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#190  Becoming a Stag Beetle! Living the interspecies Treaty of Finsbury Park with Ruth Catlow

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How does it feel really to step into the feet (or roots, or wings) of other species, to speak on their behalf, to negotiate with humans for a better world?

In this week’s episode, we have a return guest to the podcast. Ruth Catlow has taken the amazing work she did in lockdown and held live festivals in the park where people get to become one of the seven core species: a dog, a Canada goose (just visiting!) a tree, grass… and, yes, a stag beetle. What they’re not being, are people. So they’re looking at the world through new eyes, hearing it with new ears, smelling, tasting, sensing in all ways – and the whole experience of what it is to live in this place as home, instead of just dropping in…becomes deeper, and more complex and more alive. And then each of the species can put forward ideas for the Interspecies Treaty of Finsbury Park which will make it a much better place for everyone – including the people.

And then – because Ruth’s enthusiasm and expertise range widely over the ways things can be made more fair and equitable, as well as work better, she’s designed the app that allows a much fairer voting system, so the people-become-MoreThanHumans can vote on the seven ideas put forward for the Treaty in ways that allows more nuance than simply ranking them.

This last became a whole other hour of conversation on voting systems and how we can create a decent democracy – so that’s the bonus… well worth a listen!

Bonus: Voting our way to a fairer future with Ruth Catlow

This bonus episode follows on from #190 above. Ruth talks about voting systems, specifically the quadratic voting on the blockchain that she has made into an app that’s in use in the Park. Then we moved into her work with Government ministries and big corporations, bringing the aliveness and liveliness, and special insight of Live Action Role Play into politics and industry to help people see things from a wider context. This is how we change the world: one new idea at a time… 

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, and I’m your host in this journey into possibility. And this week I am delighted to welcome a return guest to the podcast. Ruth Catlow first spoke to us in episode 163 called Cultures of Commoning, and in that she described the work she does at Furtherfield, which is a project based in Finsbury Park in London, which organises for inclusivity and equity in art and technology and advocates for their use in imagining and building real social change and positive environmental impact. In that podcast we discussed in depth and at length the innovative experiments in Live Action Roleplay being conducted by Furtherfield, as a way to help engage local people in the park. And how that had evolved during lockdown to encompass online assemblies, where people took roles as some of the life in the park, from the grass and the trees to the geese and the squirrels. There are seven species all told, and you’ll hear about them in the podcast that’s coming and explored what it was to live in a park as one of these species, where human activities were not always conducive to a peaceful life. We also discussed the Culture Stake app that Ruth had a hand in building, which uses quadratic voting on the blockchain, to gather people’s opinions in a way that gives so much more scope than simply putting a cross in a box.

Manda: And it was all leading towards voting in the Interspecies Treaty of Finsbury Park. Doesn’t that sound like a cool thing? There was so much to talk about in this, and we knew that this summer Ruth was going to run some live in-person festivals for the first time. So we thought we would come back for a second conversation and here we are. And my goodness, was it worth it? Ruth came fresh from three festivals with all the challenges and wonder and changes and thoughts and feelings and experiences that each of those brought to the whole overall project of the Treaty of Finsbury Park. And so now, we had a chance to go more deeply into the nature of Nordic live action roleplay. And no, I didn’t know what that was either. And how this applied to the people who came. Then looking at it in a wider context, because this is such a profoundly deep way of working. Ruth and the whole team brings such integrity to the process; to the holding, to the construction, to the taking in of feedback, to changing things pretty much on the fly, and then trying them again to see how they go. So we explored that in some depth. And then at about five minutes to the hour, we moved on to quadratic voting and to bringing the live Action Roleplay concept into departments of the UK government.

Manda: And that second conversation went on for nearly another hour. And as ever, because I’m obviously a lot less technically competent than I thought I was, it didn’t go completely smoothly in the second part. We had some glitches and bits of recording that didn’t quite work. However, we have rescued it. So we split this into two, because I don’t think a two hour podcast is a fair thing to expect you to listen to. But I do think you’ll want to listen. So we’re releasing the second part as a bonus to the first part. So if you are on a long car journey, it’ll just play after. And if you’re not, you get to have a break, go off, do whatever it is you do in your real world, and then come back and listen. To more about what quadratic voting is, what we could do with it, how it could change our democracy, and also how live action roleplay is moving into the heart of government. That is a statement I never thought I would say. So here’s the first part. The Treaty of Finsbury Park, Interspecies collaboration, Nordic live action role playing in London.

Manda: People of the podcast, please welcome back Ruth Catlow of Further Fields, fresh from some interspecies explorations. Ruth, Welcome back to Accidental Gods podcast. It is an absolute delight to be talking to you again. How are you and where are you at the moment?

Ruth: Hi Manda, Lovely to be back. What a pleasure. I’m in Felixstowe on the east coast of England on a greyish day. And how am I? Yeah, I’m in a state of excitement about talking to you about all the things we’re going to talk about.

Manda: Yay! Because we’re being nimble and resilient. Because there was a plan when we booked this in, many months ago, when we were going to talk about quadratic voting and consensus voting and cumulative voting and all the different voting systems and the way we could totally reform our democracy in order to change the world. We can hope. However, you have been doing really exciting things since then. So we might get to quadratic voting, but in the meantime, let’s explore what’s been happening in Ruth world. What is making your heart sing in this moment?

Ruth: Well, at the end of June, we ran three days of interspecies roleplay festivals, that are part of this five year project called the Treaty of Finsbury Park. I talked to you about them in the last episode, but we had quite a lot of other things to talk about there. And so I think I’d really like to talk more about what happens when we work with groups of people to use roleplay, to build these kind of empathy pathways to other beings, other perspectives, other life forms. As a way to give us new perspectives on action on biodiversity. So I think that’s our zone today.

Manda: Okay. That sounds really good. You have promised to make me less scathing about LARPing, so I think that’s a very good thing. So we’ve got some more listeners since you last came on, so there will be some of them who don’t know anything about the Treaty of Finsbury Park or what interspecies roleplaying is. So let’s have a quick recap of the concept and then let’s look more deeply into what’s been happening with you in the last few weeks.

Ruth: So I have run a gallery in the heart of Finsbury Park in North London since 2011 with Marc Garrett and more recently with Charlotte Frost. And there we have been looking at how we can widen access to new forms of engagement with art and technology, as a way to bring about positive impact on environmental and social change. And the Treaty of Finsbury Park is a project that was kind of devised in response to the 2019 report from the IPBES that declared millions of species extinctions due to human impact on climate and habitats globally. This is our daily life now. Reports from scientists, news, political news, world events, catastrophe after catastrophe, science looking into the future and giving us horrible news about the impact that we are having. And because we are based in this kind of urban green space, in a urban setting in London that’s super diverse, very densely populated. It seemed like what we wanted to do was to find new ways of responding to these kinds of horrible and important reports and news. So, new ways to feel, new ways to act, discovered through new ways to feel together. New ways of bringing people together to think about what our responsibilities are and what our what our kind of possible actions might be. So that’s the set up. Finsbury Park is a park used by people who speak 200 different human languages. God knows how many more than human languages are spoken in this park. And it’s a super diverse human area, in wide diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds, access to opportunity, ethnic diversity et cetera. High levels of mobility.

Ruth: So what we wanted to do was to create a kind of public artwork that would allow us to create some resonance between these diversities in human experience and the question of how we engage with biodiversity in an urban green space. So I have been working on live action role play since 2016. Now I know that the very concept of live action role play will be making at least half of your listeners toes curl as we speak. The idea of role play also might make my toes curl, until I kind of discovered this form. We see LARP on a continuum. So at one end we have battle reenactments in full costume to relive historic events. And at the other end, which is where we are, there is this form called Nordic Larp, which is often working with futures, possibly science fiction futures or alternative futures, which is essentially a game of collective make believe. We set a scenario, people play characters and there are a series of structured events and people improvise their response to these events. Now, what gets people like me, and maybe people who are more inhibited than me, over the cringe, is that the scenarios and the struggles that we face are so hard that you really get focussed on the problem you’re trying to solve. And you kind of lose your sense of self consciousness. We have all different kinds of immersion tools and then people just get deep into it. So I’m going to stop this long ramble by just telling you what the scenario was for the Treaty of Finsbury Park.

