TED Conversations

Mark Hurych


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Anticipating that we are in the Anthropocene, How shall we proceed?

I am exploring the big question of how we shall proceed as a human family. I am attempting to allow this question to be explored and restated from as many different perspectives as possible. It is difficult to talk about the purpose without being overwhelmed with doom. I've found many individuals, as in the examples from TED talks, approaching these concerns from very different perspectives. I want to promote that open-ended open-mindedness with this question. Large scale and small scale. What can we do with our Internet? What can we do with our capacity to empathize? What can we do with our creative potential at making games out of things? What can we do politically? ...educationally? ....parenting? ...at work? ...with neighbors? ...with humor? ...with paradigm shifts? ...mentoring and setting an example? ...?


Closing Statement from Mark Hurych

The final answer is that we need to go to square one, back to the drawing board. We need new ways of connecting and celebrating our solutions as we find them. Our tribes or "in" groups need to expand to include all humanity.

Extinction episodes do not look good for large species such as ours, so we need to take our motives to a place where we can engage in the greater good for the long long term.

Excellent isolated solutions continue to pop up. They need support and scaling up. We are threatening our own mother Earth. While our brains have enlarged (last 10,000 years) our thriving senses have shrunk, or been ignored. Crops, houses, and domesticated animals grounded us in security but also robbed us of the perspective of our own participation in nature.

We are of nature and we can and must harness our knowledge for the collective good of the biosphere.

Now let's get out there and win this one for the millennia to come!

"Physical fitness" is a wonderful term. What about loving fitness, eusociality fitness, relationship fitness, tribal upgrade fitness, innovative fitness, acceptance fitness, wisdom fitness, inspiring fitness, supportive fitness, cradle-to-cradle fitness, sustainability fitness...

...and on and on until we've got integrated planet fitness.

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    Apr 9 2012: You raise an interesting question Mark, but I'd suggest we be careful accepting the Anthropocene as a done deal. First, we need to be clear that the Anthropocene is still an informal proposal for a new geologic time scale (likely an epoch). But for the sake of argument, let's assume the term does get picked up (which seems likely). Here the really important questions emerges--which Anthropocene are we talking about?

    I'm writing my dissertation on the Anthropocene, and I believe there are at least 3 distinct versions of the concept which are emerging as political frameworks from the original scientific idea, and each of them takes a very different view of the world described by the Anthropocene.

    One version could be called the Liberal Anthropocene, and it links the idea to a liberal political project that is explicitly pro-growth and development. It argues for a post-environmental politics grounded in support for high-tech, Western-style consumption and a belief in the power of markets and technology to address environmental problems.

    Another version could be called the Ecological Anthropocene, and it takes the idea and reads it as supporting a critique of industrial society, capitalism and unlimited growth. This version of the Anthropocene rejects the technological optimism of the liberal position, arguing instead that capitalism and industrial technology cannot address the underlying crisis because they are themselves its cause.

    A third version could be called the Dystopian Anthropocene, and it links the idea to a political deception advanced by radical environmentalists and activist scientists who want to impose a new world order under the guise of saving the planet. This third position is less coherent than the first two strands, but it unifies global warming skeptics, religious fundamentalists, right-wing pundits and conservative think-tanks around a common project of fighting environmental reform.

    So I'd ask, which Anthropocene are we discussing here?
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      Apr 11 2012: chris crews
      Rather than narrowing the search for solutions, my tendency is to want to broaden it. While that is my intent I may be about to put my foot in my mouth here.
      I always panic at the thought of taking a multiple choice test and i have no Anthropocene thesis statement, so I'd answer, "all of the above," maybe. Let's take L, E, and D as 1) 2) and 3)...
      1) Liberal Anthropocene is a go IF we apply the right technology in time and don't confuse "growth" with some kind of shopping spree with natural capital. "If" is a big word here, and "growth" would have to be updated way past any Adam Smith framework.
      2) Ecological Anthropocene looks like a free-for-all fight between capitalists and environmentalists, so it doesn't seem useful to apply here. I may be wrong. I mean industrial society by any interpretation probably needs to be criticized and re-evaluated from time to time. Here I pose a "what if" ploy to sneak in the answer. What if we closed the loop of industrial material so that it became completely recyclable? It would probably take someone from Brooklyn to pull that off, but it might be done.
      3) Dystopian Anthropocene already plays out on every movie scenario. How does it go? Apocalypse knocks out everybody except the hero, who somehow sees the whole thing as an exciting game. And that's great, as long as you happen to be the one-in-a-billion guy who survives.

