What are the narratives and paradigms that need to shift to facilitate a transition to a just, regenerative future? How do various mediums such as music, art, and film enable such changes to occur?
In this episode I sit down with three leaders in the regenerative movement: John Fullerton, Founder of the Capital Institute and champion of Regenerative Capitalism; Hunter Lovins, pioneer in the sustainability movement and author of Natural Capitalism; and Joon Yun, philanthropist and advocate of inclusive stakeholding. Each has been a featured guest for various topics within the Denizen inquiry: Regenerative Capitalism, Natural Capitalism, and Inclusive Stakeholding. Each of them mentioned the importance of narrative shifts in their individual discussions, so this conversation brings them together to explore the new narratives that are needed for systems change.
John, Hunter and Joon are joined by four creatives within the Denizen community who share reflections from their work in various mediums. Recording artist Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, visual artist Ben Von Wong, actor Ryan Caldwell, and filmmaker James Krisel. This is a wide ranging and provocative conversation intended to inspire new narratives for cultural change.
In this conversation Jenny, John, Hunter, Joon, Alex, Ben, Ryan and James discuss:
"John Fullerton (JF): The power of art and storytelling, being an artist, that it's somehow able to rewire our brains and shock us out of the unquestioned assumptions that we carry on with in our daily lives. To me, it's the distinction between our society, which sort of continues along the rules without questioning them, and culture, which is there to break those rules. We are in a moment of time where we need to jolt society into a different, hopefully, higher level of consciousness. And for sure, the arts are the key to doing that.”
[00:00:39] JS: That's John Fullerton, former Wall Street exec and founder of the Capital Institute, an organization dedicated to the bold reimagining of economics and finance in service to life. And this is the Denizen podcast. I'm your host and curator, Jenny Stefanotti.
In this episode, we're talking about the narratives and paradigms of the future. This falls under the culture pillar of our inquiry where we are interested in how cultural change influences and is influenced by the other areas of society. We have a really incredible and diverse group of individuals who came together for this one. Three leaders in the areas we discuss on the podcast, all of whom have been featured guests in our conversations prior to this discussion. We haven't yet released those on the podcast but we will soon.
John Fullerton, as I mentioned, had a 20-year career on Wall Street before founding the Capital Institute. He's the author of Regenerative Capitalism: How Universal Patterns and Principles Will Shape the New Economy. We'll be releasing an episode on regenerative capitalism in the near future.
Hunter Lovins, she's a pioneer in the sustainability movement. She's the author of Natural Capitalism as well as A Finer Future, which she co-authored with John.
Joon Yun is a hedge fund manager and philanthropist. He's authored several books including Inclusive Stakeholding and Interdependent Capitalism.
And in each of the conversations with the three of them, they all made references to the importance of storytelling and narratives and the new narratives that were necessary. And so, I was excited to invite the three of them together to share their thoughts and reflect on each other's in this conversation.
The format is a little bit different than most. On the heels of the panel conversation, I invited several creatives from the Denizen community to chime in. I was interested in the reflections particularly as they pertain to the various mediums that each of them work in.
Hunter, John and John are joined by Alex Ebert. You may have heard of his band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. He holds a really interesting perspective from music. Ben Von Wong, he's a visual artist. Ryan Caldwell and James Krisel, both of whom work in filmmaking. I introduce them a little bit more in the episode so, I won't do it here.
You can find show notes for this episode on our website, www.becomingdenizen.com. There you can also sign up for our newsletter where I send our weekly episodes to your inbox alongside general Denizen information and news from our partners. This is actually the first of a three-hour conversation. If you'd like to access the unedited version, just email me and I will send you a link.
With that, let's get to it.
[00:03:08] Jenny Stefanotti (JS): I have, for a long time, been thrilled at how many creatives have been joining the community. From recording artists, to filmmakers, to visual artists, to designers, to poets and writers and the role that they play in the social transformation and the institutional transformation that we talk about.
Joon, and Hunter and John are all extraordinary thinkers in this movement, each of whom have mentioned the importance of new narratives and paradigm shifts in moving from where we are today to where we'd like to be.
I actually also wanted to share – I pulled a quote from each of you and then we'll dive in.
John: "I have come to believe that it is only with a new shared belief system, a shared story, that we can tackle the immense political, social and economic challenges we face today."
Hunter: "It's not just novels. We need movies, we need music, we need all the arts to be part of crafting this new narrative." And it's around that I'm no good at. We need people who are good at this to tell these stories.
And Joon: "Our storytelling industry is our best ally to transform our current stories into de-commodified forms."
John, I wanted to start with you. You had mentioned in the white paper, regenerative capitalism can provide the foundation for the narrative we need at this critical juncture. I'd love to have you elaborate on that to get us started.
[00:04:36] JF: Sure. I thought I would start off the conversation for all of us with a quote. I don't usually memorize quotes without a lot of trouble. But one of the thinkers and writers that I've resonated a lot with is Thomas Berry who was a theologian and sort of an ecological theologian, I guess. And he wrote, and I won't get this exactly right, but something to the effect of “We're in trouble now because the old story no longer works. And we don't yet have a new story.”
And I think that's really the challenge to us as people trying to contribute to the story, the new story and to the storytellers in the community, is to craft that new story, which for me is not an intellectual story or an analytical story but it's got to have some kind of a higher meaning. Some kind of spiritual spark to it that allows people to really gravitate to it.
