Episode #78 Behave! – Solving the existential crisis of our times, with Alexandra Kurland
If we have all the technical and scientific answers to solving the climate and ecological crisis – which we do – how do we bring the greater mass of humanity to a place where we all work together, bringing our boundless creativity to the creation of a regenerative world? Exploring the world of behaviour with Alexandra Kurland.
Alexandra 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 first of two – Alex and Manda explore one of the fundamental questions 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: My guest this week is a long time friend, a mentor, a role model in so many ways. Alexandra Kurland is the host of the Horses for Future podcast, which helps horse owners to understand the basics of regenerative farming and biodiversity, and how horse people can be part of the solution in our current ecological crisis. She is co-host of the Equiosity Podcast, which is one of the foremost horse behaviour podcasts that takes the science of everything behavioural, but particularly positive reinforcement and applies it to the art of building relationships with our horses. She is the author of The Click that Teaches, and a whole host of other books and videos and teaching programmes that help people around the world to come into closer, more meaningful relationship with their horses, where we give the horses choice and a voice and a sense of agency instead of having them simply as slightly more animated motorbikes.
She is one of the people who puts together Science Camp at least once a year – now that we’re online, it seems to be happening twice a year – which brings together the world’s leading experts on behaviour and gets them all together to talk about why we do what we do, why all the species around us do what they do. Based on the absolute founding principle, the rat is always right.
Manda: And in our conversations together, Alex and I often see what we can do to work out how to fix the world, and I’ve been thinking that we should bring this to our podcast. Alex and I talked for several hours, as we always do whenever we connect. So we’ve broken this into two podcasts, first part this week, second part next week. So for part one of what I hope is an epic two parter, people of the podcast, please welcome Alex Kurland. So I think this is going to be a very different podcast to what I normally do with Accidental Gods, but very much more like what you and I do on Horses for Future, which is I want us to explore. Can you and I, with our differing views on the world, but the intersect of what we hold in common is quite large, and we’re definitely converging on the same space, with our different skill sets, evolve a behavioural answer to the current problem? Because I believe all of the reading I’m doing at the moment, I just finished Bill Gates’ book. I’m reading Michael Mann’s book, which we’ll talk about, which is completely soul destroying on one level, but also quite inspiring on the other, and all of the ancillary things. We have the science, we have the answers, what we lack. Is the momentum of of human ingenuity and creativity and willingness behind it, so it’s it’s no longer a scientific problem. It’s a behavioural problem. And you are my go to person for behavioural problems, so let’s see what we can do, basically is my thought. How does that feel to you?
Alex: Ok, that sounds that sounds good. I don’t have any answers, so who knows? Maybe we’ll begin to take the first approximation, the first step towards some answers.
Manda: I think so, because you may not have exact answers to this, but you spend most of your waking life immersed in behavioural science of all different species. So I think if anybody can do this, then you can. So first thing with behaviour, as I understand it, and you’re more than welcome to correct me at any point along the way, because I’m feeling quite fragile in my own behavioural stuff with the ponies these days, we’ll talk about that later, is stating the problem in clear terms, or maybe stating the goal, the end goal. I am remembering a particular video, which if I get to it, I’ll put in the show notes of Mary Hunter, and her end goal was to get somebody to move a particular block to the right if she rolled a one and two of the dice, to the left if she rolled a three or four, up if she rolled a five and down if she rolled a six, or something like that, as a behavioural challenge. And then I watched her create this behaviourally, and I was utterly gobsmacked. So this is a slightly more complex thing,but the building blocks.
Alex: So I wonder if we should give people a little bit of background. You’re referring to Mary Hunter, who is one of the really key developers of Portl.
Manda: And Portl is spelled p o r t l.