      Bill Clinton passed out a book to his staff about non-zero sum scenarios. So here I am, probably failing the dang test, erasing all my answers and changing to "none of the above." If we can't include the idea of high tide raising all boats, count me out.

      We = Everybody

      How shall we proceed?
      • Apr 11 2012: Or someone from slab city to close the loop:). Having lived in two distinct dystopian communities(religious fundamentalism and anarcho-nihilism) I have to believe that nothing beats an ideology and ideologies are almost indestructible. As I sit here I am not optimistic except in the vaguely mystical sense of "well, I guess it will all work out somehow". With half the worlds population following religions that don't predict a good ending it seems futile to expect them to "get on board" with ANY proposal to improve things! "technology", the application of "science" , is relatively free of ideology, but science itself gets filtered through ideology and whatever doesn't fit is just thrown out. I need more time to consider the three futures, but like mark they seem too narrow. Very likely all three ( and more?) will occur at the same time for quite a while. These futures will as likely be distributed geographically. Why have an enormous military except to keep the others systems away?
        I don't like the title of "liberal" for the first option but since that is the path we appear to be on now, and because that is where the money and power is now it seems likely that it will be the dominant outlook unless some large force changes it. The ecological is opposed by the other two extremely powerful forces and so might be in the weakest position and the least likely to win out.
        It occurs to me that I've experienced the dystopian, the ecological, and I've been tending towards the "liberal". It might be a case of if you can't beat em, join em. There is no doubt that the L ( shouldn't it be more properly called the Technological?) is the big guy in the room. Im a self trained designer having read 10,000 books, a third of them technical. I have boxes and boxes of tools in the bus and I know how to use most of them.
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          Apr 11 2012: Kenny Danielson
          The time of people is the time of people. But time for what? [I'll botch a quote from Emerson here.] What is behind us and what is ahead of us is nothing compared to what is within us.

          Mark ;)
      • Apr 15 2012: How shall we proceed? First step I think is to look beyond our selves to real changes in the world. I tend to see the world using the lens of demography and improvements in communication technology as the independent variables. Memes emerge as pieces of extant culture are mashed up to find some that capture an emerging reality.

        What I see is the next inflection point in an evolving capitalism. This most recent arc of history could be dated from the 1960's as the children of the world war II vets came of age. "boomers" both white and people of color changed the world at speeds previously unimaginable. 1968 is probably a convenient date to anchor the change. In the States, the Nixon and then Reagan response was the counter trend. It's fair to say that with the recent meltdown of the Republican party and especially the elimination of Newt Gingrich, the era of bully boy politics based on the Southern Strategy has played it self out.

        For whatever its worth, I was intimately involved in the Student Movement that erupted in 1968. The more I watch the more convinced I am that 2012 is 1968 redux. The generation represented by Obama and the 40 -30 somethings that are now in policy making decisions - the children of the Boomers - have the tools and vision to make the next inflection point.

        I nice read to articulate a much more positive - albeit still very dangerous - view of what's next is http://www.amazon.com/Arrival-City-Largest-Migration-Reshaping/dp/0375425497 Arrival City.

        The story he tells is mass migrations from rural to urban centers has been playing out for 5000 years. The good news is that Arrival Cities have always been a source of social mobility and urbanization leads naturally to lower birth rates and more sustainable living arrangements.
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          Apr 15 2012: Michael Josefowicz
          Welcome and thank you former printer with time for blah blah concerned about global literacy, thank you so much for participating here. after seeing your bio, I am curious about what other creative ideas you have. 

