March 2, 2020
The third set of What Could Possibly Go Right? kicks off with host Vicki Robin reflecting on past episodes, sharing her motivation for creating this series, and revealing what she hopes to find as we embark on a new set of interviews.
Her thoughts include:
- That cultural scouts have this “carefully cultivated sense of looking squarely at reality and trying to pick a path, a critical path forward on behalf of the common good”.
- That cultural scouts have an educated sense of the future, with perspectives often gained through living at the margins.
- That justice is at the center of many interviews, whether it’s racial, economic, intergenerational, interspecies or ecological.
- That guests are framework-fluid, able to see more clearly by not being stuck in one story or worldview.
Hi, Vicki Robin here, host of What Could Possibly Go Right?, a podcast sponsored by the Post Carbon Institute, in which we ask cultural scouts the same question: What could possibly go right in the midst of all that’s going wrong? We’ve published 30 episodes so far. We’re heading into 2021 and I decided to do the crazy thing of interviewing myself as part of the launch of this season. When I decided to do that, I realized this is not easy. I’m sort of setting up my guests. What really do I think? Because I ask my guests, we don’t want to know your analysis of what went wrong; we don’t want to know your big prescription of what everybody should do and then the world would work. We want to hear your seasoned perspective, based on years of what we call cultural scouting, of scanning the horizon, to find the best course forward, not for yourself, per se, but for the tribe, for the community. So put on your headlamp, look into the murk, and tell us what you actually see that we could cooperate with.
What is emerging now?
And a couple things I love about this, before I interview myself. One is that I’m loving ever more the idea of a cultural scout and, you know, I just fished it out of the air. The idea is that it’s somebody who actually has a seasoned, it doesn’t matter how many years, but number one, these are people who have an examined carefully cultivated sense of looking squarely at reality and trying to pick a path, a critical path forward on behalf of the common good. It’s a kind of attention, both to what’s arising and to the needs of the people, or the needs of the planet. So also, I noticed that these are people, you know, when you think of a scout, you think of a mountaintop, a hill. So I think these are really people who’ve positioned themselves because they’ve chosen it or because society’s done it to them, who actually operate more on the margins, whether it’s people of color, women, different class, race. I think the outsiders are smarter and more aware than the insiders, because the insiders are just sitting there like fat happy cats in the middle of their worldview, but people who are on the outside really need to pay a lot more attention. Anybody who’s been marginalized in any way knows this is true. So basically, they’ve made a concerted effort to see clearly, they have been positioned on the margins of society by choice or by prejudice, or class or whatever. And they have a certain fluidity. There’s a sort of self-reflective consciousness where you think you see clearly, you form your own opinion. It’s not that you’re second guessing or doubting yourself. It’s like you try on a range of perspectives, so that you’re not just locked into, How can I move the thing that I think is most important forward? So it’s a particular kind of person and I think that scouting is a learnable skill. So I love that about this.
I love the quality of the question, which is another thing that just popped out; this question, What could possibly go right? And people see it as hope, and it does have something to do with hope. They see it as positivity and it has something to do with positivity. But I see it as sort of expectancy without expectation. It’s like, if we’ve made it this far in life, however many millions of years, there is something installed in us that has that quality of being able to sniff out possibility, no matter what. Where’s the water? Where’s the food? Where’s sex? Where’s danger? So we have that sense, we have a sense of the future and a sense of possibility. It’s not the hairs on the back of your neck, although that’s probably part of the sensing. We’ve made it this far, so it means that we have a sense of the future. And cultural scouts, I think, have an educated sense of the future and they look for those openings. I think it’s sort of someplace between an entrepreneur and a saint. It’s like that quality of precise penetrating vision, and also the huge heart that wants this to work not just for oneself, but for everybody. There’s always something arising to cooperate with.
In this past year, I think this has been, in some ways, the toughest year that many of us have had in decades, really decades. It’s like one thing after another. But really, it’s just been a destabilizing year, which is why I chose to do this podcast and consult with people who I consider cultural scouts, who I turn to, to see more clearly and ask them what they see. And I eventually decided in partnership with the Post Carbon Institute to keep publishing these because I presume that all of you are also making a good faith effort to create a picture in your mind of what’s going on and what the clear choices are. I think it’s even harder when you’re working against things that look like a catastrophes. When everything is going well, it’s so easy to be cheerful and creative. But when you’ve got a definite headwind, which the pandemic and the racial justice uprising and the insane election process in the United States… I mean, we’ve just been in a traumatizing time.
