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Transcript: Citizens vs Oligarchies
Interview with Sally Goerner, available to everyone
[00:01:58] Rachel Donald: So, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. I'm so excited to get into your research topic.
[00:02:05] Sally Goerner: I'm very excited to be here.
[00:02:09] Rachel Donald: So the PDF that you sent me and I've had to read through is all about, um, the systemic failures of oligarchic, capitalism and oligarchic dysfunction in general, which is a term I hadn't come across yet. And I love, and I think is particularly topical given what's going on in Russia and Ukraine at the moment. So could you maybe get me into like, why, how it is that you started focusing on that, as a topic?
[00:02:34] Sally Goerner: Wow. That's a, that's a hard one because I actually started out in high tech. I'm an engineer and I worked on research and development of high tech in the beginning of my career.
[00:02:46] Rachel Donald: Oh, wow.
[00:02:47] Sally Goerner: Then I got into, I switched over to my true love, which is psychology. And I went back and got a PhD in psychology. The state-of-the-art in psychology at the time was a bit horrifying and particularly with regards to science.
So I went off looking for what, you know, why isn't psychology a science, what is science? And then I stumbled across these people who were basically from my point of view, the heretics, the scientific heritecs starting the second scientific revolution and expanding it, expanding our view of how things work and centering it on energy flow, as opposed to little material, separable material with bits in a randomly colliding universe.
And what ends up happening is that this new understanding, this broader understanding of how energy flow works and is the basis of all organization, is it creates a logical connection between the way an energy flow works and, and an appropriate kind of science for human systems, which is based on patterns.
[00:03:49] Rachel Donald: Let's define some of those terms. So what is, what is energy flow then, just for, you know, for the audience that maybe haven't come across it.
[00:03:56] Sally Goerner: Well, okay. So energy flow energy, you're going to get me in the physicist part. Let's see. I like to use the word for, the example of boiling water and hurricanes, both kind of indicating the same kind of thing. When you have no pressure, let's, let's say you have a pot of boiling of water and it's just, there's no heat underneath it. It's just sitting there randomly colliding. And what happens if you put heat underneath it, which is an energy flow pressure kind of thing, they will start moving faster and faster until they literally cannot move any faster - that pattern of organization of random collisions. And so they will then, you know, the little bubbles of, you know, will form on the sides. They'll move up to the top. They will, uh, lose their heat and, and fall back down, and so they'll trigger this circular motion.
Well, what is this circular motion doing? It's distributing energy faster and it's also doing work cause it's making things move in a particular direction. All right. So energy flow is the, is that process of which it's it's um, It's it produces these systems called flow structures, where you have organizations that increase the capacity to do work and circulate, uh, matter and energy and information and resources.
And that's the basis of all kinds of organizations. In essence, that's work of a Belgian chemists Ilya Prigogine back in the seventies called self-organization theory. Anyway. So once you have this view of how organizations are formed, and there's also energy rules about how, as you get, seen in an embryo, as you get bigger, the bonds holding that organization together gets stretched to a breaking point and they, you know, they will then either break into two smaller things that couple back together, increase capacity to work and do, and, you know, circulate, or they will separate and basically get by at the same level.
So in this view, the increasing capacity to do work and increase in complexity, which also includes increasing specialization becomes a matter of increasing circulation, uh, capacity to do work and in human systems, or living systems, it becomes the increasing capacity to collaborate and specialize and, and learn, and, as information is involved because anyway, so let me stop there. So energy flow is basically the force that drives all the organization in the, in the cosmos.
[00:06:46] Rachel Donald: But it's not the force that's driving the organization of human systems.
[00:06:52] Sally Goerner: Oh no, no, it is.
[00:06:54] Rachel Donald: Right.
[00:06:54] Sally Goerner: Okay. So w what we have to do is we have to add, this'll sound terrible, because we have to add information, which when you couple it with organizations that increases the capacity to do work, opens the door to an understanding of intelligence, right. Which is basically the capacity to respond to information in ways that increase your, uh, capacities to survive for longer periods of time. And those are also coupled with these patterns of growth and development we saw in the embryo, which increased, you know, so when you… Living organisms get forced to a place where they have to choose between getting bigger and more sophisticated, and, um, basically finding a niche and staying where they are at the particular size and arrangements that they've got.
What happens with human systems is that we chose a particular pattern of, of intelligence, which is we are collaborative learning species. Our whole strategy is not to be the fiercest or the biggest or the meanest, it's to be the most intelligent and, and to communicate and preserve lessons by speaking, eventually by writing, things like that. And then using our, our belief systems to change our behavior by changing our beliefs, essentially relatively rapidly.
The learning part of that is really central to us. What's happened to us in the current situation is that we're in this situation where we've gotten so big that we've, and that's of necessity, invented these hierarchical structures to hold us together and, you know, keep us in line, which, you know, you see this in all kinds of systems. That's why they have pecking orders and lower animals and things like that.
Unfortunately, we're for about 5,000 years ago, we developed this course of hierarchy. This war based hierarchical system that ends up becoming more, instead of being based on defense, it becomes based on elite self-interest and increasing their wealth and power, which is fundamentally oligarchy. And that's been going on for about 5,000 years. But we're getting to the place where we're now so good at destroying ourselves that, you know, from my point of view, we're at this crisis point where we're at the not only the end of the 400 year cycle of modern civilization, but the 5,000 years of oligarchic hierarchies, and that our, the key lesson we can develop today is how do we have a hierarchy? Because you need them be at a certain size that is, is serving the public as a whole, as opposed to just the interest of a few guys on top, which is fundamentally what oligarchy is.
