Aengus Anderson Radio
About this podcast
Radio stories from producer Aengus Anderson
About this podcast
Radio stories from producer Aengus Anderson
Aengus Anderson Radio
The Conversation - 54 - Charles Bowden
If you've listened to The Conversation for a while, you know there are numerous reasons we invite guests to join the series. Sometimes we are interested in a new idea and its implications, or an old idea that's being revitalized. We gravitate toward people working on interesting projects that challenge or test the status quo. From time to time, we like discussing conversation itself, whether that's conversation as an art or conversation as a tool. We also think it's important to include guests who remind us that the status quo varies based upon where you live. Todays episode falls into this last category. Our parameters for guests often lead us to people who live comfortable and secure lives, far removed from violence and political instability—but what does the future look like when you spend your time writing about crime in one of Earth's most violent cities? Enter Charles Bowden. Charles is a journalist and author. His writing spans from savings and loan scandals to natural resources, but he is best known for his books about Ciudad Juarez, which include Murder City, Down by the River, and Juarez: The Laboratory of Our Future. Over here at The Conversation, we've also been intrigued by Some of the Dead Are Still Breathing: Living in the Future. In addition to writing long-form work, Charles is a contributor to Mother Jones and has published in Harper's, The Nation, GQ, and The New York Times Book Review. Charles and I spoke for over four hours and our conversation sprawled in more than a few directions. If you're looking for a concise, point-by-point diagnosis and solution for our woes, you won't find it here. Instead, you'll find a meditation that returns to the subjects of fear, human nature, and the environment. You'll hear about assassins and sandhill cranes, overpopulation and your place in history—which, Charles claims, is simultaneously important and irrelevant.
The Conversation - 53 - Carlos Perez de Alejo
Carlos Perez de Alejo is a the co-founder and Executive Director of Cooperation Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit that helps organize and raise awareness of worker-owned cooperatives. Economics has been a regular theme in The Conversation but, from David Korten to John Fullerton, many of our discussions have focused on systemic issues and top-down reform. While we at The Conversation love big theories and grand visions, we're equally interested in projects. Worker-owned cooperatives fall in this latter category and, while they are hardly new, the changing economic landscape and success of Spain's Mondragon Corporation have raised their prominence considerably. In this episode, Carlos and I talk about how cooperatives critique our current economic paradigm, even as they function within it. That theme leads into a discussion of whether cooperatives will ever be able to grow large enough to meaningfully change the economic paradigm or if they will always be overshadowed by the competition of traditional corporations. In our concluding discussion of Walter Block, Neil suggested that conversation isn't always possible. Carlos agrees, but also points to situations where people abandon old ideologies without conversation. Micah and I kick these ideas around a bit more in our conclusion.
The Conversation - 52 - Walter Block
Libertarian ideas have been a major theme in The Conversation. They were introduced in our second episode by Max More and have since been elaborated upon by David Miller, Robert Zubrin, Tim Cannon, and Oliver Porter. But while libertarianism has been discussed frequently, it has always been a secondary theme within episodes about, say, transhumanism or space exploration. But libertarianism is too intriguing to discuss obliquely, so we're pulling it out of the background and exploring it in a full episode. We were especially interested in the logical conclusion of libertarian thought and, for that, we turned to Walter Block. Walter Block is a self-described anarcho-capitalist, chair of the Economics Department at Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and a Senior Fellow at the libertarian Mises Institute. Block is also the author of numerous articles and several books, including Defending the Undefendable and The Case for Discrimination. Connections to earlier episodes abound as Block calls John Zerzan crazy, suggests Gary Francione commit suicide, and lambastes the ideas of John Rawls that were advanced by Lawrence Torcello. Whatever you think of this episode, you'll certainly remember it.