Alex: Right. So Portl stands for Portable Operant Research and Teaching Lab. People don’t need to know all of those origins. It goes back to Kate Laurence, who’s a canine clicker trainer, and then it goes back to the early training games that we use in the positive reinforcement world to help people learn more about the science. And Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz developed portl out of the table games that Kate Laurence was developing. And it’s.. You have objects on the table and it’s played between two people, often with coaches involved because it can get very mind bending. The person who is the learner manipulates these objects. And when they manipulate the object in a desired way, that behaviour is marked with some clear signal. It might be with the sound of a clicker or some other signal. And then reinforcement is given. And the reinforcement in the portl games are usually some tokens they’re agreed upon in advance. And through this manipulation of objects, you can explore all kinds of concepts that are very active in questions in the field of behavioural analysis. And Mary Hunter has on the Internet a tremendous video of teaching a conditional chain, which means that the end goal is the learner picks up a dice, rolls the dice, and then depending upon what number has appeared on the dice, moves an object that’s sitting on the table to the left, to the right or up or down. And when you think about how in the world would you teach such a thing? And how would you teach it without creating enormous frustration? And so what Mary’s done in teaching this conditional chain is she’s broken it down into component parts, so she’s using what’s referred to as constructional training, where we look at the underlying components and we teach those as individual units.
Alex: But the constructional training is built. It goes back to the work of Israel Goldiamond primarily, and it’s built around a series of steps or questions. And the first question is, where do you want to go? And that seems to me to sit very much in what you’ve been talking about in Accidental Gods in this whole, can we envision a world that we would want to live in? What does that world look like? And as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t look like what we’re currently living in, because what we’re currently living in, if you think about what’s been in the news as we’re recording this, what’s been in the news over the last couple of weeks? Well, there’s been war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. In the United States, we have we have the Texas legislators trying to pass voting laws that will restrict voting in Texas. We have all of the, I listened to a report this morning on the growing militias that are here in the United States, which is very alarming. And none of this sits in the world that I naively imagined in my sort of little bubble of blissful naiveté. These things are not part of my experience. They would not be what I would be envisioning. And I would think that the people who have very different political views from mine would also be saying, well, the world that we’re currently living in is not what we want to live in.
Alex: And they might have a very different picture. And what they would be involving, I might be saying, oh, my goodness, this is the problem. Here’s a great example: in the news this week, there was the report that China is now allowing families to have three children. Because there’s a population problem, as in they don’t have enough births. And you think, oh, my heavens, my head is going to explode! Because what have we been talking about is that we need to bring down the world’s population. That we need to bring it down. And so every time we’re successful in bringing down the world’s population, we get these headlines of, oh, well, we need to encourage more births. We had that here in the United States. You see it wherever, wherever we’ve been successful in bringing birth rates down. Then they suddenly realise, oh, my goodness, there are going to be a lot of old people and not a lot of young people. And how is this ever going to work in the economy?
Alex: And so you have this split between what is “good” for a government, a country, an economy that wants to continue to grow. And there is a question, and what is good for the planet. And what’s good for the planet would be fewer humans.
Manda: Yes, it would. But I am increasingly of the opinion that it’s not necessarily fewer humans, it’s the existing humans living differently. There are models where we have exactly the same number of humans, but we give half the planet over essentially to rewilding. And it’s fine, actually. Everybody thrives and their mathematical models and, of course, mathematical models can be wrong.
Alex: OK, do you have elbowroom? Because I like elbowroom, you know, I like space.
Manda: There is well, you could fit the entire population of planet on the Isle of Wight, or there was a point in my childhood when you could. It’s, there’s plenty of elbow room.
Alex: Ok, yes.
Manda: Yes. Because there’s lots of places where not very many people live. And and those people would be very cross about being told not to live there. I have no doubt. I’m not suggesting necessarily that this is an answer, because I have a number of right wing friends who find this… let’s say it offends their libertarian instincts. And if I were one of the people living in the small population areas, which in fact I do, and was told, OK, the whole of Shropshire is now going to be rewilded, I could imagine I would be quite cross, but it depends what the alternatives are. So we’re getting way, way, way ahead of ourselves here. We’re beginning to create solutions to problems we haven’t really fully defined and where we haven’t really defined the end goal. But before we get there, I have written on my notes in big capitals underlined several times, OPERANT. Because we talked about the portl, the portable operant research teaching lab, and we haven’t told people what operant is. And I think that’s quite important as we go forward and working through how behavioural science can be the problem, that people have the building blocks, if not all of the detail. Can you give us the edited highlight elevator pitch of what operant and how it works?
Alex: Operant is one of those funny words that B.F. Skinner gave us.Skinner being the father of behavioural science.