The things that were predictable, are not predictable. I’m recording this right now as Texas is experiencing the result of having a don’t-tread-on-me energy system, where they weren’t hooked into the grid. They couldn’t borrow a cup of energy from elsewhere. But that’s just one of the instabilities. I could be recording at a time when there was a fire some place or a hurricane or some ageing infrastructure suddenly collapses. This is the time we’re in, we’re just groaning at the edges and, of course, the climate disruption now that in the United States, the election whole process has been completed, we have a new president, who’s making what I consider sane decisions and is recognizing that we’re up against it in terms of climate change. So, Instability R Us! Anyway, it’s a way of being with what is arising. What could possibly go right? Asking cultural scouts. So now Vicki, we’re going to ask you: Okay, Vicki, in the midst of all that is going wrong, what could possibly go right?
Yeah, I want to start talking a little bit about what I learned from my guests, of my 30 guests so far. Some of the things that really jumped out at me, that have been informing my perspective. It’s sort of, part of how I’m educating my capacity as a cultural scout is synthesizing what I’ve heard from my guests. One of the things I would say is that a lot of them, it all comes down to… I mean, there’s something in there where justice is the keystone or the linchpin. It’s really interesting, the word justice, because it has a meaning in it of aligning, of a proper alignment of elements. You justify the edge of a page, you justify the margins. So there is something about, not too much, not too little, just right. It’s this Goldilocks quality to justice, a place for everything and everything in its place, is what my mother used to tell me – if you could see behind the screen, you know I didn’t learn it. But it’s a quality of just rightness. And that we are so far out of balance with a system that privileges money, finance, accounting, oil. We live in a system that is extremely hard to do anything if it violates the tenets of the basic religion, which is money and capitalism, and the fact that money makes money, the financialization of the living world. Because that sits in the middle, injustice is everywhere. The other elements that belong in a living world, the world that we were born into, and the other elements that belong here do not have any space to breathe really, they can’t breathe. So it’s racial justice for sure, and that’s come to the top of the list in this last year, as well it should. I think there’s a lot of truth telling going on, we’re doing the truth part, maybe, eventually we’ll do the reconciliation, but it’s just beautiful how much truth is coming out. And how much, if you can tolerate it, how much what privileged white people are discovering of how blind we’ve been.
So the racial justice piece and there’s also the economic justice piece. If there’s anything that is more telling, it’s Trump’s tax breaks advantaged those with wealth and looked like it was a few bread crumbs to the middle class, but those breadcrumbs are being scooped up now. So the level of economic injustice is so extreme that I think staying home and staying put and staying in your lane is getting to be less safe than protest. You can start to see it. People were wondering, why are the people in the United States not out in the streets? And we’re starting to be. Of course, we had the storming of the Capitol, and that was one subset of people storming the halls of power, because they have a felt sense that something is not right. But there’s plenty that’s not right. I don’t particularly consider that their analysis of what was wrong, what’s rotten in the state of Denmark is correct, or that their actions are correct. But it’s like the pressure is getting out there. Because the injustice, the economic injustice, the injustice of access to resources and opportunity, it’s pulled a society apart.
And then there’s intergenerational justice. One of my guests was Jane Davidson, who is an elected official in Wales. She introduced the first bill that got passed, the first recognition of intergenerational justice, putting it in law. And that’s what sustainable development is, it’s meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. That’s justice. And basically, it’s like back when I used to live on the road. You see these campers that had the bumper sticker, “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” Basically that’s what we’re doing. And we know it’s wrong, but nobody’s stopping us. So it’s starting to look at intergenerational justice.
And then interspecies justice. Why is it that humans should consider the rest of the planet ours to exploit? I mean, number one, it’s going to crash this whole system. But also, it’s just unjust, and we’re slowly getting to the point where we realize that no, we’re not special, we’re not exceptional. We’re one of many and we miss our kin terribly, and even the bugs. That’s not okay, that the whole web of life is being deconstructed.
