talking about connection, datastan, the republic of stories, the role of story in evolution, the value of stories in effectuating change,
"...we have a problem because people keep trying to justify and explain and point to a change but they're constrained to only use the terms that the old order accepts and validates."
This the first half of the transcript of the podcast recording of this interview, to be found here.
R.K.: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM
My guest tonight is Arlene Goldbard. She is a writer, speaker, social activist and consultant who works for justice, compassion, and honor in every sphere from interpersonal to the transnational. Her books include Crossroads: Reflections on the Politics of Culture, New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, Community, Culture and Globalization, and her novels, Clarity and The Wave. It was her new book, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future that inspired me to invite her to be a guest on this show. Welcome to the show.
A.G.: Thank you so much Rob. I'm delighted to be here.
R.K.: So, your book, The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future, it talks about some basic ideas. You start off saying: "throughout my life when I asked myself where I've felt most whole and present, most connected, the answers are infused with a multidimensional force of art." So what do you mean "connected" and what do you mean by Culture of Possibility in the title of your book?
A.G.: Well culture of course, let me start with that one. It has a lot of meaning, a big one which is kind of everything that's not nature in the world that we human beings occupy. So culture is, are languages, are systems of belief, the built environment and the things that we create under the rubric of art.
But I'm often also using it as, in a slightly narrower sense, as the matrix for the emergence of a really liveable, sustainable future, civil society. The way we understand each other, and talk with each other, the ways we share who we really are in the space we make for multiple modes of expression to emerge into the public sphere, and be appreciated by people who may not have contacted them before.
So I talk about art a lot and I'm sure we will talk about it in this interview as well. Culture has double meanings. In terms of feeling of "connected", feeling most alive would be another way to say it. Having a flow experience, people say sometimes. But most people I've met, not everybody, asking them a question about music is going to evoke a moment that really brings that meaning powerfully home. I don't know about you but when you were a kid, a teenager, did you have those moments where you lay in your bed listening to one song over and over again?
R.K.: Yeah and I have a particular memory when I was sixteen driving my first car of pounding along to the sounds of Sunshine of Your Love by Cream.
A.G.: There you go, okay.
R.K.: Very vivid memory of that.
A.G.: I can see the album cover with the pink and green psychedelic paisley thing on it.
A.G.: In my mind right now. So that's an example, you were engaged in activity, you were driving, driving was also an expression of your entry into adulthood, right? And power and potency of this big machine that you were operating and that music, that particular piece of music is really encompassing of all four dimensions of the human subject because you feel it in your body, pounding, you used that physical word, but also it's a very wall of sound kind of recording and so you really feel it occupy this space that is you, somehow.
And then it activates a lot of emotions,, it's full of yearning, that's the main sort of emotional coloration of that song. Is yearning and desire actually fulfilled somehow and it's full of ideas because the music of that period, that psychedelic music really made a lot of literary allusions and references to other realities, and when all those things are combined so that they're all activated, you're receiving on all channels at once, you could say you had what people might call a spiritual experience of really feeling connected. And that's what I mean by it.
R.K.: I'm very interested in connect and I think we're, part of the transition from a top down to a bottom up world but as the theme of my radio show is that we're going through a kind of connection revolution that we're getting connected in new and different ways and our connections are changing. Which includes disconnection. What are your thoughts about that, about connection and disconnection?
A.G.: You know, I am really an admirer of the Brazilian thinker and writer, Paulo Freire who is-
R.K.: I love Freire.
A.G.: Yeah, he is so amazing. And he talked about how every moment has it's thematic universe and the thematic universe is the themes, values, ideas, all in this dialectical interaction that is one, you know you push on one end and the other end emerges and vice versa. They keep push-pulling back and forth. Connection has got to be one of the emergent themes of our thematic universe right now because on the one hand, we're so connected, there's a sense in which we're never alone because of our technologies, rights?
We're always able to plug into a larger conversation and individual person, whatever. And there's another sense in which a lot of that form of connection is disembodied. It goes on when we're all alone in a space. And in a time. And so we have this ironic phenomenon of being very, very connected and feeling, often feeling more alone I think.
