More Networking at POPTech
October 20, 2006
Earlier today I had the privilege of having a sushi lunch with two of the POPTech speakers, Kevin Kelly and Robert Freling. Both of these fellows delivered an amazing session that you can read more about in a previous blog posting, and it was a pleasure talking about everyday life stuff like photography and family, as well as some of the heady and thoughtful subjects that they spoke so elegantly about.
Speaking of networking, I have to introduce Bob to two of the most remarkable people that I know, Sally Goodrich and her husband Don, who live in Bennington Vermont, near my hometown in western Massachusetts. Sally and Don lost a son, Peter, who was on UAL Flight 175 which was hijacked into the WTC South Tower on 9/11.
This is an incredibly powerful story, as Sally and Don, in response to Peter’s death, took whatever compensation they received and decided to build a school for girls in Afghanistan. The school recently opened on the 5th anniversary of 9/11. More information can be found about their mission here on the Peter M. Goodrich foundation.
To make a long networking story short, last year I arranged for Sally to meet with Sanjit Bunker Roy, who was an inspiration in helping Sally with ideas to solve the energy and water needs of the school with using technologies like solar electrification. When Robert Freling and I talked about that initiative, he also wanted to know more about Sally and this remarkable project that she and Don had come to fulfill. (Sally and Don, if you’re reading this, Robert would love to know more about you and somehow connect on the subject of solar power for the school.)
At present, there is also a documentary film in the works by my friend Rick Derby, an HBO award-winning documentary film maker (google the title “Rocks With Wings” or “Rick Derby“), who is putting his heart and soul into this project. More of this is unfolding day-by-day. I find it humbling and exciting that life manages to find a way for the people I described to come together, with seemingly orthogonal connections even making their way through avenues like folks I’ve met at POPTech.
(Additional note: There is an exciting notion to incorporate the music of Haale, who weaves Sufi inspired melodies with poetry by Rumi, a 13th century Afghan mystic, to be part of the Goodrich documentary. Go to Haale’s website and find out if she’s going to be performing near you – www.haale.com.)
“Faith” at the POPTech 2006 Conference
Martin Marty takes the stage. He is presenting on fundamentalism and religion in the world today. As a prominent pastor, teacher, scholar and interpreter of religion and culture, he has written more than 50 books and received 75 (!!) honorary doctorate degrees.
Richard Dawkins is the other speaker. Richard – an Oxford biologist – also comes with remarkable credentials but from an entirely different perspective. His book, The God Delusion, criticizes religion for its intolerance. He says it’s the scientist and humanist in him that makes him hostile to religions—fundamentalist Christianity and Islam come in for the most opprobrium—that close people’s minds to scientific truth, oppress women and abuse children psychologically with the notion of eternal damnation.
I’m interested in what the conversational part of this talk will be like when we get to the open mike session.
In the meantime, Marty is talking about modern fundamentalism. The term is traced to the 1920s. (I am thinking about Tom Barnett’s take on religion as we talked over dinner about evangelicalism, which is different in how it emphasizes the conversion of peoples into a particular religion. I wonder how the two are inter-related.)
So far his talk is more folksy-storytelling than anything about technology and religion. I’m curious to hear more about Marty’s thoughts and perspective on the role of religion as a “dangerous idea” within the dialog space of this POPTech conference. So far there’s not more than a commentary that religion will not go away in modern life. It is here to stay, with the sense of mystery with regard to life ensuring the propagation and role of religion.
The search for meaning and the company of people on similar journeys will result in religion always playing a role in life.
Richard Dawkins is now coming on stage. I suspect that his stand is going to be more bold and controversial. He starts with homage to Dr. Marty. Believe in the absence of evidence is what he intends to describe, as opposed to belief based upon evidence.
Throughout the world, children acquire the religion of their parents for the most part, and it is always the “right” religion. He shows a map of 13 major religions around the globe, and finds it remarkable that all of us in society accepts the labeling of people in this way, drawing out what in effect are “battle lines.”
He objects to children being taught “separation.”
He says that scientists are often accused of arrogant certainty, but wonders “What about the arrogance of faith?” Science has the humility and reverence that there are things we do not and can not understand. He says that faith has an arrogance that science does not share.
He says that Faith says:
I know the truth and nothing can change my mind. My holy book tells me the truth. I need to look no further. My priest (Pope, Ayatollah etc.) tells me the truth. I need to look no further. An inner voice tells me the truth. I need to look no further.