[00:09:50] Rachel Donald: Hmm. I find that so interesting because frequently when having these sorts of discussions, the sophistication, the complexity of the system that we live in, that we've created, is seen as sort of a fundamental, rigid wall that we will be unable to go over. Um, and that there seems to be this crisis of imagination that it's sort of impossible for us as individuals to cope with the complexity of a system that's been built up over say 5,000 years.
And yet what you were speaking about before, just a few minutes ago, you said that like sophistication is part of complex systems. Um, and that those systems tend to keep growing and developing and finding new ways to serve their ecosystem, I'm massively paraphrasing here, I do apologize. Um, so is, is there a way, um, for us to live in a complex modern society, uh, that isn't fundamentally destructive or rigid, would you say?
[00:10:55] Sally Goerner: Well, actually, so I have just you're right that most of establishment kinds of scientists sort of portray what we have as it's the end of history. You know, selfishness has extended our genes and blah, blah, blah, blah. And that's all, that's all very consoling to the elite who pay the salaries of those people. It is, however, not a very accurate rendition of how the world works. Um, and so you also have to look at the fact that for all that 5,000 years, we've been going through these cycles of rise and falls, and those falls are almost always due to the excesses of the oligarchy. They extract too much, they have too many wars with each other.
And so we, we've invented written laws and we hold them accountable. We eventually develop civil rights and democracy and all those kinds of things. By the way, none of those things were actually invented by the people who were originally reforming, they've been around forever and ever, and ever. So we're really drawing upon experience in different places.
But in terms of, can we live in a modern world without.. Well, I think the answer is, of course we can. And the answer is that because we are learning species and because we are, we specifically adapt by changing our belief systems. All we have to do is, one of the guys I tend to quote a lot is elder from the Shuar tribe, uh, in Ecuador was that we've realized that our, the, the, our dream of, of, you know, thousands of cars and, you know, ever faster planes and, and new equipment and technology has become a nightmare. And when you ask yourself, how do we get out of it? The answer is actually quite simple. You need to find a new dream and teach and teach your kids that new dream.
And I believe that the new dream is fundamentally that we are collaborative. That is, if you want to have a healthy civilization, you have to have synergetic collaborations, which is largely going to be based on reciprocity.
Actually, I've just found out about an American economist named Sam Bowles, who's, you know, his whole research, his whole career, he's not retired, has been about why you need, why building good citizens is more important than creating laws that try to enforce goodness. Because in fact, most people, I mean, there's a large percentage of people who do want to work for, not a completely altruistic reasons, but towards something that makes them feel like they are doing the right thing, the moral thing.
[00:13:37] Rachel Donald: I just wonder because, um, I certainly do not think that, you know, modernity means, um, a fossil fuel economy. To me modernity means complexity. It means, you know, having populations that are, uh, millions upon millions of people that are within a community rather than, um, smaller communities of a couple of hundred people collaborating on everything together, you know, it's that more dynamic system.
It's just, it seems to me because of the correct amount of, you know, panic that we have around the energy crisis and the, the ecological crisis level and the economic crisis, um, people seem to be presented with these sort of two options, right now. Well either modernity is this, um, collapsing age, and we're going to fall back into a dark age or it's these kind of, you know, romanticized notions of, of tribalism.
And I just wonder if, you know, is it possible for human beings on a psychological level to live in such a complex system that has been built up over a millennia? Or is there something fundamentally too complex for individuals to, to cope with? And, and that's why these oligarchic systems tend to fall as well.
[00:14:53] Sally Goerner: Well, okay. I think that's a tough question. There's a lot packed into that question. Let me think here. Um. Can we? Absolutely, because we're, we have the capacity to learn. Will we? That's a whole different question because the oligarchies at this point have, I mean, part of the, the real problem is that oligarchies set up the incentives so that if you earn your living by working in an oligarchic corporation, you know, you, you, don't have a lot of choices, which is why things are the way they are mostly. On the other hand, two things go on. One is that at some point people and that's happening here in, in, in America, at least, people get to the place where it's not worth it to put up with that anymore.
[00:15:43] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[00:15:44] Sally Goerner: And the other part of it is that because of technology, and technology is always an aid to making these kinds of changes, think of the printing press for instance, or the telescope. Technology is empowering new forms of organization that didn't exist anymore, and, uh, previously rather, and that opens the door. Now, do I know exactly what it's going to look like? No. So what I do, actually, let me, let me back off a little sec, second here.
So what I do is I'm actually a polymath and what I do is I integrate. So I specialize in putting the pieces that serious scholars have put together over in lots of different fields over decades and decades and even hundreds and thousands of years. And that actually shows that we are fundamentally, we have a triune nature.
We have the reptilian, the lizard brain kind of things, which is what the oligarchs are doing. We have the mammalian brain, which makes us good collaborative learners and, you know, caring about each other and nurturing each other and things like that. And we have the thinking brain, the neocortex, which makes us really good pattern finders. Now the catches. Maternity. I thought it was going to build itself up about reason on reason, which it did somewhat, and it certainly didn't improve things, but the way the human brain is structured is that the two lower emotional brains get all the information first. And so the only information the thinking brain gets has been already colored by the, the, the two of those.
So the three brains have three different personalities, love strength, and intelligence are the three basic ways to think of it. Or thinking linking and rank.
