Transcript: Do We Still Believe in a Better Tomorrow? | Jan 10, 2022

Steve Paikin sits in a corner of a room. He has short, dark, curly hair and wears a light yellow dress shirt and dark coloured tie. Behind him are pictures, a calendar and a small Ontario flag that hang on walls. In front of Steve is a microphone.

Steve says, WESTERN CIVILIZATION
HAS LONG HELD ITSELF UP TO AN
IDEAL ABOUT PROGRESS.

The Agenda logo, a lowercase letter a and a period, appears in the bottom left with text that reads, do we still believe in a batter tomorrow?

Steve says, ABOUT A FUTURE THAT WOULD ALWAYS
BE BETTER THAN THE PAST.
BUT EVEN BEYOND THIS PANDEMIC,
SOME FEAR THAT CONFIDENCE IN A
WORLD OF BETTER TOMORROWS IS
FADING, OR WORSE.

The Twitter logo, a bird, appears with text that reads, @spaikin, @theagenda.

Steve says, JOINING US NOW ON THAT, IN
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, ALANA
NEWHOUSE, SHE'S THE FOUNDER AND
EDITOR OF TABLET MAGAZINE.

In a video call, Alana Newhouse has long, black hair and glasses. She wears a black shirt. Alana smiles.

Steve says, AND IN MONTREAL, QUEBEC, ANDREW
POTTER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT
MCGILL'S UNIVERSITY'S MAX BELL
SCHOOL OF PUBLIC POLICY AND
AUTHOR MOST RECENTLY OF "ON
DECLINE."

In a video call, Andrew Potter is bald. He wears a black and blue plaid shirt. The cover of his book is displayed. It has a black and white image of part of the Statue of Liberty.

Steve says, WE WELCOME BOTH OF YOU TO OUR
AIR WAVES HERE IN THE PROVINCE
OF ONTARIO TONIGHT.
ALANA, YOU WROTE AN
ESSAY CALLED "EVERYTHING IS BROKEN."
WHAT IS THE JIST OF THE BROKENNESS
THAT YOU SEE?

Alana nods. Text reads, brokenness all around.

Alana says, MY ESSAY FOCUSES MOSTLY ON
THE UNITED STATES AND ON THE DECAY
OF A SET OF INTERLOCKING INSTITUTIONS.
BOTH CULTURAL, SOCIETAL AND
GOVERNMENTAL.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, THAT RULED AND CONTROLED AMERICAN
LIFE.
BASICALLY SINCE THE POST-WAR
YEARS.
AND THEY FUNCTION VERY, VERY
WELL.
AT LEAST FOR, IN MANY WAYS THEY
FUNCTION WELL.
SO WELL THAT PEOPLE CAME TO IMAGINE THAT
THEY WERE GOING TO BE HERE
FOREVER AND THAT THEY WERE GOING
TO FUNCTION WELL FOREVER.
BUT AS I THINK WE'RE GOING TO
TALK ABOUT, INSTITUTIONS DECAY
AND BREAK APART AND NEED TO GET
REPLACED ALL THE TIME.
IT'S JUST A FEATURE OF HUMAN
CIVILIZATION.
THE IMPORTANT THING FOR ME IS
PEOPLE KNOWING THAT THAT'S
WHAT THEY'RE LOOKING AT RIGHT
NOW.

Steve says, WE WILL GET TO THE
POINT IN OUR CONVERSATION
WHERE WE TALK ABOUT
HOW YOU TWO SEE US GETTING OUT
OF THIS.
IN THE MEANTIME WE WANT TO
ESTABLISH YOUR THESIS.
ANDREW, LET'S PUT THE SUBTITLE
OF YOUR BOOK UP THERE WHICH IS
STAGNATION, NOSTALGIA AND WHY
EVERY YEAR IS THE WORST ONE
EVER.

Andrew laughs.

Steve says, OKAY.
WHAT IS THE GIST OF THE
CONDITIONS THAT YOU FEEL HAS LED US
TO OUR CURRENT DECLINE?

Andrew says, IN A LOT OF WAYS IT’S
NOT MUCH DIFFERENT THAN ALANA'S
ARGUMENT IN THAT I'M ARGUING
THAT THERE ARE A SET OF
INTERLOCKING, INSTITUTIONAL AND
CULTURAL FEATURES OF OUR SOCIETY
THAT ARE ALL SORT OF ACTING IN A
SELF-REINFORCING WAY.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, author, “On Decline.”

Andrew says, AND PUTTING US ON A TRAJECTORY
OF DECLINE.
AND LIKE ALANA, I THINK IT
STARTED IN THE 70S.
SO WHAT I ARGUE IS THAT THERE IS A
COMBINATION OF TECHNOLOGICAL
STAGNATION, ECONOMIC STAGNATION.
WHICH HAS LED TO A CERTAIN
POLITICAL SITUATION LARGELY
HAVING TO DO WITH THE INCREASING
ROLE OF THE INTERNET.
ALL WHICH IS BEING CATALYZED
INTO A SITUATION WHERE THE TYPES
OF COLLECTIVE ACTION THAT GIVE
RISE TO WHAT WE CALL
CIVILIZATION, THE RESOLUTION OF
COLLECTIVE ACTION PROBLEMS IS TO
HAVE ECONOMIC GROWTH AND
TECHNOLOGICAL GROWTH AND SO ON,
HAVE JUST COME TO A HALT.
WE'VE BASICALLY STOPPED BEING
ABLE TO RESOLVE THE COLLECTIVE
ACTION PROBLEMS THAT WE FACE.
AS A RESULT, WE'RE HEADING INTO
A BIT OF A DECLINE.

Steve says, LET ME DO A QUICK
FOLLOW UP WITH YOU, ANDREW.
THE DECLINE THAT YOU DESCRIBE,
IS IT MORE ALONG THE LINES OF
SOMETHING, FOR LACK OF A
BETTER WORD, APOCALYPTIC?
OR IS THIS JUST A BUNCH OF
LITTLE THINGS COMBINING AT THE
SAME TIME?