A.G.: Feeling like we're individual atoms. So a lot of what I'm talking about is the comment. Things that bring us out into direct contact with our fellow human beings. Ways that we can make things together, so that we're interacting on all levels simultaneously. Ways that we can be present to each others individual stories rather than a kind of mass manufactured story that emerges from the center of mass communications out to the margins.
R.K.: Now you, after you bring up Freire and his thematic universe concept in your book, you talk about Datastan and the Republic of Stories. What's that about?
A.G.: I was looking for ways to talk about a paradigm shift that would really be meaningful to people. You know the original idea of a paradigm shift was that it was applied to science and it was basically that when the old model of how the universe works can't hold the newly emerging information that science is discovering, eventually we have a paradigm shift, a new model comes into place of the old, and the classic example is like people who sailed ships in exploration in the thirteen, fourteen, fifteen centuries didn't fall of the edge of a flat planet and their paradigm had to shift to encompass the notion of a globe.
So they typically use the idea of a optical illusion to illustrate that. Because in an optical illusion the same information is present, you're seeing the same lines on the page but depending on your point of view, how you bring it in to focus you can see two different images, a duck and a bunny or two human profiles or a vase, these are two classics, so in my paradigm shift, the name for the duck and the bunny are Datastan and the Republic of Stories. Datastan is the old order, the paradigm that's crumbling now.
It's the one in which it was decided to make machines the model for human life, human endeavor, human interaction in which everything was attempted to be standardized and mechanized, in which jobs have been automated, in which people are treated as exemplars of a group. We don't have our individual stories, we have a set of categories that are supposed to describe us and tell people something about who we are.
In Datastan, only things that that can be weighed, counted, and measured are really given value and everything is ported on in that way. So we have the size of a fortune, the box office receipts, the score of the sports game, the level of the stock market, the number of casualties in a war and the implication is that's a quantification of absolutely everything is going to give us some deep scientific truth, but in fact it's a scientific error, because it attempts to apply ways of understanding and ways of interacting with the world that worked great for rocks and gasses to the human subject.
We've really been suffering quite a bit from this and there's almost no one who volunteers to live in Datastan, the people who have the fortune to buy their way out of it of course always do. So the contrasting realm, the new paradigm that's emerging, I'm calling the Republic of Stories because of the particularity of stories.
We understand that nuance, that specificity, the right to self-represent, that first person account of who you are and what you're doing here are richer and more revealing and necessary for us to take in to have a livable world. We're realizing that we've come to the end of the time when we can be treated like rigids in a factory or numbers in a count. That we have to slow down. In that pause, allow our stories to emerge and re-conceive our institutions and social relationships in such a way that there's time for you and me to be here, not just exemplars of a set of categories.
R.K.: You know, I have done a lot with story and I ran a conference on it for six years as I've mentioned to you before we started this interview and I have come to believe that stories were with us at the very beginning of the evolution of humanity and stories literally shape the way our brain function evolved. So I think that stories go way back, way back before civilization and so for you to characterize this as a new thing, that confuses me a little bit.
A.G.: Well I think both things are true. You're right. That our capacity to tell stories, I have a friend that says it's our evolutionary advantage and the cultural anthropologist that has been studying early humans have recognized that contrary to the cartoon view of evolution in which the biggest strongest is going to be the one that survives, that brute force are the real factors for natural selection, it appears that the ability to tell a great story is a huge factor for natural selection, which must be in part why there's so many artists in every successive generation, because the person who could stand around the campfire and talk about what happens when you meet a Sabre-tooth tiger in a way that really gives people a sense of not just the information but the feelings that accompany it, people want to mate with that person and it becomes an evolutionary factor.
It's also true, Rob that everything has a story, right? The story is being generated by propaganda machines that want to rationalize Datastan and all of its crimes and some of those are really cleverly made and creative and compelling stories that suck you in. So everything has it's story just like you need numbers to live in all possible worlds.
The reason that I'm saying that it's a new thing or an emergent thing is because, it's this idea of paradigm shift, you know? It isn't that Eras come pre-labeled; now we're living in the Renaissance- and it's exactly twelve o'clock- now it will be the Enlightenment. It's more that a gradual shift takes place and aggregates until things change in a way that people are able to comprehend.