The Conversation - 51 - Phyllis Tickle
Phyllis Tickle founded Publishers Weekly's Religion Department and has written numerous books about modern American Christianity, including "The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why." Phyllis begins our conversation by describing 500-year social, cultural, and religious cycles in parts of the world influenced by Abrahamic faiths. Building upon that, she asserts that our current historical moment lies at the edge of two such cycles. The upshot of this is a breakdown in traditional understandings of authority and a period of chaotic exploration. Emergence Christianity, like other emergent faiths, is developing as a response to this period of transition. Though religion has been a regular theme in the background of The Conversation, this is our first episode dedicated entirely to it. As a result, we introduce a lot of new themes and you will hear fewer explicit connections to earlier episodes. Having said that, there are some interesting ties between Emergence Christianity and the income gap which harken back to Chuck Collins, Francione-like questions of purity versus pragmatism, and more Tim Cannon and Max More-style transhumanism than you'd ever expect.
The Conversation - 50 - The Future of The Conversation
We swoop in for our first interstitial episode in six months. Neil has the plague, but Micah and I talk about the future of The Conversation, our perpetual need to raise the project's visibility, and our naïve hope for funding another season of production. In light of James Bamford's conversation and my op-ed about digital liberties in Boing Boing, we talk about themes that aren't connected.
The Conversation - 49 - Scott Douglas
Scott Douglas, III, is the Executive Director of Greater Birmingham Ministries, an interfaith organization in Birmingham, Alabama. GBM provides poverty relief, lobbies to reform Alabama's state constitution, and has recently been active in opposing self-deportation laws. My conversation with Scott is a powerful reminder that status quo ideas vary deeply based on location and that equality—or equity, as Scott prefers—remains just as cutting-edge of an idea today as it did fifty years ago. Like Roberta Francis, Henry Louis Taylor, and Carolyn Raffensperger, Scott takes us into the legal structures undergirding our society to find discriminatory systems that are felt more often than seen. History plays a major role in this episode and Scott offers a great account of how people perceive historical moments in the present and in retrospect. You'll hear strong connections with Chuck Collins and Mark Mykleby about wealth and security. Elsewhere, listen for a John Fife-style spiritual critique of the individualism prized by thinkers like Oliver Porter, Richard Saul Wurman, and David Miller.
The Conversation - 48 - Chris Carter
Chris Carter is a self-taught electrical engineer and founder of MASS Collective, a workspace in Atlanta, Georgia that combines hands-on learning, apprenticeship, and traditional education for students and makers of all ages. We've talked about education with Mark Mykleby, Lawrence Torcello, and Andrew Keen, but our only conversation dedicated entirely to the subject was with Lisa Petrides back in the early days of The Conversation. Lisa's work leaned towards research and the development of new educational models, but Chris is coming at the problem from a very different perspective—as an autodidact who felt underserved by traditional education systems. This episode starts with a discussion of what MASS Collective is before moving into a discussion of creativity, critical thinking, and civic engagement. In an unexpected echo of Joseph Tainter, Chris leaves us with the image of systems—all systems, natural and social—described by a sine wave oscillating between order and chaos.
The Conversation - 47 - Oliver Porter
Oliver Porter designs and implements partnerships between municipalities and corporations, allowing cities to privatize virtually all of their functions. Since his central role in incorporating Sandy Springs, Georgia in 2005, Oliver his moved on to advising numerous other American and Japanese cities through his consultancy firm PPP Associates and has authored two books, Creating the New City of Sandy Springs and Public/Private Partnerships for Local Governments. Before his work in urban privatization, he was an executive at AT&T. Our conversation telescopes from micro to macro, beginning with the story of Sandy Springs' incorporation and ending with an extended back-and-forth about the role of government, human nature, and American decline. You'll want to keep Lawrence Torcello's discussion of John Rawls in mind as Oliver and I discuss the biological and social lotteries—which segues into a contrast with Chuck Collins regarding safety nets and opportunity. Happiness and satisfaction come up as well and we discover a resonance between Laura Musikanski's work and Oliver's interest in making government more responsive to the electorate. Finally, we'll revisit the question nagging at James Bamford: what is democracy good for if it chooses to undermine itself? Let's be honest, nobody's going to answer that question more succinctly than Winston Churchill. Micah and I conclude the episode with a discussion of how Oliver's themes relate to local/central and individual/collective tensions we've seen elsewhere in The Conversation. We'll also touch upon declension narratives, opportunity and historical context, and return (twice) to Mark Mykleby's aphorism that "our assumptions have become our truths."