And unfortunately, in the abyss that we're in right now, we're kind of collectively latching on to old stories that we've outgrown. And that's the way I would describe the tribalism we see happening in the United States right now. Anyway, maybe I'll just stop talking there and leave that as an introductory comment.
[00:05:51] JS: I'd love for you to elaborate a little bit more. I know you also said something really great. And it's a worthwhile thing to surface now. You said in the white paper, “We should tread carefully. As Donella Meadow said, ‘No paradigm will ever represent the ultimate truth.’”
And one of the core principles about regenerative economics is the notion of adaptation and iteration, right? And so, those stories themselves will learn and adapt as well as the system evolves.
But you had said that, “When properly articulated, a new narrative would break down false ideological divides.” And it's really about, again, these eight principles of regenerative economics. These are themes that we see over and over again in our conversations. Such as the first principle being “right relationship,” which is humanity's relationship to the web of life, the distinction... I think the paradigm shift is captured in that from me to we or from independence to interdependence.
And so, yeah, I should know if you have anything to elaborate on regenerative capitalism particular –
[00:06:55] JF: Sure. Do you want me to talk? All right. I'll keep talking. The basic idea that I've been exploring, and this is an idea that is really not – it's certainly not my idea, that's been – you can trace it back – honestly, you can trace it back to Aristotle. And you can trace it certainly back to the indigenous cultures around the world. But the short version of this new story in my mind is the shift out of Modern Age enlightenment, reductionist thinking into whatever it is that's going to follow that. And there are many people that are describing it as the integral age. But the key idea is that, despite all the advances of the modern scientific method and the modern reductionist mind where we take complicated things and break them down into their smaller subjects so that we can understand them, the trouble with that is we lose sight of the whole.
In economics, we describe them as externalities. But they're really initial oversights that prove that we didn't understand the interconnectedness and interdependence of the system that we're behaving in in the first place.
Climate change is largely the "externality" of pumping carbon into the atmosphere and releasing carbon out by burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon out of the land through deforestation and industrial agriculture. But we pursued a fossil energy system and industrial agriculture without realizing what the implications would be.
We applied our modern scientific engineering minds to those challenges but we missed not only some minor details but the details that are now basically destroying us.
So the big shift, in my mind, is a shift from this reductionist, mechanistic, “humans are separate from the planet, humans are separate from each other” thinking, which is the basis of the Modern Age to a more ecological view and more interconnected understanding. That's a huge shift in the way we see literally everything the way everything works.
And so, I think when we're all said and done – the implications of this I'm exploring in economics and finance, but the same implications are playing out in medicine with holistic medicine and integrated medicine. They're playing out in education with the whole idea of transdisciplinary education and integrated fields of knowledge rather than silos of knowledge. They're playing out in the built environment. They're playing out in agriculture big time.
When we get all through this period – and I don't know whether that's another 10 years or another 100 years, but we're going to look back at this moment in time and they're going to have a name for it just like we now have a name for the enlightenment when we shifted from a world that was organized around the church and God's design. And you go and listen to do what the pope told you to do and hopefully go to heaven. And we're now going to look back at the Modern Age, the limitations of reductionist Modern Age thinking and scratch your heads and wonder why we could be so naive.
[00:10:13] JS: Yeah. That's certainly another theme that continues to come up again and again in our conversation. And it makes me think of Buckminster Fuller and how much he lamented specialization and advocated for comprehensiveness.
[00:10:26] JF: Yeah. And Bucky's last book, which is called Grunch of Giants, which was published I think the year he died, talked about a regenerative universe. This regenerative idea, which goes back to the mystics and most recently with a giant like Bucky Fuller, is this process of living systems that enable them to sustain themselves, and self-organize, and self-adapt and self-govern. And so, that's the idea that we're exploring and how to apply it to an economic system and to the financial system. And we're in the first inning of this exploration for sure.
[00:11:00] JS: Thanks so much. I wanted to provide a foundational perspective from each of you and then we can rip on it together. Hunter, I want to turn it to you next. Some quotes from you, "Humans have always learned by story. Numbers sometimes tell a story, but rarely. And the worst story that we've been told is that people are greedy bastards," you said. "And that we're not." And that the story that needs to be told and told and retold again is that it's not only okay to care. But it's what makes you human. I just love to hear your thoughts on this question or just elaborating on some of the things that John got us started with.
[00:11:38] Hunter Lovins (HL): Well, John started with a quote from Thomas Berry, whom I knew. And Thomas also said:
"We are returning to our native place after a long absence. Meeting once again with our kin and the Earth community. For too long, we have been away somewhere. Entranced with our industrial world of wires and wheels, concrete and steel and our unending highways where we race back and forth in continual frenzy.
The world of life of spontaneity, the world of dawn, and sunset and glittering stars in the dark night heavens, something of this feeling of intimacy we now experience as we recover our presence within the earth community. This is something more than working out a viable economy. Something more than ecology. More even than deep ecology is able to express.
This is a sense of presence. A realization that the earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with nor will it simply be studied or examined or made an object of any kind. Nor will it be domesticated or trivialized in a setting for vacation indulgence except under duress and by oppressions from which it cannot escape.
When this does take place in an abusive way, a vengeance awaits the human. For when the other living species are violated so extensively, the human itself is imperiled.”
And that's really where we have come to be now.
Bucky also said this is humanity's final exam. He said, "This is the decade." We get it right in this decade or we start to run out of opportunities to get it right. And there won't be future generations to name what we are now trying to implement. Time is very short.