Alex: Yes. And it is a hard word because we don’t really use it, have it as a word that we commonly understand or think of in quite the behavioural terms. But we could think of it as we are the active, that we’re an active agent in this. So, you know, it’s the rat pushes the lever, operates on the lever, the pigeon pecks at a particular dot. So it’s not that we are passive agents, that we are passive in what happens to us, that we operate on the world and we encounter consequences, good or bad. And those consequences change our behaviour.
Manda: Right. Ok. That’s the key thing about behavioural science, is that if we look at the act of a consequence changes in behaviour, we can perhaps predict how those behaviours or how that behaviour will evolve in the future. Yes, it will either become stronger or weaker depending on what the consequence was. That’s that’s the absolute baseline fundamentals.
Alex: Right. So in the constructional training, we start by thinking about: where do you want to go, what is this world that you are envisioning? What are you envisioning the future to be like? How will it feel when you’re there? What kind of space do you want to inhabit? And we’re encouraged to think big. So to not just dream little dreams, but to really think big.
Manda: Yay! Ok, yeah, let’s do that. All right, let’s think big, then.
Alex: Yeah. So that does get back to what kind of a world, and we don’t have to know yet how to get there. We just have to have this sort of what is it that we’re heading for. OK, and then well let me see if I can come up with the four main elements, and then it’s where are you now? So what is your starting point and what do you have in repertoire? So this in part goes back to what you said. We have the science. What do we already know? What do we already have that we can use to get there?
Manda: We might have to explain to people what repertoire is.
Alex: So what existing, in the behavioural world it would be, what existing behaviours, skills do we currently have? So if I’m wanting to teach somebody to roll the dice and push an object, do they have in their skill set the idea of picking up an object and rolling it onto the table? And if the answer comes back Yes, well, that’s great. I can use that. If the answer comes back, no, then I need to teach it. So when we look at what is it that our big dream we want to get to, what are some of the components? What are some of the pieces that we already have that we could use to get us there?
Manda: Can I ask a question about that? One of the things that I’ve never fully understood about this, we’re talking about physical skills and behaviours. And I wonder to what extent, particularly with people, underlying all of this, are the the kind of limbic components, the emotional skills. And the emotional state that we’re already in, does that count as repertoire in the science? I imagine it counts as repertoire for us in our imaginings.
Alex: Well, in the behavioural science, what you would be looking at would be the emotional behaviours, things that you can observe.
Manda: Right, yes, of course.
Alex: So you would look at body posture, tension, breathing, is the individual breathing, smiling, laughing, blinking. These things that you can observe, things that you can measure, because we cannot know what somebody else is feeling and thinking. So that’s the black box. So I can’t know what you are feeling anymore than necessarily you could directly know what I’m feeling, except through the shamanic world, that begins to change. So we’re we’re staying in the realm of the behavioural science today. And so we would be looking in emotional behaviours, which are things that you can observe. So if I’m seeing somebody who’s very tight and tense, you’ll see that expressed in their body. You’ll see it expressed in the way that they’re breathing. And that can be modified, that can be changed. And when you change the what is observable, often what humans will report is that they are feeling different,
Manda: Ok, because I can feel I can feel a big rabbit hole that I would like to get down, but it’s not actually going to take us where we want to go. So so we have our four components.
Alex: Well, we want to know where we’re going. We want to know where we are, what’s our starting point, what’s the baseline, what are the underlying skills? What’s the repertoire that we currently have? What’s going to keep you motivated? That’s that’s an important one.
Manda: Yeah. Because the interesting thing about watching the portl, is that certainly in the video that I saw, the reinforcer, the thing that tells the person not only have they done good, but this is a good thing and you enjoy doing it, looked to me like a little cube of wood, which is not the kind of thing for which I would normally put out a lot of effort, but it’s the agreed reinforcer of the game and it works. You know, the behaviours stack up and you get wonderful behaviour change and it’s all really beautiful to see. But in the real world, if we’re going to expect people to really quite radically change their behaviours and I think really quite radically change their emotional state, which is where I was heading with the question, we need motivation. We need really dramatic motivation.