The Conversation - 46 - Mark Mykleby
Col. Mark "Puck" Mykleby is a former marine and co-author (along with Capt. Wayne Porter) of A National Strategic Narrative for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, a document that encouraged broadening the concept of defense to include sustainability. Currently Mark is a Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan policy institute dedicated to questions about the American future. We learned about Mark through our 41st interviewee, John Fullerton. There are a lot of ideas packed into this episode: America as an organism in a strategic ecology, sustainability as national narrative that succeeds containment, and the broadening of sustainability to include everything from an engaged populace to new metrics for growth. Mark also talks about America's lack of a society-wide conversation about the future and the difference between being a resident and being a citizen. Topically, there are connections to Laura Musikanski's work at the Happiness Initative, David Korten's new myth, and John Fullerton's financial thinking. You'll also want to ponder the connection between Mark and Lawrence Torcello. Is Classical Liberalism the best path to achieving conversation?
The Conversation - 45 - James Bamford
James Bamford is an author and journalist who has written extensively about the National Security Agency. His books include The Puzzle Palace, Body of Secrets, and The Shadow Factory. He has also produced a documentary for NOVA on PBS. We learned about James last year through a Wired article about the NSA's new data center in Bluffdale, Utah. My conversation with James covers several topics that have been missing from The Conversation thus far: privacy, surveillance, and the threat of totalitarian government. As a result, this episode has few overt connections to the rest of the project, but there are underlying commonalities. From Chuck Collins to David Korten, we have heard thinkers concerned with hyperindividualism in its economic and social manifestations. On the other end of the spectrum, we have David Miller and Robert Zubrin who are worried about the possibility for collective regulation to dampen individual creativity and enterprise. James departs from all of these conversations and examines how the individual/community tension plays out in the realm of security and personal liberty. Micah, Neil, and I conclude the episode with an attempt to better integrate James into the rest of the project. Somehow, this leads us into a discussion of what government is for and if an apathetic democracy is worth preserving.
The Conversation - 44 - John Seager
John Seager is the President of Population Connection, formerly Zero Population Growth. Since its founding in 1968, Population Connection has been America's largest grassroots organization dedicated to the question of overpopulation. Prior to his work at Population Connection, John worked for the EPA and in congressional politics. Population has been a regular theme in The Conversation but has not been well developed in previous episodes. John remedies that. He also argues that overpopulation results primarily from gender inequality and a lack of access to affordable contraception—education and affluence matter, but they are secondary to equality. Combatting overpopulation is often thought of in centralized and draconian terms, but John feels that population levels will naturally plateau if individuals are allowed to freely choose the size of their families. Does this make you think of the Constitutional questions discussed in Roberta Francis' episode? Early in The Conversation, Alexander Rose mentioned his concern that a declining population could threaten our economic system. That question surfaced again, albeit in a slightly different guise, when I spoke to John Fullerton about the challenge of decelerating the economy—though we did not talk about population decline, it's worth asking if our appraisals of corporate value assume a growing population. Seager also gives us another perspective on the ideological purity and social pragmatism discussion that Neil and I had at the end of Gary Francione's episode. Like Francione, Seager is a moral realist in certain areas—gender equality being one—but he also embraces incremental change and makes a case for the word "opportunism." Are purity and pragmatism a false binary? Are they equally effective (or ineffective) modes of achieving social goals? Micah, Neil and I will talk about this more at the end of the episode. One last connection to leave you with: Robert Zubrin. Zubrin claims that overpopulation is a false concept and that, with sufficient freedom and creativity, we can support ever greater populations. Does this make him at odds with Seager? Or does Seager's emphasis on individual freedom and choice make his ideas compatible with Zubrin's? We don't know.
