Bei der Recherche zu einer Kursarbeit stieß ich auf die amerikanische Künstlerin Chris Korda und wie ich hier schon dargelegt hatte, wurde ich von Chris Kordas Kunst und Ansichten aufgewühlt und begann mich mit Ihr auseinanderzusetzen.
Ich schrieb Sie aufs Geratewohl an und wir begannen uns auszutauschen und ich fasste den Entschluss, ein Interview mit Ihr im Rahmen meiner Reihe work life ART balance zu Führen.
Chris hatte meinen Fragenkatalog im Vorfeld bekommen und wusste, worauf ich hinauswollte, gab mir aber kaum Möglichkeit noch einmal zu Wort zu kommen und am Ende war ich kurz davor ihrer Kirche beizutreten…
Hier nun die leicht gekürzte Unterhaltung von immer noch über zwei Stunden, gehostet auf archive.org:
Wir ließen das Gespräch transkribieren und so konnte ich mit ein klein Wenig Aufwand hervorragende Untertitel hinzufügen, statt der von YouTube auto-generierten Subtitles, die auch 2021 noch voller Fehler sind.
CK: I looked at your questions. They cover a pretty wide range. Did you get a chance to look at the interview I sent you, that enormous 20,000 word epic?
NE: Yep. I read it and I heard part of it from the podcast.
CK: Okay. The podcast was very interesting. It’s very strange because the guys who interviewed me were very polite and friendly, and one of them, Amanda apparently knew my work from way back, but they hold views that from my point of view, might as well be incomprehensible. They might as well be Mormons. Their views to me are just very strange. But as I said to them in the interview, since there are so few antinatalists in the world, I feel that we have to try and minimize our differences and concentrate on the area of agreement, sort of like the Democrats are doing now in the United States because it’s an underdog position. But their views really are peculiar. I discussed it with the co-founder of the Church of Euthanasia, and at first he didn’t understand what I was talking about. He’d never heard of the Efilists, but when I finally explained their point of view, he just laughed. He said that’s crazy, where on earth did they get the idea that it would be a good idea to sterilize earth? And even if they did somehow manage to persuade enough human beings that that was a great thing to do, what makes them think that it’s within human power to do it? Of course you and I know that it isn’t. So it struck me that the Efilists and their brethren, David Benatar and so on, that what they’re espousing is strictly a philosophical position. It’s not practical. And that really kind of summarizes my view of it and why I’m not really keen on it.
I’m very practical and pragmatic, and so from my point of view, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to sit around debating a philosophical position that has zero chances of ever actually being implemented, even if we agreed to it. Plus I think there’s a deeper issue too, which is that, though they don’t discuss it, I see slumbering at the core of the Efilist’s proposal—or for that matter of VHEMT’s proposal, which after all is related, or David Benatar—somewhere in there is the assumption of power. And I’m very interested in that. Not that I’m an anarchist or anything, but I’m interested in how power manifests itself, particularly in the proposals of progressive politicians for example. There’s always what you might call the fist inside the glove. And the fist is that somehow or other somebody has to actually make whatever it is you’re proposing real. And that can only happen in a couple of fundamental ways. It can either happen by persuading everyone to agree with you, or it can happen through force. And so I think that slumbering inside the Efilist proposal is something like a fantasy of the force to actually impose this on everyone, though they would of course deny that. But I smell it. I just have a long history with progressive proposals. I’m sympathetic to progressive ideals. I’m the last person accused of being a fascist. Well, actually people have accused me of being an eco-fascist, though I think very incorrectly, but in general I’m suspicious of extreme proposals from the left, just as much as extreme proposals from the right. I think that either tendency can veer towards totalitarianism and authoritarianism. It’s authoritarianism that I’m skeptical of.
And I think that we all should be wary of that. We should be wary of any proposal in which there’s tyranny. We should be aware of tyranny, from whatever political persuasion. I don’t think that you would have enjoyed living under Stalin either, or under Chairman Mao. That also would have been bad. I’m not saying that there hasn’t been a long history of tyrannical proposals from the right, there has been, but I’m wary of anything that says, well this is what humanity is going to do. Humanity doesn’t agree about what we’re going to do, and we need to agree more than we do now if we’re going to survive. But I don’t think that it’s something that can be imposed on humanity. I think ultimately humanity has to spontaneously come to an agreement. That if we try and force everyone to agree, we’re going to get some kind of horrible, paradoxical result that’s not to our liking. So that’s a little off-topic, you didn’t actually ask me about that, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the Efilists said, what the text of that interview was. It seems very interesting to me and disturbing. I guess I find their views disturbing because they imply fundamental pessimism, not just about the human experiment, but about life.
NE: If they would have the power to do it, would they travel to different planets and also kill everything moving?
CK: Interesting. Maybe they would. The proposal really is absurd. It makes no sense because if they followed their proposals, they wouldn’t be around to implement them, because they would already be dead. It’s paradoxical, and it shares something in common with religion there. It’s vaguely structurally similar to some of the strains of Buddhism. Buddhism though needs to be carefully distinguished from this. Actually it was the co-founder of the church, Pastor Kim, who pointed this out to me, he said that there’s an important difference. The difference is that it’s true that in general, some Buddhist strains emphasize that the goal of the process is to escape from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In other words the cycle of reincarnation, which of course, there’s no evidence to support that reincarnation is a thing, but so assuming we dropped that objection for the moment, the idea somehow sounds similar to Efilism. It seems as though they’re saying that life is a curse, which is really what the Efilists are saying. That life is a curse because of suffering, and the best thing you could do would be to never have been born, which is exactly what David Benatar named his book, “Better to Never Have Been.” So anyway on the surface, it seems like Efilism is Buddhism, but the difference is that nowhere in Buddhism will you find the idea that all life should be exterminated. This is just not a thing in Buddhism. On the contrary, the idea of Buddhism is that we should aspire to be better people, and it’s by becoming better people that we supposedly escape from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
In other words, there’s an implied optimism about the possibility of us finding the better angels of our nature, whereas Efilism fundamentally is opposed to this. Efilism is sort of the final pessimism. It says that no amount of potential for human beings to be better is worth the amount of suffering that life generates, that suffering outweighs everything. And because it’s the essence of existence that there’s some amount of suffering involved, that the only solution is for life to not exist. So that’s not what Buddhism is saying. I would defy anyone to show me, maybe there’s some small sect of Buddhism that is saying this, but mainstream Buddhism is definitely not saying this. In fact, mainstream Buddhism, like all religions, tries to inspire people to be more ethical. You can make a case that from the Efilist point of view, why would you bother? I mean, what’s the point of inspiring people to be more ethical if we’re just going to exterminate them all?
Now, they would probably reply to that and say, well, we’re not actually proposing to exterminate everyone. Because we don’t believe in force or something like this, at which point the whole conversation just kind of ends, because if they’re not proposing to sterilize earth, then their proposal is strictly an armchair philosophy. There’s no actual plan of action, except complaining a lot. So what I’m accusing them of is whining a lot. There are whining about how terrible life is, but they’re not actually doing much about it, except whining about it. And so I see this as not very constructive.
It’s fine that they don’t procreate, and some of them may be vegans too, and that’s all very positive, but I think that the negativity of [their] ideology is poisonous and it’s not really what we need right now. We need to inspire people to rebel against the prevailing ideology of growth-ism. We need to inspire people to find the better angels of their nature and become better human beings and more open to collaborating and cooperating, so that we can achieve a longer stay on earth. Well, I don’t think that Efilism has that property. I don’t think it’s inspiring people, in fact it’s not constructive at all, and so I don’t think that it’s the ideology we need for the 21st century. I’m not saying that the Church of Euthanasia necessarily is either, but we need something. We need something that will make people want to work for the future because otherwise we haven’t got one. And I think that’s what I tried to say on their podcast, more or less.
That it’s all about the future. What I was pitching to them was existentialism. Essentially what I’m saying is that humanity always faced tough choices on earth. It was always going to be a choice between us surviving somewhat longer and not, but either way it was going to be time-limited. Someday in the long distant future, the sun will become a red giant and unless we’ve managed to escape to other worlds by then, that’s the end of the experiment, definitely. Now that’s a long time away, not on the geological timescale, but on the human timescale that’s unimaginably far. And there’s every reason to believe that we’ll somehow manage to screw the pooch long before then. But you never know, we might not. And so the point is that what we’re really debating is how much longer earth should support humans for, and of course we don’t have any agreement about that.
Humanity is not even discussing that, except maybe at the United Nations, but we ought to be. And that’s what I want to focus on mostly. That’s why I made Apologize to the Future, because I think that people are neglecting the future and behaving as though their own descendants don’t matter. And I think that’s weird. And I said that to you in my emails too. I say this to all of my friends and colleagues who have children: you better get cracking on your apologies because we have a lot to apologize for. We’ve made a mess of earth. I even say that on the album somewhere. Earth is in disarray. We made a mess of earth, and we’re going to be hated for that someday.
NE: My parents don’t want to hear that from me.
CK: It’s a hard thing to understand, and a hard thing to face, but people are going to look back at this period with bitter skepticism, and they’re going to accuse us of narcissism and selfishness and myopia, in other words they’re going to accuse us of short-sightedness, and rightly so. This was the age of freedom. Paolo Bacigalupi, who wrote the Ship Breakers trilogy—I mentioned that in the interview—talks about this very explicitly. He’s visualizing what a post climate apocalypse future will look like.