So if we're on the cusp of that kind of change now, and I think in our different words you and I both agreed that this is true, then what is new about stories is the value that they are coming to have in effectuating that change, because to the extent that people refuse to just be counted, and stand up with their stories, other people become better listeners when you're able to tell your own story in such a way that it's received with dignity and respect. Then you invite other people to do the same thing, if you can listen to their stories in that way. We suddenly have the basis for a completely different society. In which we're not objectifying each other but we're being present for each other as full human beings. So it's something very old but its function is going to be to give the final blow to Datastan I think. That, I'm looking forward to!
R.K.: Amen. You know what it makes me think of? The kind of idea that we've transitioned from a top-down communication system where you know a handful of people were able to put out the stories, you know? You had a couple of networks and all the stories went out from them and it was one-way communication. And Clay Shirky was talking about, now we have two-way communication so that so many more people can participate in the conversation.
We have Twitter where everybody can share the experience of something like watching a major event and or on what's happening on the news and everybody can have their own blog and all of these are ways that people can put out their stories where they never really had a way to do it before. And you've got this concept of the long tail, where stuff gets put up on the web and it stays there, and it could be found over time so even stuff that doesn't get a lot of attention right away may end up getting a lot in the long run, and all of this enables people to feel like it's worthwhile to tell their stories. And gives them the ability to do it as well.
A.G.: That's exactly right, and what I'm encountering is that the obstacle to entering fully into that resides pretty much in people's minds. It's not actually anymore a concrete external obstacle. You're making the correct claim I think that the means of sharing our stories are available to us and you know that includes every means that has been contracted to the beginning of time.
We can sit around the campfire and beat on the foot drum and share our stories, or we can share our stories by pressing a button with everybody who is online in the planet at that moment and everything in between is possible. So we have a full toolbox of communication mechanisms, but I think demoralization somehow keeps people from believing that there is meaning to that, that there's a way, that it will make a difference if they tell their stories.
It's a thing that I'm wanting to address a lot in my work now, in both of my books, The Culture of Possibility; Art, Artists, and the Future and the companion novel, The Wave are addressing is this sense of the pervasive preemptive disappointment that is installed in people's minds as the result of living in this society in which what we really have to offer is not being received and not being made use of.
It makes people feel there's no point in standing up, there's no point in speaking out. And a lot of what I'm doing is I'm going around the country talking, on college campuses or in other settings, is to ask people to notice that what they've done is silence themselves, in their own minds, in a way that's complicit with the external order that wants to silence them.
R.K.: And you mentioned before we started that you're seeing more and more people who see the truth about what's emerging and then they kind of shut down and shut up and can you talk about that? I think this is where you're going.
A.G.: Well I will give you a really specific example that I just encountered, and it needs a tiny bit of background. In one of the things I write about in The Culture of Possibility is the notion of artists as an indicator species for the well-being of society. The way the clams and oysters are indicator species for the well-being of the ocean, for example. That how society treats artists is significant as something worth deconstructing and examining for social meaning in our time which is characterized by the corporatization of absolutely everything.
The way that artists' work has been devalued and treated just as a commodity is pretty significant and one of the things that is within that is what the public sector does. The public sector could have as a social goal to promote active cultural participation to disseminate the means of creative work, of making and distributing creative work to preserve multiple cultures in the community, to engage people in beautifying their own neighborhoods, I mean the list is very long, but it doesn't have that goal.
What it does is have a very anemic presence, that the National Endowment for the Arts lost about two-thirds of its real value since 1980. So I was speaking at Harvard a couple of weeks ago and I talked about, because most of the people in the audience were professors or students in various arts departments, I talked about the way that that support for the National Endowment for the Arts has unfolded and told people that even though the current proposal for the allocation for the agency is a hundred and forty six million a year, the cut back from the prior year, it's about the same as in real dollars as what it was in 1980, but the value of it has declined such that we would need four hundred and forty million to equal the spending power of 1980 now.
And there's some kind of collective delusion going on where the people who advocate for these budgets think that they've been successful; when they've actually lost two-thirds of their value!