          We are observing the secondhand benefits of urbanization, with less waste and lower birth rate. Do you see the urbanization trend as an opportunity for a new economy of social capital?  Can you explain what social capital is and how it works?  What about global literacy? Do you see global literacy as a key factor for positive change? if yes, how so? 
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        Apr 15 2012: Some good questions here. These three positions may or may not be the most useful, and perhaps could have other names (a la Kenny D's comments above). Originally I was thinking about the Liberal Anthropocene as the Technological Optimism Anthropocene, but the probem with this is that really all three positions rely on technology, they just want it put to different ends. I think the most critical distinction has to do with the underlying worldviews (ontology and epistemology) of these positions.

        The Liberal variation is so-called precisely because it want to advance the classical project of Liberalism as transmitted through European intellectual history--Humanism, Scientific Positivism, Capitalism, Individualism and Secularism.

        The Dystopian vision is actually not the one that Mark outlines, but is perhaps closer to what Kenny D hints at. It is dystopian in the sense not of collapse but of global domination (1984ish). For those of the fundamentalist persuasion, as well as those leaning to the right wing--Alex Jones Illuminati/NWO version of libertarianism, the Anthropocene is the ultimate project for global domination and one world order under the guise of environmentalism and liberal science. When this is added to the Heartland Institute, global warming deniers, and the attack on science that has been going on over the last decade, that is the dystopian view of the Anthropocene I am describing. This position actually rejects the "doom and gloom" Hollywood view of The Day After Tomorrow apocalypse variety.

        But I think the even more fundamental problem is that without a material shift, an ideological shift, and I would argue a spiritual shift, nothing is likely to change on a big enough scale to really rethink our future in a different way. I'm an eternal optimist, but when I look at the politics coming out of the main threads of the Anthropocene, what I see is mostly denial, deception and more business as usual politics. For me, the challenge is how to avoid that
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          Apr 16 2012: Chris Crews, thanks for stopping by again.

          Of the three shifts, *material, *ideological, and *spiritual, I can't really place one over the other as highest priority without including the other two.

          I think I share with you the shrugged shoulders response about where we are likely to see the next best strep forward. I thoroughly agree that business as usual just will not work.

          My guess is that the best efforts are being made right now from the grassroots level. The web site Worldchanging.org and the book by the same name list dozens or even hundreds of small but very very positive steps being taken by communities all over the world.

          My take on their meaning goes like this:
          *Materiel change I think has to come in the form of zero carbon emissions or carbon neutral technologies. Clean means green.

          *Ideology to me means a shift toward on-the-ground organizations taking on challenges instead of the next candidate or the established institutions.

          *Spiritual growth in terms of applying the golden rule, or empathic community, or investing emotionally in things like gifting, paying-it-forward, or altruism.

          I think the best news is likely to come from individuals and ad-hoc organizations.

          I'm also encouraged by cultural exchange efforts such as the Silk Road tour of musical groups like Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet.

        • Apr 16 2012: Got the jagged edge ground down so at least I can eat! Had to approach dangerously close to large urban population center however. (ha!) you have to experience the heavy hand of police surveillance to appreciate it. I don't mean to lay a heavy " you straight people don't know what it's like trip" but the "cops"(border patrol, local sherries, park rangers,etc) have a profile (prejudice) and if you fit it they just never lay off. It was rain turning to snow as I left the dentist so I set out for a site on BLM land about 5 miles away that I had camped on many times over 8 years ago. In less than 24 hours I was accosted 5 times by border patrol and was finally told it was OK to stay there! Of course it was OK it's a legal camping area. They also spotlighted me repeatedly all night. Why couldn't they just check the plates( thereby knowing me, my non record,etc) and go on their way? Did they really think I was going to load up illegals in a bright blue 33 ft school bus? I'd
          Love to live in a more urbanized area for a while to take advantage of the interactions but I can't take the harassment. Why isnt there some place for those of us on the road to go in the city without worrying about losing it all? Back to the desert for me.

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