For starters, a future in which all of the existing coastlines today are submerged. And in that future that he visualizes, our age, the age of today, is described as the “accelerated age,” derisively. That’s an insult, meaning that’s how they regard us: as decadent. We were so decadent and so selfish that we burned all that carbon and destroyed the planet’s atmospheric system, in order to be accelerated. And I think that’s very interesting. I think that we should think more about that and we don’t. And so I don’t know what to do about it, but anyway, I think that that’s really what I’ve been focusing most of my energy on these last couple of years, is trying to visualize how the future will regard us.
Assuming there is one, I mean, there will be a future, of course, of some kind, but we don’t know what it will look like. There’s no guarantee that civilization will survive this bottleneck. And I talked about that too in the interview. I think that David Grinspoon’s work is super important and everybody should read his book. Everybody should read Earth in Human Hands. That should be a number one bestseller. And it wasn’t. Some people have heard of it. I’m sure it was reviewed in the New York Times and so on, but it’s not as well-known as it should be. Essentially what David Grinspoon is telling us is that the universe is completely indifferent to our fate. So whatever happens here, it’s for us and us alone. It’s for us to determine whether any of this has sufficient meaning so that we care about it enough to make it a longer ride instead of a shorter ride.
That’s up to us. And secondly, what he’s saying is that this happens a lot out there in the universe. When you study astronomy and you begin to comprehend how many zeros there are in those numbers, and you begin to comprehend the Drake equations and grasp how many worlds there actually are, then you realize that it’s just unavoidable. The conclusion is unavoidable that out there, this experiment has been performed over and over and over again. And most of the time, the result is failure. As Edward O. Wilson put it in Consilience, most of the time intelligence snuffs itself out. That’s the solution, is that you don’t make it through the bottleneck. And so the odds are against us, the odds of civilization surviving and humanity becoming a long-lived species are very poor.
And so that has good points and bad points. On the good side, if we fail, we shouldn’t waste too much time feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling guilty about it, because the odds were against us. But on the other hand, it means that this is serious, that we face very hard obstacles. The odds of us overcoming these obstacles are poor. And so if we are intent on prevailing, then we have to shape up. And that’s the real message of Apologize to the Future. The whole message of that project could be summed up best by the line “So wise up fast, it’s not too late. Respect the future, don’t procreate.” There you go. If you had to reduce the whole album to a sentence, that would be it.
We need to stop acting like children. And the first symptom of us not acting like children is we’ll get serious about reducing the human population in order to restore balance with the non-human world. Because at the current state of technology, we have no chance of survival without the non-human world. It’s just not optional. We’d like to think otherwise, the technologists and the rich people like to think that we’re somehow going to escape to Mars, or it’s going to be like that movie Elysium. But the reality is that’s not happening, that without the biosphere we’re dead. And so even if you separate out and put aside the intrinsic value of the biosphere—the right of all those squirrels and fish and birds and everything else to survive just because they exist—even if you put that to one side, just for strictly selfish, egoistic reasons, humanity had better encourage the health of the biosphere. Otherwise that’s the end of the experiment for us and something else will happen on earth, not involving us. That’s the point of view that I really want to communicate to people the most, is that in the end it’s a fairly neutral situation. If we disappear from earth, we disappear from earth. Something else will happen.
The paleontological history is very clear. 99% of everything that’s ever evolved on earth is now extinct. We could join that list, and the odds suggest that we will join that list, but we are different and we are special. And so I think that it’s worth fighting over. It’s worth humanity having an argument with itself, and that’s what we’re doing today. That’s the purpose of all this outreach, is to try and persuade people to take it more seriously, to take the future more seriously. And what the Efilists will say is there’s no future that you could have that would justify all this suffering. And my response to that is that there’s actually been tremendous progress since just within my lifetime, never mind since the French revolution or since the Neolithic, there’s been enormous progress just since the 1960s. I grew up in a very different world. I grew up in America in the early 1960s, and at that time, Jim Crow was still a reality.
Martin Luther King was just beginning to happen. Jim Crow was still the reality. It’s horrible to imagine, but when I was a child I never met a person cleaning or cooking or working on a train or shining shoes who wasn’t non-white, and that was in New York, a relatively progressive liberal place. You can imagine what it was like further down South. Separate but equal. So that was the reality and that’s just not true anymore. The world has changed. Georgia just elected its first black Senator. That’s something that changed during my lifetime. And of course, LGBTQI appeared out of nowhere. When I was growing up, we were so ignorant about all of that, that as late as 1972, I had no idea that Elton John was gay.
I didn’t even know that Freddie Mercury was gay. The name of the band was Queen! Nobody got it. The straight guys just didn’t know, they didn’t get the reference. Incredible. Hard to imagine. It was so bad that Freddie Mercury got married or tried to get married. Elton John was married. I mean, it was just a normal thing for gay performers to get wives in order to protect their reputations because there was legal jeopardy. In some states you could go to prison over it. Most states. Even Massachusetts, where I lived most of my life, until the 1980s still had sodomy laws on the books, incredible that didn’t end until Lawrence versus Texas. Lawrence versus Texas changed all that. The Supreme Court finally ruled that the state has no compelling interest in regulating private sexual conduct.
That was the end of the sodomy laws. But until then for the entire history all the way back, as far as you want to look, sodomy was a punishable crime. And of course in uncivilized places, it still is. You can still be murdered for sodomy in lots of parts of the world, just not in America or Europe, though increasingly there’s problems there too. Maybe sodomy laws are coming back in Poland and Hungary and places like that. And that’s something we’ve got to watch. That’s what the EU is fighting with Poland and Hungary over more or less: negative progress, where countries are rolling back towards homophobia and xenophobia and all those other things that we supposedly conquered. It’s a constant struggle to get human beings to become more enlightened, and we need to hurry up.
We’re losing. The clock is running. That’s another line on the album. It says, “Because the clock’s running out, and the world’s in pain, and making more babies is insane.” I’m sorry to keep saying stuff like that. I know it’s upsetting for you personally, but you know who you’re interviewing. What else would you expect me to say? I mean, not to invoke psychedelia, but it’s like an LSD trip or something. We’re in this crazy reality. Ray Kurzweil’s fever dream came true. The singularity has already arrived. It’s no longer hypothetical. We are now in the singularity. By the singularity, I don’t just mean technologically, the essence of the singularity is that everything went exponential at once. Everything, good stuff and bad, everything. Not just memory devices and processing power, but we emptied the ocean of fish. We destroyed almost all the rainforest. We started a mass extinction. The list goes on and on. Human impacts are accelerating exponentially, as well as the population, of course, during my lifetime.
NE: All the damage has been done in your lifetime. And it started in the fifties, the boomer generation, as it is called in the United States. They are the problem.
CK: We’re all the problem. Everyone contributes to it in some way, but yes, there was a lot of optimism in the 1950s. There was a rejection of limits.
NE: My grandma had seven children, two of the girls died and they were five boys and it’s a very unhealthy situation for the family. And now it’s the family of my father. My father’s side is broken up and it’s just unnatural to have that many kids in that short period of time. And so I’m totally with you.
CK: I’m careful about the use of the word natural, because that leads to a whole other philosophical discussion. Almost nothing humanity does at this point is natural. What we’re doing right now is not natural, believe it. Not even close.
NE: You dumped all this knowledge on me and I have to figure out what I’m talking about now.
CK: Sure, I’m hogging the time. You should talk more, ask me whatever you want to ask me. You already know what I think, because you read the last interview. So ask me whatever you want to ask me. We can talk about art, if that’s what you want to do.
NE: At first I was really opposed to your work. The first moment I heard about it on Arte, the TV station. I was against it, of course. I’m a father myself and I felt so much that I read about you. And I just thought, just write an email and see what I’m… I have to take a sip of water. I’m really depressed about the situation. I feel a really heavy burden with having these kids. I really love them. And I’m in fear. I’m really in fear for the future. And this is what drives me. I’m looking for a way out, I’m looking for a way to do what I can. It really hurts me. I can’t sleep very well in the last few weeks. With this whole pandemic, it takes a really heavy toll on my psyche. And everything you told me now, I know already. The Efilists, I didn’t know about. How can you come to the conclusion that it could be best to eradicate life to stop the suffering?
CK: Hard to say. But people believe much crazier stuff than that, Norman, think of Scientology. The Efilists are only moderately crazy and they’re not even that evil. Think of the Mormon religion. Now the Mormon religion is really crazy. In the Mormon religion, for example, whoever accumulates the most gold and wives in this life is closest to God in the next life. Now that’s the kind of craziness that can lead to bad things. I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who said somewhere “never underestimate the power of bad ideas.” That might be a line from my favorite book, Breakfast of Champions. So that was a bad idea that had a lot of legs. That’s how scary religions get started, is often with a single really dangerous idea. So by comparison to that, Efilism is a fairly harmless bad idea because it’s completely impractical. There’s no way of implementing it.
Whereas Mormonism was very practical and it was implemented very thoroughly, as were Scientology and Christianity and Islam, and many other bad ideas. Humanity is seething with bad ideas, and always has been. The effort to have us not control our lives with superstition and childish fantasy and fairy tales is quite new. Certainly it doesn’t go back much further than 500 BC, which if you look at things on a geological timescale, that’s yesterday. The idea that humanity was going to take responsibility for itself and become captain of its fate, this was not practical until the modern era, because nations weren’t in communication with each other. There was no mail. Go back and read about ancient Rome. That was the beginning of the idea that there should be what we would today call international travel and international communication.
Before that, not really. And after the Roman Empire collapsed, there was a long period where we were back to the usual. Back to the dark ages where you have people picking through the rubble of the Roman Empire. Maybe they need some stones for something, so they grab a few stones from the nearest aqueduct or the nearest road. It was as if there’d been an alien civilization on earth, and then it disappeared for whatever reason and left all this debris behind, and people don’t know what it was for, and don’t really care, and go back to being illiterate. That was pretty much what happened in the dark ages. People went back to being illiterate know-nothings. And the debris that the Roman Empire left around might as well have been left by an alien civilization, until the Renaissance anyway, when they rediscovered it all.