And the other way to think of it, it's the organizations are thinking, linking, which is again, mammalian and ranking, which is the reptilian.
[00:17:36] Rachel Donald: Right.
[00:17:37] Sally Goerner: If you talk to brain researchers and actually educators in, in many places too, those three brains are there for a reason, they all play a role. And they come out under different conditions so that, the reptilian brain comes out under stress and threat, and it's the fight or flight response, but it also tends to make us lock in behind strong leaders, which is what the oligarchs tend to do. So in order to re you know, to get people to lock in behind the autocrats, they create wedge issues. They create fear. They create, you know, they use the actual things that they've caused, you know, the inequities and things like that. Um, and they, and they also, I mean, nationalism is really tribalism and tribalism is really love of one's group. So they harness tribalism towards oligarchic locking in behind the strong man leader too.
So if you want to get a healthy society, you have to figure out how to create the conditions that keep those in relative balance. The three brains in relative balance. And that's a balance of challenge, discipline and support. Too much of any of those things creates problems.
So too much challenge becomes threat. Too much support becomes spoiling kids, and too much discipline becomes oppression, which tends to make you downshift into your lizard brain, anyway.
[00:19:06] Rachel Donald: That's fascinating.
[00:19:07] Sally Goerner: This brings me back to the, I mean, I think a lot of the sociology suggests that the way to get good citizens is to base it on fairness, reciprocity. You ever heard of Elinor Ostrom she won a Nobel prize.
[00:19:24] Rachel Donald: Yeah, I have. Yeah.
[00:19:26] Sally Goerner: For governing the commons. And so if you look across time and cultures, people can tend to come up with these certain common rules that, that allow you to have fairness in the governing of commons.
And so we need to basically follow those kinds of rules, I think, in setting up the incentives for, and the structures, the educational structures for one thing need to be changed because right now we're still using the pression plan of factory model schools, where you're trying to get people who are, who can read and write, but are afraid to go out on their own. So there's a lot of learned helplessness and pecking order politics and high stakes tests, which, you know, basically keeps you from really becoming the best person you can, or even mastering the material just in order to get ranked and placed in a pigeonhole. So anyway, any other questions?
[00:20:25] Rachel Donald: Yeah, of course, of course, of course. Okay. So essentially what we're establishing then is that, um, the best way to, to change society is to address what it is to be a good citizen, to create better citizens that will then change the belief system in order, uh, that those people in those generations will then make the fundamental systemic changes that are required.
Let's talk about the oligarchic dysfunction though, the, the traits or the tropes of that um, and especially how we're seeing it sort of come to, I don't want to say fruition because it's always been there, but perhaps how the mask is maybe falling off in modern society now. And why is it they are driving, I mean, inherently their own destruction as well? There's a logical fallacy in what they do surely.
[00:21:18] Sally Goerner: Well, there is, but I mean, they took most, most oligarchs themselves believe that they are pursuing the good things for the society as a whole. It's just that they have these, they're pretty much out of touch with reality. Like, oh, yes. I shouldn't say this. Um, I used to work for one who was, I mean, he was, he, I mean, maybe I shouldn't go there.
Anand Giridharadas has this book about Winner Take All and it's all about, it's all about how the wonderful beneficence that is the philanthropy that's coming out of this uber wealthy class that's, uh, out now isn't going to save us and it's not, and it's really being done because when you give and don't have to receive, it puts you in a, in a, what is seen as a morally superior, um, position.
Whereas if the sociology will say that if you want to have a healthy society, you have to take in equal measure. So that - there's this wonderful book called No More Throwaway People, which is it's about time banking. And they found out that if you want to empower people, you give them an opportunity to contribute, and they have their contributions accepted by the society or the, the larger group. And it doesn't actually matter what the contribution is. It could be, you know, you can be childcare or you can be damn collector, you can be an accountant.
When you take people who've been sort of marginalized and disenfranchised and sort of left out, you know, the old, the poorly educated, the disabled, all of these people who are the society basically considers them worthless and so they don't get any respect. It's having a system whereby they are, they are contributing and they know that their contribution is being used and appreciated or valued in some ways that then energizes those people.
So what oligarchs do is that they pay people to rationalize their behavior. So economists now say HomoEconomicus is, doing great things and that's the way the world works best and so on and so forth. And so they have this belief that, you know, so I'm maximizing my profit. That's what I'm supposed to do. And that's good for the society because all these economists tell me so, and so they feel good about themselves, but it's getting so blatant.
I mean, this business about having Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk go up on these little 15 minute space flights. Jeff Bezos actually had the audacity to thank the employees who at Amazon, whose union efforts he's crushing and who makes them live under these horribles conditions whereby they, you know, they don't have enough bathroom breaks or, you know, God help you, you know, it's just sick, but the contrast is getting pretty glaring. So that, I mean, it boggles my mind that these guys can really think that it's actually the right way to do it, but we have these debates all the time and especially amongst establishment, uh, influencers and, you know, pundits and things.
[00:24:50] Rachel Donald: If I, if I may interject here, the thing that I often wonder about, um, because I believe that most of us in the same environment and with the same opportunities and having lived the same life as many of these oligarchs, realistically, our behavior would probably be quite similar. Like I don't think that they are particularly special or particularly psychopathic. I think that their, um, rise to rule and it has engendered sort of certain behaviors that probably would have affected most of us. Nonetheless, I mean, you know, can we say that they really think that they're doing the right thing in this hyper-connected world, where there is so much daily criticism of their, um, how they treat employees, you know, wage inequities, the damage to the environment.