Alex: And you see that right now here in the United States, because we’ve been moderately successful getting the population vaccinated. So roughly, I think it’s sitting at now 50, 60 percent of the adult population is vaccinated. And so a couple of weeks ago, there was the lifting of the mask mandates that if you’re vaccinated, you can now go out in public without having to wear a mask. And this past weekend, there was was as we’re recording, this was a holiday weekend. And in the news, there were all of these, oh, the number of aeroplane flights is back to normal. This is a good thing! The roads are crowded. This is a good thing! There are people can’t find enough rental cars, for all the trips they want to take. This is a good thing! We’re getting back to normal. This is a great thing! And you think, OK…
Manda: That’s very polite, Alex. I wouldn’t be thinking OK, but what I would be thinking is not it’s not repeatable on a family podcast, so, you know.
Alex: I know. But, you know, and this is so this is the challenge of here. We were all being good in lock down and our lives had changed radically. And as soon as that’s lifted, instead of everyone going well you know, actually, I don’t really need to get on an aeroplane now. Actually, I don’t really need to go off on whatever trip that all of these people are going off on. Actually, I’m quite content chugging along just the way I am, reducing my carbon footprint and still being productive. And that’s not what’s happened. So how do you maintain the behaviour? So the behaviour was maintained with negative reinforcement. It was maintained with the threat of if you don’t behave in this way, you could get sick and die.
Manda: Bad things will happen.
Alex: Bad things will happen. Well, in this lovely world that I would like to envision, I would like to think that it’s not being maintained by if you don’t behave, bad things will happen. Now, we know with climate change that if we don’t behave, very bad things are going to happen. But so far, those very bad things don’t seem to be up front and close enough for people to pay attention to them, even when there’s something as catastrophic as these horrific fires that have been in California and Australia and so on, or the horrific flooding where it’s impacted people’s lives directly, it still doesn’t seem to be enough for them to say, oh. I think maybe climate change is real, and we should all change our behaviour.
Manda: Yes, yes. I was listening to a podcast with Justin Harris earlier today and he was rattling off a whole bunch of statistics on that. And it’s people whose lives have actually been materially impacted, people whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed. Still, less than 10 percent of them are attributing this to climate change. This was a recording made in 2020. And that may have changed, but it won’t have changed much. But then if we are behavioural scientists, which we are sort of, you certainly are. I’m thinking about it. That’s because there isn’t the reinforcement for changing their minds. The old behaviours are comfortable they’re in repertoire, and they are being heavily reinforced. We don’t need to go into in huge detail what is reinforcing them, because I think that would take us too long and is a rabbit hole we don’t need to go down, but we accept that the existing behaviours are clearly very much, they’re easy, they’re accessible, and they are being reinforced, even if we could look at the types of reinforcement and think that we don’t like what they are. So the question is, how can we craft ways to help the overwhelming majority of people who do look at lock down and go and lie in rows on a beach in Spain, if you’re in Britain or if you’re in the U.S., I guess, I don’t know, go to Florida or something. How do we craft a future that feels alive and vibrant and attractive enough to lift them out of a set of behaviours that by now are routine and comfortable and self reinforcing? So I guess we go back to the beginning and we try and we craft, we work out what it is we’re heading for, what is our end goal?
Alex: And I suppose one of the things that you’d have to find out is what is it that they want? You know, what would be, if you ask them what kind of world would they like to live in? What do they see as a world that they would find something to build towards? What are they building towards, or when they think about when you’re crafting a better world for your children, what does that mean?
Manda: Yes, so then we have to go back to whatever is common to humanity. And I found, I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to it, but I had a conversation with John Wood of Braver Angels a couple of weeks ago. And of all the podcasts I’ve done, it’s the one that upended my brain the most, because here’s a young, highly intelligent, emotionally literate black man who has stood for office as a Republican, having campaigned for Obama in 2008. And so it’s the first time I’ve ever had a political conversation with a Republican where we actually engaged at the level of trying to find common ground. And mostly I was listening to him talk, which is fine. But the things that he was emphasising were empathy and trust, and how to build these in politics. And my brain was doing cartwheels with ‘you voted for Trump’. And, you know, the whole of the big lie is being promulgated. There is industrial scale voter suppression happening all around your country. There are people openly calling for an armed coup to happen in August because Trump has decided he’s going to be reinstated in August, and if not, they are, their full intent is to take over Congress in 2022 such that they can overturn the results of any election in 2024 if it doesn’t go the way they want. And you’re talking about empathy and trust. Explain to me how that happens. And yet he was utterly sincere. And if you read any of the stuff outside of what would be your and my social media bubble, their fear of the left is as great as our fear of the right. So we’d need to find common goals that everyone can buy into.