Wow. Look at these statues. How on earth did they do that? And eventually [they] figured it all out again, and today we’ve exceeded vastly the standards of the Roman Empire in some aspects of our development, but ethically it’s unclear. In some aspects, yes. So in the Roman Empire, slavery was just a normal feature of life. And today we’d like to think that we’re past that stage. And in many respects we are. But in other areas ethically, we’ve got nothing to be bragging about, because the standards are higher as well. The further we go down the road, the higher the standards get, the more is expected of us. In order to participate in modern 21st century technological democracy, we expect a lot of people. We expect them to show real solidarity on a level that was unimaginable even hundreds of years ago. And we’re not really holding up our end of that too well at the moment. We need to work on that.
So I get that you’re upset. I get that you’re freaked out and that’s positive. I was upset and freaked out for many years too. And I also became very pessimistic and negative because I couldn’t imagine any way that things could get better. And I have to say that the thing that’s actually helped me the most is to study how much people actually did figure out in the last few hundreds of years, that this really helped me. What I mean by that is studying STEM, studying science and technology and engineering and math. I didn’t have any choice. That was my career. I was sort of plunged head first into STEM out of necessity. Otherwise, if I didn’t get better at that, I would have been fired, and would have to work at something that I wouldn’t like very much.
But the good side of that is that I developed a lot of respect for the idea that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and that much of the underpinning of our advanced 21st century civilization already existed in the 19th century, or even in the 18th century, thanks to the tireless work of a relatively small number of people. And so it’s worth learning about them, and maybe if you spent more time studying them, [not] necessarily in a highly technical way, you don’t have to become a mathematician, in any case it wouldn’t be possible for you to understand the details of everything that our predecessors figured out, because it’s much too vast a body of knowledge, but you could understand the overall shape.
You could begin to understand the structure, the broad outlines of the edifice that they built. And by doing that, I think you will be more empowered. You will begin to feel some pride, justifiably, in what humans have accomplished, despite our flaws. Despite the many things that we’re failing at, humanity in many respects is a tremendous success story, and I think that many people miss that because they’re not familiar with history. They don’t understand how barbaric we were, and how much progress we’ve actually made. Those are two very different things. You would learn about the first by studying prehistory, for example, you could study anthropology and paleontology. You could study the anthropology of Aboriginal societies today, to begin to understand how tough it really was, and how close we came to disappearing. Humanity went through a bottleneck around the time of the Neolithic where we almost didn’t make it.
We were down to a very small number of individuals. It’s worthwhile to understand that we were literally cowering in caves, hiding from the giant predators. That was our reality. We were just barely surviving. From the point of view of predators, humanity is pretty weak. From the point of view of a mountain lion, your average human is easy lunch, and the only thing that we have to defend against that is our wits. Of course, that’s a lot, as we now see with the benefit of hindsight, we have a lot of wits, but at the time when we were sort of living hand to mouth and hunting and gathering, our wits weren’t all that evolved.
It was just barely good enough to keep us alive. We could make some primitive weapons and make fire and other things that helped us survive. It was touch and go, humanity barely survived into the modern era, but we did survive. So the other side of that though, is to understand how rapidly and astonishingly we went from being moderately intelligent apes—not too bright, the Neanderthals were not such bright bulbs, they made some very nice jewelry and the occasional cave painting or whatever, but believe it, by today’s standards, they were imbeciles—so we went from that to making iPhones in an astonishingly short amount of time on the geological timescale.
So that should give you pause. And that should give you reasons, not only for pessimism, but for optimism too. Most people show surprisingly little knowledge of scientific progress. They take it for granted. They don’t think about it very much. They use the toys that scientific progress has provided with, and I use the word toys, but that’s impolite. They are tools. We use the tools of progress, but we don’t think too much about how those tools got into our hands. And I think that if you do more research into that and think more about the astonishing journey that we’ve taken, even just since the Renaissance, I think you will have more cause for optimism. You’ll begin to see that yes, humanity is still fucking up royally and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but we also show the potential for greatness. That’s something that I didn’t appreciate until very recently.
NE: Thank you. I would like to talk about your video.
CK: Which one?
NE: I’ve seen it yesterday night.
CK: Overshoot? Oh, that’s a good one.
NE: I liked that one. The miniatures are very charming. Who did this and how was it made?
CK: I’m not the right person to ask about this. I can tell you some, but I can’t tell you everything because that was contract work. I had a lot to do with it. It was done by a team called Bos & Lanting, Susan Lanting and Steven Bos, based in Amsterdam. They were recommended to me by a mutual friend. I had been through a long list of video production teams by then, and not found anyone who could realize my vision. I did have a specific vision and the vision was actually quite simple and schematic. I hadn’t fleshed it out all that much, but the core of the idea was I knew that for Overshoot, what I wanted was to show doll houses, or at least a doll house being gradually flooded. Related ideas being stuff like the furniture starts to float, and things rise up and start to float out the windows.
And maybe there’s a shot of the dolls or their furniture floating away to the sea. That was really all I had, but it was something, it was a start. Essentially the observation, the psychological intuition underlying that is that there’s been no shortage of climate disaster filmmaking, what you might call disaster porn. In fact, we’re absolutely soaking in disaster porn by now, it’s a common trope in cinema and TV and so on. And yet it doesn’t really appear to have the intended effect. For the most part, it has not resulted in a drastic positive transformation. It hasn’t necessarily resulted in people taking climate change more seriously. And so I asked myself why that is, why is it that people have gone to so much trouble to very literally and realistically depict what a climate apocalypse could look like, for example in movies like The Day after Tomorrow, and yet it didn’t really have that much effect on people.
Anyway, my hypothesis was that it would be harder for people to dismiss it if we showed it in a children’s world. In other words, if we made it more like a fairy tale, and the reasons for that are mostly psychological. People are very susceptible to fairy tales. Fairy tales have a lot of legs. And it’s because they communicate not with our adult selves primarily, but with our child selves, which if you have any background in psychotherapy, you know that’s very important. Even in a highly functioning adult, the child self is making a lot of the decisions. The child self may be calling the shots, certainly emotionally. It’s normal.
And so communicating with the child self is a big deal if you can manage to do it, because the child self is the innermost core of the person, and highly connected to how you make ethical choices and all of that. So I had the idea that it would be more effective if we could somehow show the impact of climate change on a mythical and archetypal world, in a Jungian sense. It was a psychological strategy. It has to do with the uncanny valley. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this metaphor from high technology but I’ll just describe it briefly. It first arose in discussions of animation. The uncanny valley described the effect that if animation—particularly in video games and so on—was hyper-realistic, it often made people uncomfortable, and it made them uncomfortable because it was almost real, but not quite real enough.
The uncanny valley looks uncanny because you almost believe it, but not quite, and you would feel safer and less disturbed if it were less realistic, paradoxically. That’s the uncanny valley. And so it scales, it has applications outside of animation in general. I think that the problem with showing climate apocalypse in the movies and TV very vividly and with computer graphics to make it hyper-realistic is that you have uncanny valley problems. You wind up tripping the uncanny valley defense. People say, yeah, it looks super real, but somehow not real enough. I know that this is fake. I know that this is just Hollywood. And so they’re able to dismiss it. Whereas had you made it more schematic and more archetypal, like a fairy tale, you might’ve communicated better.
That was the hypothesis. And that’s all I came with, was that hypothesis and a few details. And so then Bos & Lanting were the first people who, when they heard that hypothesis, said yes, we like it and we know what to do with it. And not only that, but it just so happens that we’re experts at underwater photography. And Susan turned out to be an expert at building dollhouses and dioramas and miniatures. So what an amazing stroke of luck. There’s a lot of luck involved in art. Anyone who tells you otherwise, I don’t know, they lead a different life, but in my life luck plays a decisive role. This was just blind luck. And so I said, great, show me some stuff. And I looked at their footage, and they had a giant fish tank that they shot in.
So everything you see in that video is not done with CG, with computer graphics. It’s done the Michel Gondry way. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Michel Gondry, [who made] Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Science of Sleep, but he’s noted for his use of optical effects, doing everything the hard way. That video was done the hard way with actual miniatures. Even the shot where I appear to be floating over the models like a kind of moon, that was done by placing a computer monitor behind the fish tank, not with CG.
I was really inspired by them. I found them delightful to work with, and it took a long time. That was about six months of work on their part. And they came up to where I live to shoot the footage of me, so that they could cut me in. And we got to know each other better because of that. It was an expensive project and very stressful. And a lot of decisions had to be made. While they directed it, I produced it. So I had a lot of input for sure. They would say, what do you think about this? And I would say what I like, and also what I don’t like. And like every piece of art it evolved over time, we changed from the mission over time because we had new ideas.
There were many things in the final product that I didn’t envision at the beginning. We started with a kind of laundry list of things to try and achieve, and we achieved most of them, but we also added to the list many things that we hadn’t foreseen. For example the shot at the end of the spinning globe, just after the shot of the portrait of me burning, that’s all stuff that was added and figured out later. So it was a very creative, interactive kind of process.
NE: Very enjoyable. How did they manage to spin it?
CK: Good question. You’d have to ask them that. They had their crafty ways. I was amazed by a lot of this stuff. They have techniques. You’d have to ask them how they did that. I think maybe they use stop motion techniques. I really don’t know.
NE: No, the particles in the water floated and I don’t think it could be made with stop motion animation.
