It’s the end of the world as we know it. OK, maybe not just yet, but it is the end of Crazy Town’s third season. If you’ve been able to look past some of the more absurd parts of the podcast, perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern. In examining hidden drivers behind humanity’s sustainability predicament, we grouped the drivers into three categories: human behavior, social constructs, and features of biophysical reality. Given our penchant for covering anxiety-inducing topics, we take you on a sobering tour through these categories. But we also offer a sweet suite of pro-social, environmentally sound ideas to help keep your amygdala happy. For best results, start thinking in systems, and listen to this episode in the shade of a leafy tree. When you finish, feel free to give that tree a hug — it could probably use one right about now. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Rob Dietz

Hi, I’m Rob Dietz.

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Jason Bradford

And I’m Jason Bradford. Welcome to Crazy Town, where human waste is our favorite renewable fuel.

Asher Miller

Okay, guys, this is the final episode of the season of Crazy Town.

Jason Bradford

Finally.

Asher Miller

I want to just start by sharing a story, which is, maybe it’s a little risky, because if I bum you guys out it might bum our  listeners out too. But I want to share it for a reason. . .  which I’ll get to. So you know, way back when, back in the day, last millennium . . .

Rob Dietz

This is getting back.

Asher Miller

Yeah. I actually worked at a place called the Shoah Foundation, which was this project that was started by Steven Spielberg to document the stories of Holocaust survivors. And we are doing video interviews with Holocaust survivors from around the world. Amazing job. Really intense. That was like my first job out of college. And I was working in the production department. And one of the jobs that I had was helping coordinate these interviews that were happening in all these places where we didn’t have offices around the world. So England was one of the countries I was working with. I was working in Brazil, and Venezuela, and Sweden, and South Africa, and places all over the world. And we would get our staff, you know, we had these volunteers in these countries, and we had PO boxes there. And what we did, when we reached out to interview people, we just had this flyer that would be dropped off at temples and other Jewish community centers in all these different countries around the world. And it was just a flyer that asked people to fill in their information. And we would ask things like, “Where were you born?” And, you know, “What was the date of birth? And, “what was your experience? Were you in any concentration camps, and which ones were they?” And then people would send them into the PO box. Well, because of security concerns, they would send all the mail to us in California, and we would open the mail, and then we’d send the information back to them back in those days. I was faxing a lot. So I was responsible for opening this mail, looking at these little flyers of this little bit of information. And I got trained eventually to look for these patterns, right? And to realize some things. I wasn’t a holocaust historian. I didn’t know any of this stuff. But I was surrounded by these brilliant people who could make these connections just based upon like, this person was born in this town around this date, and they went to this concentration camp. Oh, this is a really rare story, we really need to record this interview.

Jason Bradford

Oh, right.

Asher Miller

So this guy I worked with. This guy named Martin, who was just a genius guy from Prague. He once told me about this group of boys called the Birkenau boys. Okay, and the Birkenau boys were basically boys that came from Czechoslovakia, and were sent to Birkenau. Birkenau was the largest death camp that the Germans ran. And they were pulled out and selected to serve basically as runners for the Nazis in the camp. And they’re like teenage boys, 14 years old or so. And there’s been this guy who we was one of the very first interviews we ever did. His name was Hellmuth. And he told us a story about how basically he had gone up to Josef Mengele, who’s this infamous doctor.

Rob Dietz

Right, right. He was the guy that was selecting, “You’re going to work, and you’re going to the gas.”

Asher Miller

Yeah. And he would also pull people out to do experiments on them. Okay? And Hellmuth said, I went up to Mengele, and I asked him to save me, I could do something to help. And he was so taken by my bravado, basically, that he laughed, and he just decided to pick me. And then this other boy heard me do this. And he ran up to me, and he asked me to go up to him and save his life as well. And so I did. I went back to Mengele, and I asked him to save this boy as well. And Mengele couldn’t believe the balls on me basically, you know, that would do this. And he just decided to pick a bunch of kids to save to serve as messenger boys and runners or whatever. And Hellmuth had told us this story, and I gotta be honest, there are some times we would hear stories that we just didn’t believe. And sometimes it was because people honestly just wanted to convince themselves of a story. In many cases, Holocaust survivors are the people who’ve gone through really horrible traumas. To survive they did all kinds of things that they might not have done and under normal conditions, right? So sometimes people would change their memories, and we thought Hellmuth was one of those guys.

Rob Dietz

Even the memory mechanism might fail under such circumstances.

Asher Miller

That’s right. And he was a blustery kind of guy. You know what I mean? And so we just thought, ah . . . But it turns out that there were these boys. And this guy Martin told me, “If you see anybody who was about this age, and who came from Prague or came through Theresienstadt, which was this other camp, flag that. Because that might be one of these, you know, Birkenau boys.”

Jason Bradford

Wow.

Asher Miller

And they had really important stories to share from interacting with the Nazis who are running these camps. And so one day I saw this flyer from England of this guy. And he had the right dates. You know, some of the information was right. But he didn’t say anything about being a Birkenau boy, didn’t talk about any of that stuff. I went to Martin, I was like, “Hey, is this maybe something important?” He’s like, “Yeah, maybe it is.” So we asked the interviewer, who is going to interview him, some questions to see if we could figure this out. Because we would always do a pre-interview questionnaire. And the guy had no memory of any of the stuff that we talked about, that we’re asking about. And so we thought, maybe that means there’s nothing. But then, in the course of the interview, he basically blanked out huge chunks of his life story of what his experience was during the war. You know, his childhood before the war, he really lamented that he couldn’t remember these things. But he did remember this one thing. And that was asking this other boy to save him because he had gone up to this Nazi. And when we heard that, we’re like, “Holy shit. Hellmuth was right.”