Manda: And frame them in such a way that that makes sense. I read a very interesting set of articles, there’s a Canadian town with a name that I cannot begin to pronounce clearly of indigenous origin that has that voted, I think, five to four, their city council, to become a doughnut city. So taking on board the principles of doughnut economics. I think it’s the sixth city in the world to do this. And the people who spoke against it said it’s all very well talking about climate change. But this whole concept is a progressive fluff, and it’s all antigrowth, and therefore we can’t have it. And by their lights, this is a valid argument. And so whatever we frame has to be framed in such a way that we step beneath that set of rhetorics. If we’re talking about growth or no growth, then we’re already in our opposing silos and it’s not going to work. And arguing about that isn’t going to work either. So we need to create something.
Alex: Never ending growth. What is it that they are wanting, seeing, desiring, what is it that growth means?
Manda: I don’t fully know, and it might be very interesting to find somebody from that side to come and talk to us on the podcast and explain that. But in my conversations with the people that I can talk to off air, they exist in a world where the markets are king. And where things like pension funds, always it comes back to, well, how are you going to pay the pension funds? And I get to how many pension funds do you think there are on a dead planet? But between the one and the other, because we exist, E O Wilson’s wonderful phrase that we have Palaeolithic brains, software within mediaeval institutions and the technology of Gods, and this is what’s going to kill us. And those, the Palaeolithic mindset and the mediaeval institutions combined, such that exactly as you said, the threat of climate change isn’t immediate enough, it’s not the sabertooth tiger in the bushes. I spoke to a highly intelligent individual who’s quite a good friend the other day and said exactly that, what happens when extinction arrives? You know, oh, we won’t be heading for extinction. Someone will fix something. People will survive. I think: really, really? Are you sure? Because I listened to another podcast with a fantastic book that’s on my list of things, and they were discussing hedge funders who have published papers saying that at 19 degrees of global warming, global GDP will have halved. But that’s OK because, you know, their bit of the GDP will still be OK. And every bit of the science, I understand is if we go over four degrees, basically the entire planet is a desert. The seas will be arid and lifeless and there will be nothing left on the Land alive that has more than three cells in its body parts. And it will essentially be Mars. And these guys are talking about 19 degrees and half the GDP. So they live in a different reality than us. And I would actually quite like their reality to be right, not because I want either 19 degrees or half the GDP, but I would like us not to be within eight years of extinction because that feels really bad. But it’s you know, the people I talk to, it comes down to markets and pension funds. And if growth doesn’t keep on happening, those will fall over.
And I vividly remember Kate Raworth, who is a god of renegade and economics, the woman who invented the doughnut economic model who came, she was one of our lecturers when I was at Schumacher, and she had accosted one of her lecturers at Cambridge who by then was in his 80s at some Cambridge College event. And she said, do you think, do you really believe that growth can go on forever? And he looked her square in the eye and he said, it has to. And he was one of the world’s leading economists. And you and I both know that the infinitely growing hamster eventually grows to be bigger than the world. You know, the only things that grow without ceasing are the things that we call cancers. And we get very scared when we have them in our bodies.
Alex: So I think of kudzu in the south, which covers everything. You know, it’s this invasive plant that just takes over and covers everything. And it’s not exactly a desirable state.
Manda: What Kate got to in the middle of this was it doesn’t matter whether an economy grows or doesn’t grow, what matters is that we have an economy that serves the needs of the people and the living planet rather than the people and the planet serving the economy. And if we can get to that, then growth or not growth, because money is just an idea. You can make it out of nothing. We do make it out of nothing. We can make more. Yes, it’s a concept, so we can make the economy grow by adding a few more zeros on a computer programme. That’s not a problem. What matters is what are we doing to make that growth? And if what we’re doing is harvesting more fossil fuels and throwing huge amounts of carbon into the air and polluting the oceans and destroying the biosphere, then they’re not good.
Alex: So I guess one of the questions would be, we start sounding like a two year old, so what are pension funds for?
Manda: This is such a big rabbit hole, so I’m not sure we want to go down this.
