Sep 29, 2021
In this Conversation, Jason Crawford and I talk about starting a nonprofit organization, changing conceptions of progress, why 26 years after WWII may have been what happened in 1971, and more.
Jason is the proprietor of Roots of Progress a blog and educational hub that has recently become a full-fledged nonprofit devoted to the philosophy of progress. Jason’s a returning guest to the podcast — we first spoke in 2019 relatively soon after he went full time on the project . I thought it would be interesting to do an update now that roots of progress is entering a new stage of its evolution.
So what was the impetus to switch from sort of being an independent researcher to like actually starting a nonprofit I'm really interested in. Yeah. The basic thing was understanding or getting a sense of the level of support that was actually out there for what I was doing.
In brief people wanted to give me money and and one, the best way to receive and manage funds is to have a national nonprofit organization. And I realized there was actually enough support to support more than just myself, which had been doing, you know, as an independent researcher for a year or two.
But there was actually enough to have some help around me to basically just make me more effective and, and further the mission. So I've already been able to hire research [00:02:00] assistants. Very soon I'm going to be putting out a a wanted ad for a chief of staff or you know, sort of an everything assistant to help with all sorts of operations and project management and things.
And so having these folks around me is going to just help me do a lot more and it's going to let me sort of delegate everything that I can possibly delegate and focus on the things that only I can do, which is mostly research and writing. Nice and sort of, it seems like it would be possible to take money and hire people and do all that without forming a nonprofit.
So what what's sort of like in your mind that the thing that makes it worth it. Well, for one thing, it's a lot easier to receive money when you have a, an organization that is designated as a 5 0 1 C three tax status in the United States, that is a status that makes deductions that makes donations tax deductible.
Whereas other donations to other types of nonprofits are not I had had issues in the past. One organization would want to [00:03:00] give me a grant as an independent researcher, but they didn't want to give it to an individual. They wanted it to go through a 5 0 1 C3. So then I had to get a new.
Organization to sort of like receive the donation for me and then turn around and re grant it to me. And that was just, you know, complicated overhead. Some organizations didn't want to do that all the time. So it was, it was just much simpler to keep doing this if I had my own organization. And do you have sort of a broad vision for the organization?
Absolutely. Yes. And it, I mean, it is essentially the same as the vision for my work, which I recently articulated in an essay on richer progress.org. We need a new philosophy of progress for the 21st century and establishing such a philosophy is, is my personal mission. And is the mission. Of the organization to just very briefly frame this in the I, the 19th century had a very sort of strong and positive, you know, pro progress vision of, of what progress was and what it could do for humanity and in the [00:04:00] 20th century.
That optimism faded into skepticism and fear and distrust. And I think there are ways in which the 19th century philosophy of progress was perhaps naively optimistic. I don't think we should go back to that at all, but I think we need a, we need to rescue the idea of progress itself. Which the 20th century sort of fell out of love with, and we need to find ways to acknowledge and address the very real problems and risks of progress while not losing our fundamental optimism and confidence and will to, to move forward.
We need to, we need to regain to recapture that idea of progress and that fundamental belief in our own agency so that we can go forward in the 21st century with progress. You know, while doing so in a way that is fundamentally safe and benefits all of humanity. And since you, since you mentioned philosophy, I'm really like, just, just ask you a very weird question.
That's related to something that I've been thinking about. And [00:05:00] so like, in addition to the fact that I completely agree the philosophy. Progress needs to be updated, recreated. It feels like the same thing needs to be done with like the idea of classical liberalism that like it was created. Like, I think like, sort of both of these, these philosophies a are related and B were created in a world that is just has different assumptions than we have today.
Have you like, thought about how the, those two, like those two sort of like philosophical updates. Yeah. So first off, just on that question of, of reinventing classical liberalism, I think you're right. Let me take this as an opportunity to plug a couple of publications that I think are exploring this concept.
Yeah. So so the first I'll mention is palladium. I mentioned this because of the founding essay of palladium, which was written by Jonah Bennet as I think a good statement of the problem of, of why classical liberalism is [00:06:00] or, or I think he called it the liberal order, which has maybe a slightly different thing.
But you know, the, the, the basic idea of You know, representative democracy is you know, or constitutional republics with, with sort of representative democracy you know, and, and basic ideas of of freedom of speech and other sort of human rights and individual rights. You know, all of that as being sort of basic world order you know, Jonah was saying that that is in question now and.
There's essentially now. Okay. I'm going to, I'm going to frame this my own way. I don't know if this is exactly how gender would put it, but there's basically, there's, there's basically now a. A fight between the abolitionists and the reformists, right. Those who think that the, the, the, that liberal order is sort of like fundamentally corrupt.