Andrew says, NO, AND I THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT
TO POINT OUT, RIGHT?
THIS ISN'T THE APOCALYPSE.
IN A LOT OF WAYS IT'S AN
ELABORATION OF AN ARGUMENT, OR
NOT EVEN AN ARGUMENT,
AN THE IDEA THAT THE WRITER
WILLIAM GIBSON RAISES IN A BOOK
HE WROTE A FEW YEARS
AGO CALLED "THE PERIPHERAL."
THE IDEA IS WHAT HE CALLS
THE JACKPOT.
IT'S A WHOLE BUNCH OF THINGS HAPPENING
ALL AT ONCE: IT’S CLIMATE CHANGE,
IT’S PANDEMICS, IT’S TECHNOLOGICAL
DECLINE, IT’S LACK OF FAITH IN
DEMOCRACY.
ALL THESE THINGS GIVE RISE TO AN
INCREASING AMOUNT OF FRICTION
AND DISCOMFORT AND DECAY THAT JUST
SORT OF ADDS UP YEAR AFTER YEAR.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, McGill University.

Andrew says, WHICH IS WHY THE SUBTITLE OF THE
BOOK IS EACH YEAR GETS WORSE AND
WORSE.
BUT IT'S NOT LIKE SOME BIG
APOCALYPSE HAPPENS.
IT'S SORT OF AFTER 5, 6, 7, 8,
9, 10 YEARS YOU THINK WOW, IT'S
BEEN A WHILE SINCE THINGS WERE
ON A ROLL.
AND YOU START TO THINK IT'S ONLY
IN LOOKING BACK THAT YOU REALIZE
YOU'VE BEEN SORT OF TRENDING
DOWNWARDS AND I THINK THAT'S THE
SITUATION WE'RE IN RIGHT NOW
WHERE EACH YEAR WE THINK THINGS
ARE GOING TO GET BETTER, WE'RE
IN A BIT OF A LULL HERE RIGHT NOW.
AND YOU LOOK BACK AND YOU
REALIZE NO, IT'S ACTUALLY MUCH
DEEPER THAN THAT.
THINGS HAVE BEEN TRENDING
DOWNWARD FOR A WHILE.

Steve says, ALANA, I WANT TO SET
UP MY NEXT QUESTION TO YOU
BY READING AN EXCERPT FROM
THE ESSAY THAT
YOU WROTE FOR TABLET.
IT WAS ALMOST EXACTLY A YEAR TO
THE DAY AGO.
HERE'S THE EXCERPT:

Alana nods and smiles. Steve reads the excerpt which is displayed as a graphic with text that reads, new, brave world.

Steve reads, TODAY’S REVOLUTION HAS BEEN
DENIED BY A SET OF VERY SPECIFIC VALUES:
BOUNDARYLESSNESS; SPEED; UNIVERSAL
ACCESSIBILITY; AN ALLERGY TO HIERARCHY,
SO MUCH SO THAT THE WEIGHTING OR
PREFERRING OF SOME VOICES
OR PRODUCTS OVER OTHERS IS SEEN AS
ILLEGITIMATE; SEEING ONE’S OWN WORDS
AND FACE REFLECTED BACK AS PART
OF A LARGER CURRENT; A COMMITMENT
TO GRATIFICATION AT THE PUSH OF
A BUTTON; EQUALITY OF ACCESS TO
COMMODIFIED EXPERIENCES AS THE RIGHT
OF EVERY HUMAN BEING ON EARTH; THE IDEA
THAT ALL CHOICES CAN AND SHOULD BE MADE
INSTANTANEOUSLY, AND THAT THE CHOICES
MADE BY THE MAJORITY IN A GIVEN MOMENT,
ON A GIVEN PLATFORM REPRESENT A
LARGER DEMOCRATIC CHOICE, WHICH IS
THEREFORE BOTH TRUE AND GOOD - UNTIL
THE NEXT MOMENT, ON THE NEXT PLATFORM.

Below the excerpt text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine (Jan 14, 2021)

Steve says, LET'S DIVE INTO THAT A LITTLE
BIT.

Text reads, pointing a finger.

Steve asks, ARE YOU SUGGESTING THAT OUR
COMMITMENT TO TECHNOLOGICAL
CHANGE IS NOT REALLY WORKING OUT
FOR US VERY WELL AT ALL?

Alana shakes her head.

She says, NO.
WHAT I'M SUGGESTING IS THAT OUR
IDEA THAT WE ARE GOING TO
COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONIZE THE WAY
IN WHICH EVERY ECONOMY, EVERY
INDIVIDUAL ECONOMY PLUS THE
GLOBAL ECONOMY FUNCTIONS AND
THEN THERE WOULD BE A CASCADE OF
EFFECTS ON COMMUNICATION AND ON
THE WAY IN WHICH COMMUNITIES AND
CIVIC SOCIETIES ARE ORGANIZED
AND FUNCTION IS GOING TO HAVE NO
CHANGE AT ALL.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, AND WAS NOT GOING TO AFFECT THE
WAY THAT WE PRIORITIZE VALUES
WAS NUTS.
AND THAT, IN FACT, I SEE THIS AS
CYCLICAL.
I SEE THAT THE VERY, VERY
SIMILAR SET OF CHAOTIC AND
REVOLUTIONARY EFFECTS HAPPENED
IN THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION.
AND IT'S ALMOST LIKE A KIND OF
BOA CONSTRICTOR WHO FOLLOWS A
TIGER.
IT TAKES A LONG TIME TO
METABOLIZE A CHANGE LIKE
THE ONE THAT WE’VE GONE THROUOGH.
AND WE HAVE NOT DONE THAT.
IN FACT, WE IMAGINED THAT OUR LIVES,
WE JUST NOW HAVE E-MAIL.
WELL WE NOW HAVE FACEBOOK.
THAT'S THE CHANGE, WE CAN NOW
ORDER THINGS QUICKLY ON AMAZON
AND THAT’S THE ONLY EFFECT.
IT’S NOT THE ONLY EFFECT.
THE EFFECT IS IN EVERY SINGLE
AREA OF EVERY SINGLE PERSON'S
LIFE AND WE NEED TO JUST LOOK THAT
IN THE FACE AND THEN DECIDE THEN
HOW WE WANT TO REORGANIZE OUR
SOCIETY GIVEN THAT REALITY.

