Episode #79 Behave More! Rebuilding Our World Differently with Alexandra Kurland
Imagine a world where we listen to the voices of the young as much as the old, the women as much as the men, all races, all abilities, all income streams – all species… where we honour difference, where compassion and empathy are our keynotes, not competition and separation. If this is the world we want, how do we get there? In this second of two parts, we explore the existential question of our time with behaviourist Alexandra Kurland.
Alex is a horse clicker trainer, behaviourist, classical rider – and convenor of the annual (now bi-annual) Science Camp that explores the art and science of positive reinforcement. She is host of the Horses for Future podcast, co-host of the Equiosity podcast, and author of The Click that Teaches and a whole host of other books and online courses about horse training.
In today’s podcast – the second of two – Alex and Manda continue to dive deeply into the fundamental question of our time – how do we bring people of widely disparate political views to a point where we all pull together to create a flourishing, generative future for people and planet?
We have the answers. We just need to see the possibilities and be emotionally and psychologically prepared to apply them. So this is a behavioural problem now, not a technological one. Which means it needs the brightest behavioural minds on the planet to begin to think about it.
And we can start now…
Manda: Last week, we began to unpick the interesting question of how we can change the behaviour of every human being on the planet on the basis that we have the technological solutions now. We have the ideas, we have the knowledge, we have the science, we know what it is that we need to do to bring ourselves away from the cliff. And yet we are all passengers in the bus that is hurtling towards the edge of the cliff and the various drivers are resolutely refusing to turn the wheel. And this now is a behavioural problem, if enough of us say that turning the wheel is essential, then the people who hold the wheel will either have to give it up or turn it. So we need to work out how to facilitate that. How to make it be the single most important thing that people do when they wake up in the morning is work out how do we persuade those who hold the levers of power to use them for our benefit? So that’s where we’re taking off now. How can we bring people together to create the ideas that we need and to put them into action? So people of the podcast, please welcome back for the second time, Alexandra Kurland.
Alex: When you get groups together, when you get these Citizens’ Assemblies together, that people soften at the extremes and move towards the middle.
Manda: The lived experience seems to be that if you create a Citizens Assembly, and 99 people seems to be the magic number, from really quite broadly across the political divide and gives them a chance to talk together, with people who are capable of mediating, I think that’s really key. Otherwise, they’ll just end up shouting at each other. But really Braver Angels was such an interesting and inspiring model of the social technologies that are available to help willing people find their common ground. And the key there is willing: you have to want to find common ground to do it. But most people think of themselves as decent, I think, and when put in a room, face to face with other people, provided they’re helped to do it, will give other people the benefit of the doubt. I think one of the great dangers of social media is the anonymization. Yes, you can be the the empty voice in the void. And one of the things I wanted to talk about is something.. I’ve been listening a lot to Tristan Harris’s podcast, Your Undivided Attention, because he was a graduate of the Stanford Digital Persuasion Laboratory. Such a thing exists. And then he went on to be part of Google’s ethics division and decided it wasn’t ethical, came out, formed the Centre for Humane Technology and is now really active. In looking at what the attention economy is doing, and how it can be different and what it’s doing in their view is creating behavioural change very rapidly by very small increments.
Manda: But because because we are bombarded by so much social media, those increments add up. So in the space of the 10 years of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve seen a substantial shift in human behaviour. And another 10 years of that, they reckon, will destroy democracy if Facebook and Twitter and the like don’t substantially change. And they are really working, I think, to help the people inside these big companies who want to change. And they are using every behavioural method they know, because the big companies have been using every known scientific behavioural strategy to harvest our attention. You know, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. And we don’t pay for Facebook and Twitter and WhatsApp and all the rest of it. And therefore, we are the product, and we’re beginning to see the breakdown of democracy that is the result of that. There was a very interesting conversation. He went to Washington to talk to the Senate Select Committee, and they recorded they played a bit from the last time where some senator asked Mark Zuckerberg. So, Mr. Zuckerberg, how does your business model work? Because you you don’t charge anybody.
Manda: And there’s this kind of stunned gap. And Zuckerberg goes, sir, we run ads. Oh, right. But this time, Ben Sasse, who is the chairman of the committee, was absolutely sharp. And they were beginning to ask the demigods of Facebook and Twitter and Google really searching questions about, you know, you say you’re cleaning stuff up and you’re moving these things that are notified. How long does it take? And the stuff that you’re removing, how much of that did you actually recommend to people before you took it down? So the questions are being asked. They may not be being answered and they may not be being changed because… because we live in a system where the end goal of almost everybody is to acquire more money.