And story is very important. And the story that you mentioned, that we're all greedy bastards, was created by 36 men. Yeah, they were all men. They got together after World War II. Try to piece together the best form of the economy. But they were using bad science. They believed in Neo-Darwinism, that life is about brutal competition. And we are all greedy bastards, they said. But that's okay, they said. Because the market is perfect. And in a perfect market, you against me will somehow aggregate to the greater good for all. Except that it doesn't.
And I've been working lately with Dr. Michael Pearson who's been working with Dr. Paul Lawrence of Harvard. Pearson's at Fordham. And they say, "You look at the archeology, the evolutionary biology, the genetics, the anthropology, our ancestors, the pre-humans who survived, we're not greedy bastards. They cared."
They cared for old people. They found skeletons of toothless old men. If you're toothless and old and it's a me first-world, you're not worth anything. You get left behind. And they found these skeletons buried with care. They found skeletons of cripples similarly buried with loving care. These people cared. Their DNA is in you. These were our ancestors.
And so, the story of the neoliberal narrative. That, one, markets are perfect, which they're not; and that we are, at heart, evil greedy bastards, which we're not, has led us to this precipice. Where now the only progressive move is to turn around and look back at all that we have left behind; the natural world, the integrity of community, the beauty of the natural world and of people, and begin again.
One of John's principles is innovative and adaptive. Humans begin again. And another principle is we honor place and community. And we need to begin to look at these principles that John has laid out and recognize they all work together. There's no one of them that is superior to the other. But together, they give us a guide to begin to craft a new story of an economy in service to life.
That's what we sought to do in the book, is lay out that, first of all, we have no choice. We are up against as Janine Benyus puts it in evolutionary terms, failures or fossils. And there's no law that says humans have to survive. But I'm kind of sentimental about this human experiment. I want to see us give ourselves a chance.
This morning at o-God dark thirty, I was on the phone to a couple of young women who are doing a science project for their high school class and interviewed me on these concepts of a finer future and of how we achieve it. And they were asking, "Is there hope? Is there a chance?" And I said, "Yeah. Look at young Greta Turnberg. 15-years-old. Went by herself to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament with a little handwritten sign, "School strike for climate." Until she wasn't alone and other students came. Until thousands of students marched in the streets of Europe. Until she sailed to New York. John, and I and hundreds of thousands of people marched in New York. And a couple months later, the CEO of Goldman Sachs said, "Climate is a serious issue." And a month or two after that, the CEO of BlackRock said, "When millions of people are in the streets, we have to start changing the way we do business." Yeah. One little girl can change the world.
[00:17:40] JS: Thanks so much, Hunter. I want to turn it over to Joon. The first sentence in Inclusive Stakeholding, in the forward, is literally, "One thing we can do is leave stories." And it's actually quite fascinating. You talk about in the book how people began to sell instead of tell stories.
And the storytelling market itself became the biggest what you describe a self-expanding beast of all. And the natural dynamic for stories is to race to the bottom. And you had mentioned some particular stories, and Hunter has touched on them too, that I think are at the root of some of the challenges that we face today that have given rise to the institutions that we inhabit today.
Thomas Paine and Jean-Jacques Rousseau told stories about how our nature is to be independent. The hero's journey being another one that I'd love to touch on as well. And that there's something in the root cause of our abdication of responsibility to one another. And this is another theme that I think comes up a lot where we talk about a paradigm shift between rights to responsibilities. Some of us are reading Braiding Sweetgrass right now. And that just comes up again and again and again in the book.
And just a couple more notes before I hand it to you, your book actually calls for updated versions of – and Hunter, you talked about also – Ayn Rand's work. Plato's Republic. Thomas Paine's Common Sense. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Karl Marx's Das Kapitol. And Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. You had also expressed the need for updated copies of the Declaration of Interdependence and Bill of Responsibilities.
And so, I just really appreciate the depth of what you've thought, about how to actually implement the new narratives and rewrite the old stories. And so, yeah. I mean, I'd just love to hear from you and build on what we've heard so far.
[00:19:34] Joon Yun (JY): Thank you, Jenny. It's a great honor to be here with Hunter and John. They've been pioneers in thinking about this in so many ways. Both in terms of big picture and the theories, but also the philosophy of how to get there. Being humble. Not being adversarial. And really being inclusive even in terms of the solutions.
And I love the fact that their combined book started with a quote from William Gibson, who many of you know is the – credited with being the founder of the Cyberpunk when he wrote a book called Neuromancer, which itself could be a really fun book to have rewritten in the context of a more inclusive stakeholding future or any of these paradigms, regenerative capitalism, natural capitalism.
A lot of those wonderful authors, and artists, musicians were reacting to things that I think we can all sense. Maybe it's a little bit easier to sense in this kind of environment because everything seems so flipped. But I think we're recognizing that this has probably been going on for a long time in a low-grade way. And now that it's a little more in front of us, I think more and more people are understanding the challenges that we face.
I will just recite the definition of what inclusive stakeholding is, just to put it out there on the table. Inclusive stakeholding is a philosophical principle of fostering stakeholding in an inclusive manner in social, political and economic systems as a way to align interests broadly.
Exclusive stakeholding, which is the next book, which is a more hands-on way to understand what's going on in some domains of our lives today. Exclusive stakeholding is defined as the philosophical principle of non-inclusion of stakeholders affected by the system.
And it's really interesting to hear the frames both John and Hunter provided already. I mean, really, in some ways, there's harmony to the 60s. And in many ways, these are conversations that have been happening throughout history.
