figure out whether you’re being ironic or sincere. And I go, wow, this is this idea, I think, that we’ve been groping towards, but taken to an extreme where literally one is living in a stance where one wants to literally constantly be unclear on whether one is being sincere or ironic. And I, again, come back to just the basic information theory, how does that help us do collective sense making? How does that help us communicate in a real grounded way, let alone, how does that help us be actual, slightly evolve apes called homo sapiens and be grounded in reality, when I have to parse everything you say and frankly, be wrong fairly often about whether you’re being sincere or ironic? Why is that a good thing?
Nora: Yeah. Why is that a good thing? And I mean, communication is sacred. Relationships are made of communication. And it’s how we move information around, it’s how we respond on to our environment. And so messing with communication can be something that leads to evolutionary jumps and new ways of seeing, new possibilities for communicating. But it can also destroy relationships. And in that destruction of relationships is the destruction of possibility. So, we are in a moment, I think you would probably agree with me, where culturally, economically, ecologically, politically, technologically, there is breakdown beginning. We are in a systemic breakdown. And a systemic breakdown, it always cracks me up when I hear people say, oh, we’re going to deal with systemic issues in economy or systemic issues of health or systemic issues of justice. And it’s like, listen, the second you put that thing on the end of it, stopped being systemic. Just for the record, you’re either doing systemic stuff, which is to all the system, or you’re not. If you’re systemic something or rather you just left the program, my friend.
Nora: Anyway, systemic breakdown is on. And when it is there, of course, one of the things that is going to break down is communication. Relationships are breaking and expectations, patterns, entire cultural modalities of belief and epistemology that were locked into particular forms of what it was possible to communicate. What it was possible to is not the same thing as what was communicated. And so I think that there’s something about this meta ironic thing that is a grasping or a response to being in a world that frankly doesn’t make any sense. It’s just paradoxes and double blinds everywhere you look.
Nora: And so I see how there could be a sort of cynicism and not the good kind of cynicism. Okay? There’s a kind of cynicism where you’re questioning and a kind of cynicism where there’s no more affection for life. And I think maybe what you and I are touching on here is that for me, I’ll just see if I can put this into some kind of clear sentence. I don’t want to lose the undertones that are the real meta message that communicate affection for life itself and when the irony or the meta irony or the sarcasm or the whatever it is, leaves the land in which it’s possible to be in a shared affection for life, we’re in big trouble.
Jim: Very well said. Very well said. That’s actually the heart of it, I think, in some sense, right there. Let me wrap a little bit back on what you just said. Cause it really struck another nerve for me, which is you described the people in the, let’s say the meta ironic stance who feel like they’re embedded in this crazy machine that they don’t understand and they just take a radical cynical perspective. I’m going to throw another word out that I hear fairly often is despair. That this meta ironic stance and high cynicism, negative cynicism, may be a reaction to despair. And man, does that bug me. Because yes, things are screwed up and getting worse, but it certainly seems to me, they are well within our ability to overcome this, if we don’t lose our courage.
Jim: And again, I alluded to it earlier, I find the meta ironic stance in particular, a cowardly one. Not being willing to put down what you think and to speak earnestly, honestly, and groundedly with other real human beings to form the kinds of strong links that will allow us to work cooperatively at high levels of efficacy to get on these problems. If we all sit around doing our performative meta ironicism, we’re never going to solve of climate change or the breakdown of good faith discourse.
Nora: What do you think constitutes, or are the conditions, for morale? Because I think that comes into this. For me, the opposite of despair is some kind of morale. It’s like a spirit, a shared strength. It comes from, I don’t know, it comes from a warm place. Okay? I work in warm data. I’m allowed to say in that, it comes from something warm that is shared. And I’m interested in this idea of morale. My friend, Philip Gadavy and I have been exploring it, of what is this thing that, in the dark of the night, when everything goes wrong, we have each other to go forward with? And there’s an extra pocket of possibility that we tap into.
Nora: And it seems to me that this notion of morale is the opposite of cynicism. If there’s no shared affection for life, there’s not going to be any morale. And this affection is not just a lovey dovey, Teddy bears and rainbows concept. It’s actually, to have affection for life is to recognize that life can be cruel, right? Forests burn down, people get murdered. Things happen.