Steve says, I GUESS I SHOULD
FOLLOW UP BY ASKING IF YOU DON'T
THINK TECHNOLOGY IS AT THE ROOT
OF SO MUCH OF WHAT IS WRONG WITH
US TODAY, WHY DON'T YOU FEEL
THAT WAY?
BECAUSE THERE IS SURELY NO
EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST THAT SO MANY
OF OUR PROBLEMS ARE MIRED IN
TECHNOLOGY PERFORMING IN A WAY
THAT WE PERHAPS DON'T LIKE OR
CERTAINLY DIDN'T ANTICIPATE?

Alana says, I FEEL THAT TECHNOLOGY
IS WHERE WE SEE THE PROBLEMS.
BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT FIGURED OUT
HOW WE WANT TO USE IT.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, @alananewhouse.

Alana says, AGAIN, THE ANALOGY OF THE
INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION IS THE
BEST FOR ME.
YOU CAN DECIDE THAT MACHINES ARE
THE ENEMY, WHICH MANY PEOPLE
DID.
AND THAT CAN BE THE WAY THAT YOU
LOOK AT THINGS.
OR YOU CAN SAY THESE THINGS ARE
INSTRUMENTS.
AND THE QUESTION IS HOW DO WE
USE THEM?
THAT'S WHAT, MY BELIEF IS
THAT, YES, THE INTERNET HAS
CAUSED ENORMOUS PROBLEMS.
BUT THE REASON THE INTERNET HAS
CAUSED THOSE PROBLEMS IS BECAUSE
OF OUR TRULY OUR ABSOLUTE
FALLING DOWN ON THE JOB OF
FIGURING OUT HOW BEST TO USE
THEM.
BOTH INDIVIDUALLY AT A COMMUNAL
LEVEL, A CIVIC LEVEL, A CULTURAL
LEVEL AND ALSO GOVERNMENTALLY
PROBABLY IN THE BIGGEST WAY.

Steve nods.

He says, ANDREW, I SUSPECT
EVERY DAY YOU AND I BOTH READ A
PIECE AN OP-ED PIECE SOMEWHERE
WHICH SAYS FACEBOOK IS THE ROOT
OF ALL EVIL AND PEOPLE ARE
GETTING STUPIDER BECAUSE THEY
GET ALL THEIR INFORMATION FROM
FACEBOOK WHICH ENCOURAGES THEM
NOT TO VACCINATE THEMSELVES AND
TO CONSIDER THE WHOLE THING A
HOAX, ET CETERA, ET CETERA.
WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE ISSUE
OF HOW WELL TECHNOLOGY HAS
AFFECTED OUR SENSE OF
WELL-BEING?

Andrew says, SO THIS IS
INTERESTING.
I HAVE TO SAY I REALLY LIKED
ALANA'S PIECE.
AND THERE'S ONE LINE IN IT,
THOUGH, WHERE SHE SAYS, WHERE
YOU SAY, ALANA: I'M NOT LOOKING
TO TURN BACK THE CLOCK TO A TIME
BEFORE E-MAIL AND BEFORE THE
INTERNET AND SO ON.
AND I REMEMBER THINKING YEAH, I
WOULD!

Andrew laughs. Alana grins.

Andrew says, AND THE REASON IS I THINK WE'RE
BOTH SORT OF GEN-X'ERS SO WE
BOTH REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS LIKE.

Alana nods.

Andrew says, I ALSO REMEMBER THE FIRST WAVE
OF THE INTERNET, LATE 1990S,
EARLY 2000S AND HOW GREAT IT
WAS AND HOW AWFUL IT IS NOW.
I WOULDN'T WANT TO WIND IT BACK TO THE
1980S.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, author, “On Decline.”

Andrew says, I WOULDN'T HAVE MINDED FREEZING
TECHNOLOGY AROUND 1994, 1995.
ONE OF THE THINGS I DO OR I USED
TO DO WHEN I TAUGHT A COURSE ON
TECHNOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY WAS, I
WOULD HAVE EVERYBODY READ A
PIECE THAT WAS WRITTEN ABOUT
1995-96 THAT WAS THE CYBER
LIBERTARIAN MANIFESTO.
YOU GUYS MIGHT REMMEBER THIS,
THIS WAS WRITTEN BY JOHN PERRY
BARLOW AND STEWART BRAND
AND A LOT OF THESE SORT OF
EARLY TEHCNO LIBERTARIANS.
AND IT WAS THIS MANIFESTO ABOUT
THE INTERNET AND HOW IT WAS
GOING TO BE THIS WORLD FREE OF GOVERNMENT,
FREE OF AUTHORITARIANISM.
FREE OF CONTROL.
AND IT WOULD ALLOW THIS
FLOURISHING OF DEMOCRACY, RIGHT?

Alana nods.

Andrew says, BECAUSE IT WOULD BE A PURE
COMMUNICATIVE TOOL, RIGHT?
AND THAT OBVIOUSLY MANIFESTLY HAS NOT
HAPPENED.
I THINK WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND
WHY THAT HASN'T HAPPENED.
IT WASN'T BECAUSE WE MADE A
BUNCH OF BAD DECISIONS OR WE
HAVEN'T SUBSTANTIALLY
METABOLIZED IT.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, @j.andrew.potter.

