FUTURE FOSSILS

Share

42 - William Irwin Thompson, Part 1 (Thinking Together at the Edge of History)

Ep. 42

This week’s guest is one of my greatest inspirations: the historian, poet, and mythographer William Irwin Thompson. Author of sweeping works of synthetic insight like At The Edge of History (a finalist for the National Book Award in 1972), The American Replacement of Nature, and Coming Into Being: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness, Bill Thompson’s greatest work may not have been a book but a community: The Lindisfarne Association, a post-academic “intellectual concert” for the “study and realization of a new planetary culture,” which anchored in various locations across the United States as a flesh-and-blood meta-industrial village for most of its forty years. 

Lindisfarne’s roster reads like a who’s who of influential latter-20th Century thinkers: Gregory Bateson, Lynn Margulis, Ralph Abraham, Stuart Kauffman, Paolo Soleri, Francisco Varela, David Abram, Hazel Henderson, Joan Halifax-Roshi, James Lovelock, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Maurice Strong, and Michael Murphy were among them. In his latest and last book, Thinking Together at the Edge of History, Thompson looks back on the failures and successes of this project, which he regards as a “first crocus” budding up through the snow of our late-industrial dark age to herald the arrival of a planetary renaissance still yet to come. 

Bill’s wisdom and humility, vast and inclusive vision, and amazing skill for bringing things together in a form of freestyle “wissenkunst” (or “knowledge art”) made this and every conversation that I’ve had with him illuminating and instructive.

(Here are links to the first two chats we had in 2011 and 2013, as well as to my video remix of one of Bill’s lectures with footage from Burning Man.)

For anyone who wants to know what happens after universities and nations lose their dominance and both economy and identity “etherealize” in a new paradigm of ecological human interbeing that revives premodern ways of knowing and relating – and/or for anyone who wants to help build institutions that will weather the chaotic years to come and help transmit our cultural inheritance and novel insights to the unborn generations – here is a conversation with one of the master thinkers of our time, a mystic poet and professor whose work and life challenged our assumptions and proposed a powerful, complete, and thrilling view of our emergent role as citizens of Earth.

We talk Trump and our future-shocked need for charismatic strongmen, digital humans and the tragicomedy of the smartphone takeover, technocracy versus the metaindustrial village-monastery and “counterfoil institutions,” the “necessary exercise in futility” of dealing with rich and influential people to fund important work, how the future arrives unevenly, and how to get involved in institutional work without losing your soul…

Also, cryptocurrencies and universal basic income as symptoms of the transition of the global economy from a liquid to a gaseous state;

 

QUOTES:

“Austin is, of course, an air bubble in the Titanic…”

“The counterfoil institution is a fractal…it’s the individual and the group, kind of like Bauhaus…it had an effect, but it was very short lived. So I argued in Passages [About Earth] that these entities [including artistic movements like Bauhaus, but also communities like Auroville and Fyndhorn] were not institutions, but ENZYMES – they effected a kind of molecular bonding and effected larger institutions, but they themselves weren’t meant to become institutions. And so Lindisfarne, which was a temporary phenomenon of Celtic Christianity, getting absorbed by Roman Christianity, was my metaphor for this transformation.”

“When you’re getting digested and absorbed [into the system], it can either be thrilling because you really WANT to become famous and you want to become a public intellectual, and you want to namedrop and be part of the power group…but if you’re trying to energize cultural authority, then it’s difficult in America. You can get away with it, I think, more successfully in Europe, where there is this tradition of Great Eminences, and in Paris, once you’ve done something of value as an intellectual, then you’re part of it for your life. It isn’t like, ‘What are you doing next? Do it again, do it again, do it again.’ So American culture, based on this kind of hucksterism and boomerism and success culture, is very resistant to that sensibility.”

“We’re always a minority. If we look at The Enlightenment, we’re talking about, what, twelve intellectuals in all of Europe? If you’re an extraterrestrial and you flying-saucered into Florence in the 15th Century and said, ‘Hey, I hear you guys are having a Renaissance?’ And they said, ‘What?’ What do three painters mean? It’s still the Middle Ages for them. And so everybody’s in different times’ laminar flow. Some are faster and more ultraviolet and high energy, and others are very wide, slow, and sluggish. And that’s how nature works.”

“Each person makes his own dance in response to the laws of gravity…if we didn’t have gravity, we wouldn’t have ballet.”