But in the 60s, it was a special period for a whole host of reasons, including there was some very positive momentum on a lot of social issues and political issues. There was war going on. There was a sense of institutional oppression and some interest in psychedelics. The arts definitely were starting to flourish in ways that the world had never seen before.
And I think all these things kind of coalesce in a way that were synthesized by people like Bucky Fuller. I mean, he was thinking of talking about synergy. A lot of the concepts that kind of roll off people's tongues today, he really helped coin and bring to the surface. To think about all of us as part of a larger organism, a super organism.
Then Margolis also – I mean, she's passed since then. But she too had brought together perspectives that helped us think this way. And I think a lot of the conversations that are happening now are echoes of those conversations most recently. And as Hunter said too, I mean, these are conversations that have been happening for a long period of time.
With all of that in mind, I think there are things going on that are really positive. Inclusive stakeholding is just one way to say it. But I think people want a more inclusive future. The layer that the group is espousing here is thinking about stakeholding. Because inclusion without stakeholding over time has a strange effect.
Joseph Henrich talks about this. And he's a Harvard evolution biologist. A lot of pro-social intentions over time, to digression's law and kind of the race to the bottom end up becoming more a race to the middle. I mean, there's always the race to the bottom scenario that's dark. But usually, people get past that. But then you end up with this like race to the middle, which is a really weird place to end up.
A way to think about that relative to some of the work that Hunter's done, and John to some extent, I mean, if you look at the regenerative ag environment today, when you look at what's happening = to the chemical industry, which is a massive industry, as stakeholders. And then you've got regulators, you got consumers, you got nature, you got NGOs. One of the things that becomes apparent is that low-dose poisons are far more poisonous than we realize.
That's because in a highly aligned world – we talk about kin skin of the game. In a highly aligned world, you deal with high-dose poisons and low-dose poisons commensurately. If it's a big deal, very toxic, then deal with it appropriately. And if it's a low-grade poison, you deal with it appropriately.
In an exclusive stakeholding world that's based more on competition, that can become a race. And power structures start to rule. Then these low-dose poisons have a way of just evading a resolution. They can become something that is much bigger and much darker very slow.
For instance, if you look at the impact of chemical on the health of the planet and health of humans, really hard to figure out what caused what. Now the same thing that high doses can be people become rational about it. It's mutual structure suction. Let's have an agreement and let's dispose of these really high-grade weapons.
But the same compounds can be used in low-doses and they can be spread everywhere. And it's hard to know what caused what. And it becomes this really strange dance where, again, I think the responsibilities start disappearing and it's hard to connect A to B and things become really remote. And things happen in sub-populations, vulnerable populations, vulnerable species. And we can't tell what's going on.
I think the common issue here is the exclusionary stakeholding. When we don't do that, our minds tend to play games on us. I mean, ultimately, it's our responsibility. And what we know to be the most dangerous form of exclusive stakeholding is the moral high ground.
When we start taking exclusive stakeholding of the moral high ground, I think that's when really unfortunate things happen. That's when we start dehumanizing. We take all the credit. All the blame for things are directed towards others.
Dehumanization comes first. And then, eventually, demonization. And that can be not only against other populations. But it can be to other species. When I think about what's happened relative to animal health, and plant health and, goodness, soil biome health, I mean, they've been demonized and they've been ignored in a way where they're suffering. It's not only causing issues for them, but probably for the ecosystem. And it's coming back to bite us as well.
So that inclusive stakeholding, the moral high ground is the one that I worry about the most. I think we can get past that if we can actually share that high ground even with those that we think we might imagine to be our enemies. And I really don't think they are true enemies. Then once you start sharing it and then a more constructive solution that we're all part of becomes easier.
[00:26:00] JS: Hunter and John, did you have any reflections on what Joon just shared? I'm happy to build on it. But I wanted to hand it to you if you had something to add.
[00:26:08] HL: It's interesting on this diffusion of low-grade poisons. We're now learning that the essence of life is the soil. And the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil are destroyed by the agrochemicals that we're spreading around across agriculture. And the key to regenerative agriculture is in part moving away from those poisons and using the health in the soil, which by the way is also carbon sequestration.
The soils have the capacity to soak up over time all of the carbon we're emitting and then all of the excess carbon in the atmosphere so we could roll climate change backward at a profit. But to do that, we have to get away from spreading all these low-grade poisons around in the name of increasing food productivity. The actual way to increase productivity of our agriculture is regenerative agriculture.
[00:27:12] JF: I'll just jump in and add, first of all, Joon, it's great to meet you. I don't think we've met before. But I loved what you said. I always loved listening to what Hunter has to say. But I get the chance to do that more often. And what came up for me in hearing you talk about inclusivity broadly defined is I think a lot of people probably then – or the first question is, yeah. But that requires humans to be kind, and to be empathetic and to think of the other first. And that doesn't seem to be the experience of humans in history.
And this is to me where the regenerative paradigm, where the living systems paradigm is so important, because it actually is not dependent on human morality, believe it or not. And in fact, I think it can guide us to see our common interests in being what probably everyone would consider moral behavior.
And so, for example, one of the principles I talk about, which comes straight out of the study of living system science is empowered participation. And what that means is that, in a healthy system, all the parts of the system are empowered to participate in the health of the system, which means they have access to the metabolism, the nutrients in the system. But they also contribute to the health of the system.