Andrew says, I THINK IT IS BECAUSE WE DIDN'T
FULLY APPRECIATE THE EXTENT TO WHICH BAKED
INTO TECHNOLOGY IS A SET OF
PRESUMPTIONS ABOUT HUMAN
PSYCHOLOGY.
AND THE WAY WE CAN BE TRIGGERED
TO BEHAVE IN CERTAIN WAYS.
THERE IS THIS THING THAT, THE
BEHAVIOUR PSYCHOLOGISTS PICKED UP
ON A FEW YEARS AGO THAT WE HAVE
TWO SYSTEMS, SYSTEM ONE, SYSTEM
TWO.
MALCOLM GLADWELL HAD TALKED
ABOUT OUR QUICK REACTION
RESPONSES TO THINGS.
AND I THINK WHAT WE DON'T REALLY
UNDERSTAND OR DIDN'T APPRECIATE
WAS THE EXTENT TO WHICH
TECHNOLOGY COULD BE USED TO KEEP
US IN A STATE OF CONSTANTLY
BEING TRIGGERED.
LIKE RATS IN A LAB OR PEOPLE IN
A CASINO.
AND I THINK THAT'S THE PROBLEM
RIGHT NOW WITH THE INTERNET IS
THAT IT'S TURNED INTO ONE BIG
CASINO WHERE WE'RE KIND OF
RUNNING AROUND BEING TRIGGERED
RELENTLESSLY BY BUTTONS AND LIKES AND SHARES AND
SO ON.
IT'S REALLY UNDERMINING THE
CAPACITY WE HAVE FOR
RATIONAL THOUGHT.
I THINK THAT'S WHAT THE ORIGINAL
CYBER LIBERTARIANS DIDN’T UNDERSTAND.
WHICH WAS THE EXTENT TO WHICH
THE INTERNET WOULD
BECOME ESSENTIALLY ONE BIG CASINO THAT WE
WILL ALL WANDER AROUND IN
WITHOUT REALLY RATIONAL THOUGHT
ENGAGED.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, McGill University.

Steve says, ALANA YOU WANT TO GET
INTO THAT CASINO AND TRY AND
ROLL SNAKE EYES?

Alana says, CAN I SPEAK TO THAT?
YEAH.

Alana laughs.

She says, FIRST OF ALL I
WANT TO SAY THAT IF SOMEBODY
TOLD ME THAT WE COULD REWIND THE
CLOCK BACK TO A MOMENT WHERE KURT
COBAIN WAS ALIVE,
I WOULD SAY YES.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, SO JUST A
CORRECTION TO ANDREW’S READ
OF MY PIECE.
HERE'S WHAT I WANT TO SAY.
TABLET IS A VERY STRANGE
PUBLICATION IN THAT
IT IS A NICHE PUBLICATION BUT
HAS A VERY AT THIS POINT UNIQUE
READERSHIP.
A BIG PART OF OUR READERSHIP NOW
IS NO LONGER JEWISH, AND JUST COMES
TO TABLET FOR THEIR PERSPECTIVE ON
THE WORLD AND A HUGE COHORT OF
THOSE PEOPLE ARE UNDER 25.
OUR READERS WHO ARE UNDER 25 ARE
THE MOST SUSPICIOUS OF
TECHNOLOGY, OR RATHER NOT
SUSPICIOUS, THEY'RE THE SMARTEST
USERS OF TECHNOLOGY.
THEY UNDERSTAND WHAT TECHNOLOGY
DOES AND DOESN'T DO.
THEY NO LONGER USE IT THE WAY
THAT LET'S SAY MY GENERATION
USED IT.
CERTAINLY A GENERATION OLDER
THAN ME USES IT AND EVEN A
GENERATION YOUNGER THAN US USES
IT.

Andrew nods.

Alana says, THEY'RE VERY SMART ABOUT IT.
AND I SUPPOSE MY CHALLENGE IS TO
SAY THAT NOT ONLY DID THOSE
ORIGINAL CRYPTO LIBERTARIANS GET IT
WRONG, BUT THE REASON WHY THEY
GOT IT WRONG WAS BECAUSE THEY
DIDN'T REALIZE THAT IT WASN'T
GOING TO COME TRUE FOR A LONG
TIME.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, THERE WERE GOING TO BE PHASES TO
GET THERE.
AND WHAT I DON'T, THE MISTAKE
I DON’T WANT US TO MAKE IS
TO IMAGINE THAT THERE’S
ONE HUMAN CONDITION AND
ONE HUMAN WAY TO RELATE TO
THE INTERNET.
I DON'T THINK THERE IS.
IN FACT I THINK IT’S CHANGING
AS WE SPEAK.
MY POSITION IS THAT A
GENERATION, COUPLE OF
GENERATIONS AFTER ME, AND
CERTAINLY MOVING FORWARD, ARE
ACTUALLY QUITE HEALTHY.
INCREASINGLY HEALTHIER ABOUT,
THERE'S A COHORT OF THEM THAT
ARE INCREASINGLY HEALTHIER.
THEIR SCEPTICISM IS REAL.
THEY KNOW WHAT THE INTERNET
DOES AND DOESN’T DO.
THEY KNOW WHAT
SOCIAL MEDIA, WHAT IT CAN
AND WHAT IT CAN’T DO.
WHAT IT'S BAD AND GOOD
AT.
THE QUESTIONS THAT, THE
SCARIEST PART FOR ME HAS NOTHING
TO DO WITH THAT.
BECAUSE I THINK THAT THEY'RE
GOING TO BE HUMAN COHORTS THAT
WILL HELP US CORRECT OUR
RELATIONSHIP TO TECHNOLOGY.
THE SCARIEST PART IS OUR
GOVERNMENTS
AND THEIR CONNECTION, THE
CREATION OF SURVEILLANCE FEEDS.
THAT'S THE PART THAT STRIKES ME
AS POISON AND DEEPLY POISONOUS
AND ALSO FUNDAMENTALLY
CHANGEABLE.
SO THAT'S WHERE I FOCUS A LOT OF
WHERE THE ENERGY OF CHANGE OR
WANTING THINGS TO NOT, TO BE
DIFFERENT OF HOW
THEY WORK RIGHT NOW.

