June 14, 2021
600,000 dead. Even I feel it—a pain and weariness in my body. Yet the year has been relatively easy for me, a white man in a rich country with the ability to be shielded from the worst devastation. But I can feel it in my body. It is in my shoulders and neck. It’s in my head, in my gut. Blunt force trauma, physical and emotional. Some will say I am not entitled to feel this way, but I do nonetheless.
Maybe it is the stasis: same room, same box, same pattern. Muted kinesthesia.
Maybe it is the worry—the worry that nothing has changed after the 9-minute-and 29-second murder of a Black man, captured on video as it happened. The worry that 15% of Americans firmly believe in QAnon. The worry that there is more CO2 in the atmosphere than at any time in the past 3 million years. The unprocessed trauma of the friends and loved ones of the 600,000+ dead people here and millions more around the world. Another mass shooting. And another. Ad infinitum.
Maybe that’s it: again and again in the same way, forever. The problems persist. Even a pandemic couldn’t make us accept our common fate and change course.
That’s a dark place to be. So much is at risk and we don’t have time to get it wrong. But then I remember that nothing is deterministic. I remember that creative practice in complex spaces requires applied optimism. After all, “optimism allows the existing condition to be interpreted as status quo rather than static fact.”1 Optimism is the tool that makes a rigid problem plastic, if only temporarily.
It’s hard to get a sense for what has changed out there when I have spent so much time in here. Is it too extreme to suggest that 2020 represented a structural break? Perhaps that concept is an epistemological error, especially since systems are more continuous and resilient than our short lifespans and narrow apertures allow us to perceive.
Yet we can give dimension to the scale of change using the framework Benjamin Bratton deployed to measure the impact of the 2008 global financial crises by asking, what are we pre-? And what are we post-? Post-carbon. Pre-planetary.
As it turned out, in 2008 we weren’t post- very much at all; a structural break from the worst excesses of capitalism never materialized. Sustainability remains as empty a concept today as it was then. Post-racial? Hardly! But if I apply optimism, I can for a moment believe that maybe this time is different. And if nothing is deterministic, it is for each of us to recognize and reckon with what we are pre- and decide what we are and aspire to be post-.
Our theme for this year’s CƒC symposium is carry forward. Carrying is perhaps one of our species’ greatest technologies. From children, to food, to tools, to stories, carrying gives us enormous power. It is our earliest source of agency. But we also carry burdens, sadness, injustices and inequities.
Our hope is that this three-day series of discussions offers an opportunity to take stock and explore what should be carried forward from the present into the future. Implicit in this framework is the question of what should be left behind. Between the two extremes is what has promise–or is unfinished–and needs to be modified.
We have a wonderful group of thinkers, practitioners and creators to help guide us through this moment. As promised, some of last year’s symposium contributors have returned to reflect on what has transpired and how their ideas from June 2020 have fared.
Each member of the CƒC team has contributed to this important annual undertaking. But I must recognize the extraordinary effort and leadership of Julie Woods and Sahib Singh. They have gone above and beyond any expectation to honor the important question of what must be carried forward and in so doing have made possible a singular event.
We intend to continue to explore this theme over the next year through a variety of modalities. If you have an idea that you would like to investigate with us, drop me a line. We warmly welcome your participation!
1 Boyer, B., Cook, J. W., & Steinberg, M. (2011). In Studio: Recipes for Systemic Change. Helsinki: Sitra.