And I talked about some of the errors that have been made in promoting that kind of advocacy campaign, that basically doesn't talk about what art can really do in terms of social transformation, in terms of building connective tissue in society.
In terms of helping us to collectively imagine the future that we want to inhabit and instead people are talking about all of these secondary benefits, you know? Kid's test scores go up in school, there's a likelihood that if people buy a theater ticket to go downtown they'll also pay for parking and go to a restaurant so there's an economic multiplier of that. These kinds of numeric arguments have been the mainstay of this failed campaign.
So at the end of this, this very sincere student who is clearly really grappling with this and raises her hand and asks me, so what arguments would you make instead? What would you do instead?
R.K.: Wait, I couldn't hear what you said...
A.G.: Sorry, this student said what would you do instead? If these arguments have been failed what arguments are you advocating for? And I said the same thing I always do which is that we're now spending more than two annual National Endowment for the Arts budgets a day, seven days a week on war and we have been since 2001. That our prison allocations vastly outweigh not only our cultural allocations but in many states educational allocations, too.
So that I feel like what we need to do is pull back and ask the core questions that I ask in my books, who are we as a people? What do we stand for? How do we want to be remembered and does the way that we distribute our commonwealth reflect our true answers to those questions?
We have to engage a much much larger debate than let's all write to our members of congress and get the nine million dollars back that the NEA lost last year, and let's use how much people pay for parking when they go to the theater as our chief argument, let's do that. And the student said yes, yes I see that, and then I watched her face fall.
You know, then about twenty or thirty seconds afterwards, I could read her- I think I could read her mind, it felt like it was kind of an LED display on her forehead where she was saying, yes yes that's true, but I can't imagine making that argument to the people who have been telling me that the delusions that we've been operating under now are real. And that's the kind of response I see, especially from young people often is something seems right and true but they can't quite grasp how to work it into the strong pressure that they've been receiving to adopt the consensus realities, values, and assumptions.
R.K.: Which I think are more derived from Datastan. Right?
A.G.: I think so, too. I mean I've been thinking about this a lot, Rob because it blows my mind a little bit, if just on the face of it. If you have a system that people have been operating for forty years and it's been steadily losing, losing value, every year that you've been doing it and the people who have been doing it consider it successful, it doesn't take that much to break that argument apart, you know? In that case, you just have to look at the numbers.
But if there's a persistent belief in Datastan that the only valid arguments to be made for social spending are market arguments, which is essentially what the ones I mentioned are, then there's a big prohibition in people's minds against bringing things that they know from the bottom up, you know? From their lived experience. From their own subjective lived experience. There's a big prohibition against bringing those arguments onto the table, so we have a problem because people keep trying to justify and explain and point to a change but they're constrained to only use the terms that the old order accepts and validates. You can't do it, right?
R.K.: Right. So keep going. What do you tell this young woman at Harvard?
A.G.: That you have to be brave and change the conversation. You know, a lot of times it becomes, there's a little bit of psychology in it because you have to say what are the consequences. Let's say that you make this argument that you know to be really true from your own lived experience. What's the worse thing that can happen? And you know the answer is that somebody will laugh at me, they'll ridicule me, they'll say that I'm not being realistic.
So then we look at that. How, what are the consequences for being ridiculed as not being realistic. Does it endanger your life? Is there anything, any kind of real suffering that could come to you from this and of course usually not, just the risk of embarrassment that keeps people silent. And then I talk to them about what if all of us in this room because at this point everyone is nodding, right? Everyone who is sitting there in the auditorium has had these experiences, they know the truth of what I'm saying.
They perceive it on the cellular level, so what if all of us who really know it have an agreement that we're going to introduce this into our conversations. Around the dinner table, in our classes, with our friends, when we have the opportunity to enter into some public discourse.
R.K.: Let's be clear, when you say we're going to introduce "this" into our conversation, what is this?
A.G.: Well there's a lot of ways to approach this. Here are a few conversation starters, okay? One is the way that we're being trained to interact with machines right now. So that, for example, that frustrating thing of Press 1, say this word, I didn't hear you, can you go back to the beginning of the menu, that we're all spending our time interacting with in order to try to get to speak to a human being in customer service somewhere when we have a problem with our bill or whatever it is, that's training to be compliant in living in Datastan and living in a world where we accept that it only makes sense to be treated like an artifact of a machine reality.