I mean, what, what what's going on there that they can just still genuinely think that they're doing the right thing because they can't just lock themselves in an ivory tower anymore, you know?
[00:25:52] Sally Goerner: The human mind is pretty amazing in terms of its ability to rationalize. I mean, again, I worked for one and he, this guy was, he was charming, he was intelligent, his heart was definitely in the right place. And he treated his employees like disposable cogs, you know, minimize the amount of money he gave them, took credit for their work, you know, and used the money that you didn't give, uh, you know, if he got raised money to do a report, he didn't bother to use the money to get the report done. He would just use it to, you know, wine and dine and fly here and there and give great speeches and so on and so forth.
Okay. So the, the part that I like about my work is that when you start at the, really, the fundamental, at the energy flow level, and you build this stuff up, you realize that there's like two, two parts to the, to the systemic healthy human systems. One is cultural, which we've been sort of talking about, but the other is economic, which has to do with where does the money go? And are you using that money to nourish the organizations that actually do all the work?
Now in, in early capitalism, you were, part of the theory was that you made a profit and you had reinvested it in your, your capacities, but that's not what we do anymore. Now you extract ever more profit and it only, it's only for the guys in the management or owners, shareholders. And this is basic Keynesianism. When you don't have money going to the workers, then they don't have any money to buy things. And when they, and they go into debt, the debt causes actually inflation and overhead, and eventually they just work themselves into a place where they, they can't survive anymore. And that's pretty much what's happening now, especially with the inflation.
[00:27:49] Rachel Donald: So what would be a way of restructuring? Actually, do you know what, first of all, we're talking about oligarchic dysfunction, is there a functioning oligarchy? Is that possible?
[00:28:03] Sally Goerner: No, oligarchies is basically my term for, I mean, the way I see oligarchy is a culture and this culture can, in fact, what it does is it tends to come at it, it's like a disease. It's like a virus.
You know, so we start off on modernity, you start off as free enterprise democracies, common cause rights and civil rights and rights of man and things like this. Okay. But of course the, the old oligarchic stuff is hasn't gone away and it sort of insinuates itself around everything. So you have, you know, you have the profiteers and you have the corporations who are just really meant for the, for enriching the few big guys. And so over time, they kind of, there're various cycles of rise and fall, but we've -basically we don't live in a free enterprise democracy. We live in a capitalist oligarchy and, and you could actually say the same kind of self-serving practices also caused, you know, it's Stalinism, that you have communist oligarchies and you have religious oligarchies and you even have academic oligarchies.
[00:29:16] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[00:29:16] Sally Goerner: So it's a matter of taking a hierarchy and making it specifically self-serving for elites only.
[00:29:23] Rachel Donald: And how do we restructure that hierarchy to make it collaborative or community serving?
[00:29:30] Sally Goerner: Well, I think that's the challenge of our time and part of what we're, we're trying to do is figure that out. So we have a, uh, a loose group of people from, um, Erasmus university in Rotterdam, in their business school who've done some, I mean, there's math that goes with these kinds of implicate energy flow implications. So you have to, you can measure how much energy is circulate circulating internally and where it's going as a measure of systemic health.
So they've started applying, uh, actual, real numbers to some of these, um, because we're what we're looking for is the opposite of systemic health and resilience is basically fragility and instability. So we're looking for instabilities. But I'm actually more interested in their human side of things. How do they think the cultural side? Because there's also, there's a lot of this stuff going on in various social science fields. There's servant leadership and purporsive leadership and things like this. And I think we're just going through a time where we're actually working out how it would work. How do you get a, how do you build a hierarchy that just isn't a bureaucracy that's serving elites? And it's not going to be easy because it's going to be novel.
[00:30:57] Rachel Donald: So we can't look back at a time in history where that existed? It would be completely new in human history?
[00:31:04] Sally Goerner: Not at this scale. I don't think so. Yeah. I mean, because you really do need. Yeah, well, it's kind of like the invention of the nation state was one of the other things that happened with modernity. I think about all of the things that medieval people believed that are just gone with the wind, you know, you had three estates, the serfs were to work the land that all might eat.
The, uh, clergy was to pray for all. And the aristocrats were to fight, to protect all. And, you know, princes were ordained by God for the protection of their people, so on and so forth. And, what happened was, there was so much corruption in all of the institutionalized hierarchies that it eventually fell apart.
But I mean, we're talking about the reformation wars and then the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. So it's, you know, we can sort of, I mean, it's hard because we do know so much more and communication is so much better nowadays and people are better educated and they can read and they have all these sources. So, you know, there's this mystical saying that "in times like these, many may one must". That is either while there's lots of people doing these reforms, we really are having a second enlightenment going on. Which one and whether or not it will trigger the change that clarifies, which, which, how do we make these things come together so that we can move, do more work, move energy faster by being in synergetic collaboration through common cause culture and resilient structures.
I don't know.
[00:32:57] Rachel Donald: Would it, would it demand..., uh, because, I mean, the very nature of oligarchy is that it is self-serving for those elite. And so this is a question that we kind of bump up against alot in the podcast. I mean, what, what do you do about those elite? Do you kind of hope that they'll have a moment of, um, clarity and help restructure the system?
Because surely the problem is when so much power. Well, yeah, you're laughing. Yeah, exactly. I mean, it's an absurd thought, like so much power is concentrated at the, at the top. Even if you create the perfect system, even if you map that hierarchy, how do you put it in place?