Manda: This idea that we have created and then set as the goal is the more you have of it, the happier you will be. And it doesn’t matter how many studies are done proving that this is not the case, everybody still wants more. Because we’re hunter foragers. We evolved for millions of years where if you saw a bush of blackberries, it was a good thing to pick all the blackberries, and then go look for more. It’s really, really hard with our Palaeolithic brains to shift that. So if we take that as part of our repertoire is we like collecting stuff.
Manda: And if it’s multifactorial and it does lots of different things, then that’s an even better thing. We’re not going to change that. So how can we evolve the behaviours to want to be congenial, want to see the other side’s viewpoint and not necessarily have the accumulation of money as our only goal? Is that even possible?
Alex: Well, we certainly have to start asking for other different questions of people whose viewpoint is very different from ours. Because we need to really begin to understand what is the function of the behaviour? What is it that they are trying to create? What is the world that they envision leaving to their children? And what we may discover is that we’re living on such separate planets that, you know, who knows what the bridges are?
Manda: Well, you think? But I’m not sure that we are. Everybody wants their kids to grow up safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe. Nobody, I think, wakes up in the morning and wants their kids to grow up being abused and battered and robbed and raped and and left destitute and terrified. They may think that that’s what’s coming, because they have a worldview that tells them that’s what the world is building towards, but people want the world to be safe. And my observation of things is that the people that we cast as the other side can flip very fast. Concepts can change. So Russia, the Soviet Union, were the bad guys for the right. If you’d told somebody in Reagan’s time that there was absolute evidence that the president was effectively acting as an agent of the Russian state, there would have been absolute uproar.
Manda: And now the Russians are perfectly happy and they’re our friends. And, you know, they’ve got a good strongman and it’s all fine. And whether we believe either of those to be correct doesn’t matter. What’s interesting is the flip that something that was absolutely you know, they are definitely bad and now they are definitely good. So the flip is possible, it’s possible. To shift things really quite rapidly and totally diametrically opposed from where they were: black becomes white, white becomes black very quickly. And I think this is a function of the Palaeolithic mindset that. Our tribe is good, whatever our tribe does is good. It’s like the football fans of, we hate that guy when he plays for the opposing team, and then our team buys him, he wants to play for us, and he’s the best player in the world, and we love him. And that if that is a thing, then if we can create a narrative where a sense of flourishing is possible by…
Manda: Let’s suppose we create a third political party. I’m not suggesting that this is a good idea or even possible, but suppose we were able to do that, and create a narrative that stretched across left and right, that this was the thing that was going to bring everybody together. And everybody believed it and could see that it was workable. Then they would do it. I think people do what they think is going to work to keep themselves safe. What’s interesting and gets in the way, so I’m reading Michael Mann’s book, which is called The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet. And I’m only 22 percent of the way through. And it’s very slow, because it’s very dense, but I thoroughly recommend it. I am very much going to try and interview him on the podcast, because he’s really begun to look at the players behind the very deliberate wedges that have been driven into our society, who’s doing it and why they’re doing it. And he goes back to big tobacco and big oil, and the extent to which absolutely knowingly, they sowed uncertainty and division. Somebody at the front of their memo said ‘doubt is our main product’. And, you know, I try.. one of the things that I’ve learnt from you behaviourally is that you don’t go, you know, ‘Boris Johnson is a psychopathic, narcissistic five year old’, you say ‘Boris Johnson is displaying the behaviours of a psychopathic, narcissistic five year old’. And actually, he might be a perfectly fine human being. And manage to say that with a straight face! And so I’m thinking, OK, these people are not probably preternaturally evil, but they are displaying what would be, to me, preternaturally evil behaviours. Because ExxonMobil knew back in the 80s about climate change. Their senior scientists were writing then papers about what was going to happen and they went OK, so we’re going to make sure nobody ever believes that climate change is a thing. How can we do this best, and not just how can we make part of the population believe it doesn’t even exist, but how can we also create schisms amongst those who do? How can we create a class war, or a race war, within the people who believe in climate change so that they’re too busy fighting each other to have the momentum or the political will to do anything to us? And that’s been the really interesting thing, because I noticed at the start of… I’ll stop talking Alex, I promise. At the start of the pandemic, this time last year, you and I were quite hopeful because it looked like everybody was coming together. You know, people were helping each other out. Communities were really beginning to grow and grow cohesion.