Jason Bradford

And this was the first one?

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we were freaking out basically when we understood that this had happened. And so we actually reached out to Hellmuth and we said, “We think we found corroboration of your story.” Because none of the other boys that we’d interviewed could corroborate what Hellmuth had said. They didn’t know why they’d been picked. And we wound up putting these two guys together. We asked permission. We asked them if they wanted to be reconnected. And Hellmuth actually traveled to England to visit this other guy. And when the guy saw him, all of his memories came back. Everything came back for him.

Rob Dietz

That’s almost movie-like.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and in fact, when we were trying to do some promotion in different countries, a lot of the reason we got people to step forward to ask to be interviewed, or to volunteer to be interviewed — because this is after Schindler’s List came out — And we would try to get Schindler’s List played on national television in these countries. And at the end, they would put this call for survivors. And so we would do all kinds of different things. And, at some point, I think we got contacted by the press. After Schindler’s List ran, People Magazine asked us if there was a story to be told, and we told them this story. And the People Magazine in England actually ended up telling a story about these guys. But the reason I bring this whole thing up was because, you know, here we did this season talking about hidden drivers, and I was really thinking about that experience, both for my experience, having been a situation where I was able to get all this information, all this data. And I was able to start seeing some patterns in pursuing these things. And following my curiosity, and having resources to turn to say, “Could this possibly be this?” That investigation, but also the  experience of this Holocaust survivor who literally had no memory at all. And this event of re-meeting Hellmuth after 50 years brought it all back for him.

Rob Dietz

And then did that change his life? Like, was he seeing things differently after that?

Asher Miller

Yeah, it was completely cathartic. Can you imagine if —

Jason Bradford

Or burying that somehow.

Asher Miller

Yeah, to open up all these things. . . I mean, it wasn’t just his memory of his experiences in the camps. It was his childhood before that, you know. He was 14 years old when he went into the camps. He got all that back. A lot of that’s obviously very painful, but also invaluable.

Jason Bradford

Probably lost all of his family.

Asher Miller

Exactly.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, wow. There’s one other piece of this, which is, you come by this ability you have to cover difficult topics. Obviously, you got some training in that early in your career?

Asher Miller

Yeah, I guess I’ve always, I don’t know, and this is something I’d be curious if all of us and our listeners have this in common. For some reason, you know, life experience or what have you, I was a kind of person who felt like I needed to dig deeper behind things. And I was fortunate to be able to use that kind of sleuthing tenancy in a situation that ended up having an impact in the real world. And I think that’s the purpose of us wanting to talk about these hidden drivers this season. Because if we don’t recognize what’s happening, and what’s driving these things, I’m not saying, once we know now we can fix everything with the snap of the fingers, but if we don’t know . . .

Jason Bradford

Yeah, what chance do we have?

Asher Miller

What chance do we have?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, sleuthing. I like that term.

Rob Dietz

Well, I want to get a little bit meta on our season because there’s something hidden about the hidden drivers that the three of us are aware of, but I’m not sure our listeners are aware of it. I don’t know that we’ve mentioned it, but it’s how we explicitly planned to organize this season. And, you know, you’re talking about, Asher, when you understand drivers or hidden drivers. Maybe it opens up, in the case of your story it opens up memory, which then opens up a different way of thinking about your life. Well, for us, we thought if you can become aware of these hidden drivers, yeah, maybe we can start to do something differently. But, you know, starting out with, “Hey, what are the hidden drivers that have pushed us into Crazy Town?” That’s a pretty tall order. So we did a little categorization and thought that might be a way to organize the season. So any listener who’s put forth the Herculean effort of staying with us from episode to episode, maybe they’ll realize the pattern. Which was, we kind of started with the small, we started with the individual human and human behavior in our own psychology, and what are the hidden drivers there. And from there, we expanded out to kind of broader human behavior meaning our culture and our social constructs that have pushed us into Crazy Town. And then we got to this third piece, which was things in the physical world that actually exist in the universe, that’s the way things work. But because of that, and because of the way people interact with it, those things push us into Crazy Town. So maybe we could do a little recap of each of those categories.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, why don’t you start us off?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, I like that. Because for me, it’s sort of the simplest, which is at the individual level. So I’ll leave the hard work to you guys. But we started the season, actually, the very first episode was on cognitive biases. So if you’re talking about human psychology — you interviewed Peter Whybrow in that episode, Asher. And he was talking about, essentially, I don’t know if flaws is the right word, but ways that the human brain works that somehow can work against us in modern times.

Jason Bradford

But also they were an evolutionary context. So we have to make shortcuts to get by so there’s like a logic to the thriftiness of our thinking.

Asher Miller

Yeah, it makes sense in some ways. What we might think of is irrationality, it actually makes sense when you think about where it comes from.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And that’s actually a thread that ran throughout the episodes that were focusing on our own psychology. So one of my favorite episodes was terror management theory, where we were looking at fear of death, anxiety about death as influencing all kinds of behaviors where you didn’t recognize that that influence was even there. Like, I’m gonna discriminate against this out group because I’m afraid of death.