It needs to be burned to the ground and replaced versus those who think it's fundamentally sound, but may have problems and therefore needs reform. And so you know, I think Jonah is on the reform side and I'm on the reform side. I think, you know, the institutions of you know, Western institutions and the institutions of the enlightenment let's say are like [00:07:00] fundamentally sound and need reform.
Yeah, rather than, rather than just being raised to the ground. This was also a theme towards the end of enlightenment now by Steven Pinker that you know, a lot of, a lot of why he wrote that book was to sort of counter the fundamental narrative decline ism. If you believe that the world is going to hell, then it makes sense to question the fundamental institutions that have brought us here.
And it kind of makes sense to have a burn it all to the ground. Mentality. Right. And so those things go together. Whereas if you believe that you know, actually we've made a lot of progress over the last couple of hundred years. Then you say, Hey, these institutions are actually serving us very well.
And again, if there are problems with them, let's sort of address those problems in a reformist type of approach, not an abolitionist type approach. So Jonah Bennett was one of the co-founders of palladium and that's an interesting magazine or I recommend checking out. Another publication that's addressing some of these concepts is I would say persuasion by Yasha Munk.
So Yasha is was a part of the Atlantic as I recall. [00:08:00] And basically wanted to. Make a home for people who were maybe left leaning or you know, would call themselves liberals, but did not like the new sort of woke ideology that is arising on the left and wanted to carve out a space for for free speech and for I don't know, just a different a non-local liberalism, let's say.
And so persuasion is a sub stack in a community. That's an interesting one. And then the third one that I'll mention is called symposium. And that is done by a friend of mine. Roger Sinskey who it himself has maybe a little bit more would consider himself kind of a more right-leaning or maybe.
Just call himself more of an individualist or an independent or a, you know, something else. But I think he maybe appeals more to people who are a little more right-leaning, but he also wanted you know, something that I think a lot of people are, are both maybe both on the right and the left are wanting to break away both from woke ism and from Trumpism and find something that's neither of those things.
And so we're seeing this interesting. Where people on the right and left are actually maybe [00:09:00] coming together to try to find a third alternative to where those two sides are going. So symposium is another publication where you know, people are sort of coming together to discuss, what is this idea of liberalism?
What does it mean? I think Tristan ski said that he wanted some posting to be the kind of place where Steven Pinker and George will, could come together to discuss what liberalism means. And then, then he like literally had that as a, as a podcast episode. Like those two people. So anyway, recommend, recommend checking it out.
And, and Rob is a very good writer. So palladium, persuasion and symposium. Those are the three that I recommend checking out to to explore this kind of idea of. Nice. Yeah. And I think it looks, I mean, I mean, I guess in my head it actually like hooks, like it's sort of like extremely coupled to, to progress.
Cause I think a lot of the places where we, there's almost like this tension between ideas of classical liberalism, like property rights and things that we would like see as progress. Right. Cause it's like, okay, you want to build your [00:10:00] Your Hyperloop. Right. But then you need to build that Hyperloop through a lot of people's property.
And there's like this fundamental tension there. And then. I look, I don't have a good answer for that, but like just sort of thinking about that, vis-a-vis, it's true. At the same time, I think it's a very good and healthy and important tension. I agree because if you, if you have the, if you, so, you know, I, I tend to think that the enlightenment was sort of.
But there were at least two big ideas in the enlightenment, maybe more than two, but you know, one of them was sort of like reason science and the technological progress that hopefully that would lead to. But the other was sort of individualism and and, and, and, and Liberty you know concepts and I think what we saw in the 20th century when you have one of those without the other, it leads to to it to disaster.
So in particular I mean the, the, the communists of you know, the Soviet union were were [00:11:00] enamored of some concept of progress that they had. It was a concept of progress. That was ultimately, they, they got the sort of the science and the industry part, but they didn't get the individualism and the Liberty part.
And when you do that, what you end up with is a concept of progress. That's actually detached from what it ought to be founded on, which is, I mean, ultimately progress by. To me in progress for individual human lives and their happiness and thriving and flourishing. And when you, when you detach those things, you end up with a, an abstract concept of progress, somehow progress for society that ends up not being progress for any individual.
And that, as I think we saw in the Soviet union and other places is a nightmare and it leads to totalitarianism and it leads to, I mean, in the case specifically the case of the Soviet union mass. And not to mention oppression. So one of the big lessons of you know, so going back to what I said, sort of towards the beginning that the 19th century philosophy of progress had, I think a bit of a naive optimism.