The Conversation - 43 - Roberta Francis
Roberta Francis has been advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment for over thirty years, chairs the ERA Taskforce for the National Council of Women's Organizations and administers equalrightsamendment.org. She has also been active with the New Jersey League of Women Voters. There's something ridiculous about needing to include the ERA in a project about the future—why didn't we take care of this ninety years ago? If the ERA reminds us of anything, it's that old ideas can remain new and common sense can be remarkably controversial. I will revisit this theme in my upcoming conversation with Scott Douglas of Greater Birmingham Ministries. Roberta and I talk about what the ERA is, why it failed, and why it's still necessary to a population that, largely, believes it already passed. We conclude by talking about the tension between individual and collective good, the role of government, and compromise. You will hear echos of Peter Warren, Lawrence Torcello and, in the last coda, John Fife.
The Conversation - 42 - Gary Francione
Gary L. Francione is an animal rights activist, proponent of veganism, Professor of Law and Scholar of Law and Philosophy at Rutgers. Previously he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, worked as an attorney in New York, and clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor. He is the author of several books including Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement and, more recently, co-author of The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation. For all of the talk of biocentrism and anthropocentrism that dominated many of the early episodes of The Conversation, animals have not been a major theme within the project. Chris McKay, Robert Zubrin, and David Keith all discussed animals in passing, but for Gary they are central to a discussion of what he considers the biggest issue of our era: the tension between moral realism and moral relativism. Questions of nonviolence, commodification, and empathy pervade our conversation, but Gary pairs his abstract notions with a lot of concrete examples—this episode deals with the visceral immediacy of everyday life and doesn't threaten to float away in a philosophical balloon. I think you will like this episode, just as I think it will challenge you. In terms of connections, there are points where Gary could almost be responding directly to Richard Saul Wurman's moral relativism. Lawrence Torcello will be on your mind, not merely because I mention him in the introduction, but because Gary's conversation provokes questions of relativism, pluralism, and how we can work towards the broader good. On another note, we're adding a new co-host to The Conversation: Neil Prendergast will be joining the project this episode. Micah and I aren't going anywhere but, as Micah's work schedule gets busier, we wanted to bring another voice on board so we can resume our weekly schedule and have two hosts on deck. We're also excited because Neil brings a fresh sensibility and body of knowledge to our concluding discussions. This will be fun.
The Conversation - 41 - John Fullerton
John Fullerton is the founder of the Capital Institute, a group dedicated to the modest task of rethinking the future of finance. Prior to his work at the Capital Institute, he was the Managing Director of JPMorgan. If there is a moment that encapsulates my conversation with John, it is when he suggests we need a new word to express the interconnected environmental/economic system. Applying an investor's sense of risk management to climate change, John sees our economic status quo as reckless and self-destructive. If we remain transfixed by our model of infinite growth in a finite system, John warns, we are likely to destabilize the natural capital underpinning our economy. If you're hoping John will swoop in with an easy solution here, you're wrong. Transitioning away from an economy based on infinite growth is immensely risky in its own right. Efforts to stabilize the climate would come at the cost of leaving immensely valuable natural resources in the ground, devaluing many of our most important companies, and causing economic havoc. This yields a choice which, John concludes, isn't a choice at all: economic turbulence with a radically altered climate or economic turbulence without a radically altered climate. As The Conversation grows larger and connections multiply, it is becoming harder for me to choose which connections to highlight. Here are a few that I haven't linked back to recently: John is skeptical of the technological/market optimism voiced (however cautiously) by Colin Camerer. At the same time, his association of life with goodness takes us back to Chris McKay. Without any prompting by me, he cites the precautionary principle in a way that supports Carolyn Raffensperger and questions Max More.