Asher Miller

That was the most fascinating thing for me. Like, I think if you say to people, “Hey, our fear of death has an impact on our lives.” Everyone would sort of agree with that. But, to look at these studies, and realize that the subtle ways that it actually could reinforce tribalism, sort of, in-group/out-group dynamics, you know . . . really powerful and important to recognize.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And there are plenty of others. Another one is the idea of discounting the future. You know, sometimes you think, “Oh, maybe that’s a social construct.” Like we talked about interest rates, for example, and the way financier’s and economists think in that episode. But some of that is just built into how humans experience time and how we think in the world, which again, like you mentioned, Jason, in an evolutionary perspective, was an adaptive thing, but maybe in modern times is kind of screwing us over.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And then, you know, on the social constructs side of things, and of course, these things all bleed into each other, right? I mean, we did this episode on self domestication, which I find kind of an interesting one because it kind of helped create conditions for some of these other constructs that we have. Like complexity and specialization we talked about. The rise of cities. You know, when we became agrarian societies, we developed cities and hierarchies, and that led to people having specialized roles. And then complexity of society to the point where like, if we have problems, we just double down on complexity to solve them. The Myth of Progress. We talked about how important of a social construct that is so much so that I think we don’t even recognize that it’s something that is like a belief system that just about all of us have inherited. We talked about money. We talked about how all this complexity and technology has led to even more challenges with our attention, being able to focus our attention on things that matter. Yeah, I don’t know if there were ones in there that really stuck with you guys or not?

Rob Dietz

Oh, definitely, like the idea of the myth of progress. It’s almost hard to put that down as an episode because it almost puts us in a category of we’re against progress. You know, and that’s not the case. But it’s the notion that somehow we’re preordained to make progress. And how you define progress is really important. And it’s almost like, I don’t know. It feels like — like we’re already kind of putting ourselves on an island by being so against some of these systems that make up our culture. But that one especially puts us on a really . . . We’re like Tom Hanks in the movie, “Castaway.” We’re out on this island where we ain’t getting off, at least without the help of a volleyball.

Asher Miller

Because here’s the thing, no one wants to think that their kids or grandkids are gonna have a worse life in them, right? They want to believe — But that’s only because we have a certain definition of progress.

Jason Bradford

Yeah I think that’s what we should kind of round out, maybe. Or you know, get into what to do. Like a lot of our do-the-opposite stuff. We’ll get into some of how we deal with that. But, you know, what we also did towards the end is we brought up some hidden drivers, these are terms and concepts that maybe you hadn’t heard of before that are very important. Like net energy, like the maximum power principle. And, you know, some other ones that are really important would be like, overshoot, or just the concept of exponential growth. Knowing how key these are . . . Like these are laws of physics and nature. And I just wish that all of those were sort of etched in everyone’s consciousness at the forefront of our minds when we’re making decisions, but they’re not. And the reason they’re not, I sort of think back to previous seasons where we talked about cultural materialism, right? The Marvin Harris notion that we construct these ideas based upon our material conditions of the world. So our ideas reflect the material conditions of our world. And what we don’t understand about our world is that we won this energy lottery. And we don’t know this. We’re energy blind. We don’t understand that fossil fuels are the nearest things to magical substances that we’re ever going to run across. And we actually did that in previous seasons too, kind of. How almost magic-like these are.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re a farmer. Surely, you’ve traded a cow for some magic beans in the past.

Jason Bradford

What I have done is sat on a tractor. And I burned out probably four gallons of diesel yesterday.

Rob Dietz

Oh, so you burned four gallons of magic beans, basically.

Jason Bradford

But I’m sitting on this tractor, doing this work, and I’m like, “ch-ch-ch-ch.” And I’m realizing, well, an hour went by, there’s a gallon. That’s 500 human labor hours right there. It’s just under my butt. So, you know, I’m aware of this stuff when I’m doing it. But it’s because of their magical properties that we’ve developed this world that has made these incredible technological advances. And now many of us live and depend upon these machines that we really don’t understand. So it gets back to complexity, it gets back to the myth of progress, these technical advances. They’re incomprehensible to us, and they’ve gone on for generations. And so of course, they’ve developed a mythology. And, of course, now because I can sit on my butt and drive a machine, very few people need to farm. People are moving into cities, urban areas. So of course, we’ve disconnected from nature. You know, there’s not that many people now that have to work out in natural type environments to earn their livelihood. And so people are literally walled off in their homes. So, you know, these physical realities we’ve created actually is disconnecting us from sort of deeper realities is what I’m saying.

Asher Miller

What’s interesting, bringing it back to sort of human behavior and kind of the human brain stuff. Some of our behaviors that seem like there might be irrational cognitive biases, our susceptibility to conspiracy theory thinking, that kind of stuff. . . You know, one of the things we’re pointing out is that in some ways, that’s old, right? It’s an old part of us, and we need to grapple with that. On the flip side, our current physical reality is very new. And we don’t recognize how much we really need nature, right? Like we evolved in nature. And that being disconnected from nature has probably a profound impact on us in ways that we have no idea.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, we interact with — kids are interacting more with their electronic devices and manipulating those. And how much time are they spending manipulating things in the real world anymore?

Rob Dietz

You mean electric pagers, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you can have a career as a gamer now.

Jason Bradford

Right right. And now, the money thing was interesting because connecting money now . . . So our ability to actually get food and keep shelter is not dependent upon our skills at manipulating the real world. It’s our skills of manipulating or fitting into our social environment so that we can get this social construct named money, which allows us now to trade for things we need.

