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The Protopia Lab Newsletter January 2022

The agitation against and exclusion of the unvaccinated from large parts of public life – as we have seen in many Western democracies such as Germany, Italy and Austria in recent months – is unprecedented in modern democracies and rather reminiscent of darker times. It is remarkable how silent human rights and social justice organisations are staying in the face of this exclusion and social segregation. Shouldn't they be campaigning against the authoritarian overreach? In what may seem like a role reversal, this new authoritarian movement is led by the most progressive forces, such as the Green Party in Germany, and is apparently supported by the majority of citizens in many Western countries. All these people still believe that an ongoing pandemic emergency justifies such draconian measures, and many have simply become accustomed to the new normal.

Most worryingly, the curtailment of our civil liberties, which are at the core of what liberal democracies are all about, has been accompanied by very little to almost no public debate. Throughout the pandemic, most mainstream media have sought to align themselves with governments, limiting debate to a very narrow range of ideas. Those who disagree with the prevailing narrative have been silenced, bullied and censored.

It is highly doubtful that measures such as vaccine passports, like so many other of the severe restrictions over the past two years, will ultimately help to end the pandemic, let alone improve our public health. However, they undoubtedly fuel the spiral of polarisation in our societies.

The Protopia Lab is more needed than ever

These recent developments make it more urgent than ever to create spaces where honest conversation can happen about the world we want to inhabit. The more we let our societies drift apart, the more difficult it will be to heal them.

If we do not want ideologues and authoritarians, from whatever side, to decide our future, and if we want to shape our future in a truly democratic way, those of us who have the courage to speak the truth must come together to listen to other perspectives and explore new ways of making sense of the world.

That's what the Protopia Lab is all about. Unfortunately - and the pandemic and the lockdowns and restrictions of the last two years are only partly to blame for this - we have not yet been able to bring it fully to life. The irony is that the very reasons why the Protopia Lab is needed and we want it to thrive also make it almost impossible to find institutional funding to run it. Like most of our institutions, institutional funders are now trapped in narrow ideological thinking and are afraid to do anything that goes against the dominant narratives.

In an apparent attempt to combat polarisation, significant institutional funds are now being poured into so-called fact-checkers as well as projects to combat disinformation. They all serve the purpose of weakening resistance to the dominant narratives - be it about the coronavirus, the politics of diversity or climate change. None of these projects aim to even begin to challenge the dominant narratives.

We need your help

Thus, the only way right now to make the Protopia Lab thrive, is to find sufficient support from individuals. We need your help to be able to organise a large event during 2022. Please consider becoming a regular supporter or make a one-off donation.

Also, if you know of individual donors who might be able to provide some more substantial support, please let us know. Similarly, if you are willing and able to financially support the planned event, please get in touch. We are grateful to all those who are already supporting us and hope to meet everyone in person soon.

Essays, videos and books

We have compiled some readings, videos and books that address the situation we find ourselves in and provide ideas for dealing with it constructively. We hope you find them stimulating.

The slippery slope that leads towards increasingly draconian biopolitical control measures

Before Christmas, the English writer, essayist and former environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth published three important essays, which he has now compiled in an ebook that you can download here.

The essay provides a deep reflection about the "systems of authoritarian control which have been built around us these last [twenty] months, for which both virus and vaccine have provided a pretext. [He is] trying to get to the root of what is going on, to understand the stories we are telling ourselves about it all, and especially to emphasise how those stories are means in themselves of exerting control over our future direction of travel."

How Facebook destroys democracy

In this short video, social philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger succinctly explains how social media companies like Facebook are gradually becoming more and more powerful, while at the same time societal polarisation is increasing, ultimately making it impossible to govern our democracies coherently.

A deep dive into the sensemaking crisis and what we can do about it

In this long but very insightful conversation on the Joe Rogan podcast, Tristan Harris, president of the Center for Humane Technology, and Daniel Schmachtenberger, co-founder of the Consilience Project, discuss how the technologies and business models of social media companies are largely responsible for the sensemaking crisis and growing polarisation we find ourselves in. While there is no easy way out of this mess, they discuss a number of social and technological innovations that could help.

One idea Schmachtenberger proposes is a facilitation model for earnest debates between people with opposing views:

This involves first finding out what they agree on, then formalising their disagreement, and finally asking what is really at the root of the disagreement, what different assumptions are being made about the world and our future, and what would be needed to resolve the disagreement.

A respectful, pluralistic conversation about climate change, of which we need more

Megyn Kelly is an open-minded conservative journalist who invites a politically plural spectrum of guests on her show to have honest conversations. Recently, she invited Danish author Bjørn Lomborg, a highly controversial public figure for many, to talk with the author of the book "The Uninhabitable Earth", David Wallace-Wells. The conversation is an example worth listening to of a respectful and insightful conversation between two experts who disagree on one of the defining issues of our time. The conversation also brings to mind John Stuart Mill's argument that "conflicting doctrines share the truth between them". For a future debate on climate change, it would be valuable if someone like Jason Hickel or Jem Bendell could talk to someone like Lomborg or Michael Shellenberger to get to the bottom of their disagreements.

An evolutionary mindset will help us solve our existential problems and create more wellbeing – a new book

A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century is a highly enjoyable new book written by evolutionary biologists Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein. The core theme of the book is that our ancient human brains and bodies are out of sync with the modern world.

Many of the problems we face that make us more divided and unhappy than ever are a result of the difficulties we have in dealing with what the authors call hyper-novelty.

The authors are clear that there is no way back to a romantic past, but they explore a number of ideas and principles that might help us better face hyper-novelty and, most importantly, save us from the existential threats we face.

"The importance of understanding human software is urgent. The problems we face is the product of evolutionary dynamics. All plausible solutions involve awareness of those dynamics. The problem is evolutionary. So is the solution."


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