Steve says, ANDREW I SHOULD FOLLOW
UP WITH YOU ON THAT
BECAUSE OF COARSE ACCORDING TO
YOUR PERCH AT MCGILL YOU
SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH
20-SOMETHINGS.
AND YOU WOULD, I GUESS, YOU WOULD
SEE LOTS OF
FIRSTHAND EVIDENCE ABOUT HOW
SMART THIS GENERATION OF
20-SOMETHINGS ARE PARTICULARLY
AS IT RELATES TO TECHNOLOGY.
ARE THEY AS GLOOMY ABOUT THEIR
FUTURES AS BOTH OF YOUR ESSAYS
WOULD SUGGEST?

Andrew chuckles.

He says, THAT'S A GOOD
QUESTION.
BUT IT'S A TOUGH ONE TO ANSWER.
BECAUSE WE'RE LOOKING AT OUR,
INTO OUR THIRD YEAR OF DEALING
WITH ONLINE TEACHING OF ONE FORM
OR ANOTHER.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, McGill University.

Andrea says, AND IT'S HARD TO DISENTANGLE MY
STUDENTS' GLOOMINESS AND
HAPPINESS FROM THE PANDEMIC
ITSELF.
SO IT'S A VERY TOUGH QUESTION TO
ANSWER.
THERE'S A LOT ABOUT THE NEW
GENERATION THAT WORRIES ME.
AND THINGS SEEM TO HAVE SWITCHED
EVEN BEFORE THE PANDEMIC ABOUT
HOW THEY RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER,
HOW THEY RELATE TO SOCIETY,
HOW THEY RELATE TO TECHNOLOGY.
IT'S A BIG QUESTION.
AND YEAH.
I WOULDN'T WANT TO SPECULATE
ABOUT THEIR SORT OF, ANY OF
THIS INDEPENDENT OF THIS ONGOING
AND VERY FRUSTRATING PANDEMIC.

Steve says, UNDERSTOOD.
ALANA,
LET ME TRY THIS WITH YOU: DO
YOU SEE A DISTINCTION BETWEEN
OUR LIVES GETTING BETTER BY ONE
SET OF METRICS?
FOR EXAMPLE, LIFESPAN.
RELATIVE HEALTH, RELATIVE
PROSPERITY, RELATIVE PEACE IN
THE WORLD?
THE AMOUNT OF FREEDOM THAT WE
ENJOY?
THE AMOUNT OF SAFETY THAT WE
ENJOY NOWADAYS?
THE ENTIRE SUM TOTAL OF
KNOWLEDGE OF ALL TIME IN OUR
HANDS?

Steve holds up his smartphone.

He says, THE AMOUNT OF LEISURE I GUESS
PRE-PANDEMIC THAT CERTAINLY MANY
PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO ENJOY.
DO YOU SEE A DISTINCTION BETWEEN
ALL OF THAT AND OUR LIVES BEING
MORE FULFILLING, HOWEVER YOU
WANT TO DEFINE THAT?

Alana says, YES.
BUT HOLD ON.
RELATED TO THAT IS A LARGER
POINT WHICH IS I DON'T SEE MY
ESSAY AS GLOOMY.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, I FIND IT QUITE HOPEFUL TO KNOW
THAT WHAT'S BROKEN HERE ARE THE
THINGS THAT HUMANS MADE AND
HUMANS CAN REMAKE THOSE THINGS
AGAIN.
IN FACT, THAT'S THE WORK OF
SOCIETY.
IT'S THE WORK OF HISTORY.
SO I DON'T, I FEEL QUITE
OPTIMISTIC.
I UNDERSTAND IT'S A VERY HARD
MOMENT.
AND I GUESS I WOULD SAY THAT
PRECISELY THE POINT I WANTED TO
UNDER SCORE IN THE ESSAY IS THE
ONE YOU JUST MADE WHICH IS THAT
I DON'T WANT PEOPLE TO SEE THE
MEANING OR THE PURPOSE OF THEIR
LIVES AS HAVING BEEN IN THOSE
INSTITUTIONS.
IT KILLS ME TO TALK TO KIDS WHO
THINK THAT THE MEANING OF THEIR
LIVES IS IN COLLEGE.
COLLEGE DOES NOT MATTER.
YOU LITERALLY, IF I COULD TAKE
HARVARD AND PUT IT IN THE MIDDLE
OF THE SEA AND DUMP IT THERE, I
WOULD.

(Chuckling)

Alana says, IT'S NOT IMPORTANT.
THESE INSTITUTIONS DON'T MAKE
US.
THEY SHOULDN'T DEFINE US.
ESPECIALLY IN THEIR DECAY.
SO I WANT TO BREAK PEOPLE FROM
THEIR ATTACHMENT TO SEEING THESE
THINGS, THESE INSTITUTIONS,
THESE ENTITIES, ALL OF THESE
CREDENTIALING BODIES AS SOME HOW
IMPORTANT.
IN FACT, THEY'RE NOT ONLY IMPORTANT,
THEY'RE DANGEROUS BECAUSE
THEY'RE FALLING DOWN AND YOU
SHOULD DIVORCE YOURSELF FROM
THAT AND TRY TO BUILD NEW THINGS
WHERE YOU WILL FIND NOT ONLY
SATISFACTION PRACTICALLY.
BUT I THINK MEANING AND PURPOSE.
SO I THINK THAT THE TWO THINGS
ARE RELATED AND THEY'RE NOT ONLY
RELATED DIRECTLY BUT THEY'RE
RELATED TO MY OPTIMISM, TOO.