Rob Dietz

Okay, so you are bringing up kind of an “Aha” for me that I want to share. Because one of the important things, I think, is as you go and start realizing there are these hidden drivers, or you see something in the world, you got to have a bit of an “Aha” or you know, it doesn’t have to be one epiphany, but you know, that would be nice when it works out so cleanly. But you have to come to a realization either from something you’ve witnessed, experienced, heard, learned, to be able to make an actual change in your life. And you bringing up the money thing, it’s boiling up for me now. So okay, I’m sure I’ve told you guys before, but when I was in college, I needed a summer job just like most college kids who are trying to pay tuition.

Asher Miller

I thought you were some hoity toity Ivy League school kid. You  weren’t working at the country club?

Rob Dietz

No, I was not a legacy rich-kid-type Ivy Leaguer. It was merit-based. Come on, man! I was like a little straight laced academician.

Asher Miller

You’re proof that meritocracy actually exists.

Rob Dietz

Oh, yeah, totally. I mean, I was at the right race and gender so there was some privilege there. No, but I needed money to be able to pay for some stuff. And so I didn’t have access — this is the anti-country club. I knew nobody that could get me on as a caddy at the rich guys’ golf club, okay? So the best job I could find was as a landscape technician. Is that the right word?

Asher Miller

No, that sounds like a newfangled way of —

Rob Dietz

A landscape-o-tographer?

Asher Miller

You were just a landscaper.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. So that’s even fancy. Here’s what we did, okay? I worked in this team where Monday morning we’d show up, we’d pick up trash for the first hour around this office park. That was like the warm up. And then you’d spend all day mowing, except the end of the day where you would do some weed whacking and backpack blowering.

Asher Miller

This is why you hate blowers so much.

Rob Dietz

Oh, cloud of dust, you know. Yeah, it’s like you probably have to get coal miners lungs.

Asher Miller

It’s like your non-flashbacks when you hear these, right? Is that what’s going on?

Rob Dietz

Well, so doing this, I don’t want to disparage because a lot of people love doing landscaping. In fact, I love it as a hobby. I don’t love that kind of oil driven, mechanized, clean-the-office-park landscaping as a career. But hey, if it works for you out there, great. But it wasn’t good for me. Except something that was nice about it was all that time of walking around kind of pushing equipment. Gave you time to think, okay? And so a couple of “Ahas” came to me. And one is, and why this came up, Jason, is what you’re talking about with money. I started realizing, so many people are doing jobs that they would never have picked for themselves as the way I spend the bulk of my time.  Other than just to get this green stuff that you can then go and hopefully do with what you want. But so many people get trapped into just doing like, “Oh, I’m just paying rent with this. I’m not actually leading the life I want to lead.” And it’s just a vicious cycle. So that was one “Aha” which has totally changed how I look at career and work life balance and all that stuff. The other thing that came was okay, so I told you Monday we would show up and do that. And then we would go to the next office park the next day, and it was just in a cycle. And the following Monday, we’re back at the office park we started at, and it looks exactly the same as it did the Monday before.

Jason Bradford

Oh, you’re pushing a rock up a hill, buddy.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. The trash re-sprouted and sprouted like mushrooms.

Asher Miller

So you knew right then and there that this myth of progress was a total myth.

Rob Dietz

Oh, there was so much to it. Like, wow, if we had let that grass grow, it probably would have been a nice meadow. There might actually have been some frogs or . . .

Jason Bradford

A flower might have been able to bloom.

Rob Dietz

Right. But no, and here’s the best part. Like, not one person at one of these office parks ever walked on that grass or did anything in it. It was just seriously so they could, I think, see it out their window. It might as well have been green-painted pavement.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, maybe it’s like fake turf now there.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. That would have been better. It would have been less chemicals.

Asher Miller

Fewer jobs though, man.

Rob Dietz

Oh, right. And good jobs . . .Having that blower smoke in your face and pesticides. So I mean, that whole idea of like, how do we get past purposelessness in our jobs and in our economy? Yeah, that was huge to me. And so, again, kind of bringing this back, it’s about finding “Ahas”. And so I was wondering, you know, this was new for us, looking at hidden drivers and trying to think in depth about them. Did you guys come up with some “Aha’s” on this season that have stuck with you?

Jason Bradford

Well, something that kind of gets to me is sort of thinking about human behavior and the social constructs we have. It sort of helped explain to me why it’s so difficult for people to go as far as I’d like them to go. To make as many connections and to jump to logical conclusions. And I know we’ve mentioned Jeff Bezos before where he gives this talk where he sounds like Dennis Meadows with limits to growth. And for like 45 minutes or so he’s giving the perfect Limits to Growth talk. The first or second richest guy in the world. And then he turns, and it becomes just moronic immediately where he goes into you know, “We’re gonna colonize space with a trillion people.”

Rob Dietz

Harvest the moon. Yeah.

Jason Bradford

And it’s just you go, “Wait a second, he’s citing laws of physics and you know, the gravity well, and overshoot, and resource depletion, and exponential growth. And he says that scarcity is a big problem. And he just can’t accept it. He just can’t accept it.”

Rob Dietz

My favorite is watching Asher . . . Like I didn’t actually watch you. But I was thinking in my mind when you introduced the story of Asher sitting there in front of a screen going, “Yes, yes, Jeff. Yes. Good. Good. Yeah! Alright, sweet. No, no! No, Jeff. Please”

Jason Bradford

But it’s this ability for us to live with cognitive dissonance. And I think, understand that the human mind, and understanding that, you know, we can spend part of our time thinking these thoughts about reality, and putting these connections together. But then, it hits a wall in a sense, where other parts of our mind don’t allow us to then really go to the logical final conclusion of this.