Ruth: So in the Treaty of Finsbury Park, there’s a new fictional technology called the Sentient Style, which has allowed humans to tune in and understand all flora and fauna of the park. All the species of the park are suffering and have risen up to demand equal rights with humans. A treaty is going to be written to institute these equal rights. But first we need to hold a festival so we can learn more about each other’s cultures, about what matters to each other. The festivals we held in June in the park were our third series of games. The second series of games were online assemblies, all played in Digital Mask, in which we devised the festivals. These series of events and games that would kind of highlight the special talents, cultures and forms of cooperation between species. And I guess the last thing to know is, well, it’s not the last thing to know, but I should at least take a breath in a minute. We played seven mentor species of the park: the dogs, the bees, the squirrels, the London plane tree, the Canada geese, the stag beetle and the grass. And these were all chosen to essentially represent all of the species of the park. Anyone who knows Finsbury Park, if they picture it, they will picture those species. Like fields of grass, London plane trees, very dominant in the kind of imagery of the park. 

Manda: That’s fantastic and really well precised, because we talked about that last time but it took us an hour. But we went into different depths and different places. So I want to say in defence; role playing strikes me as one of the most important things we can do. I used to be a re-enactor, so we had real weapons and then we used we get very sniffy about the the larpers who came dressed as elves and orcs and had like rubber foam weapons. And why would you? When I want to go on a battlefield, I actually want to have a proper sword. And they’re waving around things that basically aren’t going to hurt anybody. I’m a little older and wiser now, and I can see that that’s a very good idea. Plus, I have a friend whose son is now training with someone who is an international champion at LARPing Weapons, which I still haven’t got my head around what that actually does. But he’s having an amazing time and now knows how to use huge weapons that he otherwise wouldn’t be able to pick up. But because they’re foam he can. So you know, I am already revising my opinion. And, you sent me an article from the Standard which I will put into the show notes and just reading what ordinary members of the public said. There was a lady called Dasha. Is it Moschonas? Is that how you said her surname?

Ruth: I don’t know Dasha. I mean, I met her, she played a very fine tree.

Manda: So she said, ‘to be honest, at first it was a bit odd. And when I was at home I thought, Oh, I have to dress like a tree, so I just wore green’. But then she said ‘I didn’t really feel like a squirrel, they’re, more chaotic; I wanted to be a calm species’. And then she said ‘I was surprised by the amount of empathy that I grew in a few hours towards trees. Of course I love trees. Who doesn’t love trees? But thinking about things that trees are interested in, was different. Somebody said, Think of how many deaths and births of squirrels a tree sees, and they’re are these wise long term inhabitants of the park and you start having all of these emotions you wouldn’t have’. That’s all one quote from her, from the article which I will put in the show notes. This is a member of the public who came with her husband and her cousin and now she’s thinking like a tree! Which has got to change our long term neurophysiology even, never mind our capacity to logically think of stuff. It’s got to shift how we are wired. So you were talking about immersion tools. What is an immersion tool and how do they work?

Ruth: So an immersion tool is something that allows people to let go of their human identity. To let go of their identity. In this game it’s their human identity to some degree as well. But in LARPing, it’s just whatever their identity is. And it can be a range of things. Immersion is supported through costume and mask. So we had seven mentor species masks that were given to people, but some people did quite a lot of elaborate work on their costumes and actually even simple use of colour. So we sent out costume guides and a basic costume then meant that species groupings were recognisable, and they could identify. So these very simple things that enabled you to create clusters and groups and to see yourself from afar, all of those kinds of things. But then a number of the activities in the festival were designed to really support immersion. Two of these were: first, we had a multisensory mystery tour. We started with a guided audio tour in which a tree, a squirrel and a dog basically took everyone into the old forest and showed them the beauty spots from their own species perspective.

Ruth: So after listening for ten minutes to a dog, talking about how smell persists and gives them a different sense of history, and gives them different understanding of intensities across the spatial and time spaces. So you have that and obviously the trees and their relationship to the soil and what’s going on under the soil, all of these kinds of things. So we started with something that just allowed people to be still and to think about how different their species senses would be. And then what a lot of people reported was this sudden phase change in their own experience, when we went to the new forest, where there was this interspecies day-care and spa in which they underwent a meditation. A meditation to get into their new bodies, using their imaginations and to really feel the surface and the different centre of gravity and what movement feels like that. So it’s this series of different activities and events that allow people to really feel very different, using their imagination mainly.

Manda: I’m relating this to the shamanic work that we do, where we do a lot of guided visualisations, but we have to be really careful that 70, 80% of people have a very visual internal modality, but the other 20% don’t and don’t respond to visual cues at all. So presumably laced in to your immersion tools, we’ve already had the dog with all of the scents. We’ve got sounds and textures and kinaesthetic modalities as well. Have you got psychologists working with you so that you create a multi-sensory experience? Or is part of being an artist is that you’re good at multi-sensory constructions?

Ruth: I don’t know how good we are at it. I actually don’t know how good we are at it. I mean, we have people’s reports of their experience. We didn’t employ a professional psychologist, but one of our hosts, Sue is studying psychology at the moment. So I think quite often in these large participatory things, people bring all kinds of different expertises into it. So it’s like this kind of open space technology. This idea that you have what you need and then you work with what you need. So it’s like being very open to the different capacities of the people that you have in the room or in the park.

Manda: And then each time will be different. 

Ruth: Yeah. I will say that we ran the festival three times and I feel like we did about a year’s learning in the first one, and then did a whole load of revisions. After paying attention to the things that people were finding it hard to get into, or where there was disorientation. This is a beautiful moment: So in the first one, we basically changed our route between the first and the second one. And the reason we changed it was because… So the festival works kind of like a walking tour. So we went between three habitats. We went from the old forest to the new forest to the Wildflower Meadow. And each of these different habitats gives us a way to talk about different modes of relating between the species, and the particular needs of particular kinds of species. But in the route that we’d set up, there was a very long walk from the new forest to the wildflower meadow, that we set up unintentionally. This conflict, like a really quite intense antagonism, between the vegetative characters and the animal characters.

Manda: Because your trees don’t want to walk once they become a tree, they’re stationary.

Ruth: Exactly. So they were just feeling like harried, like constantly being rushed to do something. And then, of course, for the Beatles and the bees, a long field is a really long way to travel for a beetle and a bee, without stopping for refreshment. So we found suddenly everyone was getting really tetchy with each other. And so there are these kinds of things that you really only learn when you play it as it’s meant to be played. And then we changed everything.

Manda: And when you do it online you don’t get that, because you’re doing everything in a kind of condensed format. And for people who don’t know Finsbury Park, it’s worth saying that it’s 46 hectares, which is 115 acres. It’s a big place. So presumably it takes, as you said, quite a long time to walk from one to the other. So how did you modify that? Because a tree is a tree is a tree. Once you’ve turned somebody into a London plane, they’re not going to want to move around much at all. And yet you want to go old Forest, new forest, Wildflower Meadow somehow. How did you do it in the second and third iterations? 

Ruth: So what we did was we changed the site to another new forest within the park, actually a better new forest, a newer forest. Things grow really quickly. So we moved to a much newer new forest, which made the route much shorter. And then the whole festival was also interspersed with these multi-species choir moments. So after we’d been through the Old forest and we got to the new forest, we focussed on questions of harm. Because here we were in the spa and day-care. So we did a kind of focussed discussion on the variety of harms that different species face at the hands of humans. And then we sang a protest song. After that we were ready to relax. But this meant that we’d really kind of focussed, from all of our different perspectives, on the the variety of harms and types of harm and the ways that we needed to care for each other. So it meant that we were much better set up then, to take the journey on as a collective action. So the bees and the beetles travelled on the backs of the geese and we knew that the trees and the grass were going to travel slowly, so we were prepared for this. So it was kind of like this iterative process of learning what people, if we consider all beings people, what people need and what will make it possible for us to care for each other.

Manda: Brilliant and beautiful. I assumed the dogs were going to give the lifts, but it does make much more sense to be the geese. So let’s take a bit of a dive across all three sessions, of what were the harms that the different species were experiencing in the moment? Because it’s easy for us who are not there to kind of make a list of what we imagine those would be. But I suspect what you get when somebody has become the grass or the stag beetle, is different to what we might imagine from the outside. So what sorts of things came up?