CK: It could have done it by creating a current. They might’ve used invisible wires. I know that the plane, the aircraft was suspended by fishing line. So it’s a kind of puppetry.
NE: I analyzed the video and you see the fishing line and I love it.
CK: I pointed out to them that it was visible and they’re like, yeah, that’s okay. It’s a make-believe world, so it’s okay if we show some sharp edges, it’s normal in a puppet show. You can see the strings, and that doesn’t count as a flaw in a puppet show, it’s just part of how it’s done. We were not trying to create something hyperreal. That was not the mission at all. We were creating art and the question was how to make the art as emotionally affecting as possible. And so I argued for stuff like during the scene where the bedroom is flooding, I argued for showing that scene longer so that you could see the furniture start to float.
That’s the kind of change that I would ask for. It was all little stuff like that, but it’s a delightful video. I feel very good about it. And I think that it’s a shame that it didn’t get seen more. The goal of the Apologize to the Future project was to try and cross over, outside of mainstream music circles, or even more narrowly electronic music circles. The label that Apologized to the Future came out on is really only known for minimal techno. That’s a very narrow market. My goal was to somehow cross over outside of that market, into the mainstream world. And I thought that that was appropriate. I think that Apologize to the Future still could do that, though disappointingly it hasn’t thus far. You might think that the first album entirely about climate change, intergenerational injustice, antinatalism, mass extinction, economic inequality, and all the other pressing issues of the 21st century would be news, and should be news, that even people who don’t normally write about music should at least in theory be interested in that, but we didn’t succeed at that, even though I hired PR people and tried to make that happen.
I think that some of that is interference from the pandemic and from Donald Trump and his crazy followers. There’s been a pretty tough headwind in 2020, and that was just bad timing, but I think some of it was a more fundamental problem. The fundamental problem was explained to me by one of the PR people I worked with. He said that there’s a kind of dichotomy. If you go to journalists who write about climate change and try and pitch them on Apologize to the Future, they’re going to say, that’s great, but Chris isn’t a climate scientist and we only take quotes from climate scientists, and so you want the culture department, and that’s down the hall. So that’s the end of that. And then you go to the culture department and try and pitch them.
And what they say is, how come we’ve never heard of Chris? How come Chris only has a thousand followers on Instagram? Why should we cover this? Chris isn’t sufficiently a celebrity. And so now you’re really screwed because you’re on the horns of the dilemma. You can’t win with either group. So I came to the realization that had Miley Cyrus made this album, it would be in the New York Times. Well, that’s unfortunate, it’s unfair. Nobody said that any of this was fair. I don’t expect things to be fair, but it was disappointing to realize that that’s how it is going to work. If I could make a few more albums like this, maybe eventually it would start to stick, but there’s no guarantee of that. Apologize to the Future is a hard act to follow. I don’t know that I can promise to make more things like it. And so and of course now it’s been too long. The way the media world works, it’s all about now, now, now. And so it’s not clear that we’re ever going to get that to happen, that’s really a shame because I think more people should know that this happened.
NE: You only have 24 hours. You only have so much attention to give. And it’s spent very fast every morning, when I wake up I’m on the toilet and I’m reading my newsfeed. And then my wife calls me, she needs a diaper and so on. And then the attention has gone for the next few hours. And I think most people are that way. They are in the daily cycles and it’s hard to make time for art. And what do you think about that? What is the purpose of art and what is art to you and how did you come to your art?
CK: When I saw that question on your list of questions, took a step back. That’s not a question that I can really answer. That’s such a big question. I could only say what art is to me. I couldn’t speak for anything bigger than that. I always had the idea that that saved my life. That if I weren’t an artist, something terrible would have happened to me, because I have a lot of really strange ideas and art gives me a way to channel those ideas into something constructive. Without the art, perhaps they would be channeled into something destructive and that would be bad. As a young person, I was very inspired by the work of David Lynch. I encountered his work at an early age, in 1980 or so. Around that time he was featured in the New York Times, a long interview. He’s a difficult interview subject. And so at one point they asked him what he’s been doing, trying to get him to talk a little bit. And he said he’d just bought a house on Mulholland drive in Hollywood. And they said, tell us about the house. And he said, it’s empty. And the interviewer said, well, why is it empty? And David said that he didn’t want to worry about… things.
I was really influenced by that. I used to have this wonderful fantastical vision of David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini sitting around on the floor of this enormous mansion up on Mulholland Drive, with no furniture in the house, they’re sitting on the floor, with Isabella giving him this look, so now what? What do we do? I don’t know that it was really like that, and I’m not sure how much exaggeration was involved, but it was impressed upon me. I was exposed to Eraserhead at a very early age. That’s still the number one Church of Euthanasia film. Of course, it’s an antinatal film. If Eraserhead doesn’t make you fear procreation then you’re a lost cause. That’s the most nightmarish imaginable vision of procreation. Eraserhead is about men’s terror of their sperm. Sperm figure prominently in the film. And so it’s about how men are terrorized by the danger of procreation and pregnancy and how it destroys lives. It’s about many other things too, but it’s fundamentally about that. And so that had a huge effect on me. It really set me back. Somewhere in that you will find one of the major roots of the Church of Euthanasia.
So that’s how I got started as an artist. I started down that path very early. In college, I studied painting and classical composition and harmony. By then I’d already been playing instruments for many years. And I showed some significant talent as a visual artist, too. My grandfather was a notable painter, and I’m sure that influenced me as well. Art was always something in my mind, it just wasn’t practical. When I was in my twenties, there was just no hope of surviving as an artist. It was out of the question. I had to struggle. I was poor. I had to struggle every day just to make the rent. And so that’s how I got into engineering. Not that that’s bad. One of my most important influences was another engineer artist.
I mentioned [Thomas Wilfred] the other day. He’s not well known, but he was arguably the first light artist, and he was active in the 1920s when electricity was still quite new. He was an influence on me in many different ways. He was probably the first phase artist… making art primarily based on phase shift between various different things that are oscillating at different frequencies. That later became the basis of all of my musical work. But it also can apply to visual arts, and I applied to my visual art as well. I’ve made a lot of phase shift based visual art and audio art. So he influenced me in that regard.
I was exposed to his work as a child, and it also influenced me with the idea that it’s not unreasonable to combine engineering with art. Many good things come from this. Leonardo da Vinci is still valued as a scientist and engineer as much as he was valued as an artist. There’s a lot to that. It’s helpful to know how things work. That’s useful information if you’re an artist. Art is made out of things, and the more you know about things, and the more you’re aware of how the world really works, the more power you have to achieve your vision, which after all is what really matters. So to answer your question, for me, success as an artist is equated with achieving my vision.
When I evaluate my own art, the question I ask is not, is it popular, do people like it? The question I ask is, did it achieve my vision? Is it honest? Does it faithfully represent what I felt and had in mind when I was making it? Fidelity is a word that’s underused, and with respect to art, fidelity means faithfulness, how faithfully something follows its intent. That’s very important to me. I feel that the best I can achieve is to make a work of art that’s honest, that stays faithful to its intention, and is consistent in that. I’m okay with inconsistence if that was part of the goal, but in general coherence is underrated in art. Past a certain point incoherence is noise. Noise is perfectly incoherent in engineering terms, white noise is basically pure randomness and pure randomness is not art.
It’s distinguishable from art because art should be intentional. I’m not saying that you couldn’t use some randomness in art, but even that would be an intention. This gets really complicated and philosophical. You could use the example of wind chimes. Is the music made by wind chimes art? Well, that’s complicated. Clearly the motion of the wind through the chimes is not determined by any human being. That’s just the wind, it does what it does, but the human built the wind chimes and determined what notes they would be and how far apart they’d be and how they would interact with the wind and so on. And that’s where the intent comes in. You could have some degree of freedom in your art that is left to chance, and much environmental art is made that way.
Brian Eno I’m sure could talk to you for hours about the function of randomness in his art. I don’t use much randomness in my art. I use some in my visual art. Especially when I was studying fractals, I was interested in the effects of stochastic processes, meaning random processes, but in my musical work, I generally avoid randomness. My musical work is almost entirely permutations, and what that means is that it’s deterministic. My patterns may be very long, some of them wouldn’t repeat for millions of years, but they would repeat. And so you can play them twice in a row and they’ll do the same thing. And I’m interested in that. I just like deterministic things, so in general, I avoid randomness, but the point is just that there is a process, and the process is about realizing an intention and trying to stay faithful to it, and trying to make something that is coherent, meaning that all of its parts in one way or another are focused in the same direction, like a beam of light. The work doesn’t have to be consistent, but it should ideally be coherent. It should not look like a bunch of things thrown together that have no relationship to each other, that generally in an effective work of art, all of the various pieces of it contribute towards something, and that something is the goal of the art, expressing that something. Then you’re back to the [simplest] truism, which is that ultimately art is expression. I guess that’s the best I can really do.
NE: This is when it is. And I can see the coherent thought, yeah.
CK: That can be a problem. There was a lot of discussion around this at the height of the high modern period, discussion about the role of chaos and randomness in art. Many people were not persuaded by Jackson Pollock. My favorite example is Ad Reinhardt, his black paintings, which culminated with his supposedly “last paintings” and Robert Motherwell also making giant black paintings. There was a long history to this. It started in the 1940s and fifties, this idea, but it generated a lot of heat.
Critics would say, where do we go from here? If we’re going to hang a black painting in the Museum of Modern Art, how is that not the end of art? Well, I could’ve answered that. My answer to that would be, it’s not going to be the end of art, if nothing else, just because human beings see in color. I’m as sympathetic to modernism as anyone, I like black paintings, but why not have some red in there? Sooner or later, people were going to get impatient with that. And I think that the same could have been said about John Cage and the concrete music that was popular around that time.