That's a conversation you can have with anybody sitting online with you at the laundromat. People are going to resonate with it because as I said earlier, everyone who can buy their way out of Datastan does. So people who have the means send their children to private school, have somebody that they employ to hang on the telephone and interact with that phone system for them. Insulate themselves in everyway from being treated like that. That the-
R.K.: Well wait, let's get into that a little bit more.
R.K.: They can buy their way out of Datastan if they have the money and that insulates them from being treated in what way? And what do they get when they buy their way out of Datastan?
A.G.: Well they don't have to live with the social arrangements that they have created and promulgated for the rest of us. Their family doesn't have to use the public health system. Their kids don't have to go to sub-standard schools if they happen to live in that neighborhood. They don't have to live in public housing. They don't have to wait in line at the unemployment office.
They don't have to spend hours hanging on the phone trying to get a mistake on their bill corrected and interacting with the mechanized phone system. They are able to go into the school and talk about their children's special needs and get someone who is able to respond rather than saying we have a system we can't make an exception for you, it has to be the same for everybody. And on and on and on. They buy out of all the ways that our dominant systems reduce us to something less than we really are.
R.K.: Okay. Station break. This is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township reaching Metro Philly. Sponsored by opednews.com. If you hop in to the middle of this conversation and you want to hear the beginning of it, go to iTunes and look for my name, Rob Kall K-AL-L or go to opednews.com/podcasts, with an s. Where you'll also find hundreds of other interviews as well.
I'm talking to Arlene Goldbard. She's the author of Culture of Possibility; Art, Artists, and the Future and we've been talking about the difference between Datastan, the old model that treats us all like cogs in a machine and the new paradigm, the Republic of Stories. Now, you say in your book Datastan's logic rationalize corporations entitlement to export jobs to low wage labor markets and validated the anti-public sector rhetoric that shifted public spending from peaceful social goods like education and health to war, imprisonment and corporate subsidy.
With far fewer human beings employed as social connective tissue, we adjusted to the logic of automating human interaction. What else could we do? What do you mean by social connective tissue?
A.G.: Well for example, let me give you an example that's developed very fully in my other book that was companion volume to this one, The Wave. One of my characters is a member of the Storytelling Corps at Bellevue Hospital in New York, twenty years in the future. So when you have to go to the hospital, instead of having the kind of horrific intake experience that many of us have despite the goodwill of individuals who work there where we're made to wait for a long time, there's someone with a clip board who treats us like a number, we're in distress but there's nothing there to assist with our distress. In this new model, Lulu and her fellow members of the Storytelling Corps are the intake system at Bellevue Hospital. When you come in, a Story-
Teller sits with you. That person elicits a story of your illness from the perspective of the understanding of healing as a process in which your history, the resilient factors in your past, all of those things are going to help you along with your healing.
The person is going to listen to how you feel and be present to how you feel and some times prescribe something. A particular story. They're going to listen to the lullabies that were sung to you when you were a child and make sure you have an iPod to look up music on it. They're going to make a piece of art with you that you can hang in your hospital room and will help remind you of what it is in your history that makes it likely that you'll get well. So that's a really developed example of connective tissue but what I mean-
R.K.: I have to tell you that listening to you describe that, I've got tears in my eyes. I mean literally you just ripped right through me, because what you're describing is a system where the idea of giving a diagnosis, a number and pathologizing whatever is going on with a person is mostly gone, and it's replaced with such a different totally different fabric of handling and embracing and enveloping a human being. In all the dimensions, wow. I love it. I just, wow!
A.G.: Thank you, Rob, I'm so glad you do. And that's an example I think to sit down and say to someone, what if a hospital was like this and then in their own minds they're comparing it to the actual reality, the present time reality that they've experienced. That gives you a big glimpse of what we mean by paradigm shift, huh?
R.K.: Yes, it sure does. It's, you know, it's so different and there is so much money invested in and continually funding the old Datastan model, your Datastan way that you describe as Datastan which is the industrial complex way. How do you see it changing?
Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind. Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big) to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project.
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