An example, the circulation in a human body nicely enables our feet and our toes to participate in the circulation of oxygen, which is good for our toes. But it's also good for our whole health. Because if our toes don't have oxygen and our feet don't get oxygen, we can't walk. And if we can't walk, we can't manifest our potential as human beings.
The lesson for us in our journey toward a more intelligent and evolved form of economy is that it's actually in everyone's self-interest to have what Joon calls an inclusive system. Because we'll all benefit from it rather than think that if I take more, that's good for me and bad for you. Zero-sum thinking is actually not the way actual living systems work. That to me is a key piece of it.
And the final point on it is that when living systems work the way they do in healthy relationships, they unlock potential. The key of the regenerative paradigm is that it unlocks potential that we don't currently see. And that's the magic of carbon sequestration and soil that balances the carbon cycle. Basically, all of the magic of life is the realization of regenerative potential.
And my hope and reason to remain hopeful in the face of a relatively dire set of facts that are not moving in the right direction is that if we can shift our minds and our thinking toward this living system paradigm, we will find all kinds of potential that exists that we don't currently see. And that I've experienced with my own investment projects. I know it's real and concrete in specific cases. The challenge is whether we can generalize it across entire economies.
[00:30:25] JS: John, you said something I felt was very important about the news stories needing a spiritual spark. And how much can be learned and retold about indigenous wisdom traditions, from reductionism to comprehensiveness.
Hunter, you talked about the urgency of the moment and how, fundamentally, we're not greedy, we're caring. And rewriting that story about who we are. And Joon, of course, you shared about inclusive stakeholding and reorientation – it's not just about including people, but giving them a stake, and what that might look like. Of course, the race the middle, which I talk about actually quite a bit after reading your book.
I'm curious, again, we've talked about narratives. I'm really excited about the creatives in our community, the various channels, whether that be through music. I mean, Joon, actually, I did want to share some great things in your book about music. You talked about words packaged in the delivery of a vehicle. Familiar music is particularly effective way to bypass the mental defenses against messages because it triggers this neural reward reflex like hearing our mother's voice. And it can be used to reshape culture. And particularly, music having unique powers because people tend to sing along to the songs that they hear, which reinforces messages. And people sing together, which spread messages.
There are also really incredible visual artists in our midst, and poets, writers and filmmakers. I'm curious if there's anything that you're seeing that is getting you excited or is giving you hope about a broader propagation and just these new stories slowly seeping into collective consciousness.
[00:32:06] JY: Well, thank you, Jen. And actually, excited about every dimension of this. I think all the things that we are excited about and are afraid of and are doing so much good is democratizing the capacity to create art. It's the sharing of resources. Costs have gone down. I really think it's an amazing time to be an artist. And we're seeing just the flourishing of talent across the board.
For those of you who haven't read John’s work or seen his videos, he makes a point that we don't know the answers. None of us know the answers. We're direction setting. And we'll learn a ton along the way. I think there's a humble posture to the entire community. And we know that hubris is going to get in the way. We're going to make mistakes.
And again, making mistakes is okay too. I think pre-forgiveness is a very important part of the consideration here. But the benefit of doing grand challenges is actually it turns the question back to the audience. And it asks the audience, "Hey, what do you think? What do you think are the solutions?" And have the ideas, and the means and the groups compete in a way that services the greater good.
It turns that perspective that we don't know the answers until you know the answers. The world knows the answers. It's out there. And it's a way to build a community and it keeps people engaged. We found it to be very successful in the National Academy of Medicine Asian Grand Challenge. We're doing this in other domains. And I think we can do this in the arts.
And I think the mediums that are available today are kind of like concrete, right? Between concrete and steel. Between cement and steel. Music, it operates one way in the brain. The visuals operate another way. And if you integrate them both, you end up with something that is far more resilient and enduring.
And we know that we're going to be listening to John Lennon's Imagine forever. I mean, they're going to be listening to that song if the world is still around a thousand years from now. We know the way things can endure. And so, will the visual arts.
And I think the integration of all these arts, including the written word and all different forms, architecture, is a way to help the world imagine and again do the bypass, do the spiritual bypass and engage the heart.
[00:34:08] JS: There is something too that Kate Raworth talks about in Doughnut Economics, the visuals. The donut that she discusses. How the visuals actually bypass parts of the brain in the visual cortex being as robust as it is. It's actually quite an interesting point that you just made, Joon.
Hunter, John, any thoughts on that?
[00:34:26] HL: Sure. One thought is we know a lot of the solutions. Yes, we are learning a lot. And if we're alive, we're all learning as humans. But we already know how to solve the frightening existential crises facing us. John and I wrote about in the book, A Finer Future, can be deployed to solve these problems. Oh, and guess what? It'll make you more money. Story is what will make the difference.
[00:34:55] JF: I guess the only comment I'd make, to me, the power of art and storytelling, being an artist, is that it's somehow able to rewire our brains and shock us out of the unquestioned assumptions that we carry on with our daily lives. To me, it's the distinction between our society, which sort of continues along the rules without questioning them. And culture, which is there to break those rules.
We are in a moment of time where we need to jolt society into a different hopefully higher level of consciousness. And for sure, the arts are the key to doing that. I consider my own work a form of art, if you will, in jolting against the system that I was a part of and know well and have very little confidence that will be changed from within.
[00:35:43] JS: I've brought up Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, whose music, if you don't know, you should. I'm really excited to have you. I know you've been thinking about this a lot. I would just love to hear your thoughts on this one.