So it just feels to me that the central theme that I derived from talking to my guests, and also that I am embodying, is this idea of justice. It’s even ecological justice. Places are having the rights of rivers, to have their riverbed. Everything in life has developed its place in relationship with everything else in life. And by occupying your right place, you’re in right relationship. The trees and the riparian zone, and the fish get to feed, in the shallows and the shade. All the things fit together. So there’s a quality of, not “Humans, just keep your mitts off everything”, but there’s a quality of ecological justice. So I found that very inspiring, and really actionable. It’s a way that I can, it’s a frame I can use to look through things.
And that’s the other thing, is that it was just so clear, that people were… I could hear not only what they were saying, but the frameworks through which they were viewing the world. And as I said, I think cultural scouts are sort of framework-literate. They’re framework fluid, they can put on many frames, they can put on a secular frame and a religious frame. They’re not stuck in one framework. I think a lot of times, people who are very positional and reactionary are stuck in one frame, and their frame has to be right, or else their whole world collapses, because they don’t have anything else. So I really heard frames of trauma, and personal trauma and intergenerational trauma. And looking through that frame, you see the world in a particular way. Or values, what you say is important. That’s a framework. Or history, like Heather Cox Richardson; so interesting, because I’ve been listening to her all year. She is educating me on the frame of American history, what American history has really been about, according to Heather. I didn’t have that frame, I just had sort of eighth grade history. I didn’t have an educated frame. And then it helped me see that I have frames. I’m really challenging myself. Part of this year has been, you know, pick your favorite media and call every other outlet, fake news. But I’m pretty wedded to my mainstream media, my liberal media, sprinkled with Amy Goodman and Truthout. I have my lefty things, and I have some things, like I check the Wall Street Journal. So I have this sort of news preferential frame. And I’m not saying that, you know, Breitbart is just as good as the New York Times, it is not.
I think one of the things about listening to the cultural scouts is that I have increased my literacy. I’ve increased the lenses that I can look through. It’s like my seeing is more refined, because I can see through all these different frameworks. What do I see emerging? One of the things I would say is that, as unpleasant as it is, the breakdowns are so necessary. We cling to our frameworks, we cling to who I am, and where I live, and who my family is, and who my friends are, and who my enemies are, and what I eat. We cling to our habitual way of life until it is untenable. And life generally, the financialization of life is untenable. It is leading us to ruin and it has to become untenable. This is not punishment. My frame is not that Gaia is kicking us in the butt. This is just, we’re at the end of a story and the emperor has no clothes now, and we are seeing it, and the emperor is going to fight for power. But the more truth we can see, as painful as it is, the more we’re going to be able to be cultural scouts as in to recognize what is arising that we can cooperate with. Not like ghoulish, “Yay, it’s falling apart!” But I am very grateful for this. I’m very grateful that, I think, people have gotten very political at least in the United States. I feel like we were on cruise control on politics, opinionated, but not really in the game. I think this last year, we’ve seen we have to be in the game. It’s not necessarily a battle of good and evil or left and right. It is reclaiming our agency as citizens, and that we have a say in how we run our collective lives. We’re either going to get there through beating each other up or we’ll get there through the tough process of politics. And politics is like a trailing edge.
It’s like 20 years after something should happen, it does happen through politics. But nonetheless, we cannot sit on the sidelines anymore. So I’m just very heartened by that. I think I’m getting more sophisticated. I think I’m able to pay attention to politics without wanting to scream. I’m working on it. You can ask any of my friends.
So I think that is something that is going right. I have all sorts of dystopian ideas and personal pain around the shutting down of socializing in our society. A society is social. We’re social animals. We learned through being with other people. So God bless we have Zoom and all this stuff. But I long for a return to the streets and bumping into one another. There’s been a benefit, and I’m not sure how it’s going to play out, because the benefit is that – you probably have in the same experience – that you show up on a Zoom call, there’s 100 people and they’re from all over the world. We’re suddenly talking about framework literacy. We’re suddenly being able to see through so many different eyes, not just the eyes of the people who are right around us. I think that is having a positive effect.