Manda: And there was a genuine sense for about a month of solidarity. And then quite quickly, the social media tribal wars started between those who wore masks and those who didn’t. And those who believed that Covid was real and those who thought it was a fantasy. And one of the things that Michael Mann really highlights is the extent to which a bot farm, funded by – picking an actor at random, Russia – can totally swing an online conversation just by a few thousand tweets with a particular hashtag, so that they create a sense of the few aggrieved individuals who then think they’re part of a bigger mass, and then other people coalesce, because there’s security in numbers. And they’re very, very good at sowing division. It’s their job and they know how to do it. Yeah. So the people on both ends of what is quite a wide spectrum get dragged further away from a collegiate centre. And I’m not a centrist. I don’t think a political centre really is a great thing. But I am aware that if you bring enough people together, you get… and they are correctly coached and facilitated, you don’t necessarily get magnolia walls, but you get options that everybody, where everybody feels they’ve had a voice.
Alex: So that brings us back to the big picture of where are you going? What is it that you want? And what is it that would have commonalities? So what is.. it can’t be the specifics of: well, I want to live on Malibu Beach in California, with a sports car. So we’re not talking the specifics of a particular lifestyle, but what is it that you are envisioning? And I think one of the places where there is a divide… for me, one of the things that I value is the planet itself. Now the life that exists, he non-human life on this planet, is of equal value, or greater value, to the life of one species on this planet. And yeah, I know that there are people whose lives are even within the community in which I live, and where they have a suburban house with a green lawn and pretty trees out front, et cetera, et cetera. They are so divorced from the natural world, so divorced from it. So how do you bridge that world so that they’re, so that you’re not fearing it, and that you are embracing and desiring it. You know, when you think about climate change, if insects collapse, we’re done.
Manda: Yeah, and they’re collapsing very fast
Alex: And they’re collapsing very fast. And so. But. If you go into any hardware store, you will see all kinds of ways in which to kill insects. And we’re encouraged to kill them and we’re encouraged to look at them as a negative thing. I was just reading an article that someone sent me on Lyme disease, and these recommendations for how to keep, how to prevent your horses from being bitten by ticks. And so what they’re recommending is the complete opposite of what Dr. Doug Talami in the Home-Grown National Parks is recommending that we do. So he wants to support biodiversity. And so he’s saying things like, leave the leaf litter.
Alex: And in these recommendations, it will clean up all your litter. And then we have for the horses. I mean, this is very horse specific, but it’s just a good example. What we’re learning now is that the way in which we’ve been keeping horse pastures is not the healthiest for horses, and that when you have very short, overgrazed grass, that grass is stressed, and it becomes much higher in the kinds of sugars which are detrimental to horses. And we see a lot of laminitis hoof disease in horses. And we have to remove this grazing animal from grass, and say you can no longer eat grass. So in these recommendations, they’re saying, cut your grass short.
Manda: What? In 2021, they’re recommending horse owners cut grass short.
Alex: Yep. Yeah. So it’s these these disconnects. And yet they have a benign intent. Their benign intent is to help you reduce the number of ticks in your environment so that your horses will not get Lyme disease. Well, that’s a benign intent. And that’s a great example of how do we bridge these worlds. So we both want healthy horses. I want my horses to be healthy. I don’t want them to have Lyme disease. I also don’t want them to have laminitis. And I would also like to have the biodiversity that comes when you leave the leaf litter, when you allow the grass grow a little bit longer, so that you are not destroying the habitat for all of these different insects and birds and mammals, et cetera, et cetera. But you have to value that in order to.. You know, there has to be some part of you that says, this is a desirable thing instead of, ooh, insects, where’s my rake? Where’s my insecticide? You know, where are my ant traps? I can’t have ants in my house. So when I say there are these huge gulfs, you know, we all watch David Attenborough. So Jacques Cousteau took us under the the oceans, and and we saw a world that we had no idea existed. But when we hear about the corals dying, well, it’s very sad. But, you know, I still want to have my lifestyle, and and have my monoculture green grass out in front of my house, because, that’s what we have. So this is the piece of what is the big dream, and how can we… what is the big dream and what does it include? And when that big dream includes a healthy environment, what are the micro steps that get you to an appreciation of that without… and is it the only way that you get there is through fear? Through forest fires and disease, and places like Flint, Michigan, with the terrible problems with their water pipes and so on, and where they start to realise what it means to not have clean water?
Manda: Yeah, I don’t think, I think if we’re relying on fear,
Alex: Then we’ll never get there.