[00:35:58] Alex Ebert (AE): Yeah. Thank you so much. And I appreciate this. Love these conversations. Something that just jumped up to my mind was there seems to be a bifurcation between the fundamentals and the narrative, the body and the mind, the framework and the facade, the bones and the skin. I could go on and on. We can sort of narrativize, all we want, John Lennon can sing Imagine until the cows come home.
But I do think that we need to marry these two. We need a sort of monism between our fundamental economic framework and the narratives. They need to really marry and become one. And I'm thinking about this sort of cephalizing effect of the internet and the global brain.
One thing that's been on my mind a lot is if there is indeed a global brain or a collective unconsciousness, which I believe you can make a case for, why not let the globe own the IP of the collective consciousness? Why not cut them in in a real sense? And I mean that in a real way.
I've tried with my songs to cut through loopholes and allow my audience to be shareholders in the songs themselves. It's really difficult, especially with the arcane rules of the music industry. But I do think that we need something concrete and sort of majestic to propose as opposed to just proposing a narrative of collectivism.
[00:37:30] JS: Ben Von Wong is a cherished member of our community. He's an amazing visual artist. He makes really provocative statements on the waste in our culture. Electronic waste and plastic waste, large-scale installations that really confront you with the absurdity of it.
He is speaking from a visual art perspective and an obviously very informed perspective because he's been in our conversations and thought a lot about this as well. I'd love for you to chime in.
[00:38:00] Ben Von Wong (BVW): Thank you so much for that introduction, Jenny. I have three thoughts that I wanted to just drop in. I had a conversation today, and I was talking about behavioral change. And so, behavioral change, according to BJ Fog, comes from three behaviors, which is prompt, motivation and ability.
And I said that artists, too often, think about the prompt and motivation piece. They create a piece of art that's provocative to prompt people to action. And then they motivate them to hopefully do something and then they forget about leading the way with ability. Well, what about if you lead with ability? What happens if we start with ability and then we move on to motivation and then prompt? And the art that is created is the result of ability and motivation. And I thought that was a really interesting provocation. If we think narratives are important, how do we give people a greater ability to do them?
The second thought that I had was another conversation with a fellow called Brian Swichkow. And he's been sort of gamifying Reddit for a very long time trying to make things go viral there. And he said that every time he had a conversation with a marketing company, they'd come in and they wanted to figure out how to create something that would scale and go viral. And his response would always be, "Well, what kind of value are going to be providing to the community?"
And so, instead of thinking about awareness, why don't we recontextualize to value? Because if you can create value, then that'll generate awareness on its own. And I thought that was also really thought-provoking.
And then the third is a conversation that I had just yesterday. He made the provocation of what does it mean to be sovereign? And what is the path to sovereignty? And that's been a question that's been kind of floating around in my mind.
And although I'm not sure if sovereignty is something that I personally feel like I can attain, as it feels less like a destination and more like a journey. The way we get there, I was thinking a little bit about, was that perhaps it's about a little bit more of a dance. There's sort of this push and pull both internally and externally with the world. And that's maybe something that, as creative, as individuals, as humans, as human beings, we need to dance more with the world rather than trying to dominate it. Regardless of how bad things may seem, regardless of how frustrating things may get, it's still going to be a dance. It's this knowing when to push, knowing when to pull. Those are kind of three thoughts around the topic. Thank you.
[00:40:17] JS: Thanks so much, Ben. I also wanted to bring up Ryan. He is an actor, a writer and a producer. He's got great perspective from the world of filmmaking. I'd love to hear your thoughts, Ryan.
[00:40:30] Ryan Caldwell (RC): Hey, everyone. Thanks so much for sharing. One of the things I always come back to when thinking about narratives for the future – and we tend to sometimes talk in these really broad conceptual sorts of ways about ideas and things that we want. And one thing I've learned is that the best way in is to usually start small.
I remember my dad gave me this book about writing, directing, and filmmaking. And he had read it himself and he gave it to me. And the only note that he had written in it was on the back. And it was, "Don't care about issues. Care about people dealing with issues."
And it was a revelation, and it always reminds me to bring things down to our why. We don't care about climate change on its own. We care about climate change because it affects civilization. Because it affects society. Because it affects humans. Because it affects the humans in our community. Because it affects the community – the people in our community that we love and our loved ones.
It gets down to that sort of like, when we're thinking about narratives, the smaller we can get, the more granular, it helps things to be so much more relatable. It's why if you give two cents to someone who's starving on television, you create that connection with that one person that you're invested in. But if there's a genocide, it's like it's just overwhelming. We can't deal with it. There's this sort of phenomenon where we can't – there's a certain threshold where we just can't fathom it. We feel helpless. There's nothing we can do.
It's just really one of the things I've found that really helps bring things down to sort of bringing it in to not even the humans that we love. It's with narratives that we find in animation. If we're not even speaking about species. If we want to talk to animal kind. We're using these same concepts in relating to a specific character.
But apart from that, a lot of our – Cyberpunk right now is the biggest video game. It's this huge dystopian future, cool. But it's this crazy sort of dystopian “things are going bad” type genre. And genres work as a sort of mask, as a sort of theme. But we kind of – we all know we create the future. We're all co-creators in what's happening here.
And so, there's a push towards something called solar punk. And there's another push towards something called protopia. And solar punk is basically a sort of envisioned future where there's a green future. The Jetsons meets regenerative agriculture meets all sorts of regenerative themes. And protopia is another term which is basically, rather than utopia, protopia is just a state that is better, that is always better than before. A state that is better today than yesterday. Even if it's a little bit better.