He says it is about time that it is about time to criticize Faith, and shift from the polite “hands-off” social convention for automatic respect for religious faith. He believes that science’s polite humility that its postulates are often framed as “It’s only a theory…” awaiting challenge and open discourse, that makes it vulnerable to the attacks from [arrogant] Faith.
“Taking On Superpowers” at the POPTech 2006 Conference
Enriquez begins and we immediately delve into a remarkable presentation about nationalism, patriotism, and identity. He challenges us to consider the question of who we are as a nation. One question posed is – “How many stars will there be on the US flag 50 years from now?” 55? 65? Or fewer? We started with 13. Interesting note: No US president ever died with the same number of stars on the flag as on the day that he was born.
Will there be no border between US and Canada in 50 years? People assume continuity with regard to nations, when there is not and never really has been. He showed is a dynamic map illustrating the changing empires in Europe and the Middle East to illustrate the point. It was remarkable.
As an example, he discussed the British empire contraction from 1905 to 1955 by a factor of about 15. Over the span of those 50 years, they never dreamed of the contraction that unfolded. He says that the real danger to the United States is not “from the outside,” but that the real “danger” in the USA is from what happens on the inside.
No one is really talking to each other from each side of the left/right political camps in any serious form of collaboration. He says to remember that flags and countries can disappear just like companies. He says there is an enormous amount of churn in our institutions and that our national divisions can tear apart this country.
Message: Don’t take your country for granted. It is not guaranteed that it will stay. There are fundamental divisions and polarizations occurring with both sides becoming increasingly polarized and isolated. This has to stop – and to do so we have to start a serious conversation. One thing he closes with are trend graphs technology exports showing how we are now contracting, with countries like China expanding. We have a collapsing population of science and engineering graduates and long term, this will render us less relevant. He believes that we must fix our education system or there will not be 50 stars in the flag.
Later on he makes note that in the course of US history, New England states pressed the idea of seceding – 4 times. (Quebec isn’t the only province/state to want to leave.)
Now Tom Barnett takes the stage.
He starts be addressing the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After ideology, what do we fight over? We now experience wars of the spirit, and wars of identity. Globalization as an irresistible and never ending progression will change the face of the globe whether we want it to or not.
One consequence: there are 3 billion new capitalists and consumers worldwide.
(I recall Lester Brown saying yesterday that China already consumes more basic resources than the US, like cement, steel, and building products. What happens if China catches up with USA per-capita consumption? If they spend their money the way that the US does (and we are selling them on this way of life), at 1.5B people, they will consume twice as much paper as everyone else and there go the forests. If they have the same number of cars per capita, they alone would need 99M barrels of oil/day (84M of oil per day is our present worldwide availability. Answer: It’s not possible for China to consume per capita as US. We will have to change or things will unravel. Claims on the Earth’s resources are unsustainable.)
Barnett’s talk is rapid-fire and intense from this point on about winning the war with failed nation states and the incredible underestimation about the time and resources needed to winning the peace in the aftermath of our Leviathan military being able to project force. This is a major aspect of his books that is far too complex to address here.
However, he closes with a compelling discourse about how critical the “other superpower” – China, will be in the future of the geopolitical landscape. They will be critical in every part of the world, including with regard to North Korea.
In short, there will have to be a powerful collaboration between the US and China for world stabilization.
In the follow up Q&A, Enriquez says that our national priorities in the US must shift. One way to effect that shift is to give every parent with a child, a proxy vote for each child, so as to change how we prioritize the future.
Barnett talks about the collaboration between the “New BRIT” of the future – Brazil Russia India and China. They are the new “core” for securing the peace in post-war failed states.
Incredible Dinners at POPTech
Last night I had the pleasure of sharing a dinner at Camden’s local Thai restaurant with Dr. Tom Barnett, POPTech’s next program speaker. Tom wrote a New York Times best-selling book, The Pentagon’s New Map, which outlined a new approach to globalization that redefines the dynamics of global politics and development. Visit his blog for everything from his take on subjects ranging from the Middle East, North Korea, and Iran to reading his experiences adopting a baby girl from China.
(Tom also has a new book called, Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating, which continues on with prescriptive ideas as a follow up to his first book.)
Later on that evening, I reflected on the remarkable folks who I’ve shared a lunch or dinner, or other social time here in Camden. They include Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, Li Lu, a co-leader of the Tien An Men student protests, John Scully, former CEO of Pepsico and Apple, the performer Haale, Joseph Chamie from the United Nations, Sanjit Bunker Roy of the Barefoot College, Ira Glasser, former head of the ACLU, and others…
Only at POPTech. Incredible.