And part of that, [00:12:00] part of the naivete of that optimism was the hope that that all forms of progress would go together and work sort of going along hand in hand, the technological progress and moral and social progress would, would go together. In fact, towards the end of. The, the 19th century some people were hopeful that the expansion of industry and the growth of trade between nations would lead to a new era of world peace, the end.
And the 20th century obviously prove this wrong, right? There's a devastating, dramatic proof though. And I really think it was my hypothesis right now is that it was the world war. That really shattered the optimism of the 19th century that, you know, they really proved that technological progress does not automatically lead to moral progress.
And with the dropping of the atomic bomb was just like a horrible exclamation point on this entire lesson, right? The nuclear bomb was obviously a product of modern science, modern technology and modern industry. And it was the most horrific destructive [00:13:00] weapon ever. So so I think with that, people saw that that these things don't automatically go together.
And I think the big lesson from from that era and and from history is that technological and moral progress and social progress or an independent thing that we have. You know, in their own right. And technological progress does not create value for humanity unless it is embedded in the, you know, in the context of good moral and social systems.
So and I think that's the. You know, that's the lesson of, for instance, you know, the cotton gin and and American slavery. It is the lesson of the of the, the Soviet agricultural experiments that ended on in famine. It's the lesson of the, the Chinese great leap forward and so forth. In all of those cases, what was missing was was Liberty and freedom and human in individual rights.
So those are things that we must absolutely protect, even as we move technological and industrial progress forward. Technological progress ultimately is it is [00:14:00] progress for people. And if it's not progress for people and progress for individuals and not just collectives then it is not progress at all the one.
I agree with all of that. Except the thing I would poke is I feel like the 1950s might be a counterpoint to the world wars destroying 20th century optimism, or, or is it, do you think that is just sort of like, there's almost like a ha like a delayed effect that I think the 1950s were a holdover. I think that, so I think that these things take a generation to really see.
And so this is my fundamental answer at the, at the moment to what happened in 1971, you know, people ask this question or 1970 or 73 or whatever date around. Yeah. I think what actually happened, the right question to ask is what happened in 1945, that took 25 years to sink in. And I think, and I think it's, so my answer is the world wars, and I think it is around this time that [00:15:00] you really start to see.
So even in the 1950s, if you read intellectuals and academics who are writing about this stuff, you start to read things like. Well, you know, we can't just unabashedly promote quote-unquote progress anymore, or people are starting to question this idea of progress or, you know, so forth. And I'm not, I haven't yet done enough of the intellectual history to be certain that that's really where it begins.
But that's the impression I've gotten anecdotally. And so this is the, the hypothesis that's forming in my mind is that that's about when there was a real turning point now to be clear, there were always skeptics of. From the very beginning of the enlightenment, there was a, an anti enlightenment sort of reactionary, romantic backlash from the beginnings of the industrial revolution, there were people who didn't like what was happening.
John chakra. So you know, Mary Shelley, Karl Marx, like, you know, you name it. But I think what was going on was that essentially. The progress you know, the, the progress movement or whatever, they, the people who are actually going forward and making scientific and technological progress, they [00:16:00] were doing that.
Like they were winning and they were winning because they were because people could see the inventions coming especially through the end. I mean, you know, imagine somebody born. You know, around 1870 or so. Right. And just think of the things that they would have seen happen in their lifetime. You know, the telephone the the, you know, the expansion of airplane, the automobile and the airplane, right?
The electric light bulb and the, and the, the electric motor the first plastics massive. Yeah, indoor plumbing, water, sanitation vaccines, if they live long enough antibiotics. And so there was just oh, the Haber-Bosch process, right. And artificial or synthetic fertilizer. So this just like an enormous amount.
Of these amazing inventions that they would have seen happen. And so I basically just think that the, the, the reactionary voices against against technology and against progress, we're just drowned out by all of the cheering for the new inventions. And then my hypothesis is that what happened after world war II is it wasn't so much that, you [00:17:00] know the people who believed in progress suddenly stopped believing in it.
But I think what happens in these cases, The people who, who believed in progress their belief was shaken and they lost some of their confidence and they became less vocal and their arguments started feeling a little weaker and having less weight and conversely, the sort of reactionary the, the anti-progress folks were suddenly emboldened.
And people were listening to them. And so they could come to the fore and say, see, we told you, so we've been telling you this for generations. We always knew it, that this was going to be what happened. And so there was just a shift in sort of who had the confidence, who was outspoken and whose arguments people were listening to.
And I think when you, when you have then a whole generation of people who grew up in this new. Milia, then you get essentially the counterculture of the 1960s and you know, and you get silent spring and you get you know, protests against industry and technology and capitalism and civilization.