Jim: Crops fail, right?
Nora: Crops fail, babies die, right? And still, somehow we have to get up after this darkness, inside the darkness, and continue. And where does that come from? What can I do, Jim, in my communication with you or with anyone else to help nourish that possibility in each other?
Jim: Yep. Very well said. I can feel it, actually, that you’re reaching out in a very sincere and earnest way here and putting your feelings and your reality on the line here for me to absorb. And that alone is a good start. And if there isn’t a return to earnestness that may be a place to start. Let’s just be fully honest with each other and expose as much as we can about what we’re really thinking and how we’re really feeling about things and do it in a way that is grounded in our mutual humanity. And knowing that we’re both committed to trying to find solutions to these problems, not retreating into despair or cynicism. To the bigger question of morale, I love that, actually, I haven’t heard the word used in that way, but I may steal it, give credit of course.
Jim: In the game B world, we have a view that’s very much like that, which is we believe that the big turn for the wrong, starting about 1870 in the west now moving elsewhere, was the gradual destruction of the meso scale. Meso scale meaning what the anthropologists would say are like extended families, in places where extended families or house societies organize or villages. Interesting. Catholicism banned cousin marriages, which actually destroyed the extended family. We had a very interesting chat on my podcast with a guy about that. And instead we built villages, but turns out both are about the same size, 150 people, a Dunbar number. And these are your security blanket, right? If you live in an extended family or a traditional village and you become disabled, they’ll take care of you. Locust eat your crops, somebody will feed you.
Jim: There is an inherent sense of security about being part of a meso scale society. And since about 1870, the face to face community, whether it’s extended family or village, has been replaced by the market on one side and government on the other, both cold and transactional, that are essentially atomic. They’re my relationship to the market. They’re my relationship to the government. They’re not our relationship as a meso scale community around the Dunbar number of 150. And so the approach that we’re starting to take, in fact, I’m looking at another parcel of land today, is to actually rebuild the meso scale by doing what we call proto bees, which are on the ground communities of about 150 people, up to 150 adults, where we look specifically to rebuild this sense of morale. Morale, moral being.
Jim: And some of the things that we’ve talked about that we believe are parts of that are coherence, that’s our term, the game D term for what we talked about earlier, being really in communications with each other, completely sincerely with everything, the emotional, the cognitive, laid on the table and neither side ever uses it as a weapon. And the other one, which is just so important to your story about going to the meeting, and that’s conviviality. The anthropologists tell us that our forger ancestors work three or four hours a day at the most, and most of the time they spent telling stories, drinking, having sex in the bushes, creating artifacts, writing stories, telling stories, et cetera. And so some combination of the meso scale, the practice of interpersonal coherence and a real commitment to conviviality is at least some reasonable steps forward, I suspect, to return us to a way of being, which is high in morale. Actually, I love that term.
Nora: Okay. So what happens, then, when the sincerity … Okay, so I grew up in all kinds of communities. All right? I’m a west coast kid. I’ve been in every manner of chop wood, carry water scene. And they all went wrong. And they all went wrong, I would say, for a couple of reasons. But one of them, and this is something that I puzzle with all the time, is that there is a particular vocabulary that is associated with particular experiences. And the problem is how do you actually express what you’re really feeling without tapping into these tropes and scripts in the cultural vocabulary that are maybe not really what you feel, but it’s kind of like the best thing that you got to express yourself.
Nora: And the next thing you know, you come out with a psychological label. This is depression. This is this, this is that, this is homophobia. This is, you know. Whatever it is, there isn’t an existing set of swirling scripts. And this process of going inward to assess what it is that you are actually feeling, thinking, exploring, is beyond words. And so the knee jerk thing is to grab one of these scripts because they’re coherent. In a different way, the other way of being coherent, the familiar. This is something that I know people will understand if I say it.
Jim: They’re grooved into our brains, essentially. Right?
Nora: They’re grooved in. And so, how many times have you been in a chat room recently where someone exposes something and then someone says, thank you for sharing your vulnerability. And it’s like, oh my God, you just made it unreal. You just took it. It’s gone now. That was something beautiful. And now you just turned it into another script.