Silence has its place, and John Cage’s famous piece had an important role in the history of music, but it’s not going to be the end of music either, because ultimately silence is not the end. There’s more to human experience than nothing. Nothing is important and nothing has its following, but something ultimately exists in tension with nothing. And it’s the dynamic between something and nothing that we’re really facing here. That’s what makes life interesting. If it was all one or all the other, there’s nothing to discuss. And that’s not our reality. Our reality is that there’s always a tension, a dynamic tension, [in] every work of art in any domain, whether it’s music or visual or whatever, space is always an issue. My original application for this idea was in music, but it goes far beyond that. The fundamental tension, not only in music, but in all art is between what you might call boredom and chaos.
At the one extreme, if it’s too predictable, if it’s too repetitious, then you tune out because there’s nothing holding your attention. At the other extreme, if it’s too chaotic and unpredictable, [not enough] repetition, then you tune out because you can’t grasp it. It just looks like noise, and at that point, you’ve wrapped around. If you look at white noise, it’s a kind of order, but such chaotic order that it might as well be emptiness. It manages to be full and empty at the same time. It’s all frequencies. That’s technically what white noise actually is. It’s every frequency at once. If you look at its Fast Fourier Transform, all the bands will have the same amplitude. That tells you that it contains nothing. It’s something, and it’s nothing. And so at those two extremes—of everything and nothing—you don’t have much potential, but between those two extremes, that’s where art lies, compromising between them and deciding how much something and how much nothing you want. That’s very important in music, and it probably scales to all human expression, even to something as simple as me sitting here talking to you.
NE: You said we have color sight. Now this brings me to another idea. I thought, why do we have color sight in the first place?
CK: Well, that’s biology.
NE: It must be some kind of evolutionary development of course. And I read it’s about distinguishing ripe and unripe fruits. No carnivores.
CK: Regarding evolutionary biology, I can’t be much help as it’s outside my area of expertise, but I did read a lot of Richard Dawkins. I waded through The Blind Watchmaker and all the rest of them. What I can tell you is that all of the attributes that we have, regardless of whether turn out to be constructive or harmful in the 21st century, all of the attributes we have in one way or another contributed to our survival in our original evolutionary environment, which was, as we now know, the savannas of Africa.
And that’s something that Edward O. Wilson also wrote about. [He] was the first person that I read who proposed that many of the attributes that we have that were selected for by evolution—meaning they contributed to our survival somehow and therefore persisted—many of those attributes that were indispensable in our original evolutionary environment, have monstrous aspects now, meaning that they are woefully unsuited to our modern technological lives. And the problem here is that we’re operating on such short timescales now, meaning social evolution is occurring so rapidly compared to the timescales that biology operates on, that biology is no longer the determining factor. Human behavior is no longer primarily determined by biological evolution. It can’t be, because genetic evolution responds too slowly, and because we no longer have significant populations separated geographically, which is an important precondition for biological evolution.
Normally biological evolution gets started when two populations that were the same genetically are somehow separated and begin to drift apart, and are exposed to different environmental stimuli, meaning different selection pressures, which cause them to respond to their environment differently. That’s normally how speciation occurs. So normally you have to have geographical isolation, which of course prevents the two populations from reproducing together. Well, humanity is very much opposed to that at the moment. We have jet travel. Perhaps the COVID pandemic will be a step towards us becoming evolving more genetically, because it’s preventing global travel. It’s an interesting hypothesis.
In general, the age of global travel has been a severe limiting factor. To the extent that there would be any significant genetic variation on the short timescales of modernity, global travel would tend to prevent it, because if everyone is having sex with everyone, you’re mixing all the human genes. You’re shuffling the deck across the world. That means that people will become more similar to each other, or to put it quaintly, humanity will become mutts. It’s a pejorative we use about dogs, but effectively that’s what’s happened: much to the chagrin of right-wing racists and eugenicists, humanity has increasingly become mutt-like. Everyone has a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and we’re all descended from Jews and Africans. [Intermingling] is a good thing from the modern point of view, but from the point of view of genetic variation, it’s a bad thing because it makes it more difficult to get any significant genetic variation to occur in the human species. That’s a complicated debate that we’re not going to have, but the point about Dawkins, and about Edward O. Wilson, what they’re showing is that you can have attributes that would evolve and contribute to human survival in our original environment, that could then turn out to be harmful.
And a simple example would be our tendency to focus exclusively on the present. It’s arguable that in our original evolutionary environment, that was a survival skill because all the challenges we faced were short-term challenges. There were no long-term challenges because most people didn’t live very long. And even if they did, society was changing so slowly that there wasn’t any possible path towards real meaningful progress. Maybe arrows got a little bit sharper from generation to generation, but not much. It would be a very small difference that only archeologists in the future would notice. This was pointed out to me best by the author of Black Elk Speaks. It was a book about a Native American who was the last surviving member of his tribe. It’s his memoir, though it’s not written by him, he’s just speaking. And he says in the introduction that normally he would never suffer someone to write down what he said, because what is one man’s life before he becomes grass on the hills?
So that’s how it was, is that one man’s life was just grass on the hills. There was no significant progress, and so no history, nothing worth writing down. That’s not how we live now. There’s a lot of history and things are happening fast and there’s a lot to write down. So the idea is that today, in our world, it’s not helpful if everyone is hyper-focused just on the present moment. Survive, now. Do this now. Run away from that dangerous animal. We needed that in the past, but today we need to be focused more on long-term things, and we aren’t very good at that. A simple example of that is people love to watch sports. That’s a connection to our prehistoric past. The reason people like to watch basketball is because they enjoy watching the guy get the ball in the hole. That’s the kind of thing that humans are really well-evolved at. You, get the ball in the hole, now. It doesn’t matter whether you got it in the hole yesterday, or whether you’ll get it in the hole tomorrow, all that matters is that you get the ball in the hole now. That’s very human. That’s just part of our past.
There are other examples we could focus on like our aggression, and our excessive procreation, our prodigious sex drive, and so on. In this respect, we’re more like chimpanzees, and that’s a bad thing. Chimpanzees are very dangerous and violent and war-like. We wish that in evolutionary terms we were more similar to bonobos, and there’s been some interesting research into that too. But all of this is academic. The bottom line is that whether our original evolutionary attributes are more or less suitable for modern life, we can’t change them. They are what they are. As I like to say, we can only play the ball from where it is, not from where we’d like the ball to be. And so what’s relevant is what we do with the biological hardware that we’ve inherited.
And clearly we have an enormous say in that. You can’t look honestly at modern life, especially the history of the last couple of hundred years and not see that our progress now is almost exclusively determined by ideas. Changes in the human idea world are dictating the outcome. Communism is not a biological thing. Despite the fantasies of people in the 1950s, it doesn’t infect you. It’s not like COVID. There’s no communism virus. It’s an idea. Capitalism, neoliberalism, democracy, these are ideas. Technological development is entirely composed of ideas. Most of them are very hard to comprehend, but they are ideas. The Gauss field equations are ideas, believe it, and you could spend a long time studying them and still not understand them, but they’ve enormously influenced the development of modern humanity.
And so ultimately whether we survive a long time or don’t survive a long time is going to be determined less by our biology and more by whether our ideas are humane. There we’re back to Kurt Vonnegut again. The question is, are the ideas that are determining our future humane? Are they constructive? Are the ideas that we’re building our structures and our governments and systems around, are they going to lead to a future, or are they dead-end ideas? Are they catastrophic ideas? Are they ideas that are going to take us to the bottom of the ocean, like the Titanic? That’s what we should mostly be thinking about. Of course we’re influenced by our biology, and we should be aware of that. But changing it is really quite out of the question. There’s nothing meaningful that we can do to affect our biology. We just have to work with what we’ve got.
NE: How did you come to veganism?
CK: So the name I’m going to cite, let me just be clear. People are going to think I’m talking about Peter Singer, but I’m talking about someone older. I’m talking about an author whose last name is also Singer, and they both wrote a lot about animal rights, so it’s confusing. I’m talking about Isaac Bashevis Singer, a Polish author prominent in the Yiddish literary movement. He died in 1991, and was born in 1903.
He should be an important figure in any discussion of veganism because famously, he said in relation to animals, all people are Nazis. For the animals, it is an eternal Treblinka. That’s a serious thing to say, and I encountered it early in my life, so it had an enormous influence on me. Other people have paraphrased it in other ways. For animals it’s Auschwitz every day and so on. And that’s true, even today, right now the slaughter occurs around the clock all over the world in every country. And it’s a big problem for humanity, but you also have to view it in its proper historical context. So as recently as the late 19th century slavery was still a normal feature of life in the United States. And not much before that it was a feature of life in Europe.
It was barbaric. You understand, barbaric. Humanity was really barbaric. Some of us might’ve had fancy clothes and shiny boots, but our behavior was barbaric. So it’s a spectrum. We’ve gone from being really barbaric, meaning aboriginal, as barbaric as you can imagine, tearing animals apart with our bare hands, to being somewhat less barbaric, and in the modern era, [there’s been] a lot of improvement, but that doesn’t mean we’ve entirely gotten rid of our barbarism. And one of the areas where we’re still showing barbarism is in our treatment of non-humans, and that’s got to change because it’s incompatible with the new ethical structures that we’re building, in the same way that slavery was incompatible with them. People on the right often try and say that slavery perished because it was economically inefficient, in other words they try to dodge the ethical and moral implications of slavery. But if you look honestly at what was written and said at the time when slavery was failing as a model, most of the objections against it were primarily not economic objections.