[00:33:41] Sally Goerner: Well, okay. It's it's that, okay. So I don't believe that the change is going to come from the grassroots. It's going to come from the middle level. It always comes from the next level down, basically. So let's look at Vladimir Putin. There are other oligarchs, some are the insider oligarchs. They're not all, you know, so he, so well anyway. He has a cadre of, of hardliner, nationalist advisers who are, you know, part of his oligarchy, but if he gets in trouble and he's causing enough trouble for them, they may take him out.
[00:34:21] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[00:34:21] Sally Goerner: I mean, I mean, even Gandhi said that, you know, his Non-violent civil disobedience wouldn't work with a country other than Britain at the time, because they had all the, you know, they had some moral standing fiber in there, even though they were engaged in all this imperialism.
[00:34:43] Rachel Donald: I see. Well, I mean, are we talking about, um, the middle-class in Western oligarchies or are we talking about the middle class? Are we talking about the, the people just below? I mean, who is, what is the middle level here?
[00:34:59] Sally Goerner: I think it's always, it's going to be a consortium of some people who are really wealthy because I mean, all of these people are not evil sociopaths. Some of them are actually. But the hope is to get- there was a book, uh, by one of our guys, Ralph Nader, who's a consumer advocate anyway, but he wrote a book called Only the Super Rich Can Save Us. And it was basically about- and listed a number of the people who are super rich, who are also looking for a better way than, and knowing that this is not the way human society is going to survive. You know, I mean, even, even things like what was this recent movie Don't Look Up, which was kind of a combo combination of a parody and stark reality about how the political system works, where they ignored science and they, because A) they are more wound up with the moves of their political rivals and B) because they think they, they alone will be able to be rescued from the situation. And I think that's true.
I think Ukraine is, is, I don't know if it's going to be the final thing, but it, I have a lot of friends who were either from Eastern Europe, Romania, or Poland, or someplace like that. And they're looking at this and going, oh my God, I can't believe this would happen in today's reality. But we have a lot of people struggling to figure out how well the other part of it is that if we're a learning species, we need decently accurate information being distributed. But we have, we have oligarchic media who's, who's maximizing their, their owner's wealth by hyping the controversies, emphasizing the outliers and the extremists, not actually having intelligent conversations
[00:36:57] Rachel Donald: That is such an interesting way of looking at it. I mean, there's all this talk about disinformation and it's come up on the show quite a bit. Um. And I see a lot, you know, in sort of grassroots activists, networks, sort of th you know, people go on about like the media, the media, and as, I've spoken about this a lot, but like, as a journalist, it drives me mad when people talk about The Media capital T capital M because it doesn't really mean anything.
Yeah, oligarchic media being used to destabilize or to disseminate false information in order to divide, divide and conquer us. Yeah. That's very, very interesting. And it's not something that I think we think about happening, certainly as a Brit, because we have, you know, we have BBC news and we have, um, on laws about journalistic bias. But nonetheless in an increasingly online world, people aren't really turning onto the six o'clock news or are they, they can get any kind of information that we want anywhere. Yeah.
[00:37:52] Sally Goerner: Right because I mean, these people really know how to attack the emotional side of the human brain and you, you get more eyes with, with blood and violence and controversy and fear and threat. But they're also, I think, exhausting people.
[00:38:10] Rachel Donald: Compassion fatigue.
[00:38:11] Sally Goerner: Is that what it is?
[00:38:13] Rachel Donald: Yeah. I actually just came across this term this week. Yeah. Um, when essentially when you you're so overwhelmed with, um, second hand bad news or second hand shock, or second hand trauma that the brain just shuts down and like cannot empathize or feel compassionate anymore. Apparently it afflicts carers a lot, but also we're seeing it on a societal level because of the 24 hour news cycle.
[00:38:36] Sally Goerner: Oh yeah. I mean, well, and th the other thing is that there's a lot of people who- okay, let's, let's take the more controversial one, cancel culture. Well, cancel culture is actually also a tyranny and it's its inability to listen, its inability to learn. I mean, it's very extremist view of how racism and sexism works, where all whites are automatically racist and all men are automatically sexist and there's a certain truth to it. But when you do that, you sort of water down the actual impact and the meaning of the oppressions that do happen in, in those issues.
[00:39:19] Rachel Donald: Yeah. Yeah. I agree with you. I just, you know, I also feel really, I have a lot of sympathy for the left because, you know, leftist politics has been squeezed into such a tiny arena of possibility that I think cancel culture is kind of one of those low hanging fruits, um, that has, you know, data behind it. Like they have shown that de platforming is a really effective way, um, to undermine messaging or to kind of get narratives out of the zeitgeist. Um, so like, um, I'm all for the elements of it, but I think when it becomes this kind of ideological crusade, Um, that is no longer tempered by argument, debate, um, or even, you know, data. Um, I th I think it's because the left has nowhere else to go. I mean, like look at it. What else can let young, especially young leftists do apart from cancel people on Twitter? Like, what else can they do?
[00:40:15] Sally Goerner: See now that's an interesting question. What else could they do? I mean, you may know more about this than I do. I mean, yeah, it's a tough question, but, but I, I mean, I'm really, I like your point. I mean, I'm all for you, but I'm actually also more of a progressive, and unfortunately I'm sort of like, I'm a middle ground person where most of my energy goes into the intellectual part of things.