Manda: We will never get there. Partly because fear-based thinking reduces creativity. And that’s one of the polyvagal things. If you’re in sympathetic overload, you can’t be creative.
Alex: And it’s not the world that I want to live in.
Manda: It really isn’t.
Alex: Well, when I’m thinking about, you know, what is it that I would like to create? It’s not a world that is driven there by fear.
Manda: And also, we’ve got to somehow find a way of helping people to understand the complex problems are not solved in linear ways. Because mowing your lawn and clearing up your leaves is not going to create a tick-free world. And if you did create a tick-free world, the knock-on effects, the unseen and unimagined extraneous impacts are going to be unseen, unimaginable, potentially huge. You know, we live in complexity, not a complicated system. And I wonder… so the first thing that I think when I say that, is that our Palaeolithic minds are not designed to get to grips with complexity. But my shamanic awareness is that if we allow ourselves to inhabit a non-logical space, then the complexity becomes absolutely apparent. And so it seems to me a lot of the problem that we face is because we’ve given so much ascendancy, hegemony, whatever we want to call it, to our logical, reductionist, rational minds. And somehow we need to help people to find the parts of themselves that is not rational, but in a way that isn’t tribal and fear based. Because I think the whole QAnon phenomenon, fascinating though it is to watch, also terrifying, feels to me highly tribal, and absolutely thriving on terror. Yes, these people are genuinely, mortally afraid of the world we live in, and want to radically to change it, because that’s the only way they’re going to feel safe. So how do we create that sense of confidence and freedom and safety and security, and a way of moving towards resilience and joyousness and community? And connectedness, as you say, to the more than human world. What are the behavioural steps?
Alex: Of course, that’s always been for me the importance of the horse training, because the traditional way of looking at horses is very fear-based. That traditional horse training is very aggressive. It’s very punishment based. Because we’re working with a very large, very powerful animal at its core, we’re afraid of horses. And if somebody says, well, that’s nonsense, I’m not afraid of horses, I would say, well, you might not be afraid of the horse. But whoever taught you was, or whoever taught that person was, because look at the tools you’re using. You know, when you look at the bits that you’re using, and look at the whips that you’re using, look at the restraint devices that you’re using. And then we come along with our pockets filled with treats, and with marker signals, in this thing called clicker training. And we work with horses in a completely different way. And the motivators are: what drives behaviour is no longer fear. And we learn that we do not need to be afraid of this very large, very powerful animal, that we can gain, absolutely we can gain cooperation, we can gain connexion, we can gain an incredible relationship. And in the process of learning how to communicate with these horses in this non-verbal way, we are learning constructional training.
Alex: So we’re learning how, we’re learning this non-linear approach, that you’re not trying to directly solve a problem, that you are looking at the underlying components. What are the pieces that are needed? What are the skills that are needed? And if there’s something missing, let’s go create it. Let’s go find it. This planet is filled with brilliant people, so I don’t need to know the in-depth. I don’t need to be an economist. I can go find economists who can explain the world to me, and and can explain pension funds, and growth, and so on. And I can ask the two year old questions of, so what is that for? To get to that place of oh, that’s the function. That’s what we’re trying to get to. That’s what you’re trying to create with your pension fund. Well, are there six other ways that you can do it? Let’s think of three impossible things before breakfast. What are three other options, three different ways that we could go about achieving the same thing? Now we want, I like being able to turn on a light switch and have my room become bright enough for me to read in at night. I’ve gotten used to that. I like that.
Manda: Yeah, it would feel a real step back if we didn’t have that.
Alex: Yes. Yes. So I’m not prepared to live in a world where I’m walking around with with candles, and where the day ends when the sun goes down. Maybe I would learn to love it if that actually occurred. But I really have gotten used to the things that electricity gains me. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the electricity has to get to me via the burning of fossil fuels. Yeah, so, oh, and this whole thing of well, but we want jobs for people, so we don’t want, we’ve got to keep our coal mines open. Well, there are other jobs.
Manda: And, material question, what is the function of a job?
Alex: What is the function of a job? Exactly.
Manda: Because I think that’s a really big one. This idea that people have to have jobs. And if you drill down into that, there’s a whole belief system around: people need jobs for their self-worth, and that we can’t, for instance, have a universal basic income because people would lose the sense of self-worth they get from their job. But most jobs are actually a way of creating a community around a common task. And you can create communities around a common task that aren’t what we would currently call jobs, and certainly not involving sending people down coal mines or cobalt mines or fracking wells, which are horrendous places to work. We can create communities around a common task that give people a sense of self-worth and pride in their capabilities and craft, and we can pay them, and these two things don’t necessarily need to be hooked one to the other. That’s a relatively modern evolution and human development. I think uncoupling money from the things that we do with our time during the day, and the communities of purpose that we build, is really key to where we’re going. Sorry I interrupted your flow.