Steve says, WELL SAID.
LET ME BRING ANOTHER VOICE INTO
THIS ARGUMENT INTO THIS CONVERSATION.
THE VOICE OF MARGARET
ATWOOD WHO WAS ON OUR PROGRAM NOT TOO
LONG AGO AND WE TALKED ABOUT
THIS NOTION OF WHETHER PROGRESS
IS INEVITABLE
AND HERE'S WHAT SHE
SAID ABOUT THAT.
SHELDON, WOULD YOU RUN THAT
CLIP, PLEASE.

In a video, a person says, I DON'T LIKES THE WORD
"PROGRESSIVE."

In a video call, Steve wears a suit jacket, white shirt and brown tie. He speaks with Margaret Atwood who wears a pink shirt under a black cardigan.

Steve says, OKAY.
WHAT SHOULD WE SAY?

Margaret says, WHY IS THAT?
BECAUSE IT IS BASED ON A BELIEF THAT
PROGRESS IS INEVITABLE.
THAT THERE IS SUCH A THING AS
THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY AND
THAT YOU HAVE TO BE ON IT AND NEITHER
OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE.

Text reads, Margaret Atwood.

Margaret says, SO HISTORY DOESN'T HAVE SIDES.
ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS GO BACK
AND LOOK AT IT AND ONE DAY
YOU'RE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF
HISTORY AND THE NEXT DAY YOU'RE
NOT.
IT'S MORE LIKE THE REVOLVING
WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
ONE DAY YOU'RE UP.
THE NEXT DAY YOU'RE DOWN.
PUBLIC OPINION CHANGES.
THINGS THAT WERE APPROVED OF 50
YEARS AGO ARE NOW SOMETHING
NOBODY WOULD EVER DO.
SO IT'S LIKE THAT.
BUT PROGRESS IS NOT INEVITABLE
AND IT'S VERY DEPENDENT ON
MATERIAL CONDITIONS.
SO WHEN THERE'S LOTS TO GO
AROUND, YOU'RE MORE LIKELY TO
GET TOLERANT PUBLIC OPINION.
WHEN THERE'S LESS TO GO AROUND,
PEOPLE GET SCARED.

The video clip with Margaret Atwood ends. Text reads, meaning of progress.

Steve says, ANDREW, DO YOU THINK
SHE'S RIGHT TO SUGGEST THAT WE
TEMPER OUR HOPES AS TO THE
INEVITABILITY OF PROGRESS GOING
FORWARD?

Andrew says, YEAH.
I REALLY LIKE THAT CLIP.
FOR A NUMBER OF REASONS.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, author, “On Decline.”

Andrew says, IT'S INTERESTING.
I LIKE THAT BIT AT THE END WHERE
SHE SAID THAT ONE OF THE THINGS
WE NEGLECT IS MATERIAL
CONDITIONS.
AND THE REASON IS BECAUSE AS
MUCH AS I REALLY LIKED ALANA'S
PIECE, I THINK IT FOCUSES MOSTLY
ON THE CULTURAL ELEMENTS OF
WHAT'S GOING ON RIGHT NOW.

Alana nods.

Andrew says, AND I THINK, WHAT I, AND THERE
IS A TENDENCY TO SORT OF ASSUME
THAT CULTURE DRIVES EVERYTHING,
RIGHT?
ESPECIALLY IN THE UNITED STATES.
THAT WAS SORT OF STEVE BANNON'S
MOTIVATING ARGUMENT RIGHT,
WAS THAT POLITICS IS
DOWNSTREAM FROM CULTURE.
AND IF YOU CAN SORT OF OWN OR
CONTROL OR SORT OUT THE
CULTURE EVERYTHING ELSE WILL
FOLLOW FROM THERE.
AND WHAT I TRY AND ARGUE IN MY
BOOK IS THAT ACTUALLY A LOT OF WHAT'S
GOING ON IN CULTURE RIGHT NOW IS
A CONSEQUENCE OF MATERIAL
CONDITIONS.
THAT IS, TECHNOLOGICAL AND
ECONOMIC STAGNATION.
AND I THINK MARGARET ATWOOD HIT
THE NAIL ON THE HEAD WHERE SHE
SAID, LOOK, ONE OF THE THINGS WE
KNOW, AND THIS IS AN ARGUMENT
FROM BENJAMIN FREIDMAN, THE
HARVARD ECONOMIST, WE CAN
PUT HARVARD IN THE SEA BUT
FREIDMAN HAD SOMETHING SMART TO SAY
IN HIS BOOK ON
THE MORAL CONSEQUENCES OF ECONOMIC
GROWTH WHERE HE SAID LOOK,
WE TEND TO THINK ECONOMIC GROWTH IS GREAT
BECAUSE IT GIVES US STUFF, RIGHT?
IT MAKES US COMFORTABLE,
IT MAKES US HEALTHY AND SO ON.
BUT IT ALSO MAKES US BETTER
PEOPLE.
THE REASON ECONOMIC GROWTH
MAKES US BETTER PEOPLE IS
BECAUSE WHEN
PEOPLE THINK THAT THE WORLD IS
GETTING BETTER.
WHEN THEY THINK THEY'RE GOING TO
BE MORE COMFORTABLE, THEY THINK
THEY’RE GOING TO BE MORE SECURE,
WHEN THEY THINK THEY’RE GOING TO BE
HEALTHIER AND SO ON, THEY BECOME
MORE OPEN MINDED.
MORE TOLERANT OF DIVERSITY.
MORE TOLERANT OF IMMIGRATION.
THEY STOP LOOKING ASKANCE AT
THEIR NEIGHBOURS BECAUSE THINGS
AREN'T ZERO SUM.
BY CONTRAST WHEN YOU HAVE
PERIODS OF STAGNATION OR
ECONOMIC RETRENCHMENT, PEOPLE
START TO LOOK AROUND AND SEE A
ZERO-SUM WORLD, RIGHT?
AND THEY WORRY ABOUT IMMIGRANTS,
THEY WORRY ABOUT DIVERSITY,
THEY WORRY ABOUT DIFFERENCE.
SO I THINK SHE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.
I DO THINK THAT ONE OF THE BIG
PROBLEMS HERE THAT IS DRIVING A LOT
OF WHAT'S GOING ON RIGHT NOW IS
THE ONGOING AND QUITE SERIOUS
ECONOMIC STAGNATION WE'RE INTO
RIGHT NOW.