Jim: A form of performativity.
Nora: Right? And so that’s part of the issue. Okay. Then the other thing is, and I think these things are tied together, is that in that same moment that you’re talking about, and I’m so curious that you brought this up because I’m looking at this exact same moment in time and realizing we have to really look at what happened then. And what was happening, right in that moment of the 1870s, is eugenics was born. This is when psychology was born. This is when the education system as we know it began. This is when the entire institutional ecology, this grouping of institutions was formed around industrialism at a pace that was breakneck. Okay. And this is when math changes and statistics happen. And every single statistician of that moment was a card carrying eugenicist.
Jim: The most famous ones, for sure. Right?
Nora: Right. So in this moment is this violence that has taken place and it’s a violence against everything. It’s a violence against life, basically.
Jim: Actually, I’ll add another one to the list. 1870, even though we think of it as mostly being earlier, 1870 was approximately the high water mark of imperialism. This was the great land rush in Africa where Africa was chopped up amongst the European poly. And combining eugenicists and deeply racist attitudes, it was literally, I would say around 1870, the high water mark of white supremacy and radical imperialistic colonialism. It was considered right. It was considered good and holy, which is really quite remarkable.
Nora: And because good and holy had to do with productive and efficient. And these things are not what life is.
Jim: But also exploitative, right? If you could make them the other, if you could make the persons in the south the other, I don’t care how miserable you make them, as long as we benefit from it and are efficient in an industrial model then, oh yeah. That’s the good thing to do.
Nora: And prioritizing some form of something that would be normal. And the minute you can identify normal, what you’ve actually done is you’ve identified what’s abnormal. And then the thinking of how do we fix this comes in. Now, the reason this is important to irony and communication and community in this moment is that our deep epistemological presuppositions are infected with this stuff. It’s deep. And I truly think that until we take this seriously and stop underestimating how much this approach to … It’s really easy to talk about interdependency and complexity and systems thinking, but then you get down to the bottom levels where this, but what is a solution? What is an action? How do you actually think about development, for example? Is this linear? Is it hierarchical? Can you identify it? Is it okay for one person to identify somebody else’s success or development? And there are questions in there that I think we’re avoiding.
Jim: Yeah. They’re tough questions. And my response to it is that a lot of work of people I otherwise admire have implicitly assumed that everybody’s in IQ 130 graduate student. And in reality, a righteous society must provide a life of dignity and fulfillment to everybody. Everybody, no matter what their intellectual, biological or familial endowments might be. And that’s one of the things I really hope that we are able to do in our proto bees is not be a place for IQ 130 graduate students only. We’ll have a few, but a place for regular folks to live great lives.
Jim: And then to your earlier point, these scripts are labeled. We call them game a malware, and we’re very well aware that we’re all full of them. And I’ve said more than once in public occasions, I’m too old and set my ways to purge myself of all my game a malware, but I’ve thrown a little bit of it out. And I hope to throw out more. And as long as we’re conscious that it’s there and that we are all inter subjectively conscious that we all have it. I think that’s actually the first step, is to say inter subjectively, I’ve got malware, you’ve got malware. And it’s literally grooves in our brains. It was worn in at a young age. And it will be really hard to expunge it.
Jim: If you know it’s there, you can do the meta thing, right? This is getting a little off left field, but my view of free will I stole, this from other people, so it’s not an original creation, is that most of our actions actually come from not in our conscious frame, but lower levels. And what free will is actually about is we have about half a second to veto actions and that’s what free will is. And so if we become cognitively aware that we have these scripts, which are essentially like sub routines and software, and as you said, it’s really easy to go run that script, have it rise up towards consciousness and that last half a second learn to say no to that. That may be a set of practices that can allow us to at least reduce the efficacy of this damn game a malware.
Jim: And those are some of the things we’re going to be experimenting with in our proto bees. And we do not have the answers, by the way. And yes, we’re very, very, very, very aware of the history of intentional communities and the low rate of success, but we have found some that have worked. It’s really Cabutzas are very interesting example, because they’re not woo woo at all. They’re very practical. They have very high coherence, they have substantial conviviality and they’re mission oriented, et cetera. And so there’s one place to look.