Ruth: Okay. So for instance, for the stag beetles, we ended up with an awful lot of compacted soil. Everything tidied up endlessly. And then in the old forest, everything disturbed by people leaving litter and all kinds of nastiness. And the geese, the lake is really badly littered with plastic. And the dogs. I always play a dog, because that then enables me to be a bit of a shepherd, to boss everyone around. Also I didn’t realise before how much dog I am. So definitely a bit of a kind of herding people, but also loving people. But I discovered, especially actually through playing with a couple of young people who were playing dogs, how we were the only domesticated creature. Which meant that we never got to run and chase. like it’s a technicolour world of smell out there and we’re constantly being yanked on our leashes and not allowed to explore the things that would make life wonderful.

Manda: Can I interrupt? I’ve had such an idea. I am doing an online training with some people called Absolute Dog, and we’ve done the pro dog trainer and then we’ve done Geek and now we’re on Genius. And firstly, I need to tell you, I learned last week that in the Evolution from wolf to dog, over time, the resting cortisol levels have dropped dramatically in dogs compared to wolves. And in wolves oxytocin is only released con specifically, so with other wolves. When you’re in social engagement with other wolves, you get flooded with oxytocin. Dogs have evolved to have intra species oxytocin release. They get oxytocin release when they’re relating with people and people get oxytocin release when relating with dogs. I think this is amazing. But in the training that I’m doing, nobody ever yanks on a lead, ever. Because you are working with concepts of training such that that just becomes something that would not ever happen. Apart from anything else you’d always be wearing a harness, but you’re wearing a harness as an aid to communication, not as a control mechanism. So what I want to do at some point, is bring a whole bunch of Absolute Dogs trained trainers in, to work with a whole bunch of people who are role playing dogs, to see how different it is when you’re not being yanked. And where you see the squirrel.

Manda: The people I work with have a podcast called Sexier than a Squirrel, because most dogs see a squirrel and, you know, millions of years of evolution are: see, hunt, chase. Catch, kill. That’s what you do, you’re a dog. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Chihuahua or wolfhounds, don’t run very fast, but whatever. You just want to chase the squirrel and your owner is going, No, God, killing squirrel in front of everybody else will be terribly embarrassing. Please don’t do that. Not that I don’t want you to kill squirrels, it’s just I don’t want them to see you killing a squirrel while I’m in charge. So I’m going to strangle you and destroy your trachea until you can’t, which is really unpleasant. So I have a whole new avenue for this. I think it’s going to be great fun. Sorry, that was a whole interjection just because it’s my current in thing.

Ruth: It gets very exciting because suddenly you’ve opened up a whole new world and you go, Oh, yeah! I have to say, so often the work that Furtherfield has done in the past has been quite intellectual. It’s been a kind of critical approach to what you can do with art and tech in the world, and aimed really at people who use their critical imaginations in a particular way. And this was really amazing because I don’t think we’d really consciously aimed for it. It almost took us by surprise. But this was a properly cross-generational event, where we had seven year olds and people in their 70s playing. And it just was so powerful. The young people are deeply in-tune, super quick and they are really great leaders in these processes. That was really amazing.

Manda: Yeah, because at seven they’re still, if I’ve understood the developmental stages, Faith’s eldest grandson is seven and they’re still just at the boundaries of magical thinking as we see it. Which is, you know, you’re basically still a forager hunter and the horrible process of domestication and shutting that down hasn’t hit you yet. So you go into a park and someone goes, okay, you’re a stag beetle and you are a stag beetle. You don’t have to drop your identity, what you do is become that. But as a very quick interjection, did you have people who went away and studied stag beetles so that when they came they knew everything about stag beetles? Or did you give them, you know, here’s the basic this is what stag beetles eat and drink and how they sleep and do they hibernate or not hibernate? And how high can they go and how deep can they go? Did you give them that data or did you just let them explore and find that out?

Ruth: So we did give them the data. Basically what people received was a kind of top level, like a narrative description of their character that would give them a way to connect. And then also links to more across the broad board scientific information. But what we found, and this always happens, is that you get people who just turn up on the day; they haven’t read anything and they are the happy improvisers and they’re ready just to play. And then you have the people who dive deep and they are very committed to doing it properly and they feel accountable to their character. And between them, in a kind of make believe setting, these two work really well together as a counterbalance.

Manda: And do you put them in groups for a little while? So the stag beetles go off and talk stag beetle things in a corner, while the plane trees are talking somewhere else and the geese are somewhere else again? 

Ruth: So with this one, we did that right at the beginning before people were in character, so that people had a chance to kind of tune in, swap information, find out what was exciting to them about about their character. Because there’s so many different directions you can take it off in as well, and how much they would want to play together as a group and how much they might be more autonomous. All of those kinds of things.

Manda: Right. So the seven year old entomologist can come along and tell everybody all about stag beetles and it’ll be grand. So you talked that they identified the harms and we’ve talked a little bit about stag beetle harms. What were the cares? Because you said there were harms and cares. What sort of cares came up?

Ruth: The cares, funnily enough, because we were in this interspecies day care and spa, the cares were actually more focussed on the ways in which different species improve each other’s lives. So like you mentioned before, the tree providing shelter to the squirrels and the insects over generations. And then into their post life care for things like the stag beetle. So we have had a whole load of different, very specific cares that are occurring between the species. But it’s an interesting question because I think all of the games we’ve played, both in the assemblies and in the festivals, we’ve been paying attention to the kind of care that humans can take, which would make a difference. And these are the things that have been gathered together as proposals for the treaty, which are the things that people have voted on.

Manda: Right. Okay. So that begins to bring us to the treaty. Before we get there, I have a couple of other questions. This feels very much to me like Constellation work, which is relatively modern. I think it’s 2 or 3 decades old, where people are essentially role playing and they can be role playing relationships within a family or within a business or within whatever grouping you want. And there’s quite a lot of care taken in the stepping in and the stepping out, so you don’t continue to be great Uncle Arthur, who lost a leg in the war and you’re walking lame. I have a friend who ended up playing somebody’s aunt and halfway through the constellation, she fell over and couldn’t get up. And it turned out that the old lady was, in fact, paraplegic, had got a back injury and my friend was literally unable to move until the end when when the role ceased and and the letting go happened. So I’m wondering, is this applicable in this case? It may not be, but do you get people going home and being plane trees in the living room or do you have a ceremony towards the end where they cease to be in role?

Ruth: We do this very carefully. We have a connecting ritual at the beginning whereby people come into character and then at the end we have quite a long bonding ritual to enable people to shed their characters. But we do invite people to hold on to any seed of their character that they want to hold on to. So they’re doing it mindfully. I really carry quite a lot of dog inside me now and I learn quite a lot from Chewy, the dog, which is who I am.

Manda: It would be so interesting for you to be something else. Next time, be the squirrel, see what it feels like. It’s not my business, but it would be very interesting. You said right at the beginning this was called Nordic LARPing. First of all, why? And second, does that kind of structure, is it set down somewhere? Has somebody evolved this as a thing? Or is it just that you happen to learn it from somebody Scandinavian and it’s gained that as a title?

Ruth: It’s an amazing practice. It’s massive in the Scandinavian countries and there are gatherings and conferences and there’s books written on it. It’s like a kind of peer produced practice that comes from tabletop roleplay back in the 70s. I don’t know when Nordic Larp really took off, but the things that I’ve been reading have really been written since I think 2011. And there’s just this enormous flowering of essentially a kind of participatory improvised theatre, that is just using all these different techniques. And people are constantly innovating new ways to kind of make this work. It’s very, very fascinating and powerful.

Manda: I think I might have a new obsession that sounds absolutely great. Definitely. And so given that, do you have people when you said they take the seeds home, who’ve returned across the three and come back to be a plane tree again or come back to be a Canada goose or a squirrel or grass next time? Is that a thing?