Steve says, ALANA, THERE IS THIS
GREAT QUOTE OF DR. MARTIN
LUTHER KING, JR.'S IN WHICH HE
SAYS THE ARC OF THE MORAL
UNIVERSE IS LONG BUT IT BENDS
TOWARD JUSTICE, DO YOU STILL
BELIEVE THAT?

Alana says, YEAH, I WOULD JUST
ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO UNDERSTAND
THAT WHATEVER VIEW OF THE ARC
THEY HAVE, IT'S MUCH BIGGER.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, THINGS OFTEN HAVE A LONGER
TRAJECTORY.
BOTH LONGER AND SHORTER
TRAJECTORIES THAN PEOPLE ASSUME.
THERE'S A QUOTE FROM A WRITER
THAT I LOVE WHICH IS THAT IT'S NOT THE
END OF THE WORLD IT'S JUST THE
END OF YOU.
AND WHAT I REALLY LIKE ABOUT IT
IS THAT'S RIGHT.
WE REALLY HAVE TO UNDERSTAND
THAT WHAT'S HAPPENING IN OUR OWN
LIVES DOES NOT GIVE US THE FULL
VIEW OF WHAT'S HAPPENING MORE
BROADLY.
TO THE EXTENT THAT WE SHOULD
ADJUST OUR WORK, WHAT WE FOCUS
ON, OUR OWN PRIORITIES, THAT'S
GOOD TO KNOW THAT.
IT ALSO MEANS THAT WE SHOULD
ADJUST OUR EXPECTATIONS.

Steve says, ALL RIGHT.
YOU HAVE TOLD US THROUGHOUT THIS
CONVERSATION THAT YOU ARE
OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE AND
OUR ABILITY TO SORT OF RECREATE
THE INSTITUTIONS WHICH MAY BE
LETTING US DOWN TODAY.

Alana nods.

Steve asks, HOW DO YOU SEE THAT HAPPENING?

Alana says, I THINK WE HAVE TO
BUILD NEW ONES.
I REALLY DO BELIEVE THAT.
I BELIEVE THAT WE HAVE TO
REALLY, WE HAVE TO GET INTO A
MIND SET THAT EVERYTHING WE
KNOW MIGHT BE IRRELEVANT.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, THAT GOES FOR EVERY
COLLEGIAL INSTITUTION.
YOU THINK THE BOOKS SHOULD HAVE
THESE EX PUBLISHERS? IMAGINE
THEY DON’T ANYMORE.
IMAGINE EVERY BOOK PUBLISHER,
EVERY SINGLE MOVIE
STUDIO, EVERY SINGLE COLLEGE
UNIVERSITY, EVERY SINGLE
GOVERNMENTAL
ORGANIZATION. IMAGINE THAT
NONE OF IT EXISTS TOMORROW, WHAT
DO WE BUILD IN ITS PLACE?
AND TO ME THAT FEELS VERY
EXCITING.
AND IT FEELS HOPEFUL.
IT ALSO FEELS THAT WHERE A LOT
OF THE YOUNGER PEOPLE, AT
LEAST THAT I ENCOUNTER WANT TO
FOCUS.
THAT'S WHERE THEY WANT TO BE.
THEY WANT TO BE IN A WORLD WHERE
THEY CAN FOCUS ON WHAT THEY CAN
BUILD.
AS ONE OF THEM SAID TO ME, I
LOVE MY PARENTS VERY MUCH.
BUT IF I HAVE TO SIT WITH THEM
AND OBSESS ABOUT THE NEW YORK
TIMES FOR ONE MORE MINUTE I'M
ACTUALLY GOING TO KILL SOMEONE.

Steve laughs.

Alana says, I'M LIKE, THEY'RE LIKE I DON'T
CARE, I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE NEW
YORK TIMES.
I DON'T CARE WHAT'S GOING ON ON
COLLEGE CAMPUSES, I DON’T ACTUALLY
CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS,
I JUST WANT TO
BUILD SOMETHING NEW.
AND THAT ENERGY IS WHERE I GET
ENORMOUS HOPE, ENORMOUS
OPTIMISM.
IT'S WHERE I WANT TO LIVE.

Steve says, ANDREW, IS THAT A
TOUGH SELL FOR UNIVERSITY
STUDENTS WHO ARE GOING TENS OF
THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS INTO DEBT
ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT ALL OF
WHAT THEY'RE ENGAGED IN RIGHT
NOW IS IRRELEVANT AND WILL LEAD
THEM TO A BETTER TOMORROW?

Andrew says, IT'S INTERESTING.
BECAUSE I THINK ALANA REALLY HIT
THE NAIL ON THE HEAD THERE WHERE
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT'S
HAPPENING THAT IS A LOT
DIFFERENT FROM WHEN I WAS A
STUDENT, WHEN I WAS A STUDENT
IN THE EARLY 1990S, RIGHT,
WHAT HAPPENED ON UNIVERSITY
CAMPUSES STAYED ON UNIVERSITY
CAMPUSES.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, author, “On Decline.” Alana nods.