And, [00:18:00] you know, do you think there, mate, there's just like literally off the cuff, but there might also be some kind of like hedonic treadmill effect where. You know, it's like you see some, like rate of progress and, you know, it's like you, you start to sort of like, that starts to be normalized. And then.
It's true. It's true. And it's funny because so well before the world war, so even in the late 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds, you can find people saying things like essentially like kids these days don't realize how good they have it. You know, people don't even know the history of progress.
It's like, I mean, I found. I found it. Let's see. I remember there was so I wrote about this, actually, I hadn't had an essay about this called something like 19th century progress studies, because there was this guy who was even before the transcontinental railroad was built in the U S in the sixties.
There was this guy who like in the 1850s or so [00:19:00] was campaigning for it. And he wrote this whole big, long pamphlet that, you know, promoting the idea of a transcontinental railroad and he was trying to raise private money for it. And. One of the things in this long, you know, true to the 19th century, it was like this long wordy document.
And one of the parts of this whole thing is he starts going into the, like the whole history of transportation back to like the 17th or 16th century and like the post roads that were established in Britain and you know, how those improve transportation, but even how, even in that era, that like people were speaking out against the post roads as, and we're posing them.
No sidebar. Have you seen that comic with like, like the cave men? The caveman? Yes. I know exactly what you're talking about. Yeah. The show notes, but caveman science fiction. Yeah, that one's pretty good. So I'm, I'm blanking on this guy's name now. But he, so he wrote this whole thing and he basically said that.
The [00:20:00] story of progress has not even been told and people don't know how far we've come. And if, you know, somebody should really like collect all of this history and tell it in an engaging way so that people knew, you know, how far people knew, how far we've come. And this is in like the 1850s. So this is before the, the, the railroad was built, right?
The transcontinental one, this is before the, the light bulb and before the internal combustion engine and before vaccines and, you know, everything. It was pretty, that was pretty remarkable. I also remember there was like an 1895 or 96 anniversary issue of scientific American, where they went over like 50 years of progress.
And there was this bit in the beginning that was just like, yeah. You know, people just take progress for granted these days. And there was another thing, a similar thing in the early 19 hundreds, I read where somebody went out to find one of the inventors who'd improved. The the mechanical Reaper I think it was somebody who'd invented an automatic binder for the sheaves of grain and and was saying something like, yeah, people don't even remember, you know, the, the inventors who, you know, who made the modern world.
And so [00:21:00] we've got to go find this inventor and like interview him and to record this for posterity. So you're seeing this kind of kids these days type attitude all throughout. So I think that that kind of thing is just natural, is like, I think is sort of always happening. Right. There's this constant complaint.
I mean, it's just like, you know, at any pretty much any time in history, you can find people complaining about the decline of morality and you know, the, how the youth are so different and The wet, the ankles, they exposed ankles. Right? Exactly. So I think you have to have some somewhat separate out that sort of thing, which is constant and is always with us with kind of like, but what was, you know, what we're.
What was the intellectual class? You know as Deirdre McCloskey likes to call it the clerisy, what were they saying about progress and what was the general zeitgeist? Right. And I think that even though there are some constants, like people always forget the past. Whatever they have for granted.
And even though you know, every new invention is always opposed [00:22:00] and fought and feared. There is an overall site Geist that you can see changing from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century. And I think where you can really see. There's a, there's a couple of places you can really see it.
So one is in the general attitude of people towards nature. And what is mankind's relationship to nature in the 19th century? People talked unabashedly and unironically about the conquest of nature. They talked about nature almost as an enemy that we had to fight. Yeah. And it sort of made sense you know, nature truly is red in tooth and claw.
It does not, it's not a loving, loving mother that has us in her nurturing embrace. You know, the reality is that nature is frankly indifferent to us and you know, we have to make our way in the world in spite of now. Let's say, let's say both because of, and in spite of nature, right?
Nature obviously gives us everything that we need for life. It also presents it. It also gives none of that in a [00:23:00] convenience form. Everything that nature gives us is in a highly inconvenient form that, you know, we have to do layers and layers of industrial processing to make into the convenient forms that we consume.
David Deutsch also makes a similar point in the beginning of infinity, where he says that, you know, the idea of earth as like a biosphere or a life support, you know, or the ecosystem as a, as a life support system is absurd because a life support system is like deliberately designed for, you know, maximum sort of safety and convenience.
Whereas nature is nothing of that. So there was some, you know, so there was some justification to this view, but the way that people just on a, on ironically talked about conquering nature, mastering nature, taming nature improving nature, right? The idea that the manmade, the synthetic, the artificial was just to be expected to be better than nature.