Charles Sumner, [was a] famous Massachusetts Senator who wrote the speech, The Barbarism of Slavery. Go read it. It was written by one of the most important members of the radical Republicans, founded by Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Summer. Charles Sumner was nearly beaten to death on the floor of the United States Senate for speaking out against slavery, and especially speaking out against the slave states specifically and accusing them of barbarism.
That’s pretty shocking to imagine. The age of Trump is pretty bad, but it doesn’t involve anyone actually getting beaten near to death on the floor of the Senate. Not yet, anyway. [Eerie prescience? Blood in the halls of Congress today!] So things have been pretty tough all along. And it’s good to keep that in mind. However barbaric things seem now it was more barbaric before. Slavery was really barbaric, and the objections against it were based on the idea that the barbarism of slavery was incompatible with the new structures of humanism on which the American and French revolutions were based. You cannot claim that every human being has the right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and still have slavery. It just does not compute. It’s like saying that two plus two equals five. Sooner or later, you’re going to have a conflict. It’s not going to work ideologically or in any other way. And so we have the same problem with our treatment of animals. Ultimately it’s not compatible with the new modern human structure that we’re building. We try to rationalize it on the grounds that we’re different from animals and so on, but it doesn’t really work.
And the reason it doesn’t really work is because the measurement of sentience is not intelligence. It’s not the ability to do algebra and so on, where we’re clearly preeminent over all the animals. The real measurement of sentience is the ability to suffer. The Dalai Lama was quite right about that. And he’s been pointing that out his whole lifetime. Though I should point out parenthetically, the Dalai Lama is not a vegan or even a vegetarian, and he feels bad about it. And that’s a big black mark in his book, a stone in his garden as the Russians would say. But he’s right about his point though. He’s right that it’s incompatible. We do have a real problem, because the measurement of sentience is the ability to suffer. And so in that sense even a bug, if you step on a bug and watch it dispassionately and attentively and watch it little legs [flailing] in that moment, it’s feeling pain. And so you should feel some empathy for that, because humanity is the most sophisticated apparatus that evolution has thus far produced for sensing pain and pleasure and many other things. Pain is vivid for us to an extent that it is for no other species.
Read King Lear, and you’ll understand how deep human suffering can be. Astonishingly deep. But nonetheless, we share pain not just with the mammals, not just with primates, but with all living things. Pain is the meta-stimulus, the ultimate stimulus. It’s closely related to the mechanism that makes evolution work. Even single-celled organisms, even bacteria will try to escape from an inhospitable environment. They will try and withdraw if they can, they will move their little flagella or whatever. They wave their tentacles and try to escape to a more hospitable environment. And in that moment, they are riven by something like pain, and they don’t even have nervous systems, but they know a bad environment when they sense it and they try to get away from it.
And that’s the fundamental mechanism of survival. Our biological history has been determined by death trimming away the stuff that’s not working well, and part of how we know that stuff isn’t working is through pain. Pain is an important part of the mechanism that got us here in the first place, of our whole biological history. It’s the right measurement, and by that measurement we are surrounded by sentient beings. And so there’s just no hope ethically of persuading ourselves that the animals can be killed at will and dispassionately and without consideration because they’re not our equals. In terms of sentience, the larger ones especially are very much our equals.
I’d put it this way. [Suppose] I asked you to tell when an insect was asleep. Picture an insect, we will use a friendlier example, let’s say a butterfly. Can you tell when it’s asleep? I don’t think so. But can you tell when your cat’s asleep? Definitely. Not only that, but you can tell when your cat’s happy, or bored, or in pain, or excited. It’s a long list, and you could add many other states. The point is, it’s not that insects don’t feel pain. It’s that insects are sufficiently remote from our experience, their internal states are sufficiently different from ours, that we can’t really easily imagine them or empathize with them. Whereas with mammals, we can. Mammals are similar enough to us biologically that we can very easily put ourselves in their shoes and grasp that they have emotional states essentially indistinguishable from ours. And so I challenge you to go to a zoo and walk around, especially go to the primate house.
Right now with the pandemic it might not be possible, but the next time it becomes possible, go to a zoo and go to the primate house and hang out with the monkeys a little bit and watch them. And you tell me if you don’t think that they know that they’re in jail. I think that after you’ve watched them for a while, you’ll get it. They look like prisoners. They know they’re in jail and they’ve adapted to it for the most part, because they haven’t got any choice. Humans adapt to jail as well. So they’ve adapted, but it’s not that they don’t know. They do know. And if they could, they’d rather be somewhere else. And you would too. You wouldn’t like living in a cell no matter how cushy, no matter how many fake palm trees it has or whatever, you’d rather be free, and they would rather be free too. And so this is a deep observation. What this tells us is that animals also value freedom. That’s not a purely human thing. We have many degrees of freedom that animals don’t have, but that’s distinct from the idea that like us, animals can value their freedom, and more than that, that they can value being alive. It’s a myth to think that the animals don’t enjoy being alive just as much as we do. They do.
The fact is that some animals get eaten. It’s a normal feature of the animal world. You have predators and you have prey. So life can end violently. Well, our lives can also end violently. We can get hit by a car, or mugged by someone, or beaten. Violence is a threat in the world. But the point is that while we’re alive, like the animals, we can enjoy it. And many of us do and many animals do too. So the point is that we have much more in common with them than people would like to admit. We came from them. We are in fact animals. This is just incontrovertible. We don’t need to debate this anymore. It’s just a fact. It’s this observation that leads to the view that eating animals and building a whole world economy around eating animals is simply incompatible with our new moral structures in which we value the rights of all sentient beings, which is what we’re migrating towards. And there’s pretty widespread recognition of this. We’re a far cry still from the United Nations putting it in the UN charter.
You could make a case that from their point of view, we’re having a tough enough time just enforcing the rights of humans. We still have slavery in lots of places. We still have barbarism in lots of places, it’s all the United Nations can do to keep humans from killing each other, never mind to keep them from killing animals. But it’s on the agenda. And increasingly humans are becoming aware that there might be arguments for valuing the biological world that are purely egoistic, separate from the intrinsic value of non-humans. That we also might need to be concerned about the survival of the biological world for egoistic reasons, because without it, we don’t survive, we’re going to all be dead. And so there could be a lot of reasons why humanity is suddenly waking up to the fact that we need to take into account the wellbeing of our non-human fellow travelers, a whole spread of reasons why that’s going to become much more important to us. And a big part of that is going to be not eating meat.
It’s not just that eating meat is demonstrably monstrous and ethically corrosive and barbaric in the same way that slavery was barbaric. It’s also that it’s contributing to the destruction of the rainforest, clearly. Brazil isn’t cutting down the rainforest to make hardwood furniture, that’s not the driving force. The driving force is they need more land for cows, because we need so many cows to feed human beings. And that’s monstrously inefficient. It takes 10 kilos of input to generate one kilo of beef, roughly. So it’s a grotesque waste of land, and a waste of resources and a waste of water and all the rest.
That’s a whole separate layer of ethical justifications and reasons why it can’t work as a model for humanity. We couldn’t go from six billion humans to eight billion humans, as we did from 1999 until now, and have so many people eating flesh, that’s been a direct driver for the rapid acceleration of climate change. And we will not do any better if we continue to increase our population. As I say, until I’m blue in the face, there just isn’t a problem that we’re facing right now that’s going to be solved by adding more humans, certainly not billions of them. And those problems will be intensified and made worse, if the existing humans or the ones we’re adding are consuming a lot of flesh, so we need to confront it. We need to confront it for survival reasons, as well as for ethical reasons.
And you can make a case that survival reasons are in fact ethical reasons. What could be more ethical than long-term human survival? There is no law of physics, by the way, saying that humanity has to be a long-lived species. David Grinspoon, who I mentioned earlier, pointed this out. It’s not like the Pythagorean Theorem, it’s not baked into the structure of the universe that a species should exist for a long time. As I pointed out before, 99% of all the species that have existed, just even here on earth are long gone. They for one reason or another became unfit and disappeared. It’s against the plan for a species to persist for a really long time, and it’s pretty rare when it does happen. Humanity is still a fairly short-lived species. Homo sapiens has been around a couple of hundred thousand years, that’s quite short, but even for us to claim that we’re going to be around for a million years or a couple of million years, that’s very ambitious.
There’s lots of things that could prevent that. Certainly if we continue to accelerate the entropy of earth’s environment and cause a mass extinction, anything even remotely on the scale of the Permian-Triassic extinction event, in that case definitely we’re gone. And that’s what Mark Lynas wrote about in Six Degrees. He went through all [the increases in average global temperature], two degrees Celsius, three degrees, four degrees, examining each of those cases and what that’ll look like and what the consequences will be for us. Once you get up above four, we’re just not around. Life continues, but it continues without us. Go back and read about the Permian-Triassic extinction and what followed that. Even without humans actively destabilizing the climate and figuring out clever ways to fuck up the hydrology and atmosphere of earth, it’s been plenty capable of pruning life and has done so periodically. We’ve had snowball earth, we’ve had hothouse earth many times.
It’s well within the range of what’s happened here in this little corner of the universe. So we should be much more conscious of that, that it’s a very dangerous business. A famous climate scientist [Wallace S. Broecker] pointed out that we’ve got a dragon and we’re poking it with a fork and daring it to do something. Increasingly it is doing something, and it could do something much more drastic and much more rapid than anything we’ve experienced before. And that too is well within earth’s geological history. We need to be aware of that. And that’s another good reason why we need to be scaling back consumption of meat. It was Jeremy Rifkin who pointed this out as far back as 1991, when he was doing the Beyond Beef campaign: whatever you may feel about it, ethically, to whatever extent you may or may not feel that it’s immoral or barbaric to inflict such suffering on non-humans, even if you’re not amenable to those arguments, you should be amenable to the argument that humanity is making itself extinct by converting so much land to the production of beef, that this is just lunacy. And so in that case, you should be in favor of veganism, purely for egotistic human-based reasons.