It’s also, more and more of us are realizing that we’re content creators. There’s probably some graph about, when I started doing these interviews last March, we’ve probably doubled the number of podcasters on since then, because everybody’s realizing: I’m a creator, I can just sit here and publish. I sometimes check out Tik Tok and Instagram and stuff like that. A lot of it is inane, but some of it is very, very creative. There’s something that’s getting mixed up in us, and maybe part of the benefit of this crushing of our ability to be a society together, is that we’re learning how to do it electronically, and hopefully, that will not be our preferred mode, and then we’ll be scared of other people.
And one other thing I want to say is that, frameworks that are set in motion are stories. You have characters, the characters have goals, the goals are in conflict, they have needs, they have strategies for meeting their needs. And once you have all of that moving, then you have a drama, you have a story unfolding. About a year ago, this story occurred to me, this framework, actually. There’s a shaggy dog story associated with it. But the essence of it is that there’s four stories competing for dominance now in our world. And the stories are about: What matters? What’s good, true and beautiful? What’s the goal of life? What are the highest aspirations one can work toward? And my sense is that these stories are an anathema to one another, and they’re all vying for dominance. Being able to see it that way, for me has been helpful. It really came out of a joke. Somebody said this joke about: After the rapture, can I have your car? You know, the rapture is when the saved souls are going to be swept up to heaven, the rest of us sinners will be left behind. So the goal of that religious story is that the world is a mortal coil, it is a veil of tears, it is a cesspool of sin, and we work our way through it. And we try to save ourselves through our religion, so that we can go to heaven, and heaven is where all the good stuff is. So then that makes daily life, the struggles of daily life are simply like an obstacle course to prove that you’re good so you can get to heaven. I’m not trying to be dismissive of anybody’s religion. It’s just framing it now.
Then there’s another one that says that the aspiration is the singularity. It’s really that the point is not carbon based life. The point is intelligence. So as intelligence is replicated and actually improved, in silicon-based life, then you know, you don’t have to have agriculture, you don’t have bathrooms. There’s a lot of things that fall away, that we may have a sentimental feeling about; carbon-based life, whether it’s human bodies and just the living world. But it’s not necessary for what really is the point, which is the penetration of reality by the human intellect. So that’s one story and that’s sort of in conflict with this other story.
And then there’s the third story is that the futures in the stars. Not in heaven, not in the singularity, but the stars. Basically it’s the story of Enterprise, the avatar would be Elon Musk, if you will. That basically, the adventure is human progress. Human progress is the adventure.
So then the fourth story is, the story I live really, which is, this is heaven, or Gaia is heaven. We live in the garden, and the only thing that expels us from the garden is the unwillingness to experience ourselves as part of it.
So we have these four stories. If you think about it, the Elon Musk story, the AI story or the rapture stories are all stories that treat what I consider the living world as a dead or degraded object to be rejected, or transcended. A lot of the upset and the activism I do is to protect the living world. The story of progress, that’s an anathema. We’re in the way of that, you know. Keystone pipeline, all the pipelines; that makes sense in the story of progress. It makes no sense in the story of Gaia.
So all these stories are in conflict. To me, I think that what’s happening now in part, is that the stories are becoming evident, and the conflict between them is becoming evident. Sustainable development, way back in the 1980s, the term was coined to talk about that intersection of the sort of crash course between economic growth and ecological integrity, and human well being. All the way back in the 80s, we recognized that we’re on this collision course and these stories to me, helped me see that some way, if you want to talk about we have to learn to live together, how do these stories reconcile? How do the characters in the story get their needs met in the presence of the other characters? And there’s no vanquishing anybody and having it be whole.
Yeah, so what could possibly go right is I think, if you want to use a religious term, it’s a time of Revelation. It’s a time of the Apocalypse and the Apocalypse really is, you know, not to be like uber religious about it, but the Apocalypse is the unveiling. It is the unveiling of the darkness inside the systems that support our lives, whether we consciously or unconsciously cooperate with them. So what could possibly go right is that we become more conscious.
And what could possibly go right is that, what could possibly go right flourishes, so that we can keep providing you with these different facets of perspectives; these different perspectives on reality so that you can stand in the middle of all of this wisdom, and make better choices for yourself to see more clearly, to act more courageously, in service to the common good. Thank you.