[00:43:18] JS: That makes me think of that quote of yours, Hunter. I'm forgetting exactly what it is. Hypocrisy is the first step to change? Is that it?
[00:43:26] HL: Hypocrisy is the first step to real change.
Dana Meadows, whom I was honored to be able to work with for many years, said “Vision is the most vital step in the policy process. If we don't know where we want to go, it makes little difference that we make great progress.
Yet, vision is not only missing entirely from policy discussions. It is missing from our whole culture. We talk about our fears, frustrations, and doubts endlessly. But we talk only rarely and with embarrassment about our dreams.
Environmentalists have been particularly ineffective in creating any shared vision of the world they are working toward. A sustainable world in which people live within nature in a way that meets human needs while not degrading natural systems. Hardly anyone can imagine that world, especially not as the world they'd actively live in. The process of building a responsible vision of a sustainable world is not a rational one. It comes from values. Not logic.”
If you look at all of our movies, all of our efforts at visioning, they're dystopic. They're awful. They're Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2. I think we need a lot more vision of the kind of world we want to live in.
[00:44:43] JS: One, I appreciate that Dana Meadows is coming up for a second time in this conversation. Every time I encounter her work, it really resonates quite literally down to my bones.
[00:44:53] HL: Dana was a dear friend. And I miss her every day.
[00:44:58] JS: You remind me of something that I do think about quite – well, a couple things. One, I just think a lot about how often the messages, which are very important, are just awareness and waking up to the problems in the world. And not so much of what's possible, and hope and visioning for the future.
And there's a really amazing podcast, Center for Humane Technology, which Tristan Harris founded. They did the Social Dilemma, which pretty much everyone and their mother saw. They have a podcast called Your Undivided Attention. And they have an amazing episode with Christiana Figueres from the UN, who was one of the people spearheading the Paris Agreement.
The podcast episode talks about how she just didn't see it as being feasible. That global leaders could really come together and make meaningful commitments to address this existential threat that we face. And she basically told herself that it just fundamentally wasn't okay that that was her belief system and forced herself to go through a process to believe it was possible.
And it's a fascinating podcast that talks about how she internalized that possibility and then took her team through a process to internalize the possibility and then did that with the extended network of global leaders that were going to come to the table. I think that's just a really extraordinary podcast along the lines of this conversation.
James has joined us. I love that your bio just says filmmaker, writer, interested in narratives. Clearly, this is a topic that you had thought of.
[00:46:23] JK: Yeah. This is my dream conversation to have. Joon, Hunter, John, thanks for leading us off. I think there's something interesting right now. And to jump on it, what Joon and John were talking about in different ways and the democratization of art. Specifically, more and more films are being made. More and more TV is being made. More and more art is being made. It's awesome for me and awesome for all artists because it gives us more platforms. But it also, to John's point, makes it more difficult to create a centralized narrative. Because everyone – in the same way that everyone's existing in their news sphere can also exist in their art sphere and figuring out a way that we can create sort of major overall mythology narrative, whatever you want to call it. I think it's certainly a challenge.
And Hunter, I love what you said. I've been thinking about that a lot. When you said you can also get rich doing this. I feel like Greta has mastered the – a lot of people, the dystopian, dangerous nature of it. But I also want to hear, "Hey, that's something I want to join. How does it work out? Why does it end up being good? It's great to stop something. But what's the civilization that ends up afterwards?"
And Ryan, I'm going to go check out protopia, and solarium and all that stuff. Because what I want to hear from – and I'm finishing up some other stuff. But the next stuff I want to write is in that space. I want to hear – I almost wish, Hunter, all these conversations would start with like, "This is how it can be awesome. Here is where the science is." Because I do feel like it seems like we've evolved to a point where, as John says, we can move out of this separation in a new way. Not going back to simple societies, but still maintaining a complex society.
And I think in the storytelling, the artist's side of things do. But also, in the side that you, thinkers, do. I love to hear “This is how it could be awesome for everybody if we can just make a couple of little shifts.”
[00:48:08] JY: Jenny, can I respond to that?
[00:48:10] JS: Of course.
[00:48:11] JY: Yeah. I'd love to build on what James just said. We know the law of compounding is such that even if we tilt just a little bit in a better direction, in a new direction, like John was saying, we can create the kind of protopia, right? I'm going to look up that word as well. Very interesting. Because the compounding effect is just a small movement towards a better future. It's going to really mushroom and get us to a much better place.
The story I'm going to tell is about human aging itself. And obviously, we're doing the large-scale structural grand challenge. But the story that hasn't touched the aging field relates to the living systems, the natural capitalism conversation that started all this with Hunter and John.
The way I envision and maybe dream is that – we used to dream more than envision when we were little, when we're kids, is a version of a society where we were – if you think about our bodies, we're all individual cells. We're made up of about trillion cells. And they have a very high degree of kin skin in the game. They're you, social. They have genetic vested interests. And you don't have to have genetic vested interest. But they do.
And so, the toe, as John was saying, wins as the eye wins. And there's this interdependent fate they all have. We can always shape our narratives around common issues such as climate and aging. And there are a lot of other things that are meritorious in that regard.
The thing that I see in the human body at age 40 is that you start to see more extractive behaviors. It's just really interesting when you look at CT scans and MRIs, that the individual tissues start extracting energy from the system and storing it locally. It's almost like the body – different parts of the body are going to war for oil. That's at 40.