Jim: And then the Amish and Mennonites, while not actually operating exactly the same way, have a lot of things that are also worth borrowing that have worked here in the United States since about 1690. It turns out the Ruts were originally Mennonites that came over from Germany in 1690. Our branch of family were apostates by about 1800, but it has gotten me to look at what they’ve done. And so yes, back to the land and earlier intentional communities, they all fail. We’re aware of it, looking into why, and we may fail too for the same reasons. But we do think that if we’re discerning about just exactly these kinds of things, maybe, maybe we can make it work. We’ll find out.
Nora: One thing that came in in that same moment is this attention to the individual. That it’s the individual who’s abnormal or to clump out the individual. The development happens in the individual, not in the context. If you’re going to teach compassion, you teach it to the individuals. You don’t create the conditions in which compassion would be a natural response. Which is so wacko to me. I just can’t even, I hear about this all the time and I just can’t believe that some very smart people are still on this program of trying to insert education that makes people more honest or compassionate or earnest. Right? And that’s not where it is. And I think that’s really important for this conversation is that really the conversation is what are the conditions in which it becomes possible to be earnest with each other? Instead of thinking we can insert that earnestness as a rule or a policy or some sort of a bylaw of the community, the better question is what does it feel like to be in a situation in which your earnestness is welcome?
Jim: Yeah. And I would go a step further and say not only welcome, but indispensable. If these attempts to form coherent, convivial, meso scale ways of being are going to succeed, I’m going to put the flag in the ground and say they’ve got to be based on earnestness as one of their ground conditions. And yes, the ingredient of irony in jokes and theater, et cetera, should not be run away. As you said, humor is hugely important to our bonding, but the ironic stance where people in my community can’t tell whether I’m telling the truth or not, it just seems totally, directionally, completely wrong to reestablish meso scale coherence, et cetera. And that a return to earnestness is probably a first degree requirement to make this work.
Nora: It’s recognizing, I think, too, that information, and this is sort of at the core of the warm data work, people talk about information as being qualitative or quantitative. And for me, I’m like, yeah, but actually no. What’s interesting is when the information is alive. And that’s a substantive difference than it just being qualitative or quantitative because alive information doesn’t stay the same. And so when we are communicating with information that’s alive, our communication is alive and we are participating in life in another way. And it feels different, looks different, sounds different. It’s the whole bit of it is different. And it’s an approach that, like that moment in 1870, around then, okay. So from, I would say that whole century, but there’s a good deal of talk right now about transformation and systems change and what that means. And for all the wrong reasons, in all the most destructive ways, in that moment in history, by God, they had systems change.
Jim: They sure as shit did, right?
Nora: Contextual all the down. And it changed everything from the way the family worked to the way language to the way people ate to where they got their food, how they practiced their spirituality or religion, what money was, what relationship to the past and the future and my God, everything changed. And it changed so totally that it’s actually very difficult to get out of it. But the seduction of control and linear causality is, it’s getting boring to talk about this because we’ve been talking about it for so long. But the thing is, if you just hear yourself speaking, and I hear myself speaking, and I say things like, I want to do this to do that. I want to go here to do this. And there it is. It’s in the language. It’s so embedded. You want to buy the just right apple at the store and you want to live in a way that is somehow optimal. You want to optimize.
Jim: In some sense, it’s the triumph of the complicated over the complex. Here’s why it worked, because it paid off in shiny objects. And ease. And a lot of that ease is great. I mean the amount of domestic drudgery that was eliminated by the vacuum cleaner and the automatic washing machine. I’m old enough to remember our first washing machine was a wringer washing machine where my mother had to run all the clothes through the wringer to squeeze the water out of it and then hang it on the line. It didn’t automatically spin, for instance. It was a big deal. And when we got an automated washing machine at about eight or 10 years later, we actually got a dryer. We didn’t have to take stuff out, hanging on the line. Though, truthfully, I missed the smell of clothes dried on the line, which are actually much nicer. These things they paid off, which is why we were sucked into it. But now what has happened, it is starting to destroy human wellbeing.
Nora: Completely. Yeah.