Ruth: Yeah, we’ve had a few people who’ve played all three iterations and a number of people who’ve played the two iterations. People tend to be loyal to their species, because in the process you just learn really a lot, really fast and then you understand all the other stuff there is to explore. I mean, that’s the other thing. It’s a little bit nerve wracking sometimes talking about this, because you talk about the things that happen and the things that you learn, but actually what is so fascinating about this process is how you become aware of everything you don’t know. So it’s an incredibly humbling process. Together, you gain a very strong shared understanding of everything we’re not attending to all the time, everything we can’t know. All the ways there are of being that we can just sense, or have an idea about, but how true they are we can’t really ever know.

Manda: Yeah, but I imagine it feels to me, just talking to you, that there’s a lot of energetic stuff going on here. And in the shamanic work, what you’re doing borders very closely to the shamanic work that we do. And there are definitely connections that happen with the web of life that are way, way beyond where our heads think we’ve been. And given that’s the case, I’m thinking, with the shamanic work we encourage the students, clearly you can never police this, but it’s a good idea when you go home to not talk about it for at least a week after you’ve been away.

Ruth: Oh interesting

Manda: Because it’s an unfolding process. However much we do a clean, clear closing ceremony so that you’re safe to drive home, you’re not still lost in some alternate reality, it is still an unfolding process. And as soon as you start to talk about it, your head minding it and you fix it and it becomes the story that I tell you about myself, instead of the thing that is still evolving. And so that leads me to wonder how far apart were these three? And the people who came to the three, I’m thinking they’re in a very different space by the end of that. And you, you’ve been a dog three times in a row, in a relatively tight space of time. And that knowing that you were going to do all three, it becomes effectively a month long immersion. Yes?

Ruth: I mean, for me, it’s been a three year immersion, weirdly. Because we have been devising these things in character. Actually, I forgot, we had a couple of people who played more than once over the two weekends. We had someone play three times in a row. So lots of quite different states of immersion. Some people never get there.

Manda: Of course

Ruth: Like some people just stay there, using their intellects to understand what’s going on. And it can be quite uncomfortable, because it’s quite silly. Like a lot of the things we did feel very silly in a public space.

Manda: And there’s a tipping point. I think if you’ve got more than a certain number of people who just don’t get it and are head minding it, it makes it quite hard for the rest. So you have to have not too many of them, but fortunately they are not going to come back I think.

Ruth: No, exactly. But yes. That thing of people being immersed over a long period of time, I mean it’s very magical for us as the hosts and devisors of this, because they bring so much back. It’s real gold for us.

Manda: Brilliant. And just before we go on to the treaty, I still haven’t got clear. Is this a full weekend? Do you turn up on a Friday evening and go to Sunday afternoon or is it a day?

Ruth: Why don’t I just talk you through very quickly what happens and then you’ll have the full picture.

Manda: Yes, please.

Ruth: Okay. So people turned up at 12:30 in the Parkview Cafe at Finsbury Park. We have a cup of tea. People get a lot of instructions. They sit in their species groups and they share what they’ve learnt about them and what they know about the life of these species in the park. We do a little bit of grounding work and then we step out with our costumes with us. Before we enter the old forest we have this bonding ritual. There is the Multi-sensory Mystery tour where we look at the beauty spots of the old forest through this audio tour from the tree and the squirrel and the dog. Then we sing a lament, which is to do with everything that we are losing and everything that has been lost. Then we move to the new forest where we discuss human harms. We sing the protest, and then we do this meditation where we get into our more than human bodies. And then after the meditation, we prepare to party. We move across to the Wildflower Meadow, which every day is an interspecies festival in the Wildflower Meadow. And there we learn to sing the last song, which is a celebration of poo. Which is essentially a celebration of all the excreta which then become the nourishment for all the different creatures. And we play a game of Pass the Poo parcel, which is a seven layered parcel with treats for people to feast on if they are the right species.

Ruth: So honey produced by the bees to be eaten by other species or wood bark to be eaten by the beetles. And then there’s some dark things in there of course. There’s meat that can be eaten by the dogs as well, or dog poo that can be eaten by the grass. So this was very silly, very fun. By this stage, everyone’s just all. We sing this celebration of poo song as our pass the poo parcel music. And it’s vegan for humans, so we’re creating things like bird poo and dog poo from different kinds of vegan comestibles for people. And then after this, whoever wins the game of pass the parcel wins the Sentient style medallion, and they get to lead the procession to the gallery. They get to choose which song we’ll sing. And then we walk through this very formal American garden, where there’s always a lot of people sitting and we’re in full costume. We’re singing, I think all but once we were singing the protest song, which is quite strident. And then we hear about the treaty at the gallery and then we de-role, go back, have a cup of tea, mellow out, talk about what just happened, how did that feel? And then we talk about the treaty and prepare to vote. And then we finish. Everyone gets to go home at about 5:00. So it’s a long day, but people stayed, which means something’s happening.

Manda: Yeah, totally. Yes, it sounds fantastic. So this is a good time then to talk about the treaty and how it’s evolving and what you plan to do with it and where it’s going. And you can tell us a little bit about quadratic voting while we’re here.

Ruth: Okay. So we started this project four years ago with the title The Treaty of Finsbury Park, and it came from a shared belief I had with Cade Diem, who was the person we co conceived of this with. Which was that so many of the troubles that we are now in, in terms of our relationship with the environment and the climate, are to do with our sense of human exceptionalism and how that then unfolds for all kinds of colonial power structures, how infrastructures are made, how management structures. All organised to dominate life forms, to see life as a resource, as a series of assets, all of this kind of stuff. So the Treaty of Finsbury Park was originally conceived as a one day event where we would make a treaty that kind of like pointed at this and proposed something else. But this idea really took a hold of us and we wanted to dig in. So four years later, we’ve done all of these larps and through the assemblies that we ran, which were a kind of combination of, again, reflecting on harms, causes of harms and then devising festival activities to really showcase our cultures as different species. We gathered through those a set of minutes where we were presented with a set of problems and we started to be able to see causes of problems. And then we’ve been together talking about what strategies there are for mitigating against these. So when we have finally agreed upon the treaty, it will go as a hoarding on the side of the gallery and people will be invited to scan it.

Ruth: They will receive messages from the different species and then they will be invited to take a pledge for Bountiful biodiversity in the park. But before then, we need to decide what goes in the treaty. And where we’ve got to now, is a series of seven proposals that need to be prioritised. So it’s not about just choosing which one we decide to focus on, but working with people to decide where our priorities and where our emphasis should lie. Would you like to know what the proposals are? Would that be helpful? Okay. So we have a variety of things that are already very well known strategies, like pollution reduction. And each of the proposals is championed by a different species. So the geese champion pollution reduction, because they are the ones who end up with a bunch of plastics in their bellies and it does them no good. It does terrible things to others as well. And of course there’s air pollution that affects everything. The other more well known strategies are things like native planting. So this is proposed by the grass and it’s native planting and biodiversity. Those two things go together, because native planting actually supports the thriving of biodiversity, because things grow more easily.

Manda: And presumably you can have a no mow policy within that as well, because if you stop mowing the grass it gets a chance to grow to its genetic potential and you find what you’ve got in the seed bank. It’s extraordinary.

Ruth: Exactly. And we’ve had some very good park rangers in the park. So a lot of these suggestions have come, like Rickard really informed a lot of the conversations we had around this stuff. The Wildflower Meadow basically is a no mow meadow. So we gathered around the edges of that and they’ve been looking after this no mow meadow now for about three years and you can really see the effects of it. It’s great. So we have that. We have citizen science. This is a very important one in Finsbury Park, because ongoing antagonism with the council who are basically hiring the park out as an asset to large corporate festivals. So another one has just happened and it’s quite cynical what’s going on there. So they put out this bit of PR claiming to be myth busting and in their myth busting they said the myth is that festivals do harm to the wildlife.

Manda: Which is self-evidently true.

Ruth: And then the fact that they present against this myth is that there is no evidence to show that the wildlife is harmed.

Manda: That’s because we haven’t looked.

Ruth: They have been sitting on a biodiversity plan for the last couple of years, because they don’t want to know, because they want to sign up.

Manda: This is a strategy, I have to say, it’s not alone to them. When I was a vet and BSE was going rife, there was a whole thing in the government going we have found no BSE in the deer populations of the United Kingdom. And we’re going that’s because you have very deliberately not looked, because there will be riots if you start shooting Bambi’s mother. It’s just oh dear.

