Cory Doctorow on The Writer's Voice Podcast

🎧️ “Cory Doctorow, The Lost Cause”, Writer’s Voice Podcast

From the transcript, so marvelously provided here.

Regarding The Dawn of Everything1 by David Graeber and David Wengrow:

And what they say is that actually—and this is where the anthropology comes in, which is Graeber’s specialty, as an anthropologist—you find civilizations all the time that are non-hierarchical and centralized, that are hierarchical and decentralized, and everything in between. That there is nothing foreordained about our living arrangements that dictates our political arrangements, and that human beings are always able to choose, that everything is contingent, that nothing is foreordained, that our social lives can be anything that we want.

Because if you can’t imagine an alternative, then the people who are on top are on top because that’s the way it’s got to be, and not because they’ve done something to claw their way to the top and to keep anyone else from taking over that role.

And so I think that David inspired so many people to think about the contingency of the arrangement they find themselves in, and therefore, to imagine what else we might have, that that legacy is very firmly assured.

And he did it through a combination of scholarship and rabble-rousing that I find very exciting as a model for what someone who cares about this stuff can be. You don’t have to choose among the false binary of either you produce scholarly work that contributes to the literature, but is otherwise of narrow interest to the broad population, or you write popular books, but then you’re just an author, or you become like a protester who lives in an Occupied camp.

And David really showed that you could do all of those things, and that they were not exclusive of one another, but rather intensely complementary of one another.

Regarding “one of the tropes of [Cory’s new] novel”, …the first generation in a century that didn’t fear the future:

…the reason we fear the future is not just because we understand what harms are locked in by climate inaction, but also our understanding that we’re not going to do anything about it, right?

I think that if we were to take this muscular action, we might stop fearing the future. That we might dread the amount of work that’s on the horizon, we might feel overwhelmed by how much work we’re going to have to do, but we won’t fear the future the way that we fear it now.

I think that…some of the neoliberal project of locating all problems in individual action is really a powerful source of despair. Because if you’ve been told that the only election that matters is the one where you vote with your wallet, and you shop very carefully, and still the world is hurtling towards disaster, it’s very easy to feel like nothing will work, right?

If you’ve been convinced that there is no such thing as a successful collective action, that governments are intrinsically corrupt and incompetent, and can’t do anything that…whatever praxis it was that caused us to have an interstate highway system, and sanitation, and a space program, they’re lost arts, like embalming pharaohs, and things that we just can’t possibly do today. I think that…if that’s where you’re at, then it is easy to really despair.

It is not pessimistic to think that things might go wrong, right? The assumption that things won’t go wrong doesn’t make you an optimist. It makes you a danger to yourself and others, right? That’s the choice that says, “Oh, we don’t need any lifeboats for this Titanic.”

The thing that is hopeful, the thing that is prudent, is to understand that when things go wrong, that we might be able to do something about them, and that we might be able to anticipate things going wrong and take mitigating steps.

…I think that, again, if you can imagine that we can be prudent and smart and have some foresight and can muster collective will through explicit mechanisms that aren’t just market mechanisms, and all of these things are empirically true, these are all things that we do, then there is scope for hope.

Scope for hope! I’m putting that one in my proverbial pipe for a while.

As always, listen to the whole thing.

  1. which I have added to my tragically long reading list, right behind the new Doctorow novel that is the subject of this entire interview