“If you’re running a college, or a dance troupe, or an orchestra, or ANYTHING – someone in the group has to learn how to deal with money. And I think I failed, even though I succeeded in raising millions, by being a 60’s kind of countercultural type who was suspicious of money. I crossed my legs and was afraid of violation. And I didn’t come fully to understand the importance of money. But now that we bank online…”

More Episodes

7/3/2022

188 - LARPing as a Nation-State with Jon Hillis & 0xZakk of CABIN DAO and Christian Lemp of Diamond DAO

Ep. 188
Complete, EXTENSIVE show notes at Patreon.com/michaelgarfield!As guest 0xZakk says at the very end of this conversation, most of the construction projects throughout the history of civilization have been coercive. What does it look like when we actually build things in a really cooperative way? This episode was recorded in November 2021 when the cryptocurrency markets were insanely bullish and the world relatively stable…but releasing it now, in July 2022, seems more aptly-timed than I could have anticipated.The United States Supreme Court has failed the great majority of American citizens not just once but several shocking and historic times in one week, hacking away at women’s reproductive rights, the EPA, and gun safety all at once. The Supreme Court majority was largely appointed by presidents that lost the popular vote, our nation is embroiled in hearings about a violent coup attempt spearheaded by the former President, and people on both sides of the constructed political divide seem more desperate than ever before in living memory. At the same time, both stocks and digital currencies, and the economic possibilities they support, are suffering through what seems like it will be a protracted winter. So it’s a PERFECT moment to talk about the visions we commit to building through the hardship, and the new responsibilities we must assume as citizens — not just of nation-states, but of the digital communities and cultures that we voluntarily participate in, the neighborhoods and cities that we live in.When a big tree dies in the forest, its falling lets in light that stimulates a contest between saplings — and we’re seeing something similar now in this rapid blooming of experiments in governance and finance, legal regulations and privately-organized society. Suddenly projects like the CABIN DAO seem prescient and urgent, so I’m glad to share this potent conversation with Jon Hillis and @0xZakk of CABIN DAO and Christian Lemp of Diamond DAO —three of the many people working hard at the frontiers of blockchain-based social innovation. In this episode we talk about what it means to live-action roleplay as a city-state, how physical geography and online culture overlap in their experiments, and what should stay illegible and wild amidst this wave of techy change…If you enjoy this show, please take a moment to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you prefer to listen. I’ve been extremely busy backstage working on a suite of Future Fossils projects that extend beyond the podcast, some of which you can glimpse on my Instagram and Twitter feeds…big changes coming soon, and inspiration’s flowing. If you want the inner track on all the music, art, and writing I am cooking up — or if you simply see the value in these conversations and my work at large, I hope you’ll join the other awesome people chipping in with listener support at Patreon.com/michaelgarfield— where I’m sharing an enormous folder of new A.I. artwork, updated every day.Lastly, I just re-launched my now thirteen-year-old blog on Substack — for roughly monthly digests of new work, join 7,500 other readers at michaelgarfield.substack.com. More soon.
6/10/2022

187 - Fear & Loathing on the Electronic Frontier with Kevin Welch & David Hensley of EFF-Austin

Ep. 187
Find the complete show notes for this episode on Patreon. This episode was recorded live in Austin, Texas at the West China Tea House in partnership with EFF-Austin, a non-profit committed to the establishment and protection of digital rights and defense of the wealth of digital information, innovation, and technology. Founded in 1991 as a local sub-chapter of The Electronic Frontier Foundation and run as an independent organization, EFF-Austin promotes the right of all citizens to communicate and share information without unreasonable constraint— as well as the fundamental right to explore, tinker, create, and innovate along the frontier of emerging technologies. In this episode, I talk with Kevin Welch and David Hensley about why digital rights matter to our analog lives; whether and how the genies of rampant technological innovation can be forced back into the bottle; how to think about the inherent tensions between individuals and institutions; what esoteric traditions and superhero movies may have to teach us about living in the 21st century, and considerably more. I also make entirely too many references to Michael Crichton novels.I’ve collaborated with EFF-Austin on previous episodes of Future Fossils you may also enjoy:33 - Jon Lebkowsky (Pluralist Utopias & The World Wide Web's Wild West)92 - Panel: The Pre- and Post-History of VR, Surveillance, and Swarm IntelligenceAgain, Patreon is really the place you want to be checking out the resources for this show (and, of course, it's the place to go to take a shower in the awesome stuff I reserve for supporters).

Comments