Asher Miller

So I see that just a little differently in that it is very telling for Bezos because it’s exactly what you said. And that was that he found this conclusion. You know, he laid out this challenge, right? And he arrived at a conclusion. And he named it. And that conclusion was because of these limits, with energy and efficiency, and all this. We’re going to have to ration. And he couldn’t accept it.

Jason Bradford

He could not accept it.

Asher Miller

And it wasn’t that he had this other part of his brain that was doing these other calculations or had this like, alternative set of facts. His belief system was more important to him than any rational case.

Rob Dietz

Right. rational and rationing doesn’t fit into the myth.

Jason Bradford

Right. Rationalization does.

Asher Miller

And maybe, it’s that old . .  I don’t know, every quote is attributed. . .

Jason Bradford

Upton Sinclair?

Asher Miller

No, Mark Twain, I was thinking, right? Yeah, maybe this is Upton Sinclair I’m thinking. “The . . . ”

Jason Bradford

“Can’t get a man –”

Asher Miller

“To believe something if his job is to bring upon the opposite of whatever it is.”

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Oh, gosh. It’s neither of those two, but I’m not going to be able to come up with who it was.

Asher Miller

It was Jeff Bezos.

Rob Dietz

Okay.

Asher Miller

Because, you know, he made all his money on this idea of progress, right? And he talked about he had dreams of going to space when he was a little kid. It is so important to recognize that. And we suffer from this, I think. Which is this sort of like, well, we have the facts, we know the truth, we either think if we just communicate those two people then they’ll get it and they’ll do the right thing, or they’re idiots because they don’t get this right, and they’re hopeless. And the truth is that we are all locked into these ways of thinking and being that are contradictory and conflicting. And that facts will not win out at the end. If it’s a race between facts and beliefs and belonging, facts are not going to, for most people not going to win.

Rob Dietz

So just real quick, power, the internet and progress, speaking of that, I just looked up who said that quote, and it was Jar Jar Binks.

Asher Miller

Oh, thank God.

Rob Dietz

No, actually, it was Upton Sinclair. You were right the first time.

Asher Miller

I’ll give it to Jason.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, don’t look how sausage is made.

Asher Miller

Well, so another thing. . . I mean, you were talking about “ahas.” For me, and this is kind of an obvious, but is something I’ve been kind of wrestling with a lot, just trying to think about the implications of it. And that is that all these hidden drivers actually interact with one another. And I don’t want to do this systems-map kind of thing where you get dizzy with these circles and arrows and all this shit, you know. But you can actually start seeing, well, this hidden driver relates to that hidden driver, relates to that hidden driver, and they amplify each other.

Jason Bradford

And the positive feedback loops.

Asher Miller

Right. And that was part of the reason we wanted to talk about positive feedback loops, because that amplifying feedback is something that is a hidden driver of what’s happening in the world. But it’s also something that’s playing out with these hidden drivers interacting with one another. And it makes it all the more challenging to understand the system that we’re dealing with. And also all the more important to understand what we’re dealing with,

Rob Dietz

I mean, I see your point. And I remember you specifically saying, “Oh, this hidden driver is almost like a master hidden driver, because it’s pushing that one.” But I think that’s too nuanced. And what I learned is that death anxiety rules all.

Asher Miller

Oh right. Stop fearing death.

Rob Dietz

That’s why we are in a sustainability crisis. So just just stop fearing death.

Asher Miller

Okay.

Rob Dietz

That’s the golden bullet that will solve everything.

Asher Miller

Oh, except we haven’t solved death yet.

Rob Dietz

Oh, right.

Asher Miller

Let’s get Ray Kurzweil on here. Maybe he can help us out with this, right?

Rob Dietz

Well, and that net energy thing is still there even if I’m totally fine with dying.

Asher Miller

Oh, right.

Rob Dietz

Damn it. Okay. Now, what were you saying then?

Asher Miller

The interaction between these drivers is important.

Rob Dietz

No, yeah. It’s huge. And and I think piggybacking on that, maybe this is also obvious, but, you know, we started looking for these drivers and let’s not pretend like we got them, right?

Jason Bradford

Right.

Rob Dietz

I mean, there’s a lot of other things out there, ways we act, social constructs. Hell, we’re even stuck in one culture in one part of the world, right?

Asher Miller

Absolutely.

Rob Dietz

I mean, there’s stuff all over the world we’re not aware of. And that makes it even more daunting. It’s that there are drivers of our sustainability crisis, of our inequality crisis, of the kinds of problems we’ve been talking about that we have not covered. And so you know, there’s certainly opportunities for us and for listeners, for everybody to figure out what are some of the other things.

Jason Bradford

We’ll cover them in Season 22.

Rob Dietz

Right, right. That’s your solo season, Jason. Jason’s gonna run Seasons 5 through 21.

Jason Bradford

Well, so I think we should get back to this is sort of what we did in our show, too. We had a structure where we would come back to say, like, where do we go from here, right? Well, first of all, listen to all the old shows again, and if you want to just get cut to the chase of what to do, usually it was the last third of the episode where we would

Asher Miller

Channel our George Costanza.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, channel our George Costanza and do the opposite. Making suggestions for both individual actions as well as things you can do in your household and your community, maybe, you know, public policy, etc.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, and we even, when we interviewed guests, we tried to draw out of them stories and ideas where they were kind of trying to do the opposite. Or at least point out an idea that was opposing the current culture or the current set up. So if we go back and listen, and we find actions that we could take individually, or that we could do to try to change policy, I’m thinking maybe we could come up with just some of our favorites. Some examples that we could share with listeners. And one of the ones I wanted to bring up is, you know, I’ve mentioned terror management theory and death anxiety in this episode.