Jim: Like suicide rates, deaths of despair, totally amazing numbers of middle aged people in America that are taking psychoactive drug for supposedly depression or anxiety, et cetera. I mean like 30, 40% in some communities. What in the world kind of way of life is that?
Nora: Something has gone terribly wrong.
Jim: Yeah. The beast has just run ahead. Right? And so the game B move is to pivot to maximizing human wellbeing while actually minimizing the number of shiny objects. Because we’re not going to make it through climate change if we don’t, by my calculations, Europeans need to cut their consumption, their inputs of energy and stuff about two thirds and Americans, about 75%. If we’re going to live at a scale way where everybody on earth could live at that scale. And it could be in balance with mother nature. And that’s possible, it can be done. But if the Davos man approach happens, which is just to pound it out of us, it isn’t going to happen. We’re going to get a fascist dictatorship instead. Look what happened in France with a-
Nora: With McGrown, exactly. And you know, that idea that you’re going to top down tell people how to live their lives is just a recipe for revolution. That’s all it is.
Jim: And in the current context, the revolution in the west is probably towards fascism, certainly is what it feels like. So not good stuff. So back to our original topic, these bad trajectories, I say they started in 1700 and then accelerated around 1870. And then in 1975, they were in their final form. And we’re now in late stage whatever this is, or hopefully late stage, meaning maybe it’s near the end. Back to earnestness and the turn to earnestness. I really do feel that it’s a necessary substrate for these other good things to happen, the return to face to face meso scale communities, morale, in your terms, coherence, conviviality, et cetera. And maybe that’s the call out we should be doing now, people, is an easy step. Maybe you can’t quit your job and move to a proto bee, et cetera, but you can focus on being more earnest in your interactions with the people you’re close to. That alone would be a big step.
Nora: I mean, I think it’s that thing of asking the question, in that nanosecond you’re talking about. If this communication is dropping into an ecology of communication, what is it going to bring? What possibilities does it open? And which does it close? And just recognizing that everything that happens in our communication, we have to live in because it shapes and forms our relationships. And so what are we putting in? What are you holding back? I mean, I think that’s another big part of this is that it has been cultural suicide to reveal yourself. And so there’s been hold back and I call this, systems hold back was sort of a frame of schismogenesis. That is it breaks relationships. If I don’t put in what I could put in and you don’t put in what you could put in and I know that you’re not going to put in what you could put in so I don’t put in what I could put in and I don’t try because you’re not trying. This is that thing you were referring to as being not very courageous. But really what it is totally dehumanized devitalized, there’s nothing to make a relationship out of. There’s nothing to make coherence out of. There’s just a wasteland where nothing can grow.
Jim: Very well said. And you know, if you think about our interpersonal communications as an ecosystem, if everybody is holding back and not going all in with their full personage, it’s going to be a thin, dry inauthentic ecosystem that we’ll have created. And again, another argument for the return to all in personal earnestness in our interactions with each other. Been very interesting conversation, looked at this from very many perspectives. What are your final thoughts on this?
Nora: Okay. My final thoughts on this are not going to be final. They’re ongoing. But let’s just start with that I just see that we are in an ecology of communication and relationship with each other, with the natural world, with our ideas themselves of history, of what is math, what is success? What is our identity? All of these things. And that this ecology that we live in is changing. And it’s changing rapidly right now. And so in all directions, there is a kind of a meltdown, blurring, pixelating, coming apartness, shredding confusion. And honestly, I think we have to have that confusion. I don’t think there’s any way out of that. We’re going to have to go there.
Nora: So in order to even potentially live in another way, we need to have different ideas of even what it means to be sexually attractive or to be credible, or to be smart, or to be lovable. As these things are melting and confusing, it’s like we’re tumbling in a wave and we don’t know which way up is anymore or down or sideways or where the shore is or who we’re going to be when we get there. And so I guess for me, that’s the reason. That’s the underlying thing of look, we are in transformation and how do we hold each other as we go through this so that we don’t make it nastier. It’s not going to be easy so let’s not be nasty.
Jim: And maybe a move to earnestness will help.
Jim: Well, thank you very much for a wonderful, interesting conversation. I know you have to go on to another call and I look forward to talking to you again.
Nora: Thank you, Jim. It’s so fun to talk and we should definitely do this more often.