Alex: No, no, not a bit. Because it seems to me that part of what we need to be doing now is asking those two year old questions. What is this for? What is this for? Why do you want that? What is this for? And seeing where some of those two year old questions take us, what are the commonalities that grow out of it? So right now, there’s this big dispute in the United States. We want to get the economy back up and running, back to where it was: growing, growing, growing, and people can’t find enough workers. And so there’s clearly still people who are not employed. But now there are all these employers who are saying that we can’t find workers, and it’s because of the unemployment payments, and that we’re giving people three hundred dollars a week, and so that they’re choosing not to work. And this is a terrible thing. So there has to be an answer to those.. so what do you say when you have some people who say, I actually don’t want to work?
Manda: Well, I don’t want to work for seven dollars an hour, for 12 hours a day, without any bathroom breaks, with no pension rights and no health care. You might actually have to pay me a living wage for me to come work for you. And is that a bad thing? This is one of the interesting things, of if you give people a little bit of money, they get a sense of agency. And the people who really don’t want them to have agency are the people who’ve been exploiting them up until that point. You know, one of the great features of neoliberal free market capitalism is the creation of wage slaves, who voluntarily enter into a form of slavery. So breaking that would be a kind of nice thing, because very few people, I think, wake up in the morning and think, oh, that’s marvellous. I’m going to go and work in McDonald’s today. How happy am I? How about you have a sense of community around a common purpose? I struggle to see that one.
Alex: Right. I would agree with you. And yet that will be a huge barrier that you will run up against, at least in this country, people taking advantage of the system.
Manda: That’s an interesting one, this idea of taking advantage of the system. So money is an idea. We make it up out of nothing. Which system are you taking advantage of? This whole narrative, I mean part of it, you know, we can go back to blaming Reagan, Thatcher and the entire Chicago school for creating the narrative of a government being like a household or being like a cornershop.
Alex: And it’s that George Lakoff work of…
Manda: The different framings.
Alex: The different frames. Right. So what did he call that Patriarchal?
Manda: The strict father.
Alex: Yes. Thank you.
Manda: Versus the nurturing parent.
Alex: The nurture. Yes. And so in that strict father paradigm, if you are not working, you are taking advantage of the system, and you are taking my wealth.
Manda: Yes. There’s only a certain amount to go round. It’s apportioned, in theory, proportional to the ‘hard work’ that you do. Now you only need to look at the system to see that the people at the top are not working significantly harder than the people at the bottom. The hedge fund managers who get 600 million pound bonuses at Christmas are not working harder than the nurse on the ICU ward who’s nursing covid patients 12 hours a day, or even the people doing the vaccinations. I have a friend who’s part of the vaccine team around here, and they haven’t had a day off in eight months. And you’re not telling me that the hedge fund managers who get 600 million pound bonuses are working harder than that? Or that what they’re doing is more useful? And the nurses, and the people, some of these people are volunteers, and they haven’t had a day off in eight months. They’re doing it for nothing. I can feel myself ranting. I apologise to the podcast from my rant, but that whole argument does not stack up at the moment you begin to unpick it with anything. It doesn’t mean, though, that it isn’t…
Alex: That it isn’t…
Manda: Held as a very powerful belief system.
Alex: That’s right, because it doesn’t matter what the facts are, it matters what belief system. And that is a very powerful belief system, that out of which all these other things ripple, and influence the choices that people are making.
Manda: And the people who are making the six hundred million bonuses are actually their bosses, who are raking in far, far more. It’s just harder to see it. Are the people who then have the power to set in train the bot farms, and all the other systems that create the divisions that make sure that they’re never challenged in their hold on power. So where we’re getting to in our behavioural conversation is the need for revolution, actually, Alex. This does not mean armed revolution. In fact, it needs not to be an armed and violent revolution, but we need to change the system radically and rapidly. So I hear your screams of anguish, but how do we do it in a way that has the impact of a revolution without everything that hangs around that word? Because we need the people at the top who are making the decisions either suddenly to start making useful decisions, or not to be at the top making decisions. And that’s pretty much the definition of revolutionary. Either change their minds, or we change them.