Like that is a little mindblowing. Today I was just there was a quote, I was just looking up from I think the plastic is a great example [00:24:00] because plastic was invented and, and, and you know, or arose in this era where people were more favorable to it, but then quickly transitioned into the era where It, it became just one of the hated and demonized inventions.
Right. And so in the early days, like in the 1930s I think it was 1936 Texas state had a, some sort of state fair and they had a whole exhibition about plastics and somebody was quote, one woman who was, who, who saw the exhibition, you know, was quoted as saying like, oh, it's just wonderful how everything is synthetic these days, you know, as this is like, nobody would say.
Yeah, right. Or there was a documentary about plastic called the fourth kingdom and it was something like, you know, in addition to the, the three kingdoms of what is it like animal vegetable and mineral, you know, man has now added a fourth kingdom whose boundaries are unlimited. Right. And again, just that's just like nobody would ever put it that way.
And sometimes, okay. So to come back to the theme of like naive optimism, sometimes this actually led [00:25:00] to problems. So for instance, in this, this still cracks me up in the late 19th century. There were people who believed that we could improve on. Nature is distribution of plant and animal species.
The nature was deficient in which species you know, we're aware and that we could improve on this by importing species, into non-natural habitats. And this was not only for like, you can imagine some of this for industrial, like agricultural purposes. Right. But literally some of it was just for aesthetic purposes.
Like someone wanted to imitate. Yeah. If I'm recalling this correctly, someone wanted to import into America like all of the species of birds that were mentioned in Shakespeare sun. And this is purely just an aesthetic concern. Like, Hey, what if we had all these great, you know, songbirds in from, from Britain and we have them in America.
So it turns out that in importing species, Willy nilly like can create some real problems. And we got by importing a bunch of foreign plants, we got a bunch of invasive pest species. And so this was a real [00:26:00] problem. And ultimately we had to clamp down. Another example of this that is near to my heart currently, because I just became a dad a couple months ago.
Thanks. But it turns out that a few decades ago, people thought that for me, that infant formula was like superior to breast milk. And there was this whole generation of kids, apparently that was, that was just like raised on formula. And, you know, today, There's this, I mean, it turns out, oops. We found out like, oh, mother's breast milk has antibodies in it that protect against infection.
You know, and it has maybe some, I don't know, growth hormones, and it's like this, we don't even know. It's a really complicated biological formula. That's been honed through, you know, millions or hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Right. However long mammals have been around. Right. And. So yeah, so again, some of that old sort of philosophy of progress was a little naive.
You know, but now I think that someday we'll be able to make synthetic, you know whatever infant sustenance that will, [00:27:00] you know, that could be better than than what moms have to put out and given the amount of trouble that some women have with breastfeeding. I think that will be a boon to them.
And we'll just be part of the further, a story of technology, liberating women. But we're not there yet, right? So we have to be realistic about sort of like where, where technology is. So this, this sort of relationship to nature is I think part of where you see the the, the, the contrast between then and now a related part is people's people's concept of growth and how they regarded growth.
So here's another. One of these shocking stories that shows you going like the past is a foreign country in the, in 1890 in the United States. The, the United States census, which has done every 10 years was done for the first time with machines. With that we didn't yet have computers but it was done for the first time with tabulating machines made by the Hollerith tabulating company.
And if it, if it ha you know, the, the, the census had grown large and complicated enough that it had, if it hadn't been known these machines, they probably wouldn't have been able to get it done on time. It was becoming a huge clerical challenge. So, okay. Now, [00:28:00] everybody, now this is an era where. The population estimates are not, are just there.
Aren't like up to the minute, you know, population estimates just available. You can't just Google what's the population of the U S and get like a current, you know, today's estimate. Right? So people really didn't have a number that was more like the number they had for the population in the U S was like 10 years old.
And they were all sort of curious, like wondering, Hey, what's the new population 10 years later. And they were gunning for a figure of at least 75. There was this one, the way one one history of computing put, it was there were many people who felt that the dignity of the Republic could not be sustained on a number of less than 75 million.
And so then, then, so then the census comes in. And the real T count is something in the 60 millions, right? It's not even 70 million. And like, people are not just disappointing. People are incensed, they're angry. And they like, they like blame the Hollerith tabulating company for bundling. They're like, it must've been the machines, right.
The machines screwed this. [00:29:00] Yeah, that's right. Demand a recount. Right. And, and so they, they they're like, man, this, this Hollerith guy totally bungled the census. Obviously the number is bigger. It's gotta be bigger than that. Right. And it's funny because, so this is 1890, right? So fast forward to 1968 and you have Paul and, and Erlick writing the population bomb, right.