Asher Miller

You’re clearly obsessed with death, Rob.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, that was a good one.

Rob Dietz

That one affected me.  I remember the conversation with Michael Hebb. And you, Asher, had done a death over dinner and found that it had a good effect. And I’m a little sad to say that I haven’t done it yet. Mostly because of the conditions of the pandemic. It’s hard to invite a group over to your house, but I’m hoping . . .

Asher Miller

I have so many dark jokes to make about that.

Rob Dietz

Right. Death during dinner. . .

 

Jason Bradford

Death soon after dinner.

Asher Miller

What better way of getting people together? You know, talk about death and run the risk of getting Covid.

Jason Bradford

It’s like that Edgar Allan Poe story.

Rob Dietz

Hey, who wants to come over to my house to die? But I’ve talked to a couple friends, and we’re definitely up for staging this when people feel it’s safe to gather up and do it. So I plan on doing that. And one of my goals is just to monitor, like, how did talking about this affect how much I discriminate against out-groups.

Asher Miller

There were actually some policy recommendations as well — It wasn’t just stuff that we could do as individuals –That I thought were really interesting. And I guess if I were gonna say that there’s like, a major takeaway around that. It’s that, we just have to be like the Welsh.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Isn’t that an amazing story?

Asher Miller

Yeah. So we’re talking about that extra conversation, Jason, you had with Jay Davidson. We ended up playing the interview that Vicki Robin did with her.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, I had technical difficulties.

Asher Miller

Yeah, just talking about the effort that the Welsh Government did. Kind of the first of its kind, and hopefully not the last of its kind, where they passed the Well Being of Future Generations Act. And that was really related to when we talk about discounting the future. How important it is, if we’re thinking about, you know, we all say that we care about our kids or whatever. But we don’t actually put that into place in any of our institutions, you know, the financial system policy, any of that stuff. So they actually wrote that into law.

Jason Bradford

Yeah.

Asher Miller

And I think you know, there’s probably something to be said about the fact that Wales is a relatively small country that they could do that.

Rob Dietz

But let’s think like the Welsh now. Maybe not like the Welsh we’re thinking in the colonialist expansion period. Right?

Asher Miller

Right. Good point.

Rob Dietz

Always a time component here, I suppose.

Jason Bradford

Well, the interesting thing about this is  that act has been used to do sort of more detailed work. And one of the things that I found fascinating is, if you’re a young person, and you want to basically have a livelihood, in a rural setting where you have land you can work and you can live, in a lot of nations like the U.S., and this is true in Wales, it’s hard to do. Local land law doesn’t allow you just to build a house in a rural setting and start farming. There’s all this sort of idea that these are industrial farms, and we don’t want the countryside to be pocketed by households. But what they’ve done in Wales is they said, “Well, if you want to start a rural household that is actually based on living on the land. Securing most of your food, most of your energy, deriving your income from land based activities, we’re gonna let you do it.” So they’re actually designing law to repopulate the Welsh countryside with people who are going to live there lightly. And they actually have an ecological footprint target that people have to meet. So there’s a really good interesting film about this. A short eight-minute video we can put in our show notes. A pair of Welsh climatologists, for example, doing this. So these are people that have gotten really big educations, understand the climate crisis and said, “Well, I’m going to go back to the land and farm.”

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I think that’s really interesting, the idea of maybe combating or going up against laws that don’t make sense for the world that we’re inheriting. I remember meeting a guy named Alexander Lee, probably back in the late 90s, early 2000s. And he started a group called Project Laundry List. And what it was about was, I think he had found some examples where people just wanted to line dry their laundry, you know, save energy instead of throwing it in a dryer. But it was against the law. They’re like, “Oh, it’s an eyesore. You’re not allowed to hang your laundry.” So he basically started agitating to get rid of those laws, and make it like, hey, hanging your laundry is like a small gateway drug to sustainability. You take this little step here, you don’t need a dryer, you know. Magically clothes just want to become dry as long as it isn’t raining out.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And there’s laws against growing vegetable gardens in your front yard, for example. The front yard has to be a lawn.

Rob Dietz

Thank God. Those evil vegetable gardens.

Asher Miller

But there are organizations that have been doing pioneering work to challenge some of this. There’s a group called the Sustainable Economies Law Center. Janelle Orsi and others. There are a bunch of lawyers who directly work to change laws around some of these things like people being able to make and sell food from their own kitchen. There’s another group that was started in Texas called Project Better Block. And that just started because a bunch of people wanted to basically fix up this old theater in downtown Dallas, and they were trying to get a whole bunch of volunteers to come down, make a big part out of cleaning this thing up. And they found out that there are like all these ordinances on the books that kept them from having –like they wanted to set up like a bike lane and bike parking . . .

Rob Dietz

“That sounds like an illegal idea that we’re going to have to shut down.”

Asher Miller

Exactly. They wanted to set up little tables out front on the sidewalk where people could sit. They wanted to have flowers.

Rob Dietz

“Flowers?!”

Asher Miller

All of these things were against certain ordinances. So what they ended up doing was going into the ordinances — the books — of the city. They  flagged all the ones that they were going to break, they printed them out, and they put them on the windows of, you know, this building, and they invited all the city council members to come down to this party. They intentionally broke all the rules. They posted the ordinances on the walls, and then they showed all the city councilors like, these are all the things that were breaking by having this party. And the city council was like, “Yeah, that’s stupid. You’re right.” And they changed them.

Rob Dietz

They broke the minds of the city councilors at the same time.