Alex: Yeah, and I think part of what needs to be done is we need to be ready for the next pandemic or the next whatever’s coming. Because we were not ready for the pandemic in our thinking, so the pandemic opened up this wonderful window of opportunity in which people’s habits were radically changed. You were not going to your office. You were not commuting. You were not doing all the things that you would normally have been doing. And so your habit patterns, people’s habit patterns radically changed. And in that first month or two, there was that sort of sense of adventure and discovery. And, oh, look, the sky is actually blue. We can see the the mountains on the other side of the bay kind of thing.
Manda: And there were dolphins in Venice. So you could hear the birds, and the insects came back.
Alex: And so there was this feeling of hopefulness, but we didn’t know how long it was going to last. There was a certain grind to it. And it’s all very well and good for somebody like myself, or for you, where we’ve got – we live out, in space, we live out in the country. We’re not in a small apartment with 10 other people who we may not get along with. We can work from home, you know, all of these things. So we were really privileged through the pandemic, in that the worst effects of it, at least for me, I was very sheltered from it. The people that I know, we’re not the people who are getting sick and dying from covid, but none of us were really ready. To say, wow, everyone, what a great opportunity to really envision what we want to create in this economy.
Manda: Yeah, so we’re back to Milton Friedman, who said that in any crisis, the ideas that will be picked up are those that are lying around. We, that is the Chicago School, need to make sure that our ideas are the ones that were there lying around, which is exactly what happened in the 80s with Thatcher and Reagan.
Alex: Right. So in terms of the revolution, it’s making sure that our ideas are lying around. And that they’re easy to be picked up, because we see from social media how easy, well, easy, I don’t know, that it is possible for some very peculiar ideas to be picked up. So with these very peculiar ideas are being picked up, why not..
Manda: A really good idea.
Alex: A sensible idea? Well, partly so.
Manda: This is where I find myself veering into conspiracy theory, but this is all…. so Steve Bannon is on record, he did an interview with Michael Moore. And so this is all in the open. You can find it. And Michael Moore said, how is it that the right wins so often? And Steve Bannon said, because there is nothing we will not do to achieve our aims. We know what we want to get, and we will do whatever it takes to get there. And his exact quote was, we’re going for headshots, and you guys are still in a pillow fight. And I watch what’s happening in the US at the moment, and I think the Democrats are still in the pillow fight, and the Democrats basically are constrained by the rule of law. They believe that the rule of law matters, and that it applies to them. And I watch what’s happening in Texas. I watch what very nearly happened on the 6th of January. I watch what appears to be being planned for a post 2022 congress, if the Republicans are able to create the voter suppression to do that. AndI watch what’s happening in the UK, where we have a government that is about to start passing laws which will put it above the law. So it will push through parliament laws that then mean that there is no judicial oversight of government. So it is no longer constrained by law. And I realise that Bannon was right. And I do not want to be joining him and his headshots at all. But we need to find a way to change the game. Because otherwise, the people going for the head shots are always going to win out over the people who are having the pillow fight, and I don’t know that we’ve got time to wait for the next pandemic or antibiotic resistance, which I think is much closer and coming down the line, because you guys, if the Republicans take Congress in 2022, you’ve lost your democracy. And that’s a year away.
Alex: Right. And we’ve lost any opportunity to…
Manda: To pick up the ideas that might work. That we think would work. So I think we need faster, more urgent action than that, quicker behavioural change. And I remember, and it was 2016, but there was one Bernie Sanders who very nearly took the Democratic nomination. One of the ways they got there was they would hold a town hall, and they’d invite anyone who was on their Twitter lists, whatever, see who turned up. And quite frequently, many more people turned up than they were expecting. They would talk about what their values were. They would talk about what they were planning to do and they’d go, is anybody prepared to help? And if one person stood up, then almost everybody stood up. As long as one person stood up, many other… then other people did. And then they went door to door. And they talked to people. And that’s what happened in the Irish referendums on gay marriage and Pro-Choice, or abortion, or whatever you want to call it. They went door to door, and they talked to people, which is kind of what Braver Angels is doing. It’s making it human. And I think the only way we’re going to achieve anything that brings everyone, anyone together is to go door to door and go, our country is falling apart. We’re on the brink of civil war. I don’t want to see guns on the streets. How can we make this not happen?