[00:40:41] Rachel Donald: Sure.
[00:40:43] Sally Goerner: And making the connections, but that doesn't, you know, that's not going to get a lot of people.
[00:40:49] Rachel Donald: Well, it's that thing about the brain again, isn't it? Um, like not everybody can be a polymath and integrate everything. Not everybody has that kind of lionhearted like courage to start a revolution or to sacrifice themselves. Like for me, part of restructuring our social system would also be leading into the nuances of like duality and dynamic systems. And where we allow people to fulfill different functions, even in, in activism, for example, or restructuring, because I think the issue is that there's kind of only one way to act. And I think a lot of say activism- and I don't really know where we're going here but here we are- is kind of coming from that reptilian brain because of the level of precarity that people experience.
Like people are living in a kind of fight or flight constant state of threat. Um, the classes are being squeezed. There's no more opportunities. And so the response to the system is the sort of gut reaction and whilst that you need that to drive things through, I mean, look what extinction rebellion did to raise awareness of the climate crisis in a very short period of time. There also needs to be that moment where you bring in the mammalian brain and you know, the neocortex and you start to think about the, the, you know, values or integrating information.
Um, so to me, it's like, we're living in that- how do I put it?
[00:42:14] Sally Goerner: We're still down shifted in the lizard brain.
[00:42:17] Rachel Donald: Totally, totally it's like activism today, or even discussions about what to do about the state of the world are just sort of the shadow of that oligarchy. Again, it's that reaction in reptilian form. And I think that's why, despite the amount of people talking we've, we're not actually, we're not progressing to the next level of, of restructuring. I think, I don't know.
[00:42:38] Sally Goerner: Well, okay. So here's, here's the possibility, which is, okay. So sociological side of things really does talk about this common cause culture business, and let's, let's use the Elinor Ostrom kinds of things. I think if you had a clear picture that what the goal is to get people who- well it's to get people, like you say, it's to get people who have different talents and different perspectives to be able to work together because the system is fair because there's accountability because you're really serving the health of the whole, um, all these kinds of things. Maybe that would help them. I mean, because I agree with you. I think the cancel culture is really sort of a symptom of our particular times where, where people don't have anything else to do. So we're going to just get fanatical about or ideological about a particular aspect of the systemic problems. Yeah, it's, it's a toughie.
[00:43:41] Rachel Donald: I mean, talking about restructuring, any kind of system, and even that like system and people talk about this, like it's 'The System'. No, no, no, no. It's multiple systems. It's systems upon systems upon systems.
[00:43:52] Sally Goerner: It's the system of the systems is what it is.
So I also had this wonderful experience with, I, I got taken to, I got paid to go give a talk in with Newt Gingrich's think tank who Newt Gingrich is a, uh, pretty far right american politician. Anyway, he was doing a, um, conference in Japan on great change or big change, which are the, the kinds of big cultural changes shifts we had when we went from medieval to modern. Now, from my point of view, we're going from moderate to either integral or regenerative learning society. Anyway. So I was in this techie group with a bunch of, you know, Japanese counterparts in engineering and things like that. And one of my, my, uh, Japanese counterpart talked about the magi restoration and his basic comment was you Westerners have no idea how to make great change because you only talk about the things that you, that, that are wrong, that you're going to have to get rid of. Where you really, what you really want to do is you want to point out the noble purpose or mission that's already intrinsic in the society that most people still aspire to and say how that's going to be like a butterfly shedding its skin. So that you're going to bring that to a whole new level of function and beauty. And I think that you could definitely make a case for um, free enterprise democracy and becoming an authentic free enterprise democracy by making it fair, by making democracy itself not only just about, what about voting, but actually being able to impact things. So money out of politics so the contributions are not steering things. I mean,
[00:45:47] Rachel Donald: Absolutely. I mean, if you imagine our modernity, um, or our, our world today, um, and it was built on collaborative, um, fair, transparent, um, process. And it had the, I, you know, the lives of people, by species, planet. Like if the whole was put first, rather than elite, and we moved away from extractivism, we live in a beautiful world!
And we have to remember, you know, the progress that has been made in terms of science, in terms of medicine, in terms of - people are living maybe the mental health, not better lives because it is an incredibly oppressive system, but nonetheless, there's a lot of progress that has been made and we need to focus on those things and be like, look, we can achieve, we can continue to achieve these good things that have come out of desire to help the greater good! And we can build a whole world like that. It doesn't have to be extractive. It doesn't have to be exploitive. Th th th the options are not either collapse or tribalism. There is a whole new world there for us to build together. And I don't understand why it's not being talked about more, because if you face people with the two current options, of course, they're terrified. Of course, they turn off. Of course they feel disempowered and then nothing happens.
[00:47:09] Sally Goerner: Exactly right. I agree. I mean, I, so, so I think the problem is narrative. We need a coherent narrative that articulates that other, that third way. I hate to say that. I shouldn't say that. Tony Blair turned out so well.
[00:47:33] Rachel Donald: Well, that, that better way say or a more hopeful way. Yeah, because it has to be something that, because you have to be able to say to the oligarchs, tap them on the shoulder and say, hello, logical fallacy, if you keep going, there's going to, it doesn't matter how much money you're going to have. There's not going to be a planet to live on anymore. And then you also have to say to, you know, the working classes, Hey, come and get involved, because it's not just about some major altruistic thing where you're saving, you know, the earth that you live in, that you can actually have a better life in 10 years um, if we just make these couple of tweaks, you know, it's about coming together and having a vision for the future rather than careening over a cliff, as far as I'm concerned.