The Conversation - 40 - Mary Mattingly
Mary Mattingly is an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. We learned about her through the Flockhouse Project and traced back to discover the Waterpod and her earlier work. Mary’s art explores the environment, sustainability, housing, and community structure, among other things. We have spoken to a fair number of environmental thinkers in The Conversation, but Mary is the first whose work directly explores individual survival in an unstable world. There are lots of reasons you’ll like this episode. Aside from the Mad Max/Waterworld quality of our conversation, Mary looks at environmental change in a way that is totally unlike anyone else in the project. Thinkers like Tim Cannon, David Miller, and Robert Zubrin have viewed anthropogenic environmental change as morally relative and potentially positive while others, like John Zerzan, Jan Lundberg, and Wes Jackson, describe it as a crisis to be averted. Mary is somewhere in between, admitting that a future in which humans exert great control over the environment could be dark, yet embraceable. Does this put her in a camp with Tim Morton? Also, the maker economy shows up in Mary’s conversation and connects her to Alexa Clay and Douglas Rushkoff though, in Mary’s vision of the future, the maker spirit is more of a life-and-death necessity than an economic statement. Her interest in resilience may remind you of the end of Chuck Collins’ conversation, too. There’s a lot more to talk about. Specifically, we’re interested in the coexistence of individualism and communitarianism. Are they in tension or in balance? Micah and I discuss.
The Conversation - 39 - Richard Saul Wurman
Richard Saul Wurman is a designer, author of over 80 books, and founder of several conferences including TED, WWW, and EG. Presently, he is working on Prophesy2025, a conference about the near future. Richard caught our attention because he is both an architect and connoisseur of conversation. Because of this, we spoke entirely about conversation itself: its forms, rituals, and value. We also spoke about broader conversation and the hypothesis underlying this project. This episode is very different from its predecessors. It does not contain a prescriptive vision of the future, definitions of the broader good, or an exploration of a new phenomenon. It also lacks explicit connections to other interviewees, though you will hear implicit connections and think about Lawrence Torcello more than once. Given these differences, you may wonder why Micah and I chose to include Richard's interview in a project about society-wide conversations and the future. We have two reasons. First, Richard has thought about the details of conversation more than most of us and he provides a useful lens to examine our interviewees and the roles that Micah and I play in The Conversation (apologies for going meta). Second, while broader conversations may exist, Richard has no interest in creating or guiding them. He seeks interesting days for himself and is, generally speaking, a relativist. We think relativism is an important idea to address. Relativism questions the very concept of good and critiques the efforts of every participant in this series, regardless of their agendas. It also challenges The Conversation as a project and presses us to explain why we cling to our naive belief that there is something greater than solipsism and our own pleasure. This is a good challenge. This is why we're posting Richard's conversation.
The Conversation - 38 - Alexa Clay
Alexa Clay is an author, economic historian, and director of thought leadership at Ashoka Changemakers. She is co-author of The Misfit Economy, a forthcoming book that looks for economic innovation in the black and gray markets of pirates, hackers, and urban gangs, among others. We begin by talking about economics in the 17th and 18th centuries and its close bonds with philosophy and psychology. From there we trace the increasing abstraction of economics into a formalized, quasi-scientific discipline that has become indecipherable to most people affected by it. This leads to a discussion of agency and other types of economies that have sprung up on the fringes of our global economy. Can these "misfit economies" offer a substantive critique of our current economic system? Do they offer better systems or address the problems of endless growth highlighted by Wes Jackson, Jan Lundberg, and David Korten? Alexa and I talk about these questions in the body of the episode while Micah and I will return to them in our conclusion. Alexa's conversation has a wealth of interesting connections. Editing has left a few on the cutting room floor, but many remain: Douglas Rushkoff and quantification, Colin Camerer and neuroeconomics, Lawrence Torcello and the philosophy of John Rawls. There are far more implicit connections, of which Micah and I talk about Gabriel Stempinski and the sharing economy and Laura Musikanski's Happiness Initiative.