Ruth: So citizen science is really important here and it can play a really important role in Finsbury Park. So monitoring that is actually a very kind of functional, powerful strategy.

Manda: Who’s pushing for that? Who’s advocating?

Ruth: It’s the bees.

Manda: Oh, yes, of course, yes.

Ruth: Then we have the trees advocating for park personhood, which would mean the park would have legal rights. Like the right not to be abused and damaged by humans. So if it’s rights were violated, a kindly human lawyer could then ensure reparations were paid. So this is taking from the more general rights of life movement, rights of nature movement. And then we have a cultural collaboration promoted by the squirrels. So this is more of the same of what we’ve been doing. Obviously this is quite close to my heart, for regular creative expression of all the interspecies cultures in the park. It’s this idea that all living beings actually have culture. It feels like a very powerful realisation. Like courting rituals, foraging techniques, tool use, habitat creation. Humans aren’t the only ones that do this, and they aren’t the only ones who have unique forms of expression that happen in different localities. I just feel it’s much harder to harm beings when you have so much stronger sense of all that they are and what matters to them, essentially. 

Manda: Yes. Absolutely.

Ruth: And then the final two are the Beetles are promoting a do no harm policy. So this for me feels like Jainism and Zen Buddhism. It’s like a ‘don’t just do something, sit there’ kind of policy, which can work probably very strongly. And then finally the dogs are promoting the zoo operative, which is an innovation in cooperative structure, which puts humans and other species working together for a circular economy. So in the park, humans can make non-extractive exchanges with the natural world. So for example, if humans want to party in the park, they can pay for it directly by planting and caring for forests of saplings or providing other species health care services or something. So we’ve got things that are very local, very specific.

Ruth: Those are our seven proposals. We have a quadratic vote open to all people who played this. That is going to be our first round of prioritisation. Then we’re probably going to have a couple of months where we open this up wider. But the voting is location weighted as well as quadratic. So it means that people who live near the park have a much stronger say in what goes into the treaty.

Manda: And from an interested in how we organise democracy point of view, how are you assessing their living near to the park? Because I could say I live near to you and actually I live in Shropshire. Are you monitoring this in some way?

Ruth: So the quadratic voting app, which is called Culture Stake, uses a location. It uses your location information to know how far you are from the location of the vote.

Manda: So if I come and sit in Finsbury Park and vote, does it think that I’m there? 

Ruth: Then you’re fine. I think that’s legit as well. If you get yourself there, then your vote should be worth more.

Manda: From a point of view of looking at general surveillance, you’re not actually checking my home address or where I hang out most of the time. Actually that would be quite scary.

Ruth: So a really important part of our app is that we hold no personal data. So we get your data from you in a way that means that we know that you’re a unique individual. When you ask for your voting token, that’s when we take your location and then that’s all we have. We have your location and your unique identifier, so that we’re very much not surveilling people.

Manda: Brilliant. I would like to come on to the theory and practice of quadratic voting in a moment, but I’m interested in looking down this list of seven concepts in the treaty. There is an underlying value system that underpins all of them, and I think it’s more than do no harm. It’s become aware of systemic nature of things and do whatever you can to enhance things without having unintended consequences, which is essentially what systemic thinking is. And I’m wondering, we’re two years away from this actually voting and it’ll be very interesting to see where that goes. I would definitely want to talk to you again before then. But of the people who’ve taken part in the festivals or in the assemblies before, are you seeing changes in behaviour in and around the park or are you monitoring any changes in general behaviour? Are people more aware of the climate emergency or are they more aware of the biodiversity crash, of the nature of pollution and effluent and general waste? Is any of this filtering out already?

Ruth: It’s hard for me to know. Let’s admit that. I can suppose and I can say what I notice. So we notice increasing activism in the park led by specific groups, like the Park Friends, like the very fantastic Edible Landscape. So this is a volunteer group that does permaculture, forest gardening and we meet regularly every month to do planting and to care for new forests and things like that in the park. But I think, maybe like everywhere, but certainly there is a sense of increasing stress and strain on the human communities in the park that then is in direct tension. Because when people are under a lot of stress, they’re more likely to become protective of their own well-being and less connected to those around them.

Manda: Basic neurophysiology. Yeah.

Ruth: So I just see this kind of double thing happening. And what we’re trying to do is just to kind of keep this thing open and to keep some softness in the situation and some playfulness and a situation where people are invited to gather and think in different ways.

Manda: Which is genius.

Ruth: You know, you never know with art what it does. 

Manda: You can’t do the controlled trial, but it is impossible to be in sympathetic overload when you’re being playful.

Ruth: Yes, exactly.

Manda: They are neurophysiologically incompatible. And I think you said that people found that sense of dropping into a new level. And I imagine and we would have to test this, but that’s their sympathetic system going offline a bit and their parasympathetic coming online and the energetic, shamanic, whatever we call it, connectedness to the web of life kicking in. Which also I think cannot happen when we’re in sympathetic overload.

Ruth: So many people said they come to the end of the event and they’re just in a very different condition. And it’s a better condition. You know, they’re alert and energised. You know, like we’ve just done 4.5 hours of quite energetic, quite hard things. And if you end that with more energy than you started, then I think there’s something interesting going on there.

Manda: It’s flowing through. You’ve got the wider gaze, you’ve got all of the parasympathetic things happening. What would be really interesting if there were funding for it, would be for you to be able to run regular workshops to help people Reaccess that. Because then I imagine the ripple effect of that. If you go back to your family and you can hold that sense of being a plane tree, even of being a squirrel with its chaotic action, but a grounded, connected squirrel; you’re family is going to resonate differently. And if you have a community where there are several dozen, I don’t know what the tipping point is, but we would find out quite quickly. Then you would begin to get change. I mean, you’ll get change anyway, but you would begin to get really quite dramatic change.

Ruth: It’s so interesting. So one of the things I’ve thought about a lot and haven’t talked about that much, because it’s frustrating, right? Finsbury Park is used by 50,000 people a week on average, over the year. That’s a lot of people. I dream of having the resource for there to be interspecies cultural centres, where we can do this work on a regular basis. People can can come back. It becomes a kind of a practice that people create and grow together. It’s like using all of our imaginative powers. But I’m really interested to see what happens. We’re planning on running some projects here in Felixstowe, and Felixstowe has a population of 22,000 people. And it’s going to be a very different thing running these kinds of events in a place where you can possibly count more on having people come back and repeat. So I’m very interested in this thing you’re talking about, actually.And discovering what you can do.

Manda: Yes. And you’re on the sea. You’re on the edge of East Anglia in a way. It’d be very different experience, you’ve got half the number of people in the whole town than you get in Finsbury Park in a week.

Ruth: Exactly.

Manda: So the tipping point is a lower total number of people.

Manda: Well, there we go. That’s it for this part. The bonus is coming up straight after. So, as they say in radio, please stay tuned. If this is your break for a while, then let’s take this moment to thank Ruth for everything that she is and does. I am so inspired that this level of creative thought and energetic integrity is happening on the streets of our capital or in the parks of our capital, probably better to say. It’s so wonderful that people are having the connection to the web of life made so real. And I have to believe that this is going to change the way things are. And then, assuming you do stay tuned, we’re moving on into the bonus where we take this into the heart of government. Awesome.

Manda: So just as an ending to this, thanks to Alan Lowles of Airtight Studio for the production, for wrestling yet again with my technical incompetence. Alan, I am so sorry, but also so grateful. Thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. Thanks to Faith Tilleray for creating our amazing YouTube channel. Please go and subscribe. And for the person who asked me how to give us five stars and a review. Yes, that’s a good thing also. I only know how to do this on Apple Podcasts, I haven’t tried it on anything else. I don’t think I even have the capacity to try it on anything else. First of all, it’s easiest on your phone. They make things really hard on the desktop app, so don’t even try.