Or at the very least you’re going to have to be in favor of lab-created flesh, which is an interesting development. So it’s one thing to create Impossible Burgers that are still plant-based. It’s quite another thing to create burgers that are essentially grown. That sounds like science fiction, but that’s coming next. And it has in fact been anticipated in science fiction [cf. The Space Merchants]. But the idea that we’re going to have a real “chicken little,” meaning some giant thing that just keeps growing and growing, and we just harvest it and eat it, that’s within the range of what’s possible. We can get into interesting philosophical debates about whether that is or isn’t ethical. Would a vegan eat that? Would a vegan eat lab-grown meat? Strictly speaking, the answer should be no, right? Why not?
NE: I read about that. Right now you still need to have blood serum to make it work.
CK: So you’re still linked to cruelty, but suppose that wasn’t true. To make a point, suppose we could make it out of snot. We take some snot out of a human’s nose and we clone it and boom, suddenly it’s steak. It sounds absurd, but suppose we could do something like that. Suppose we could demonstrate that whatever the biological source was of this lab-grown meat involved no cruelty. Now can the vegan eat it? And if not, why not? What is the driving force behind veganism? Are we saying that people shouldn’t eat animals for religious reasons? Is it absolute, or are we saying that we’re trying to minimize cruelty and suffering, as the Efilists do, though they come to an unusual conclusion.
If it’s suffering based, if we’re saying that the problem is inflicting cruelty and suffering on non-humans, then making steak out of my snots, where’s the suffering? I don’t see the harm. So I would argue the reverse. I would argue that if we could actually demonstrate that humans could create meat without inflicting any suffering on other beings, then I guess I would eat it. And I don’t think that that makes me less of a vegan. Now, mind you, this is strictly a hypothetical possibility, but it’s less hypothetical than it was. It’s becoming imaginable now that something like this will actually happen. And so I think it leads to the core, it leads to a crucial discussion about what the driving force behind veganism is.
NE: And it’s a good point. There is some restaurant which is selling lab-grown chicken.
CK: But the problem there is it’s still made from animals indirectly. You have to be aware of absolutism in all of this. Suppose we had an option to grow steaks or chicken cutlets or whatever from just a few cells. Let’s say it’s a lot of cells. Suppose for every hundred pounds of chicken that we’re going to make, we have to actually use one chicken. So that sounds bad. We’re still causing some suffering, but we’re causing a lot less suffering. Suppose we scaled that up and all chicken in the world was produced that way. We’d be killing a hundredth of the chickens we were killing before.
Would that be an improvement? Should you argue that it’s worthwhile to support that development, even though it’s not perfect, because it’s an improvement over the present situation? It’s not like there’s ever been a choice between slavery and no slavery. If those were the only choices, slavery would never have been eradicated in the United States or Europe, because it’s not possible to jump from full-on slavery as a normal feature of life, to it being outlawed and completely not happening. We had to fight wars over it in some cases, and it took a long time. The civil war lasted for four years. It was very bloody and a lot of guys died.
It wasn’t something where you could just wave your hand, and say now it’s over, we’re not doing that anymore. No, it’s gradual. Most things in life are gradual, pretty much everything that’s worth discussing is an evolution of pre-existing conditions. The point is to be aware of absolutism in your thinking. It could be that in order to arrive at a future that’s without cruelty to non-humans, we may have to pass through some stages in which the best we can do is just less cruelty to non-humans. And that is a thing worth fighting for, because that’s how you get there. Most of the time you get to the abolition of a thing by passing through a succession of stages where you’re fighting against the thing and winnowing away at it and trying to make it less. It’s normal. It’s just how things work. We shouldn’t be frightened of it. I think that we should work [towards] this, that the less cruelty we have, the better position we are [in] to eliminate it. That seems reasonable to me.
Even just from a purely pragmatic climate change point of view, if we could fulfill most of humanity’s desire for actual flesh to eat by using a tiny fraction of the land and resources we’re using for that purpose now, that would help us achieve our climate change goals. We would cut down less rainforest if we only needed a hundredth or a thousandth of the animals, and I’m actually convinced it could be a lot less, humans’ propensity for technology being what it is. I could believe that once we get good at this, it’ll just be a few cells that we need to get it started, and then it just goes. That’s how it works, it’s like cloning. It could be that once we get it off the ground, it will become self-sustaining very rapidly. So I don’t think we should fear it. There is danger in purity. Be aware of purity. Purity is a dangerous force, especially in ideology.
I’m not going to cite the most obvious example, which is the fantasy of racial purity. Think of all the harm that caused throughout history. And it was strictly a fantasy, because as we now know, there was never actually any real purity. All humanity is a mix and all of us are descended from Africans. We didn’t know it in the 1930s, but we know it now because of genetics. The study of genetics shows this clearly. All these notions of purity were mostly illusory. What they really were, was a kind of prop for people to hang their mental furniture on, and it was mostly very unpleasant, dangerous furniture. So we want to watch out for this. Purity is generally not helpful.
What we should be is pragmatic. I talked a lot in that other interview about scientific pragmatism, but pragmatism more generally is worth thinking about. What pragmatism essentially means is that we should spend less time engaging in armchair philosophical debates. We should spend less time worrying about whether reality is real. No offense to the postmodernist French writers, but a lot of that, it’s not helpful. It’s not helpful for us to spend so much of our energy counting angels on the heads of pins. We have no shortage of real problems, urgent problems to solve. Those problems, left unsolved, will be our undoing. And so we should concentrate on them. We should use our time more wisely. We can get to some of these other problems later. The problems that we should be focused on are the problems that are going to prevent us from surviving. Because if we can’t manage that, if civilization can’t manage to survive, then all those other problems that we’re so interested in will be irrelevant because we won’t be around to debate them. That’s pragmatism. It seems to me that there’s not enough discussion of that.
How are we doing? Have we got enough for your class yet? I should really write a book. Don’t you think?
NE: Yes, of course you should.
CK: Want to help me write it? I’m a terrible writer. I write at a glacial pace, but between these two interviews, clearly, I mean that other one was 20,000 words. This one, who knows how many it is already. Between the two of them, definitely there’s enough for a book. It’s a book that needs to be written, but who knows if I’ll find the time. I’m kind of undisciplined, oddly, especially when it comes to writing. I like composing music more. I spent a lot of time on that. That’s mostly what I do with my days lately. I’m learning classical composition right now. I’m trying to write a string quartet music, or quintet or something more than four. It’s interesting. I like atonal harmony, and so I’m doing a lot of that, and I get a lot of joy out of that.
I used to be driven primarily by what I thought I should be doing, not even what other people wanted me to do, but what I thought I should be doing. I was sort of driven by my internal dictator, some kind of authoritarian force within myself saying, you should do this and get cracking too, because time is wasting. Maybe it’s just because I’m older and had a lot more experience of life, but increasingly I’m less receptive to that. Increasingly I’m more following my joy. I have this idea that the best art gets created when the artist enjoys the process, that there is no substitute for that. That making art is not a death march, or it shouldn’t be, and that if it is, the results are possibly suspect. That you’re more likely to make really deeply felt, interesting, stimulating art, if you love the process that leads to it. And so that’s why I haven’t been writing a book. I just don’t love that process. It’s a shame, but there it is.
NE: Maybe you shouldn’t.
CK: Hopefully life is long, and maybe somebody will help me do it someday. But if not, at least we’ll have these interviews.
NE: Yeah. That was a lot to wrap my head around.
CK: Nobody ever accused me of not having anything to say.
NE: I really, really enjoy talking with you. You talking to me.
CK: Are there any questions that you wanted to ask that we missed?
NE: What I asked myself is how am I going to make it work?
CK: Oh yeah, you asked that. That was your first question. That’s a tough one. How would I know that? I can’t put myself in your shoes. You’ve already made your road harder. You should have joined the church earlier. I would have been able to influence you more. But I wanted to point out that you can still join. The Church of Euthanasia, contrary to popular belief, has many members who have already procreated. We don’t have a rule against that. You just can’t do it again. You have to agree not to make more. That’s all it is. Remember the Church of Euthanasia is structurally very simple, deceptively simple. It seems almost impossible for it to be so simple. All it is, is the vow. There’s nothing else. The rest of it is just details.
The part that matters is the lifetime vow of non-procreation, and anyone can take it. You could take it on your death bed and you would still be a Church of Euthanasia member. And if you take it and you break it, you’re still out, permanently. We would say something like, which part of lifetime vow did you not understand? It’s lifetime. It’s irrevocable. You can’t take it back. But we can’t hold against you what you already did [before you joined]. What you already did is done. You put some humans out there in the world and they exist and now they have to be taken care of. And that’s on you, but we can talk about the future.
In the past, when we’ve had members who had already procreated, we kept an eye on them. They’re members and we accept them, but they’re on probation a bit. They’re on our list of things to worry about, because if they did it once, they might do it again. Unless of course they’re too old to do it. If you’re female, you can be literally too old to do it. That’s better. You could get a vasectomy. You might consider that. But the point is that there’s so much more that you can do for the Church of Euthanasia and for the cause that it represents—whether we call that antinatalism or restoring balance between humans and the non-human world—whatever we want to call it, there’s so much more you can do for that than just observing the vow, though that’s the most important thing you can do.