Where they're just like overpopulation is the absolute worst problem facing the entire world. And they're even essentially embraced. You know, coercive population control measures, including you know, and and not, but not limited to like forced sterilization essentially in order to in order to control population because they see it as like the worst risk facing the planet.
I recommend by the way Charles Mann's book, the wizard and the prophet. For this and, and many other related issues. One of the things that book opened my eyes to was how much the the 1960s environmentalist movement was super focused on on overpopulation as like its biggest risk. And then, you know, today it's shifted to, they've shifted away [00:30:00] from that in part, because population is actually slowing.
Ironically, the population growth rates started to slow right around the late 1960s, when that hysteria was happening. You know, but now now the population is actually projected to level off and maybe decline within the century. And so now of course the environmentalist concern has shifted to resource consumption instead because per capita resource consumption is growing.
But, yeah. So just like that flip in, how do we regard growth? Right. Is growth a good thing? Something to be proud of as a nation that our population is growing so fast, right? Or is it something to be worried about? And we breathe a sigh of relief when population is actually level. Yeah, I'm getting like a very strong, like thesis, antithesis synthesis vibe of like we've had, we had the thesis, like the sort of like naive but like naive progress is the thesis, the sort of backlash against that is the, the antithesis.
[00:31:00] And then like, now we need to come up with like, what is, what is the new city? Yeah, I mean, I'm not a hit Gelien, but I agree. There's something, there's something. Yeah, sir. Like a police back to two routes of progress, the organization something that I've been just sort of like wondering like Fox is like I feel like sort of a lot of the people.
In, in like the, the progress movement in the slack, or like, I would say people like us, right? Like people, people from tech and I've, I've sort of talked to people who are either in academia or in government. And they're like really interested. And I was like, wondering if you have like, faults about like, sort of like now that is sort of onto like the next phase of, of this.
I have like, sort of like ways to Rodan broad, like almost like broadened the scope brought in the sort of like people, [00:32:00] I don't know what the right word is like under, under the umbrella, under the tent. And sort of like, yeah, or like just sort of how you, how do you think about that? Cause it seems like really useful to have sort of as many sort of worlds involved as possible.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, let me talk about that. Maybe both longterm term and short term. So. Fundamentally, I see this as a very, long-term like a generational effort. So in terms of, you know, results from my work do like direct results from my work. I'm sort of looking on the scale of decades on games.
And I think that yeah, I would refer you to a, an essay called culture wars are long wars by tenor Greer of his blog scholar stage which really sort of lays out why this is that the ideas at this fundamental level are sort of they, they take effect on a generational level, just like the, just like the philosophy of progress took about a generation to flip [00:33:00] from, I think, 1945 to 1970, it's going to take another generation to re.
Established something deep and new as as the nude psychosis. So how does that happen? Well, I think it starts with a lot of deep and hard and difficult thinking. And and writing and like the most absolutely the, the fundamental thing we need is books. We need a lot of books to be written.
And so I'm writing one now tentatively titled the story of industrial civilization that I intend to be sort of. To, to lay the foundation for the new philosophy of progress, but there are dozens more books that need to be written. I don't have time in my life to even write them all. So I'm hoping that other people would join me in this.
And one of the things I'd like to do with the new organization is to help make that possible. So if anybody wants to write a progress book and needs help in our support doing it, please get in touch like a list of titles that you'd love to see. Yeah, sure. So I think we actually need three categories of of books or more broadly of contents.
[00:34:00] So one is more histories of progress. Like the kind that I do where just a retelling of the story of progress, making it more accessible and more clear, because I just think that the story has never adequately been told. So I'm writing about. The, in, in the book that I'm writing virtually every chapter could be expanded into a book of its own.
I've got a chapter on materials and manufacturing. I have a chapter on agriculture. I have a chapter on energy. I have one on you know, health and, and medicine. Right. And so just like all of these things does deserve a book of their own. I also think we could use more sort of analysis of maybe some of the failed promises of progress, what went wrong with nuclear power, for instance what what happened.
The space travel and space exploration. Right? Why did that take off so dramatically and then sort of collapse and, and have a period of stagnation or similarly for for air travel and like, why is it that we're only now getting back supersonic air travel, for instance. Perhaps even nanotechnology is [00:35:00] in this category, if you believe.
Jason was, Hall's take on it. In his book, where is my flying car? You know, he talks about he talks about nanotechnology as sort of like something that we ought to be much farther along on. So I think, you know, some of those kinds of analyses of what went wrong I think a second category.