And then some of those cells create algorithms where they subvert the existing native biology of their neighboring cells. And if you create these feed-forward loops – I mean, you can call it social media companies. But essentially, the cancer is right there. They become the self-expanding thing called cancer.
You can think about aging as the loss of you sociality, which means that there are algorithms in place when we're under 40 that keep us with, Hunter was saying earlier, caring. We care about our neighbors. Those algorithms clearly exist and they don't behave the same way as we get older. There's more greed in the system. And then the whole thing collapses and we either die from aging or we die from cancer.
The idea was, "Hey, can we actually take one of the nurturing hormones?" Like oxytocin. And what if you treated a cancer with oxytocin? That experiment was done in Stanford. Still provocative. It was in vitro. But they literally gave a cancer cell oxytocin. Because right now, the way we treat cancer is the way we treat the other political party. We demonize them and we try to nuke them. But what this approach is, it actually just re-engage their nurturing self and they actually domesticated cancer. It really is a provocative idea. Can we figure out the algorithms that keep us caring? Once we understand them scientifically, then we can actually deploy them.
Where we are as a civilization, if you look at it fractally, Mandlebrot theory, we branched. We underwent a diaspora as a species then as populations. And we re-met as a biofilm. We're all together just like bacteria met after a billion years into these biofilm structures. And they had to re-figure out sociality. They had to figure out win as others win instead of zero-sum games and one loses.
And once they achieved that, those biofilms became the exact eukaryote that we are today. That they cut the rose out of the slime mold. We became this thing. I think we know it's been done before, which means we know it can happen again.
[00:51:37] JF: Well, I just have to jump in. Joon, that's fascinating. What was coming up as you were describing that is, that's exactly what happens to corporations as they mature. And they start out with slogans like "do no evil" and they end up with an extractive advertising model that is selling our data and doing all kinds of things. And that's certainly the story of Wall Street.
I left Wall Street – the way I described it is that it became a war zone. And this was before the financial crash. But just as the businesses mature, they become more and more vicious, and violent and extractive. And I'd never heard it described as that's the natural aging process.
But again, it just reinforces not just the metaphor but the direct analog of healthy living systems being the source of the answers. There are so many lessons from the natural living system world that we simply just need to learn how to apply to our society.
[00:52:37] JS: Go ahead, Alex.
[00:52:38] AE: Okay. I was going to say, Joon, I find that fascinating. I've always had a lot of faith and empathy as sort of the teleology of humanity really. However, having had that sort of protopic belief for a long time, I was speaking with some folks who had done some studies on oxytocin. Because, of course, oxytocin promotes empathy. And I was expressing this sort of, "Well, if everyone had more oxytocin, people would have more empathy in the abstract." And they're like, "Actually, no." Oxytocin is released and empathy is actually a sort of in-grouped hormone. It's sort of tribalized. You have oxytocin/empathy for people that you know, that you love.
And so, in this globalized state where we no longer have these bioregional relations. We're no longer tribalized. Instead, I think what's happened, because we don't have that kind of tribalization, we now have had to tribalize reality itself in the sort of noosphere and on the internet. And so, thinking of oxytocin in that sense, in the tribalistic sense, in the sense that you have empathy for those who you love, it sort of changes the picture a little bit.
[00:53:52] JY: Yeah, absolutely. And that's the jump-off point to the inclusive stakeholding model, which is to widen the circle of what it means to be tribal. In the sense that we know that family values are a wonderful thing. But it just doesn't scale as a global algorithm.
Even if you go home with who you think is the worst perpetrator of, let's say, insider trading, they're very kind to their own. It's just a recognition that we're all doing it. That this new sociality being a nuclear family and then stepping out of the door into everybody for themselves world is not going to work.
Inclusive stakeholding means inclusion with giving each other an interdependence stake. It's not stakeholder capitalism per se either, because it has to instantiate a degree of inclusivity that doesn't create this in-group, out-group phenomenon. Great comment. And I think it's the beginning of a wider conversation. Thank you.
[00:54:40] JS: Hunter, yep.
[00:54:41] HL: There are a growing number of examples of very large companies that are relearning how to be kind, how to be human, how to be humane.
I've worked for a while with Unilever. And at one point, they made the commitment to being sustainable. And I said to their senior management, "You guys really ought to be trying to be regenerative." And got John together with the CEO of the North American operation. And for a while, they didn't get it. But then they got it. And they are now increasingly trying to implement John's principles in this very large multinational company.
Similarly, you've got Danone committing to be regenerative. General Mills implementing regenerative agriculture on a million acres. And God save us, Walmart declaring that they want to be a regenerative company. Now they have no earthly idea what that means. But they also admit they have no idea what that means.
The opportunities to begin transforming how these companies do business is one that we just can't miss. And at the same time, we've got to recognize that true regenerativeness is going to come from communities, from little companies, from individual farmers getting together with other farmers and ensuring that inclusion really, really means everybody. And typically, when the big guys get involved, they pervert these things. We've got to have this both and consciousness as we go about this transformation work.
[00:56:27] JS: Thanks so much, Hunter. I'm thrilled at all the incredible contributions of so many different people, all the amazing different perspectives that were represented. I just want to thank everyone for their contributions and for being here.
[00:56:41] JS: Thank you so much for listening. And thanks to Scott Hansen, also known as Tycho, for our musical signature. In addition to this podcast, you can find resources for each episode on our website, www.becomingdenizen.com, including transcripts and background materials.
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