The Conversation - 37 - David Keith
From The Conversation's inception, geoengineering—the deliberate manipulation of the climate through technology—has been high on my list of subjects to include in the series. To address the issue, I spoke with David Keith, a Harvard professor with a joint appointment in Applied Physics and Public Policy. David has spent the better part of two decades researching climate science and geoengineering, was named a Hero of the Environment by TIME in 2009, and is also the President of Carbon Engineering, a startup dedicated to reducing atmospheric CO2. He is also publicly visible, having testified before the US Congress, spoken at TED, and appeared on numerous television and radio programs in an effort to spark a broader conversation about geoengineering. During these appearances, David steps refreshingly beyond science and into the thorny moral and philosophical questions raised by geoengineering—and that is exactly why I invited him to join The Conversation. David's conversation starts with a tiny parcel of information about geoengineering but, within minutes, we're into questions of value. If you've been listening to The Conversation for a while this will feel like we skipped over the usual foundation of information I try to build at the beginning of each episode, so you may actually want to skim the Wikipedia link up top. That out of the way, we return to the anthropocentrism/biocentrism theme that characterized many earlier episodes from John Zerzan to Robert Zubrin. Echoing Carolyn Raffensperger, utilitarian philosophy finds itself in the line of fire again as David argues that utilitarianism is insufficient to justify meaningful environmental preservation. At one point, Wes Jackson (explicitly) and Douglas Rushkoff (implicitly) come up in conversation as we discuss what is knowable and, conflating Jackson and Zerzan, David smacks down Zerzan's neoprimitivism. This list could stretch for pages, but let's conclude here with a connection between David and John Fife, both of whom see the obsolescence of the nation state, though for very different reasons. Artwork by Eleanor Davis.
The Conversation - 36 - Ethan Zuckerman
Ethan Zuckerman is the Director of MIT's Center for Civic Media, a former fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center, and co-founder of Global Voices, a hub of international news written by bloggers. We spoke about the need for global awareness, the relationship between information and empathy, and the challenge homophily presents to thinking about the public good (homophily is the fancy way of saying "birds of a feather flock together"). This conversation takes us through the the media's power to set the public agenda, three current media paradigms, and Ethan's suggestion for a new, forth paradigm based on the serendipitous discovery of information about the broader world. And that's just where our conversation begins. Connections? Here's one: Jenny Lee's conversation focused heavily on local media and its power to address local components of national and global problems. Ethan approaches the same issue from the opposite direction, looking first at global awareness and its positive local implications. Jenny also mentioned the problem of excess information and her reliance on social networking as a filter, an issue that Ethan responds to (and remedies?) with his serendipity paradigm. Lawrence Torcello's discussion of liberalism and comprehensive doctrines will be on your mind as Ethan shares a story about a series of conversations he had with a college roommate. Unsurprisingly, Micah and I conclude the episode by getting caught (again) in the traffic jam of conversation, fundamentalism, and the difference between rationality and reason. Artwork by Eleanor Davis.
The Conversation - 35 - Chuck Collins
Chuck Collins directs the Institute of Policy Studies Program on Inequality and the Common Good. He has also co-founder of United for a Fair Economy and Wealth for the Common Good, a network of wealthy individuals who embrace fair taxation to support the broader good. He is also the author of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It and joined Bill Gates, Sr. to co-author Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes. I learned about Chuck through David Korten, only to realize that I already had Resilience Circles—another project he is affiliated with—on my list of potential episode themes. At this point you have probably guessed that Chuck and I spent a lot of time talking about wealth and class, but it's hard to cover those issues without digging into assumptions about human nature. Are we individualistic and selfish? Social and communal? All of the above? Chuck gives us a glimpse into how he pitches economic equality to the 1%, a pitch that involves the importance of the social and ecological commons while recognizing the importance of individual determination. Education makes an appearance and Chuck stresses that, in addition to the social/civic education Lawrence Torcello discussed, we need to remember that we are embedded in an ecological system. Resilience Circles make a brief appearance and new economies come up towards the end of the conversation. You'll probably notice more commonalities and contrasts with plenty of other thinkers. Obviously there are a fair number of similarities between Chuck and David Korten, though our conversations focused on very different themes. Equally interesting, how do Chuck's assertions about human nature and brain science pair with Colin Camerer? Priscilla Grim and Cameron Whitten have discussed class without sharing the environmental concerns of other thinkers in the project, but Chuck suggests that an awareness of the ecological commons is key to encouraging a robust sense of the social commons. It is easy to find contrasts between Chuck and libertarian-leaning thinkers like Max More and Ariel Waldman, but he also shares their appreciation of individual agency.