Manda: And one of the things that also encourages me: there’s a wonderful lady that I hope to interview on the podcast quite soon from a group called Code Pink in Los Angeles. And they went into the local community and they said, what is most urgent? And what was most urgent was homeless youth. So they started out with a little van, just providing warm lunches. And then they were providing lunches and dinners, and then they were providing a hall where people could sleep overnight. And then somebody’s husband had invested in Snapchat and made a lot of money and bought them a building. And they just continued to ask the question of what does our community need most, and how can we build our community together? And then it gets to the county elections. And I don’t know a huge amount about the American system. But she said in Los Angeles area, there’s loads of counties, and the people who were standing for election and all the others were talking about the need for security. And it was basic dog whistles, and it was racist, but it worked. But in those counties, three or four thousand people would vote. In her county, 58000 people voted because they were standing people who weren’t talking about security. They were saying, you know, our community needs this sort of thing and we will make this happen.
Alex: So it looks like it’s possible to… what is it that we want? You know, what is that? And how do you reach people doing so? What are those first, constructional steps that you take? And it’s within your own communities, whether that is online, or whether it is an actual physical community, of what is it that we want? What is it that would make this community a really good place to live? What do we all want?
Manda: Yes, what we all want together, what can we agree on? And then how do we make that happen?
Alex: And the agreement doesn’t have to be across the board. You know, so they weren’t, she wasn’t getting across the board agreement, she was getting agreement on one thing in terms of helping the homeless. But then spread out.
Manda: Yes, but then it spread out to, I mean, then they continued asking the question, what does our community need? And they continued answering. It wasn’t only just homeless youth. That was just the starting point.
Alex: Right. But that was the starting point. So what is the starting point? And what the constructional approach tells us is that training happens really fast. Change happens really fast. And it happens almost on an exponential process, so it’s really very hopeful in that you think you’re doing, how can this tiny little thing possibly make a difference? What we learn from the horses is that you want to pick some tiny little behaviour that you can get on a consistent basis where you can get a consistent ‘yes’ answer that you can reinforce. And it’s a tiny little thing, and you can look at it and think this has no relationship whatsoever to this big picture of me getting on my horse and riding into the sunset on my horse, or whatever that big picture is that you have. And here you are back at the barn, getting a horse to move his nose away from your treat pouch. How is this ever going to get me to riding? And yet it does. And when you start applying the steps of the constructional training, you know, but when you start really learning how to use the constructional approach, you are starting with really small, achievable steps.
Alex: What can I as an individual achieve in a community base? And maybe that community is going to be a small community. Maybe it is a community of six people on Facebook, or the people within my neighbourhood, or within the classroom base of some task, what is it, where I can begin to make that shift and then let those ripples grow? We don’t have a lot of time, but what constructional training tells us is these changes happen really fast. When we look at what people like the Braver Angels, and some of these other people you’ve been interviewing and so on, and we can see that it works. So what part of what they are doing: can I bring into my life and begin to make a change within my sphere of influence?
Alex: And my sphere of influence may seem in certain areas, may seem really small. For other people, the sphere of influence may be much greater, and it’s looking at how do you develop these conversations where you’re talking about what is it that we want? And when you’re doing that, you can talk about it in a way that does not push buttons.
Manda: So each of us has the capacity to learn the skills to hold the conversations in ways that don’t trigger. And not pressing buttons for the sake of it, because that can become quite an addiction, particularly on social media. I think modifying our social media behaviour so that we’re offering positive things rather than jumping on the dogpile of whatever is the current negative thing. I am speaking to myself! is important.
Alex: Right, so I think I should… I think it’s worth sharing. So I’ve been one of the leading pioneers of getting clicker training into stores. This is changing how people train horses. It is a radical shift against the cultural norm. So the cultural norm is to use negative reinforcement, to use fear based techniques, to use punishment based techniques. And so there have been a lot of horse training methods that have evolved at the same time that I was working to get clicker training into the horse community. But they were much easier sells, because they were cultural norm with the larger culture. They were a match with the larger culture, and clicker training was not. And when I first started sharing clicker training on the Internet,and this was twenty five plus years ago, the Internet was a much smaller space. Facebook did not exist. There were not all of these different forums and so on, where you could share ideas. And YouTube did not exist. All these things did not yet exist. There was a forum that was called the Horseman’s Group, and they were sort of a general horse training. But looking at some of the natural horsemanship background, and because it was one of the few horse groups out there, I participated in it. And I would wait until somebody posted a question where there was something about the way they phrased their question that indicated to me that they would be open to the use of food in training horses. And so, I would post a response.