Manda: But if you go to your phone, go to library, go to shows, click on Accidental Gods or indeed any other podcasts that you want to review, because it’s it’s good and they like it. You just scroll down. The bit where you’ve got the image at the top and then it’s got latest episodes in black and then all the episodes underneath. You just scroll down to the bottom of that and there’s a capacity to give ratings and reviews and we’re always really grateful. I hate asking for this. It just feels so tacky, but it makes an extraordinary difference to the algorithm. It’s the only way they know that you like us and if you like us, other people might like us. And then they share it and then we get more listeners. I still think word of mouth is by far the best way to go, but I guess algorithms don’t hurt. Anyway, that’s what you do. And while I’m still thanking people, thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts and as always, thank you to you for listening. And word of mouth, as we said, is the best way of getting this out. So if you know anybody else who would be inspired by the interspecies treaty of Finsbury Park, by all that’s being done with live action roleplay to help people to engage with the living web of life, then please do send them this link and then go off and listen to the bonus one. I will see you there and again next week. Thank you and goodbye.

Bonus Episode

Manda: Hey, people. Welcome to this bonus conversation with Ruth Catlow of Further Fields. This is the part where we dig really quite deeply into quadratic voting on the blockchain. What it is, why we might want to use it, how we use it, how we use it in interspecies collaboration and the Treaty of Finsbury Park, but also how we might use it in the wider context of our democracy. Because if you’re listening to this podcast, I am assuming it’s a given that our democracy is broken and anything that we can do to make it better is going to be a good thing. So quadratic voting on the blockchain is part of that. And then we move on to taking Live Action roleplay into the heart of government. Yes, really. Actually. Really. And I apologise in advance to any tech bros listening; we did not mean to traduce all of you. We both just been a bit bruised with contact with some people who might come under that rubric recently. And I’m sure there are wonderful healing regenerative people who are tech bros. I want that very clear at the start. I don’t think there’s anybody wonderful regenerative and healing who is trying to monetise the apocalypse. I want that also clear at the start. So here we go for our bonus podcast.

People of the Podcast, please welcome Ruth Catlow Further Fields delving deep into variable voting systems. Okay, let’s just talk about quadratic voting because I find it fascinating. The whole concept of different voting methods than put your cross in the box and we’ll add up whoever’s got the most crosses wins. Which is manifestly not working in our culture. So we’ve got the Treaty voting coming up in 2025. I kind of imagine it’s going to evolve quite a lot between now and then and I really want to talk to you in the interim, and I definitely want to talk to you when it’s happened. But in between, you’re going to use quadratic voting. And I find that really exciting as a concept, as something that is being used around the world and as a way of changing our perception of what voting is, how it works, and how we can better assess the views of a well-educated population. So tell us why you chose quadratic voting, what you’re doing with it. Tell us a little bit about your app, because that sounds really exciting. Anything and everything that you find useful about quadratic voting, provided it doesn’t take another hour. And if it does, we’ll we’ll make it into a bonus podcast.

Ruth: Okay, So we made Culture State. Culture State was a response really to the shock of Brexit and to the inadequacy of this kind of one person, one vote system, that could lead to the tyranny of the majority. So maybe you have a majority vote and then this gets imposed on everybody, but we don’t know how much people really cared about the thing they voted for, how much they had at stake. Especially in the case of Brexit, whether people really understood what they were voting for, all of these kinds of things.

Manda: I think we can safely say that nobody had the faintest idea what they were voting for, to be perfectly honest.

Ruth: So what we wanted to make with the Culture Stake app, which is an app for quadratic voting on the blockchain and we made it for collective decision making, about cultural activities or cultural events in places that people care about. What we wanted to do was to make a way for people to say not only what was important to them, but how important it was to them. Like how strongly they felt about it, and to be able to tell us what was important about it. So it’s like basically putting a whole lot more information into a system. So what quadratic voting allows you to do, basically it gives people a budget of voting credits. And so people can then express not only their preference but the intensity of their preference. So the way the voting is allocated, you are incentivised to spread your votes. So to be very thoughtful about what really means most to you. So it puts you into a much more reflective mode when you’re making a vote. we have a couple of other layers in our app, so we always ask people not only what they want to prioritise and how strongly they feel about it, but also what was most important about this vote. Like why is this the most important thing? And something you said earlier reminded me of something that’s very important to us in the app that we’ve created. Is understanding why people are making the choices they’re making, and this feels especially important in relation to questions about climate change and biodiversity harm. I think sometimes people feel most intensely around things that they feel they can have the most impact on. So the second round of our questions, when we were asking them to choose between these seven proposals, we then said, why was that your priority? Why is this the most important thing? And we gave them a range of options and these included like it’ll make the most difference. It’ll have the greatest impact on biodiversity in the park. This idea that if this happens, then it will have the best impact. But then we went into things that were more personal, like it has the most direct impact on my community or it’s something I feel I can easily commit to helping with. So we start to get into matters of the questions of where people feel they have agency. And I think that this is what we’re trying to open up with our app, is an internal reflection and then a wider discussion about where people feel they have agency.

Manda: Okay. I can feel this is going to end up being a bonus podcast. Because this opens up huge numbers of avenues. One of the really big concepts that we work with in shamanic work and if we’re particularly looking at the capacity of humanity to set intentions, which I believe is one of our most powerful capacities if we understand how to hone it, is that often where we fall over is in limiting ourselves by what we can imagine. So we aim for something (biodiversity in the park) and then we limit our route to get there because we can see something that works. And what we aren’t seeing are the infinite number of other possibilities that we haven’t thought of and therefore we don’t know about our agency. And so we narrow everything down. And that seems to me the existential problem of humanity. We can’t see an obvious way through to ending the climate and biodiversity emergency. And so we don’t start because we haven’t mapped a route through. Instead of going, okay, this is where I want to get to, I’m going to do everything that might get us in that direction and and we’ll see what works as we emerge through the process.

Ruth: This is everything that LARPing is for. So voting sits inside it, but the larping is to set this wider, to get to unimagined possibilities. We’re basically rehearsing a situation in which we really genuinely care about the highest well-being of all living beings. And then we put ourselves in that situation. We rehearse it, we play it. It’s like a kind of prefigurative politics. Then we vote, when we have this slightly more expanded sense of what’s possible. Thank you. You’ve just described to me what we’re trying to do.

Manda: Okay. And so people are voting while recently in role or actually still in role?

Ruth: No, it was one step too far. But they have to have played the game before they can vote. So they’re drawing on that lived experience. Yeah.

Manda: Wouldn’t it be a really interesting controlled trial, just for interest to do the vote while in character and then wait a month and do it again? Six months do it again. A year, do it again, and to see how it changes.

Ruth: I would love to do all of these things. Yeah.

Manda: What we need though, obviously is the whole of our political structure to be LARPing. Wouldn’t that change? It would change so much. You would not be machine gunning migrants in the channel if you had larped as a boat, as the sea, as the whales, as the people.

Ruth: Well, it’s an interesting proposition because I think we could probably see the storming of the Capitol by Trump as using an awful lot of LARPing techniques. So unfortunately, these techniques are super powerful and they can be used, they can be used in very many harmful ways as well as for progressive change. They can be used to loop people into something where they feel like they’re playing a game but actually it’s real politics. I feel like there’s a really weird, dangerous bleed between these two spaces. It’s sitting on the edge of some of this stuff actually. I think one of the things the progressive left struggles with is this idea that we are rational, we are serious, we will do the intellectual work and we’re losing all these different dimensions of possibility for organisation and ways of being by being so rigid, actually.

Manda: Whereas the right has no problem with that. And actually it kind of pushes their agenda. But before we came on air, you were saying that you had taken some of this into aspects of government. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Ruth: Yeah. So actually the person or the people who I did my first ever more than human LARP with, Sara Heitlinger and Lara Houston, these guys I worked on back in 2019 called Now London is a city farm. And we took as our scenario then that there’d been a food crisis and the whole of London had been turned over to a more than human food commons. And we held two assemblies which were multispecies assemblies to discuss the sharing of resources. So these guys who I worked with before, recently we’ve just devised and run a new small, little micro LARP that we ran with DEFRA Future’s lab, looking at more than human interest and the uses of data in waterways. So we know we have a terrible problem with waterways at the moment. And it was really exciting for us. The other thing that is a big deal at the moment as we know, is AI. And so DEFRA were really interested in ways that we might think about uses of data and different sensor arrays, from the more than human realms, to better understand and to act in the interest of other species, in setting policy around waterways. So this is very interesting to us, right? So when we ran our LARP, we ran it with water catchment partnerships with people from Arup and a variety of data scientists. So these are people who are dealing with engineering, architecture.