Of books that we really need is taking the the, just the biggest problems in the world and addressing them head on from kind of the, the pro progress standpoint. Right. So what would it mean to address some of the biggest problems in the world? Like climate change global poverty the environment War existential risk from, you know, everything from you know, bio engineered, pandemics to artificial intelligence, like all of these different things.
What would it mean to address these problems? If you fundamentally believe in human agency, if you believe in science and technology and you believe that kind of like we can overcome it, it will be difficult. You know, it will, it's, it's not easy. We shouldn't be naive about it, but like we can find solutions.
What [00:36:00] are the solutions that move us, the move humanity forward? You know, how do we, how do we address climate change without destroying our standard of living or killing economic growth? Right. So those are, that's like a whole category of books that need to be written. And then the third category I would say is visions of the future.
So what is the, what is the kind of future that we could create? What are the exciting things on the horizon that we should be motivated by and should be working for? Again Hall's book where's my flying car is like a great entry in this. But we could use do you use a lot more including you know, I mean, I would love to see one and it made some of the stuff probably already exists.
I haven't totally surveyed the field, but we absolutely need a book on longevity. What does it mean for us all to, to, to, to conquer aging and disease? You know, maybe something on how we cure cancer or how we cure all diseases, which is the the, the mission for instance, of the Chan-Zuckerberg foundation or Institute.
We should you know, we should totally have this for nanotechnology. I mean, I guess some of this already exists maybe in Drexler's work, but I just think, you know, more positive visions [00:37:00] of the future to inspire people, to inspire the world at large, but especially to inspire the young scientists and engineers and founders who are going to actually go you know, create those things.
The plug is a project hieroglyph which was like, if you've seen that. I've heard of that. I haven't read it yet. Why don't you just say what's about, oh, it was a, it's a collection of short science fiction of short, optimistic science fiction stories. That was a collaboration between, I believe Arizona state university and Neal Stephenson.
And like the, the opening story that I love is by Neil Stevenson. And it just talks about like, well, what if we built just like a, a mile high tower that we use that like we've launched rockets out. Like, why not? Right? Like, like you could just, it's like, you don't need a space elevator. You seem like a really, really tall tower.
And it's like, there's nothing, we wouldn't actually need to invent new technologies per se. Like we wouldn't need to like discover new scientific principles to do this. It would just take a lot of [00:38:00] engineering and a lot of resources. Yeah. Yeah. And there's a similar concept in Hall's book called the space pier, which you can look up.
That's also on, on his website. It does require like discovering new things. Right? Cause the space depends on like being able to build things out of them assignments. The, the space tower just like involves a lot of steel like a lot of steel. So, so you've touched a little bit actually on, this is a good segue into, I've been talking about.
But then like, beyond that, you know, the same, the basic ideas need to get out in every medium and format. Right. So, you know, I also do a lot on Twitter. We need, we need people who are good at like every social media channel. You know, I'm, I'm much better at Twitter than I am at Instagram or tech talks.
So, you know, we need people kind of on those channels as well. We need, you know, we need video, we need podcasts. We need just sort of like every, every format platform me. These ideas need to get out there. And then ultimately you know, they need to get out there through all the institutions of society.
Right. We need more journalists who sort of understand the history on the promise of [00:39:00] technology and use that as context for their work. We need more educators, both at the K-12 level and at university who are going to incorporate this into the. And I've already gotten started on that by creating a high school level course in the history of technology, which is currently being taught through a private high school, the academy of thought and industry we need you know, it needs to get out there in documentaries, right?
Like there should be I'm really I'm really tempted as a side project. A a docu-drama about the life of Norman Borlaug, which is just an amazing life and a story that, that everybody should know is just, it's just like an underappreciated hero. I think a lot of these sort of stories of great scientists that had mentors could really be turned into really excellent, compelling stories, whether it's documentaries or I sort of fictionalized you know, dramas.
The Wright brothers, it would be, you know, another great one. I, I decided after reading David McCullough's history of them and their invention and, and so forth. Right. So there could just be a lot of these. And then I think ultimately it gets into the culture through through fiction as well in all of its [00:40:00] forms.
Right. So optimistic Saifai in, you know, novels and TV shows and movies and everything. Yeah. It's just also, I think I'm not. Science fiction, but just like fiction about what it's like to like what it's actually like to, to, to push things forward. Because I think I, like, I don't know. It's like most people don't actually know.
Like researchers do along these lines Anton house had a good post blockbuster two, where he was talking about movies that dramatize invention and was looking for recommendations and was sort of reviewing movies by the criteria. Which ones actually show what it's like to go through the process.