Alex: Yeah, but aren’t those sort of the questions when you start? We’re talking to what might as well to somebody who might as well be an alien, because they are their frame of reference is so very different from either of us. And so when they start talking about the value of pension funds and those questions become irrelevant. So what is it that the pension fund is for? Why do you want it to grow? Is there some other way to achieve that function? So you can have, so in behaviour, you can have two behaviours that look completely different but serve the same function. And so you could say they are equivalent. So I could have a horse standing next to me. You have to get horses in there somehow. Who’s standing next to me, keeping his head beautifully between his shoulders, is keeping his his mouth well away from my pockets, which are filled with treats. And I can have another horse who is nudging me, trying to knock me over, sticking his nose in my pockets and grabbing the treats from my pocket. Now, you would say that those two behaviours look completely different. But the function is to get treats, and so the horse who’s keeping his nose between his shoulders has learnt that if he keeps his nose between his shoulders and stands beautifully in his own space, that I will reach into my pocket and give him goodies.
Alex: And so functionally, you could say that from the horse’s point of view that those two behaviours are the same because they serve the same function, but they look completely different. And from my point of view as the one who’s wearing the treat vest, one is extremely lovely, having a horse standing in his own space and the other is highly undesirable. And it seems like we’re in that kind of situation with these choices that we have facing us, that they may serve the same function, but some of them are going to be more desirable than others, that there will be other unintended consequences that need to be considered. So when we look at pension funds, what is it that the pension fund is for? What does it do? Is there another way that we could achieve that same function that would satisfy the people who are obsessed with pension funds and that will speak in their language?
Manda: Ok, so what I’ve written down as an answer is security, confidence, freedom.
Manda: Pension funds are very interesting. I do not want this to end up being a podcast about pension funds, but as a brief rabbit hole, there are two functions. One is what does the pension give the pensioners? And the other is what is the larger function of those funds within the market economy, which I think is a bit outside the scope of of where we’re going. But what it gives to the people who have the pensions is that they can wake up in the morning and not think they’re going to starve. They’re going to have a roof over their head. They’re going to have enough food and enough value, as in the exchangeable value, which is what money is, to relax, to have a life where they are not living in fear. And I think for me, that’s the bottom line. The not living in fear is a negative, but if its opposite is living in confidence, living in security, living in the sense of waking up in the morning and feeling engaged and alive, and as if life is an inspiring and enlivening thing that we can go out and explore. It’s not necessarily predictable, but the unpredictabilities are not going to be beyond our capacity to cope. So we’re feeling resilient within that. Then in an ideal world, that’s what a pension confers. Clearly, it doesn’t always. But let’s not go too far.
Alex: And you’re feeling wanted and needed.
Manda: Good point. Yeah. So you’re feeling valued. We’re back to the four four core neurotransmitters of the dopamine serotonin endorphins. Can’t remember the first one. It’ll come back to me in a minute. But yes, the ‘wanted and needed’ is the serotonin. I have pride. I feel that people for whom I have respect respect me back. And that I have a function within my community, so that sense of community is huge and pensions don’t necessarily give that. You can be a pensioner and be a complete hermit. But I think in the world that we want to create, that sense of community as being at the heart of everything, and intentional community, communities of purpose that may become communities of place, I think, because when I speak to people about community quite a lot, I can see the panic begin and the edges of their eyes because they look around where they live and go: I tolerate the people I live with. I don’t necessarily want to engage with them that much. Which is an interesting feature of modern life, because for almost all of human evolution the people you lived around were essential to your survival. And you had to get on with them. And also, you had no choice because unless you were very good at walking and surviving, you couldn’t there was nowhere to gothat was far enough away. It’s only very recently we could move.
Alex: And group sizes were one hundred and fifty or less.
Manda: Yeah. Dunbar’s number. Exactly. So now we can have multiple Dunbar number groups. So if I look at mine, I have the the dreaming. I have Accidental Gods. I have the horses, I have the homoeopathy, I have the writing, I have the climbing, I have the computer stuff. I have really kind of deep state tech stuff, energy work, a couple of other things. And any one of those could have 150 people in it and that would be fine. And the overlaps between them are minimal.