Manda: What’s Arup?

Ruth: It’s a very large engineering and urban design company. I think it’s a multinational. It’s one that is working at quite a high level endeavour somehow.

Manda: And for people not in the UK, DEFRA is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 

Manda: I have to say I am somewhat gobsmacked that the current government is doing something that doesn’t sound wholly destructive. They must be doing it under the radar. I bet the actual people in actual, you know, the cabinet, have no concept that this is going on or they would have shut it down. But how are you getting more than human input to the AI?

Ruth: Again, this is an area I think we need to be very careful. I’m not entirely comfortable about this, but the area of experimentation is looking at the different forms of data, sensing arrays that different creatures have in the river, like carp or the algae or the mayfly, and looking at how you might stream that data. Like if you could collect that data, how you would stream it to better understand the ecosystem. Like the waterways ecosystem.

Manda: Oh I can already foresee total horrors! The carp sensing system that we currently know about. But also the first thing, the big red flashing light in my head is: we already know an awful lot of the damage that’s been done and they’re not stopping it. And so spending an amount of government money on finding fancy new ways of getting inputs to tell us what we already know, seems to me like missing the point or kicking the can into the long grass. Okay, Big deep breath. That’s a whole other other thing.

Ruth: Yes. Okay. So we had a situation in this little micro Larp about more than human waterways, where essentially the problem of an AI company that wanted to use the data from the carp or the algae or the mayfly, the issues of the exploitation and commercialisation of that kind of really came to the fore. And different characters were challenging the person who was playing the CEO of this company. So the CEO of the company is like, Yes, we can gather all this data. It’ll be for the good of all. We can improve the waterways. And then we hear of concerns about surveillance, exploitation, in whose interest? Who gets to say how this stuff is used? And then this deep discomfort opens up actually for everyone, but it’s held by the character who is playing the kind of head of this company. And that then becomes a really important topic for discussion at the end of the LARP.

Manda: My goodness, Yes, because we’ve just encapsulated predatory capitalism and its impact on the web of life and the biosphere and the biophysical realities in one LARP. So questions arising from that. Was the person playing that company actually from a company that might do this? Are they going to go back and feed back to their peers? Or basically probably get sacked. Because if you’re a tech bro and you suddenly stop being a tech bro, you’re probably going to lose your job.

Ruth: Okay. So we’re one of the things we are maniacal about is care. So we really look after our players. We’re very careful not to put people in harm’s way if we can possibly help it. For this one we were swapping people into roles, where we knew that they would have enough information to play the role because of who they were. But no, we wouldn’t do that unless we had spoken to the person before and told them what to expect. But we did have people who do have people who are playing those kinds of roles within their companies. It’s like making these conversations visible amongst a group of people who will be needing to deploy various arguments in a professional setting. So it’s giving us lots of arguments and ways to think about the argument in a systemic way that I think is useful.

Manda: Absolutely core to where we are at the moment. So I’d like to really dig into this if we can. So you have people from a potential ‘let’s monetise the apocalypse’ company. If they’ve entered into this at the depth that you described in Finsbury Park, they’ve got a real neurophysiological understanding then of the web of life, that we could possibly suppose they didn’t have beforehand. Although that is protecting my assumptions of tech bros rather. But let’s assume that they gain access to a level of awareness they didn’t have before. They also feel the discomfort in the room. I’m guessing in feedback afterwards that’s not a comfortable place to be. What can we give them to help them take that back to a company, where other people in the company have not had that experience and at an intellectual level are not going to get it? I imagine, because people who live in their heads don’t get it.

Ruth: So in this particular LARP, we didn’t have a tech bro. We had people working in policy who were constantly in conversation with tech bros, so they know that world. So in a way they are being capacitated to think in new ways about that relationship, which I think is quite interesting. How we might run that process if we knew we were working with Tech Bros, I now feel a bit mean about describing them as tech bros, but they do kind of exist.

Manda: So we’re using this as a filler for let’s call them ‘monetising the apocalypses’, because that’s what they’re doing is, you know, the world is falling apart, we’re in the middle of the sixth mass extinction, but it’s a great opportunity.

Ruth: Yeah, exactly. So what are we doing for them? I think we’re capacitating individuals to see things from different perspectives. And also, by working in partnership with DEFRA for instance, even though it was a small thing these processes then are validated in a way that means that they can be taken seriously in different settings. And I think that that is super important and the value of that isn’t to be underestimated.

Manda: Yeah, because as you said, if the assault on the Capitol on the 6th of January was a kindof a LARP in action, we don’t want that to happen again. But it would not hurt for the current cabinet, for instance, to do some LARPing in which they were carps and other bits of river and understanding what it is to have 300,000 episodes per year of water companies dumping raw sewage into the river. And if one part of government has got to, hey, this is a good thing, because we were being pejorative about tech bros and I don’t want to be similarly pejorative about civil servants, because I’m sure some of them are really fine human beings. But some of them quite clearly operate from the neck up only, and they’re not in any way connected to the web of life. They have no energetic or intellectual understanding, as far as I can tell, and anything that we can do to bring that in to be part of the way that they work. The one thing that flashes as a red light quite quickly, is I have a friend who trained to be a life coach in one of the big publishing houses in the UK, and had to stop because every single individual that they life coached ended up leaving the company. Because you get to the end of, you realise you’re working for something that’s part of the problem, not part of the solution and wouldn’t you rather be doing something else? And my feeling is that quite quickly either government changes radically, or the people who have become connected to the web of life and have begun to see things differently have to leave, because they’re emotional and energetic Well-being is not compatible with the destruction of which they are a part.

Ruth: Yeah. I also think one of the strengths of things like the live action roleplay, which is this collective make believe, is that, okay we were talking pejoratively about categories of individuals, but actually when you play these games you’re constantly seeing the systemic problem and you’re actually always rising out of the individual perspective to some degree. So I think that is almost the most important thing, like alongside the connection with the web of life, which is what we’re doing specifically in the interspecies and more than human LARPing. But something about seeing our collective social construction as something that is malleable, that we can shape and that requires a more embodied, energetic process to do it. That’s actually quite a deep thing. And if we do it in groups with people who we trust, as well as people who we feel a bit edgy with, we can really learn a lot about how change happens and think about the kind of change we want to happen.

Manda: It feels like this really ought to be on the curriculum, if we’re going to create proper education for people. This needs to be on the curriculum and needs to be available to every town council and parish council. But just finally, back to the quadratic voting, you have your app. People vote on one of the seven. Just for people who are not familiar with quadratic voting, my understanding of it is that you are encouraged to spread your vote. You actually would be encouraged to give seven votes, one to each of the possible proposals because that would cost least. The basic principle of quadratic voting is that let’s say I have seven votes, if I give one to each, I have seven votes. But if I want to vote three times for biodiversity, that’s going to cost me perhaps three squared, which is nine votes, which is actually more than I’ve got. So it’s not as easy to pile all my votes, all my chips onto one counter.

Ruth: Let’s make the sums easier to imagine. So I think we have 49 voting credits, so seven squared and the seven options. So you can give all of your votes to one thing. But you could also spread your votes, so you could give seven things one vote and you would still have 42 votes left over, if I’ve got my maths right. So you pay one credit for one vote, four credits for two votes, nine credits for three votes. Do you see what I mean? So that’s the quadratic bit. 

Manda: It’s the Squared.

Ruth: It’s the squared.

Manda: It’s such a bad way of calling it because the quadratic equation is not just squaring something. If you put seven votes, seven squared is 49. If you put seven votes on biodiversity, if I’ve understood it correctly, that’s your votes used up.

Ruth: Yeah, that’s right.

Manda: But if you put three votes on biodiversity, you use nine votes, then you have 38 votes that you can use.

Ruth: Exactly. Yeah. So just for clarity, all of our proposals are pro biodiversity. So say you have park personhood, citizen science, native planning, cultural collaboration. So I might want to really push cultural collaboration. So I want to give it four votes. So that would then leave me with however many, that I can then spread more evenly. Or maybe I want to give it six votes and then it’s 36 votes and then I’ve got another 13 to spread across park personhood and native planting, for instance. So it means that you can say this is the thing I feel strongly about, but these things also probably have some relevance. So you can then get a collective sense of what is important to people, but people really have a chance to boost the things that they think are really important.