Right. And the sad thing about a lot of popular, even the popular treatments of this stuff, like Anton reviewed I guess there was a recent movie about Mary Curie. And there's a similar thing about you know Edison and like the current wars starting Benedict Cumberbatch. [00:41:00] And the problem with a lot of these things is they just sort of focus on like human drama, like people getting mad at each other and yelling and like fighting each other and so forth.
Right. And they don't focus on like the iterative discovery process and the joy of, of inventing and discovering. So the, one of the totally you know, unexpected, the sleeper hit of Anton's review was this movie, I think it's actually in Hindi called pad man, which is a drama. the real story of.
A guy who invented a cheap menstrual pad for women and that could be made you know, using a sort of like very low capital and then, and be made affordable to women in India. And I mean, he was really trespassing on social you know, cultural norms and boundaries to do this and was sort of like ostracized by his own community.
But really pursued this process and the, the movie I saw the movie it's, I, I recommend it as well. It really does a good job of dramatize. The process is process of iteration and [00:42:00] invention and discovery and the trial and error and the joy of finding something, you know, that that actually works. So we need, yeah, we need more stuff like that that actually shows you know, shows the process and and the dedication you know, it's funny, one of the.
One of my favorite writers in Silicon valley is Eric Reese who coined this term, the lean startup and read a book at the same name. And he's got this. He has this take that you know, whenever you see these stories of like business success, there's kind of like the opening scene, which is like the spark of inspiration, the great idea, you know, and then there's like, there's like the closing scene, which is.
Basking in the rewards of success and in between is, is what he calls the montage, right? Because it's typically just a montage of kind of like people working on stuff, you know, and maybe, you know, maybe there's some like setbacks and there's some iteration and stuff, but it's just kind of glossed over.
There's this like two minute montage of people iterating and some music is sort of playing over it. Right. And, and Eric's point is like, the montage is where all the [00:43:00] work happens. Right. It's unglamorous, it's a grind. It's like, you know, it's not necessarily fun and, you know, in and of itself, but it is where the actual work is done.
And so you know, his point in that, in that context, it was like, we need to open up the, the, you know, the covers of this a little bit. We need to like teach people a little bit more about what it's like in the montage. And I think that's what we need, you know, just sort of like more broadly for science and.
Okay. Here's, here's a pitch for a movie. I believe that the, the Pixar movie inside out right where they like go inside the, the little girl's head that, but for the montage. Right? So like the hall with the montage is that a lot of it is like sitting and thinking and like, not necessarily, it's like not necessarily communicated well with other people or just be talking, but like, you could have an entire internal drama.
Oh, The of the, the process as a way to like, show what's [00:44:00] going on. Yeah. Good work. I don't know. I'm so sorry. All of that is so all of that is sort of the long-term view. Right? I think how things happen. A bunch of people including me, but not only me need to do a lot of hard thinking and research and writing and and speaking, and then these ideas need to get out to the world through every, in every format, medium platform and channel and, and institution and you know, sort of that's how ideas get into the zeitgeist.
And so then I, you know, I said there's also, so the short term, so what's, so in the short term I'm going to work on doing this as much as possible. Like I said, I'm writing a book. I'm hoping that when I hire some more help, I'll be able to get my ideas out in more formats and mediums and channels.
I would like to support other people who want to do these things. So again, if. Any vision that you are inspired to pursue along the lines of anything I've been talking about for the last 10 minutes. And, and there's some way that you need help doing it, whether it's money or connections or advice or coaching or [00:45:00] whatever, please get in touch with me at the roots of progress.
And you can find my email on, on my website. And and I would love to support these products. And then another thing I'm going to be doing with the new organization and these resources is just continuing to build and strengthen the network, the progress community finding people who are sympathetic to these ideas and meeting them, getting to know them and.
Introducing them to each other and getting them and getting them to know that they all getting everybody to sort of look around at everybody else and say, ah, you exist. You're there. You're interested in this great list form of connection. And I hope through that that there will be you know, a people will just understand, Hey, This is more than just me or more than just a small number of people.
This is a growing thing. And also that people can start making connections to have, you know, fruitful collaborations, whether it's supporting each other, working together coaching and mentoring each other, investing in each other and so forth. So I plan to hold a a series of events in the beginning probably be private events.
For a, you know, people in various niches or sub-communities of [00:46:00] the progress community to sort of get together and talk and meet each other and start to make some plans for how we develop these ideas and get them out there. Isn't that seems like an excellent, an optimistic place to close. I, I really sort of appreciate you, like laying out the, the grand plan.
And just all the work you're doing. It's it's I mean, as you know, it's like, it's super exciting. Thanks. Same to you and yeah, it was great to be here and chat again. Thanks for having me back.