Alex: I would… and they were usually fairly long posts. And I would describe in terms as I could, clicker training and how it worked. And then I would give them a way of going about solving the particular problem that they had. And I would get back these incredible responses of, MY HORSE IS SO SMART!!!! And would always be in capitals. Underline exclamation point, exclamation point, exclamation point on their enthusiasm was infectious and you could see other people, their sort of ears pop forward and go, oh, that person’s having fun. You know that their enthusiasm drew people in and and we spread clicker training around the planet because of that enthusiasm. Now, when I posted on the Horseman’s list, there were always also posts that came back, usually by this one person who was determined to stamp out clicker training before it could spread like wildfire through the horse community. Absolutely. He thought this was just the most terrible thing in the world, that here we were using bribes, using food, and it was just such an evil thing and he had to stamp it out. And so he would come in with this really pushing against a barrage of all the reasons why this was wrong and bad and terrible. And I never responded to him directly. I never wrote a post in response to anything that he said, right, well, so I gave him no fuel for his fire. Because what I knew is that when you start to respond to things, you keep them alive longer. If you respond to something on Facebook, it stays alive.
Alex: If you ignore it, it will go as fast as things move on the Internet. That post will disappear because there will be some other thing that people are wanting to sputter about. And the problem is we keep responding to things that we don’t like, so we keep them alive. But it didn’t mean that I ignored what he was saying. So the next time that somebody posted a question that said that indicated to me that they might be open to what I wanted to share, I would write a post and it would be a little bit longer because within that post, I would address all the things that he had raised as reasons why this was so horrible. And so I was always acknowledging these concerns for them. They were valid concerns, you know, if you’ve not used food in training before, you would there are all these comments of you’re going to get horses to bite and all the rest of these things like horses have never bitten people before we started, but we won’t go down that rabbit hole. But the point is that I would address those concerns just never directly. And these are the skills that I think we need to. Really develop that it is our enthusiasm for the world that we are envisioning that will draw people forward. If I’m seeing you now in eight years, the world’s going to be collapsing. There’s going to be fire and plague and pestilence. And this is just going to be terrible.
Alex: I might as well crawl into a hole now or get on an aeroplane and fly around the planet, enjoy life while we still can. But instead, when I look out my window and I see how beautiful the planet is, it sits outside my window. I have to believe that it’s going to continue on and that we are going to find all of those brilliant pieces that are out there that we’re going to look at regenerative agriculture, we’re going to learn how to sequester carbon in the soil. And by doing so, we’re going to enrich the planet through an increase in biodiversity. We’re going to really discover the brilliance of trees, the enthusiasm for it, the joy of this amazing planet that we begin to really appreciate and love and what we will then begin to have. The people who join us with exclamation points in this planet is so beautiful. And my life is so enriched by embracing this planet and all of its brilliance and that when. People want to stand up and sputter and say, but but we have to have coal mines so that people can have jobs, you don’t respond directly to that, but you do respond down the road to, here are some other ways, better ways, people can have meaningful jobs. In the economy, and they don’t have to destroy their health by going into coal mines, then they don’t have to destroy the planet by burning fossil fuels. So it’s this learning, this process of how do you present this picture that you’re seeing and the path to get there? And address the concerns that people have. So that more people want to join you and if we get enough of a tipping point. Then hopefully, that will be enough to shift the balance,
Manda: And we’re right on our. I think that’s an extremely good place to to end the recording. I do, too. So thank you. Brilliant. I strongly suspect we’ll come back to this again and another podcast sometime, probably not too far away, but thank you. In the meantime, for helping to untease, a lot of the ideas that have been growing over the last year has been brilliant. Thank you. So that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Alex for engaging with such depth and integrity with the biggest and deepest and most profound question of our time. We do have the answers, we just need the will and the drive and the collective sense of urgency and action and belief in ourselves to make it happen. So if you know of anything that you can do to go out there and make the world different, then please do it. And if you’re listening at the time when we launched this on the 16th of June, you might want to think about coming along to the Accidental Gods online gathering. It’s on Sunday, the 20th of June, as close to the solstice as we could get.
Manda: And it’s called Building Your Personal Story, Working with your inner warrior. We’re really going to look at the words that we carry about ourselves, the ones that sustain us and the ones that undermine us and how we can use our understanding of neurophysiology and neuropsychology and our connexion to the more than human world to build up the ones that sustain us. So that sounds good to you, head over to the website at Accidental, Gods, Scott life head to the events page and have a look at building your personal story. And in the meantime, we will be back next week with another conversation, thanks. In the meanwhile, to Carrisi for the sound engineering, the production and the music at The Hidden Foot. Thanks to both Hillary for her glorious design of the website and thanks to you for listening, if you know of anybody else who would like to be part of the generative dance of the world, please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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