Asher Miller

Which is totally inspirational. A bunch of other people have done similar kinds of things.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So there is a way to get involved in public policy. Whether it’s big like whales, or small like that, I guess?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of do-the-opposites that we covered over the season. I agree, Jason, you know, I can’t remember them all here. But you can go back and listen. But maybe just a couple of patterns around that. One of them that I think came up repeatedly for me was that —

Asher Miller

Death?

Rob Dietz

Well, no, I wasn’t gonna say that this time. But now, yeah, it’s probably death. No, it’s that you really got to start getting more and more comfortable with the system’s view of the world and trying to understand what feedback loops are happening and how that thing over there is really leading to this thing over here, but then this thing over here is . . . You know, it’s a way of perceiving the world that we don’t learn in school unless you happen to be in the right classes, or get the right teacher or professor. So it’s kind of on us as individuals to start figuring that out.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. And I also, the system that we sort of talked about a lot is the mind, one of the systems. And that is a very interesting, complex system. And so I think, learning about the human mind, and techniques for sort of recognizing your thoughts and where your thoughts are maybe coming from. So there’s lots of good research on how the brain is organized. You know, the different role of the left brain and the right brain, which we didn’t go over within the show, but it’s fascinating. The ability to use techniques like meditation to really think about how you’re thinking and recognize where your emotions are coming from. And to basically make decisions about what are you going to use? What parts of your brain are you going to use?

Rob Dietz

I had this little technofix dream. I was wishing — I  don’t know when I was a kid, Radio Shack had these little fire helmets with flashing lights on top of them.

Jason Bradford

Okay, yeah.

Rob Dietz

And I wish  I had one of those that when my lizard brain takes over, the light would go off and let me know so that I could stop and do what you’re talking about.

Jason Bradford

You’ve got like a throbbing amygdala right now.

Asher Miller

Throbbing amygdala. That’s a great name for a band.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

A nerd band for sure.

Jason Bradford

But I think we have to be — You know, figure out if you can be a little monk-like, I guess. In terms of staying calm in a storm, recognizing what’s going on with your own brain, having empathy and then be able to have a theory of mind so you can recognize what’s going on with other people, too.

Rob Dietz

I want to also just say, following on that, that I know at times the three of us sound like we know what we’re talking about and here we are in a podcast doling out expertise and advice and stuff.

Asher Miller

It’s all a bluff.

Rob Dietz

But this part of it was really humbling, right? I mean, trying to talk about the imperfections, let’s call them, of how the human brain works, how it has evolved, and how we as humans tend to see the world. It’s not like the three of us could sit here and say, “Well, that’s them. Those people out there have these cognitive biases whereas we’re above all that.” No, I felt like I had to kind of look at myself and realize, you know, I’m just as susceptible as anybody else.

Jason Bradford

You’re terrified of dying. We know that.

Asher Miller

Is that why you keep talking about it so much?

Rob Dietz

But, yeah. It’s something that everybody . . . It doesn’t matter how smart or educated, especially how smart you think you are.

Jason Bradford

Dunning Kruger?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, exactly. You’ve got to deal with this, just like everybody else.

Asher Miller

I think you bring up a really good point, Jason. And that is the idea that understanding how our minds work is actually an important task. It’s something that you could actually work on. And we didn’t talk about this very much. But there are also things that people can do in terms of practices that help us have more capacity to deal with challenges. You know, there’s a lot of talk in psychology and therapy around this idea of this concept of a window of tolerance. And somebody we know, her name is Leslie Davenport, talks a lot about this in the context of people dealing with their anxiety over climate change. But it applies to all kinds of things. And that is our ability to widen our window so that we can stay relatively calm and think more rationally in situations of stress. Now, the techniques are different for different people. One of them that seems to work, and we talked about this a lot, and it’s a definite takeaway for me in terms of do-the-opposite. And that is getting out in nature, right? And how important that is. We talked about it for a number of different episodes. And I think it’s really important — again, people’s circumstances are different, right?

Rob Dietz

But you know, I just want to say, I’m a guy who likes to be outside a lot. But of course, with the work from home kind of stuff that we’ve used to organize how we get our professional lives, you know, get the tasks done, I’ve found myself in the office a lot. And literally just a week ago, I was feeling crazy anxious. And, you know, I finally had the moment like you’re talking about, Jason, to be able to self-diagnose. I didn’t have the Radio Shack helmet, but —

Jason Bradford

They hadn’t invented those yet.

Rob Dietz

But I realized, I’ve got to go see some trees. And I literally decided then, closed the laptop down, got outside, went over to the park, and cruised around on a little extinct volcano with a forest on it. And I felt so much better. And I think, you know, like I said, I like to be outside. But it was really related to us talking about this as a kind of cure. I had to go out, get in nature, and like that, it really did shift my perspective and my mood.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, we evolved in nature. And the type of stimulation it provides us is a normal type of stimulation that I think it helps our body settle. And I think it’s so important, and if you’re ever feeling off kilter, that may be a cure, right? And it’s a really interesting dynamic in the mind where you both want to have sort of the calming effect, right? Maybe? But you also then want to be active in a sense of being able to use that frontal cortex to maybe think through things. So you’re both accepting kind of, you know, the stimulation from the world, and the sounds, and the smells, and the sights. And you’re connected then to the real world. But what it’s allowing you to do is it’s allowing you to use that part of your mind that can actually think clearly, and plan, and kind of imagine well. And I think that’s sort of the state of being we need to try to get into as much as we can.