[00:48:17] Sally Goerner: Exactly. Exactly.
[00:48:20] Rachel Donald: But it's interesting because I haven't - well, I've thought about this a fair whack. I haven't thought about what kind of hierarchies you would need to put. I think there's an instinctive, you know, you would definitely need a hierarchy. You need people to be able to make decisions at appropriate moments. But how do you, I mean, with the complexity that is human psychology, how do you organize a hierarchy around our capacity for corruption, quite frankly?
[00:48:48] Sally Goerner: Well, yes, indeed. And, and the ability to have non accountability, which I think is the real crux of the problem. Well, okay. One of Ostrom's points is that you have to have accountability so that if you do something that violates the, you know, moral, legal, ethical kinds of things that th th you get some kind of feedback that has some kind of impact on your behavior. And sexism, racism, and oligarchy are all about impunity. So you get to do what you want. And then nobody can touch you actually.
[00:49:27] Rachel Donald: But see, this is, people have spoken about it in the past, you know, maybe the, the need for a philosopher king or the other side of the coin a benevolent dictator. But the problem is always, well then who do you get in once that- if you find that one diamond in the rough, that one incorruptible human soul, um, how do you find the next one in the next generation?
[00:49:49] Sally Goerner: Exactly right. Which is the problem with monarchy. Right? Absolutely.
[00:49:56] Rachel Donald: I mean, what, what does your research say?
[00:50:00] Sally Goerner: What it says is that people have been working on this cause he can go back to Plato's Republic was really about this kind of question, you know. I mean, I also take some comfort from the whole notion of emergence. So that is- what motivates me is that if we get this very clear picture that there are four major system, uh, rural pillars of systemic health.
One is this, um, regenerative circulation. So you have to get money to invest in, in all the things that may do the work and keep us healthy. You have to have resilient structure, which means you can't have, big things can't get too big because then when they, what then happens is you get this, the more you have, the more you get kind of circle a positive feedback cycle and it sucks all the wealth up from the bottom, which is what oligarchies're doing now. So you need resilient structures of balance of big and little, of particular, mathematically precise balance of big and little. You need regenerative circulation, but then you need common cause culture and you need effective collaborative learning. So we need to be able to adapt, change our, our cultural mindset.
Once we can actually establish the science so that there's an empirical basis for a choice that people are making, but, you know, sort of get out of the oligarchic part of all that, where you're like in academics, you're just battling each other and and you're struggling for money so we're, we're not investing in real research at, uh, open-ended research anymore. We're basically investing in the people who already claim they know what they're doing.
[00:51:49] Rachel Donald: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That fallacy of expertise again.
Okay. Regenerative circulation, resilient structure, common cause culture, effective, collaborative learning. Let's okay. We've discussed common cause culture, you just explained effective collaborative learning, regenerative circulation, the flow of money getting- and that's, that's a little bit of communism in there, isn't it? Like each to - oh what's the Marxist quote about everybody having will be the one that needs gets or whatever-
[00:52:24] Sally Goerner: It's not that at all. It's it's regenerative circulation is actually investing in in, well, I mean, in the capitalist system, it would have been investing in your employees and your infrastructure. So it's not just. Okay, so this, all of these four tied together and they influence each other. And so some, some things don't sort naturally indeed once one place or another.
Um, but one of the things you'd need to do for, um, both collaborative culture and effective learning is not just tolerate, but appreciate differences in different skills and talents and things like that. And as a result of that, you're never going to have absolute equality.
That's not a goal. The goal is to make everybody have the opportunity so that they, they start, you know, it really is a level playing field. So everybody has access to, you know, food, shelter, education, healthcare, uh, human dignity. Right. So these, these are fundamentals, but it's not, but it doesn't mean that you're just going to automatically take from one person. You, you will have limits on how much somebody can make, because if, if you don't have limits, then they will become corrupt and start sucking up the wealth from everywhere and incorrupting and blah-blah-blah.
[00:53:49] Rachel Donald: Yeah. So the one that's kind of fascinating me the most is resilient structure because I had Jessie Henshaw on the show recently, and she raised a really fascinating point about systems and a narrative that served not being discussed at the moment enough, which is that growth is a part of life. Growth is good. As long as degeneration is also allowed, as long as we make space for degeneration, as long as we make space for death, and that's the cycle of everything on a biological level, ecological level, et cetera. Um, and so thinking about that, when I see this resilient structures having a balance mathematically of, of big things and small things and ensuring that the big things don't get too big. How? Would that be by allowing for those big things to collapse and fall away and be replaced by smaller things? I mean, what does that look like?
[00:54:48] Sally Goerner: I think it's less, it's more efficient not to force them to collapse. In fact, it's because there's always the possibility that the whole system will collapse, not just the one company. Um, I would say that I disagree with Jesse on that growth. It's not always good. It's it's, it's not how big you grow. It's how you grow big in the term. And so it's, growth itself, I mean, especially GDP growth today is just a, it doesn't doesn't check where the money goes. So, yeah, it's crazy. So GDP growth in particular is an insane measure for systemic health.
[00:55:28] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[00:55:29] Sally Goerner: I think it's not at all true that you absolutely have to, that growth is always good.