Alex: And hen there is the community of physical place. I think the feeling valued and feeling needed and wanted, I think is going to be very important, because if we are indeed being faced with ageing populations, which seems to be the case in parts of the world, then it’s important that as people age, that they continue to have a role and to be needed and wanted. Because if there is a pinch on resources, you don’t want to be in that segment of the population that gets put out on the rocks to…
Manda: No. Did you ever read Hanta Yo when you were younger, by Ruth Beebe Hill?
Manda: Oh, it’s amazing. It’s beautiful. She wrote it in English. She translated it into Lakota because she was Lakota. And then she translated back into English again, so that it had the rhythms of the language. And one of the parts that really vividly stood out for me was when an elderly couple, and he staked himself out in battle. So he put a stake in the ground, tied a song to it, tied it to his leg. And: I will not move from this place. At knowing that he was going to die, because he was old. And then his wife, once he died, that winter, walked out into the snow because first of all, death was not a problem. And second, that’s how you not be a burden on your tribe. And I am absolutely not suggesting that we should become people who do that. But I am also aware that that is part of what used to happen. What we need now is for people, exactly as you say, to feel needed and valued.
But one of the things that I think we need to sculpt into our future is that at the moment around most of the world, the people making the decisions that craft the trajectory of our culture are over 70 and white and mostly male, and they’ve held the positions of power for quite a long time. And it means that there are entire generations under them whose attitudes and approaches would be much more flexible, much more resilient, much more appropriate to the world that we live in, who are not getting their hands anywhere near the levers of power. And so I would say in our crafting of a new way of being, we need to find some way of giving the younger people at least an equal say, if not a greater one. So we all need to feel needed and valued and wanted, but we all need to have an equal voice. And that voice then needs to be somehow brought together. Watching… the value of the podcast is you guys are listening to us. The value of the way we do it is that I can see Alex, that I just watched your eyebrows create a little kind of spiral.
Alex: Well, yes, because when you say we all share equal voices, I’m thinking about what’s going on here in the United States where they’re trying really hard to restrict voting.
Manda: Yes. Yes, because they’re afraid of it. But over here and in other parts of the world, the places where things like Citizens Assemblies have happened, what happens when you bring 99 people from the broadest reach of your community that you can together and give them the space and time to talk to each other is what John Wood found in the Braver Angels. Once people start talking they are much less likely to be at the extremes of their belief system. And it seems pretty much universal that when you bring people together in a Citizens Assembly, the hard left and the hard right both move towards a softer kind of a middle. People stop being anti – immigration once they’ve been speaking to people who are actually immigrants as human beings.
So we will be back next week with the second part of this conversation. Enormous thanks to Alex for exploring the complexities of human behaviour and how we might bring ourselves away from the brink of existential crisis. It does seem to me that now, more than ever, human behaviour is the core of what we’re doing. And this has underlined the whole of this podcast going right back to the early podcasts on habit-forming and neurophysiology and all of the stuff around vagal theory, and why we do the things we do. All of it has been leading towards how can we be in the world? How can each of us have the most agency? What are our own levers of change? And how can we move them to greatest effect? In the shamanic work that we’re doing, people are increasingly coming with questions along those lines.
Manda: Twenty years ago, people wanted to know how they could make their own lives better, more fulfilling, deeper, more meaningful. And everybody still wants that. But people wanted much more in the service of a common future that we can share where humanity and the rest of the world flourishes. So we will be back next week.
In the meantime, depending on who you listen to this, we are holding an Accidental Gods gathering quite soon. It’s on the 20th of June, three o’clock till 9:00 U.K. time, which hopefully is available to most of you around most of the world. And the focus of this one is the inner warrior. How do we curate our own internal experiences? Such that the parts of ourselves that seek to be the best that we can be are not in constant conflict with all of the other voices, all of the other parts of ourselves that seek to undermine that for whatever the reasons. And this could become highly complex. Or we can render it simpler and use all of the techniques that we understand from all of the work that we’ve been doing to build that sense of self that is whole and coherent, that has resilience, that has integrity, that has an authentic sense of being the person that we want to be in the world and allow that to then create the rest of our inner space so that we’re not crushing the parts of ourselves that have doubts or look at the world and feel despair.
Manda: We’re giving those voices, but we are not necessarily letting those voices through what we do. And yes, six hours is not a huge amount of time to do that. But we can open the gate, we can set the wheels in motion. We can create the internal connexions because what fires together, wires together.
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