Rob Dietz

I don’t know why, but when you said use the frontal cortex to think through things, I thought of using the frontal cortex to put nails through things like using your forehead to nail through the wall. I don’t know why.

Asher Miller

That’s not a frontal cortex decision I don’t think.

Rob Dietz

Maybe it’s because woodpeckers have been pounding away on my house lately.

Jason Bradford

They’re very active right now.

Asher Miller

Can we close with a challenge?

Jason Bradford

Okay.

Asher Miller

In a plea. Maybe it’s like a combo challenge plea, right? Which is —

Rob Dietz

A combo challenge plea? I’m excited.

Asher Miller

Yeah. I want to challenge our listeners, and I want to make a plea to our listeners. If you’ve listened to this podcast at all, you’ll know why we believe this so strongly. And that is, things are going to become more and more destabilized. You know, the compounding environmental and social crises that we’re facing, the craziness that we’ve experienced just over the last 15 months, 18 months, however long. We don’t know exactly how things are going to play out in the future. But I would feel confident to say that there’s going to be a lot more moments of crisis and surprise and uncertainty and hardship for a lot of people. And we face this really interesting, challenging conundrum. And that makes it all the more important to recognize these hidden drivers and the systems that play and to challenge those things and to work against them. But we have to recognize that the tendency for people, us included, when faced with these moments of uncertainty, and challenge, will be to double down on what we’re doing. Double down on the communities that we belong to, our belief systems, trying to find comfort and security for what we know.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, the quote-unquote, ‘normal,’ right?

Asher Miller

Yeah, where the promises that are going to be made to us from politicians, or whomever. And it’s understandable that people don’t recognize these hidden drivers that much. It’s understandable that people will be tempted to double down more as things get more difficult. Which means that it’s really incumbent upon us. And I say this humbly. Those of us who are reckoning with these things, for whatever reason. Those of us who are trying to dig deeper, scratch below the surface, recognize these drivers, think about the system, that we not only find the courage to stay in that place, because we still inhabit this world, right? Like, we’re not dropping out. We’re still inhabiting a world where most of us are living in Crazy Town, and are continuing to sort of go about our daily business as the world burns and things get worse. We have to stay in this place where we recognize those things. We’re working towards something different, and still engaged with the rest of the world. And be empathetic for those people who are not able to live in that point of tension. And the last thing is, be welcoming, create alternatives for those people, create a sense of community that they can belong to. And really, I was struck by the story of this woman named Megan Phelps-Roper. She’s the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, who’s the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church. Westboro Baptist Church is probably the most reprehensible, disgusting, kind of hate group that exists in some ways in this country. I won’t tell the whole story about them. But she’s somebody who grew up in this entire family. She grew up in this very close group where their constant interactions every day were with people who responded with hate and animosity towards their message.

Jason Bradford

Because they’re like going out to —

Asher Miller

They’re the ones who pulled out the — Yeah, signs basically saying, “God hates fags.” It’s not my term, it’s their term.

Jason Bradford

Right, right,

Asher Miller

And that just got them more and more entrenched in their small community. And she  ended up leaving. And she ended up leaving her mom, her family, and she’s talked about what it took to allow her to do that. And there are a few different things that were key. There were moments where things kind of cracked open for her. And she was able to ask questions, and she might have been somebody who’s predisposed to ask questions, you know, maybe not everyone is. But the key thing for her was that there was an alternative community that she could reach out to, right? So for us, and I’m guilty of this all the time where I could sit here in judgment, and I could make fun of people who I think have absurd beliefs or are doing absurd things, or I vilify them, like Jeff Bezos or you know, we’ve talked about Nordhaus and others. We need to stay humble and empathetic, and be welcoming, and have an alternative community and alternative ways of being so that folks have something to turn to. Because if they don’t have that alternative, they’re gonna get locked in even deeper than they are now.

Jason Bradford

And I think that’s sort of why this episode, or why this podcast is around us. We kind of want to feel that, you know, I think a lot of us that are willing to dive deep into these things and ask these questions and kind of go down the rabbit hole and have some really scary thoughts or conclusions. It’s easier to do that when you know that you have others that are accepting of where you’ve gone and what your train of thought is. And so if you want other people to sort of join you in Crazy Town, in a sense, sort of the Crazy Town worldview. Then, you know, I think you’re right. You’ve got to be less judgmental of others who aren’t already there with you. And that can be pretty hard. Because you may have felt like many times in your life you’ve been judged harshly for not believing the myth of progress, right?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And guess what? You can have fun along the way, creating that community, or even just being a good community member. I mean, for us, maybe that boils down to making some poop jokes and having fun with this podcast. But really trying to create the world that can work for everybody. You know, whatever small piece of that you have, it can be a ton of fun. And we’ve heard from some listeners who are changing up what they’re doing in their lives and really enjoying the experiment. So your challenge, Asher, and your plea, in some ways, it’s more like an invitation to fun, or at least it can be. I’m not trying to sugarcoat it and say there isn’t going to be difficulty in the change, maybe even some pain and loss and giving up on some activities that just aren’t really going to fit in with a sustainable future. But God, there’s a lot of fun to be had, too. And I’m just looking forward to some of that.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, and what challenge isn’t hard, but ultimately worth it?

Jason Bradford

Thanks for listening to this episode of Crazy Town.

Asher Miller

Yeah, if by some miracle you actually got something out of it, please take a minute and give us a positive rating or leave a review on your preferred podcast app.

Rob Dietz

And thanks to all our listeners, supporters and volunteers. And special thanks to our producer, Melody Travers.