The reason the vow is so important—I explained this before, but I’ll explain it again—the reason we care so much about that is because non-procreation, unlike so many other things you could do with your life, has exponential effects, or as we say in math, is logarithmic. You ultimately don’t control how many children your children will have, and certainly not how many children their children will have, and so by setting that in motion, you set in motion a potential pyramid, a kind of tree of consequences, which you have no control over. And that can easily wipe out any other actions you might take in your life. It potentially has a vastly greater scale. Procreating potentially affects the future vastly more than any other action you would be likely to take during your lifetime, and that’s why we focus on it.
NE: But we still have to make babies to have the species.
CK: Yes, but there’s no shortage of humans. The Church of Euthanasia’s mission after all is to restore balance between humans and the non-human world. And that can only be accomplished by population reduction. We insist that it be voluntary population production, but population reduction one way or the other has to occur. Because at this point, humanity is now consuming something like two earths every year in terms of its resource demands. That’s just not doable.
We declared war on the future. That’s after all what Apologize to the Future was really about. Humanity declared war on the future, and we’re winning. It’s paradoxical, but we’re winning. And what winning means is that there won’t be a future, at least not for us. And the way we finance this crazy scheme of ours, is like a pyramid scam. We’re borrowing from the future. Stealing would be a better word. Looting. I like the word looting. That’s what neoliberalism is. The program of neoliberalism—Trump and his buddies, Ayn Rand—the basic form of it, the idea is that the rich people are special, and so they should loot the hotel, steal everything, rip out the chandeliers, anything of any value, they steal it, and then whatever’s left, set fire to it and burn it down, and that’s the plan. That’s what’s been happening since 1980. The rich people have been looting government and just stealing anything they can get their hands on and feathering their nests. So that they could be super rich and have private islands, or in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, private sex islands, full of young girls. And the rest of us are fucked. That’s obviously wrong, but it’s related to what we’re doing as a species. We’re doing something like that to the future.
CK: No problem. You’re back. All good? I’ll just finish this thought, and then I should probably go. But so just to finish out this idea.
On the small scale you have neoliberalism, which is the program of the super-rich looting government and hollowing it out and basically consuming it so that they can feather their own nests and live soft cushy lives while the rest of us are fucked. That’s structurally similar to the larger plan of us hollowing out the future and looting the future, so that all of us improve our standard of living and have a huge population consuming lots of resources and technology, and the future will just be screwed, and most people, our own descendants by the way, will be fucked over and hate us for that.
So they’re actually both the same plan. They’re both this very destructive, almost sociopathic plan. It’s all about “what I want.” And if you look at my earlier art it focuses on that, it’s the whole idea behind Six Billion Humans Can’t Be Wrong. “What I want, the world revolves around me.” That’s how we’ve been constructing our society for a long time. Clearly that’s why the Church of Euthanasia focused on population growth, because of its symbolic value, essentially by giving up the thing that you could do that would potentially have the biggest impact on the future. By choosing not to do this one thing that is the paradigmatic expression of growth-ism, by choosing not to grow yourself, you’re taking an ethical stand. You’re making an example of yourself.
It’s not that the population will actually be reduced. That’s not the point. In fact, during the tenure of the Church of Euthanasia the population increased by a third, we went from six billion to eight billion, just during the time that the church has existed. So we’re not winning, but that’s not the point. It wasn’t about winning. It was about making an example of yourself, making an ethical stand. Obviously in your case, you’ve given up your opportunity to make that particular stand. You can’t get up on your high horse and claim [non-procreation], but on the other side, you can still help the cause, and you are helping the cause. The way you’re helping the cause is by disseminating these ideas.
The point is that you can still join the Church of Euthanasia, and you’re welcome to if you want to. That’s between you and yourself. If you can agree with yourself to promise never to have more children, then you’ll be a member, it’s as simple as that, I don’t even need to be involved. But your utility to the Church of Euthanasia, your ability to help us, isn’t limited by whether you do or don’t have children. The main limiting factor is how much effort you want to put into spreading these ideas, and how many people you can actually reach, because that’s what’s going to make the difference in the end. If a person chooses not to have children, but they never talk about it, and never make an example of themselves, except in the narrow sense of being a person who didn’t have children, then we don’t know anything about why they did it, and so they’re not really contributing to the cause.
The world is filled with people who are child-free but have nothing to do with the Church of Euthanasia and might not even be sympathetic to its aims. There’s plenty of people who just decided not to have children because they were lazy, or because they were selfish and just decided that they want to devote all their energy to their own projects, which by the way, I totally support, I don’t want that to sound judgmental or dogmatic. I’m actually also one of those people, I also avoided procreation for selfish reasons. All the energy that I’ve lavished on the Church of Euthanasia and my art would have had to be directed [elsewhere] if I had procreated. So I’m not against that.
I’m just pointing out though that there’s a difference between not procreating and that’s the end of it, and talking about non-procreation, talking about its symbolic value in the public sphere. That you could do, that would be very worthwhile, and to some extent, by doing this interview and showing it to your students or whatever it is you ultimately do with it, you are doing that. You are on the road to making non-procreation a more public act, making it something that is considered synonymous with the larger struggle that humanity is engaged in to make sure that earth remains habitable.
NE: Yeah. Yeah.
CK: So don’t feel bad about yourself. You shouldn’t beat yourself up so hard. What’s done is done. You should feel more proud that you’re even having this discussion with yourself. That’s what I took away from your email. I think that you’re at a stage now where you’re upset and frustrated, and you’re being exposed to a lot of new information that you probably wish you’d been exposed to sooner in your life. But don’t worry about that. Like I said, you’ve got to play the ball from where it is, not from where you’d like it to be. And so from where you are now, there are still plenty of very constructive paths open to you. You’re a powerful person, you have connections and influence. You can be heard, and you will be heard.
If you want to make a stink about this, you should do that, and I think that will be a good thing. And that’ll be something to be proud of. And ultimately if and when you find yourself being beaten up by your kids and ultimately wind up having this dialogue that I’m talking about, where they feel like you need to apologize to them, you’ll at least have something [constructive] to point to that you did. You can say, yes, I’ve contributed to a lot of bad things, but I’ve also done some good. And that’ll be a good thing. You’ll be glad. Maybe they’ll be proud of you. They’ll say that you were part of the solution, not just part of the problem. Imagine that.
That’s what I think we should be striving for. Not to sound too much like Barack Obama, but we should be striving to be part of the change. The change is coming, whether it’s a negative change or a positive change, or no doubt a synthesis of both, but the change is coming. There’s a big change coming for humanity. Humanity is over that period now, where we thought we could have everything our way. It’s pretty obvious to those of us who think deeply and are reasonably well-educated about our history, that that’s not going to work. Humanity can’t have everything its way. We are going to learn to live within limits, whether we like it or not. That’s what’s coming. Less. Like I said, less is coming. And so you are going to be part of that and you can contribute to that.
You could help us get to less—which is where we’re going to get to one way or the other—in a way that involves less misery. Humanity is going to scale back its demands on earth’s ecosystems one way or the other. In the worst case, we’ll scale back our demands on earth’s ecosystems because we’ll be gone. Earth’s history will continue without us, and that’ll be the end of human demands. Humans won’t be around to demand anything. Hopefully it needn’t get that far. Hopefully we will find a way to scale back our demands in a more peaceful, less dramatic and destructive way. And that’s the project that I need you to contribute to, and that I need all of our church members to contribute to.
NE: I left one church and now I’m going to take the vow.
CK: Excellent. I’m so glad. Congratulations. You can take it right now, right on camera. If you want, you can include it in your presentation.
NE: Is it “I’m not going to procreate anymore?”
CK: There’s an actual vow. But I’m not sure. Maybe you want to think it through. Maybe you want to take a day and think about it and be sure. But if you decide you’re sure, we could add it in.
You don’t really need me to mouth the words with you, but there is an actual vow, an official text. Of course there is, we’re a religion. We have the trappings of a religion. So of course we have that worked out, but take a day and think about it. I always tell people, don’t jump too quickly because it’s very embarrassing if you change your mind.
NE: I will think about it. Okay.
CK: You do that. Maybe I should go. And thank you so much for this delightful opportunity to talk about all this. If we lived in a more just world, our politicians would go on TV and talk about all of this. If we lived in a just world, Joe Biden would go on TV and say, tonight, we’re going to talk about the future of humanity. And in his own bumbling inefficient way, he’s a step towards that. We’re closer to that with him than we ever would have been with Trump and his band of merry pirates. So there’s progress. Progress is always occurring all around us. There is the possibility for humanity to have a rational discussion about our fate, and what that’s going to look like is realizing that humanity can’t have everything its way and that we need to become educated. We need to become less barbaric in a hurry.
We need to shape up and snap out of our childish delusions and embrace responsibility, real responsibility, which means being responsible, not just for ourselves, but for the entire earth. Squirrels can’t be responsible for the earth. That’s not going to happen. Squirrels are just squirrels. They’re delightful and they do what they do, but if bad stuff happens on earth, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. We are responsible for what happens here. And so we need to embrace that and we need to embrace it soon. And that’s the change that’s coming. We’re either going to rise to that occasion or some really unpleasant stuff—as depicted in my Overshoot video—is going to happen. Hopefully it needn’t come to that. And that’s the change that I want you to become part of, is educating people—quickly—about this.
NE: This is what we do now.
CK: Everyone you know, talk to them. That’s what I did. That’s what I spent a lot of my life doing was just talking to people, people like you, about what’s going to happen. What are we doing here? What does humanity actually want? What can we even all agree about? If anything, hopefully we can agree that keeping earth habitable for ourselves is a good goal. I hope so.