[00:55:36] Rachel Donald: She didn't say growth is always good. She was saying that that growth is a, is a part of systems because the systems grow and then they reach a moment of stasis and then they collapse. Um, so I think it was more to counteract the narrative that all growth is bad as we're seeing sort of right now is a reaction to, you know, oligarchy. Um, she was more drawing awareness to the fact that growth is an inherent part of systems and life.
[00:56:04] Sally Goerner: I think that's, that's an ecosystem view, which I don't think necessarily holds with human systems per se. Because in that ecosystem view, there's a succession of, of ecosystem forms. You go from GRA, uh, grassland to pine lands to Oak forest. That's the supremacy. And then it all collapses and it's, and they recycle all this stuff coming back over again. Unfortunately that's not a really good metaphor for human systems because when we collapse, we don't necessarily recycle the information and we don't re you know, how we have this whole, uh, business about there may have been a prior civilization. You've heard this, the Gobekli Tepe?
[00:56:50] Rachel Donald: No.
[00:56:51] Sally Goerner: Oh, okay. Well, we tend to, the current orthodoxy is that hierarchical civilizations began about 5,000 years ago. And that, you know, before that there was like a brief period of agriculture. And, you know, before that we were just neolithic. Um, but now we have beginning evidence that more like 12,900 years ago prior to that, there were major civilizations that were putting together these amazing, huge stone structures that were really well-fitted. And that probably what happened was that, and they probably already had agriculture and things like that, probably what happened was there was a meteor strike. This is not the one that killed off the dinosaurs, but this one happened about 12,500 years ago, created a massive global catastrophe, which essentially wiped out most of that civilization, which was probably pretty global because there's indication of, of exchanges of culture and contact between like north America central America and Asia and things like that.
So, they think now that it's beginning to look like, perhaps we are almost like in a post-traumatic stress syndrome where the people who survived that lost a lot of the culture that, that they'd had before and became more -what- traumatized by the whole loss of global civilization and became very defensive and nationalistic and tribal and things like that, where they had been less so before.
[00:58:35] Rachel Donald: That's fascinating. So as if all of sort of modern human history, you could be seen as that shadow reaction to that huge singular traumatic event.
[00:58:45] Sally Goerner: Exactly
[00:58:46] Rachel Donald: Wow. That really shifts the paradigm. Although it does also provide. It provides a great basis for a new story as well though. Like let's, let's move past our trauma point, people. Let's start building with the best of ourselves.
[00:59:04] Sally Goerner: Yeah.
[00:59:06] Rachel Donald: Tell me, Sally, what is next in your work and where can people find it? Because I know my listeners are going to want to read more about what you do.
[00:59:16] Sally Goerner: Wow. I've actually written like four books all by myself and then I've been coauthor in two or three more. Um. Unfortunately pretty much all of them are out of print now, so. Okay. But, so the best ways is you can email me and I'll send you copies: 'Collapse of Oligarchic Capitalism' and um, 'Rise of Regenerative Learning'.
But I mean, I have a bunch of academic papers out now. My focus now is on these measures of systemic health. And then actually I'm working, in theory, I'm the research director for Edinburgh universities, Planetary Health Lab.
[01:00:01] Rachel Donald: Oh, wow.
[01:00:02] Sally Goerner: Sounds good. They're not paying me any money. This is kind of like a hobby thing. But I have a student who's going to, who's trying to, um, I think put the pieces together, particularly of the cultural parts to, um, figure out how we can change the governmental policies to support, to use the framework of systemic health that that comes out of my work to support, um, the SDGs, the sustainable development goal including inequality, gross inequality and poverty. And I'm more the cultural ones than, than the, um, environmental ones. Because the environmental ones, from my point of view are actually a symptom of the deep systemic cultural cause of oligarchic capitalism.
[01:00:55] Rachel Donald: Yeah.
[01:00:56] Sally Goerner: So that if we're going to really solve climate change and those kinds of things, we need to attack the underlying sociological drivers of the, of it.
[01:01:06] Rachel Donald: Completely agree. If we were just beginning this talk, rather than coming to the end of it, I would go off on my very practiced net zero rant. Um boggles the brain.
[01:01:18] Sally Goerner: Oh, what's your net zero rant. I missed it.
[01:01:22] Rachel Donald: In a nutshell, um, I think it's absurd to use the same economic frameworks that have engendered ex you know, extractive and exploitative practices to save, um, our ecology. It's absolute nonsense. Um. It will only lead to huge, bigger inequity. And to me it means that the moment that you, you commodify, um, you know, they commodified the forest. That's why there's no more forest. Now they're saying they have to, you know, we have to save forest so they're commodifying CO2, trying to create these credits. And it just means that the moment that there is some kind of technology, there is some kind of way in which we've dealt with the CO2 problem, they'll just go straight back to commodifying the forest and chopping them down. Um. It's not the answer. They need to restructure the values.
[01:02:12] Sally Goerner: Now we must figure out how to do that.
[01:02:16] Rachel Donald: Welcome to Planet: Critical.
Sally, it's been such a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Uh I'm so looking forward to getting my teeth into more of your work. Tell me, um, who would you like to platform?
[01:02:33] Sally Goerner: Oh, I really like this guy, Michael Hudson. And he's, he doesn't call it oligarchic capitalism, but he's he's he does the flow network stuff, and he's been in international monetary flows for most of his adult life. And he's just, just asking him about his life's history will be amazing.
[01:02:56] Rachel Donald: Excellent. Great. I will reach out to him. Thank you so much for your time, Sally.
[01:03:03] Sally Goerner: All right. Thank you.