Andrew says, AND LARGELY WHAT'S GOING ON
RIGHT NOW IS THE LOGIC AND
CULTURE AND PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING
A STUDENT HAS AS SIMPLY TAKEN
OVER THE ENTIRE SOCIETY.
TAKEN OVER NEWS ROOMS,
IT’S TAKEN OVER BUSINESSES,
IT’S TAKEN OVER GOVERNMENTS AND SO
ON.
WHICH I HOPE ALANA'S RIGHT THAT
THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WILL BE
EVENTUALLY FLUSHED OUT.
AND SHE MAY BE RIGHT.
AND I HOPE SHE IS THAT
ULTIMATELY WE'RE GOING THROUGH A
BIT OF A CULTURAL MADNESS RIGHT
NOW THAT'S GOING TO GET FLUSHED
OUT ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
BUT I THINK THAT, AND I THINK
IF THAT HAPPENS IT WILL BE A GOOD THING
AND IT WILL HELP.
I DON'T THINK IT WILL SOLVE OUR
LONG-TERM PROBLEMS.
I THINK THE LONG-TERM PROBLEMS
ARE MUCH MORE DEEP AND MUCH MORE
STRUCTURAL THAN THE
CULTURE ALTHOUGH CULTURE IS
CERTAINLY A HUGE PART OF THE
PROBLEM.

Steve says, BUT ALANA, JUST TO SAY…

Alana says, I JUST WANT TO SAY ONE
THING.

Steve says, YES, PLEASE.

Alana says, I DON'T KNOW WHICH WAY THE ARC
BENDS BUT I THINK THAT MY SENSE OF
HUMAN HISTORY IS THAT IT BENDS
AWAY FROM WHAT'S VERY ANNOYING.

Andrew laughs.

Alana says, AND WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE IS
VERY ANNOYING.
IT'S JUST TOO FRUSTRATING AND
HARD TO FOLLOW.
AND IT FEELS IMPINGING ON
PEOPLE'S ABILITY TO ACTUALLY
LIVE FULL AND HAPPY LIVES.
AND TO ME THAT'S THE BEST
INDICATION THAT IT WILL GET
FLUSHED OUT.

Text reads, Alana Newhouse, Tablet Magazine.

Alana says, THAT EVENTUALLY IT JUST HAS
TO, THE HUMAN IMPULSE TO JUST
WANT IT TO GET OFF US IS GOING
TO PREVAIL.

Steve says, ANDREW LET ME GIVE YOU
THE LAST WORD.
AND THAT WILL BE TO RESPOND TO
THIS.
YOU KNOW, EVERY GENERATION HAS
ALWAYS ASSUMED, CERTAINLY IN
OUR LIFETIMES AND I THINK YOU
CAN GO BACK EVEN BEFORE THAT,
THAT THE NEXT GENERATION WILL DO
BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS.
WE HAVE SURVEYS NOW WHICH TELL
US THIS GENERATION NO LONGER
BELIEVES THAT.
HOW MUCH TROUBLE DOES THAT PUT
US?

Andrew says, I THINK IT'S A HUGE
AMOUNT OF TROUBLE.
IT'S FUNNY, THAT LINE, RIGHT,
THE FIRST GENERATION DO WORSE
THAN ITS PARENTS HAS ACTUALLY
BEEN AROUND FOR A VERY LONG
TIME.

Text reads, Andrew Potter, McGill University.

Andrew says, I ACTUALLY DID SOME RESEARCH A LITTLE
WHILE AGO.
IT ACTUALLY APPEARS IN AN ESSAY IN THE
ATLANTIC IN 1980.
AND DOUGLAS COPELAND MADE IT THE
RALLYING CALL OF GENERATION X.
THAT CALL HAS BEEN WRONG EVEYR YEAR FOR
EVERY GENERATION UNTIL NOW.
I USED TO POOH POOH THE
MILLENNIALS ABOUT HOW THINGS
WERE FOR THEM.
AND RIGHT NOW THINGS ARE
ACTUALLY PRETTY BAD.
ESPECIALLY ON THE HOUSING FRONT
AND THE JOB FRONT.
SO I'M REALLY CONCERNED THAT,
AND IT'S NOT JUST ECONOMICS, NOT
JUST HOUSING.
RECENT STUDIES CAME OUT SHOWING
18 TO 24-YEAR-OLDS ARE NOT
HAVING SEX.
THE ACTUAL AMOUNT THEY'RE HAVING
SEX IS LOWER.
AND IT'S NOT JUST LIKE THE
PLEASURE THAT COMES FROM THE
RELATIONSHIPS AND SEX.
THEY'RE NOT HAVING KIDS.
THIS IS NOT A HEALTHY TRAJECTORY
FOR A SOCIETY.
SO I THINK THIS IS HUGELY
PROBLEMATIC AND I'M REALLY
WORRIED ABOUT IT.

Alana nods.

Steve says, WELL IF THAT IS
PROBLEMATIC, ONE THING THAT
ISN'T, AND PLEASE CONVEY THIS
TO YOUR DAUGHTER, ANDREW SHE HAS
DONE A WONDERFUL JOB ON YOUR
FINGERNAILS WHICH WE'VE
OCCASIONALLY CAUGHT SIGHT OF
DURING THE COURSE OF THIS DISCUSSION.
SO PLEASE LET HER KNOW THAT.
ANDREW POTTER FROM MCGILL UNIVERSITY,
ALANA NEWHOUSE, THE EDITOR OF
TABLET.
IT’S REALLY GREAT OF BOTH OF YOU TO SPEND SO
MUCH TIME WITH US ON TVO
TONIGHT.
MANY THANKS.

Andrew says, THANKS, STEVE.

Alana says, THANK YOU SO MUCH.

Alana and Andrew wave. Text reads, produced by Wodek Szemberg, @woodekszemberg.

Watch: Do We Still Believe in a Better Tomorrow?