Manda: And to what extent do you have to educate people on the nature of quadratic voting? Or do you just do it in the app and they discover that they’ve run out of votes when they put seven onto Park Personhood and they don’t quite understand why? Because this is relatively complex if you’re not used to it as a voting system. And once you’ve got it, it’s straightforward. But getting it might take a bit of teaching.

Ruth: So we’ve spent quite a long time trying to make this app feel right. And we’ve discovered that what is important to us is that this is a very feely process. So we have sliders. It’s all done through the interface. We have a few little prompts. People don’t need to know anything about the maths behind it other than that if they spread their vote credits, they get more votes. But it’s all a question of what it feels like to make the vote is where we’re placing the emphasis. People can go and find out about it if they want, but it’s not necessary.

Manda: I’ll put a link to the wiki on quadratic voting in the show notes for people who are interested. And then you have a second layer of Why did you vote like this? Do you have a text box where people can just say something? Because I’ve always found even if you have 20 possible options, it’s going to be yes, but it doesn’t really fit in any of those. I just want to tell you why I thought personhood was really important.

Ruth: Maybe we should. But no.

Manda: It’s a lot of work then for somebody collating that and then trying to work out how to quantify it.

Ruth: Yeah, it’s a really interesting thing, this thing about voting, because you’re always you’re always dealing with this tension between granularity, like real specificity, and trying to get broad strokes. And also voting tends to become a bit of a shaping process in itself. So in the secondary questions that we ask, we’re revealing our own assumptions in the follow up questions that we have. And our assumptions are mainly around agency. Like it will have the greatest impact on biodiversity. It’s the thing I can do most easily. It will solve something that I’ve been particularly worried about for a while. You know, these kinds of things. So if other people want to do these experiments, go ahead and do it. Yes. The more the merrier. 

Manda: I’m having ideas. There are so many other questions I would like to ask about this, but I think that would be me going down my rabbit hole, so I think we should stop. Is there anything that you would like to say that you wanted to say, that would inspire you to say, as we close?

Ruth: I was listening on your prompt to the podcast you did about the South Devon primaries, and I thought that that was so interesting. And I really loved it. And there’s just this final, ss it is it something that is inspiring to me? No, it’s a question really. Something that is so functional about what they’re doing is this thing of bringing people together in a room to make decisions in the moment. So they bring their candidates in and then they have to make their case, everyone sits there together, they listen, they speak, and then they vote. It’s all done and dusted. Everyone’s together. They’re in a room. And these voting systems, like the quadratic voting that we’re using in culture State, we’re really trying to make sure that people have had the experience, the equivalent of getting people in a room. They do these LARPs or the activities around it. So we know that they have they’ve taken part before they get to vote. But there’s still this question for me about the difference between voting in the moment and voting online. And these digital voting systems, the more complex the voting system is, the more reliant it is on digital systems. And this is a question for me. So that’s my question at the moment: whether this is incommensurable, you know, the immediacy you get from in-person decision making and voting, or these systems that require complex processing in order to be able to make them work.

Manda: Are they necessarily mutually incompatible? If I tried to persuade South Devon Primary to take on your voting app and and use it, but also I think there’s a whole concept of cumulative voting where you can combine quadratic voting and do it over time. So today I vote, let’s say South Devon Primary and you’ve got three progressive parties. Today I voted Green. I then go to the next town hall because I’m enthusiastic. And I thought, hey, actually the Lib Dem this time and I weighted that slightly differently and the votes I voted last week are gradually deteriorating, flowing out of the bottom of the bucket in a way. So if I don’t vote green over the space of, let’s say six months, if I don’t ever vote Green again, those green votes are gone, basically. And so you have a capacity to engage over time and to spread your enthusiasm. I might hear something, they might say something completely different. Maybe the Lib Dem says, you know, I’m completely anti-abortion, for instance. I think I’m sorry, you’re not getting any more of my votes, but it’s too late because I voted for you last time and and I can’t undo that. But I can now, if we have it over time. But then we end up quite quickly I think, in a system, in politics, what you have at Finsbury Park is you’re giving people the LARPing experience so they can come back as often as they like and redo it. They’re really engaging. It’s somewhere where they live. The fact that they came along means they’re already engaged and you have educated them. I am increasingly worried about the uneducated nature. We saw it in Brexit. They plaster absolute outright lies on the side of a bus.

Manda: And then you have a first past the post voting system and then you don’t weight it in any way. My dad died six weeks after the vote, but hey, that’s fine. Whereas a 16 year old’s vote was not worth any different and in fact, 16 year olds weren’t allowed to vote and only a percentage of the population voted. So in fact, you end up creating huge cultural and political and democratic rift on the basis of actually 23% of the population having voted for something they didn’t know, and they can’t ever say they knew what they were voting for. How do we, I think, is a big question; How do we bring genuine education, not propaganda or feeding people our assumptions? I don’t want everyone to think like I do, but I want them to have a good grasp of what’s going on. That would mean politicians actually telling the truth and actually accepting that things are extremely complicated. I don’t know how we get around that. And it seems to me if we don’t get around that quite quickly, you know, the bus is going over the edge of the cliff. You and I are holding this conversation on a day when yet more extremely bad news about the climate apocalypse has hit the big screens. And yet there are still people on Twitter saying it’s entirely fake. And they believe that to be true. And it’s in their interests for it to be true. And actually, frankly, I would be really happy if they were right. I just really don’t think they are. Have you thought about this? Because you seem to me one of the people who who has likely thought about this.

Ruth: I think about it really a lot. I suppose the work I’m doing is my best answer to it. It is my best answer to it. It seems really off to one side. It’s a little bit curve ball, but like we’re trying to open up new worlds in the most powerful way we can, and you can’t hit every spot all at the same time. So I also leave work like the guys are doing at the South Devon primary to people who really know how to do that stuff well. Everyone needs to do the things that they’re good at, right?

Manda: Maybe not for this election, but if there is ever another election, then having quadratic voting as part of that process, if only to teach people that voting isn’t just about putting a cross in a box on a bit of paper.

Ruth: That there are other ways. That’s the kind of fundamental thing and that it’s worth experimenting with.

Manda: And you can get results that feel better to you. Because anyone who puts a cross in a box, either they’re doing it in a totally amygdaloid tribal nature of my site must win because I feel threatened and the other side must be annihilated. Which is, you know, medieval institutions, technology of Gods and our very, very primitive brains. Or you put your cross in a box knowing that you’re making massive compromises, but there is no other option.

Ruth: And quadratic voting and cumulative voting puts much more data into the system, that is far less susceptible to spin and interpretation by bad actors essentially.

Manda: We didn’t even get to discussing the difference between blockchain and Bitcoin and what it is. It’s been amazing. I’m so grateful to you for these conversations because they feel really alive and edgy and what you’re doing is extraordinary and we need to multiply it right across the country. So thank you very much indeed. And we will be back at some point, I’m sure.

Ruth: Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant.

Manda: Okay, so that’s us done. That was a bit of a marathon, but I really enjoyed that. Ruth is such an inspiring person. She’s so sharp, she’s so on the ball. She thinks really deeply and carefully about things that really matter, and then she makes them happen in the real world. It’s so inspiring. So I hope you found that as engaging and interesting and useful as I did, and that you want to run off and be part of the Treaty of Finsbury Park if you can get to it. I realise at least half of you are elsewhere in the world and coming to London might not be that easy, but you could do this locally. This is not a thing that has to be restricted to here. Clearly Nordic LARPing is a thing and I have put a link in the show notes to how you can get to know more about it. And the Culture Stake app exists. You too can do quadratic voting on the blockchain. And apart from the fact that this is interesting in and of itself, the more that we can introduce people to the concept that democracy is not about first past the post, that is not a democratic system. It is a recipe for the kleptocracy that we currently have. There are better ways of conducting democracy so that we actually connect with people and we still need to work out how to educate people such that what they’re voting for is what they think they’re voting for, not what they’re told they’re voting for. That’s a whole other conversation. But at least with this, we can begin to harvest genuine opinion. So rant over for this week. I hope you enjoyed it. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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