Emery referred David to participate here. And I am so thankful! David proposed meeting in a park with some snacks, but I had to nix that for the practical reasons of audio recording, so we instead met at his home. It took about five seconds for us to hit it off and we basically had a mini interview before turning the recorder on. We talked about our childhoods and our jobs and our feelings about many of the things. David's heart for others and his sincerity and hopeful questioning of the world were evident within moments of chatting with him. He's what I refer to as "a keeper" and I am sure you will find that to be true as you read or listen to our conversation.
Just as a reminder, what you'll read below is a synopsis of our conversation, but the entire thing is in the audio file.
DH: My name is David. I describe myself by what I want to see in the world. I would say that I'm a utopian, but a utopian who also does not blind themselves to the way that things really are - kind of a realistic utopian. I'm really concerned with questions of - there's a very deep personal element to this right now - how people make meaning in the world. That's something that I've been struggling with and really trying to think about a lot. Both on a personal/interpersonal level and also a systemic level, I'm just really fascinated by the way humans take their basic organism-level needs and kind of intermix them with their social needs and intermix them with their philosophical, higher level actualization needs and how all this stuff plays around and swirls around in this kind of amazing and terrifying way. Yeah, I guess at the highest level, that's what I want to devote my life to understanding and working with.
ACT: What concerns you? What affects you personally as you make your way through the days? And then what motivates you to do something about it?
DH: I can tell you on a personal level what I am most anxious about most of the time, which I think is indicative of the bigger system concern; I'm anxious about isolation. I'm very concerned about pursuing connection with other people. That's a word that is thrown around quite a bit, but it's kind of the focal point of how I make decisions and what I have historically sacrificed in order to focus on maintaining relationships with people that I care about and that matter.
There's a huge lack of social infrastructure when it comes to maintaining meaningful relationships with people, especially as we age. It feels like there's so much working against us. Living in this economic system, living in a single-family home - there are so many boxes keeping me from truly being with other people. I try as hard as I can to show up to relationships in a bridge-building way and I'm trying really hard to figure out a way to do that on a professional career level that will hopefully also pay me somehow, which is just kind of an ongoing line of inquiry.
I think that humans are fascinating. I think that humans are the most wonderful and the most frustrating parts of life. I see this in myself. I'm capable of doing some really amazing things, but I'm also capable of being really small and mean and petty and it's so easy to get into a transactional place - I'm hoarding, I'm marshaling my scarce resources and I am expecting to have to fight for every scrap of whatever. It's this very animal kind of situation that I think people don't really question a lot of the time. I think the way our world is set up, that is the reality for a lot of folks. It takes continued conscious effort to try and stay out of that - for me, anyway.
ACT: What do we mean to each other with the many differences of opinion or differences of interpretation of fact?
DH: I've been thinking a lot about the fear of loss and the way that that plays into how we show up to various relationships, how we make decisions. It trickles down to the point where I will not leave the house without a backpack full of something that will help me if I get bored, if I get hungry, and if I get cold. But it can also inform the way that I will show up to a relationship or show up to what seems like enough to me in my life. It's almost like there's an impending sense of I could lose all of this. So, in order to stay ahead of this kind of tsunami of fear of loss, I need to add another thing. Whatever that is - it could be a physical possession, it could be social capital.
Does that kind of mode - either being aware of that or unaware of that - mean that another human being is a means to an end? I think that that informs the way that people can show up to each other some of the time. And I think it requires an active process of checking in with myself and checking in with you - the other - to make sure that that is not where we're coming from. Fundamentally, people - especially people who have experienced significant loss - do tend to be more mindful about insuring against that in the future. Which can be both beneficial, for the organism, but also detrimental when every organism in a system is working on that level of basically hoarding scarce resources. So, I'm really interested in the ways that people can relate to each other in a post-scarcity way, especially in terms of emotional and personal resources, but also definitely material resources.
You hear this a lot in certain economic circles, but there is plenty of stuff to go around in the world. The problem is the distribution of it. And I know that when I get too concerned about fairness - who is getting what - that is when I start to be unfair and I start to be more mean, more stingy. And I just wonder what it would look like for me to be continually giving in a way that saves nothing for myself with the trust that whatever I do to empty myself, I can refill or be filled by other people around me. And what would that trust look like implemented on a large scale?
I've been getting a kick out of diving into the fact that it is impossible to do no harm. For me especially, as a person who benefits from passing as a cis male, a person who is white, a person who is decently highly educated, and who has the soft skills of being able to navigate various white collar work environments if I wanted to. I'm benefitting from a whole lot of systems that do quite a bit of harm. So, even if I don't cut somebody off in traffic or even if I don't punch an old lady in the face, I can't not do harm. And that's not necessarily okay, but that doesn't mean that I'm failing as a human, also.
We can be members of a complex, interconnected system that, on the daily, dole out harm and dole out healing and receive harm and receive healing all at the same time. It's not an easy way to think about the world, but I think there's something to that. The pursuit of the muddiness rather than the pursuit of personal purity is really important.
ACT: Do you feel a sense of purpose?
DH: I think that I feel something approaching a sense of purpose. The way that I've been taught to think about that word seems to be a very linear, kind of laser beam-like concept of I want to enact this specific quantifiable change on the world. If we're using that definition, then I think that my sense of purpose is rather muddy at the moment.
I want to take it back to my childhood. Some of my earliest and fondest memories involved hanging out in the garage with my dad as he would tinker with various... changing the oil in the car or varnishing a set of furniture or whatever. And I would stay out late with him in the garage watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on this tiny shop TV. That show had such a profound impact on me that I think that I've carried with me. I've continued to be this incredibly nerdy, die-hard science fiction fan. And I think exposure to those types of stories and the questions that those stories grapple with has really affected the way I approach looking at where we are as a collective and where I think we ought to be or where I don't know whether we should be or the process of leaving myself open to learning about peoples’ ideas for the future.
The purpose of The Federation was to seek out ways to better ourselves and to do so in a way that is open-minded, is questioning, is inclusive, ultimately. And I think exposure to that at a young age and exposure to a lot of other science fiction writers who are kind of grappling with similar questions has really made a pretty tremendous impact on just the way that I look at systems in particular. I think that Octavia Butler is a fantastic example of a science fiction writer who had a really keen eye for all of the pitfalls and also the triumphs in the way that people can relate to each other in groups. In recent years I've been thinking a lot about one book of hers in particular called The Parable of the Sower.
I think there is some really deep wisdom to engaging with the world, and especially in these times, in kind of a similar way - in a very organizing forward kind of way. What is the change that I want to see in the world? How do I get there in, I guess, the least harmful way, but also what are acceptable sacrifices for me personally? And how do I approach impossible decisions?
ACT: You mentioned that one of the major differences between the conservative right and the liberal left is the way they tend to organize. The right seems to organize en masse and the left seems to have many factions. The left seems to have divided interests in combatting the various forms of hate. What do you think the come together moment might be so that we can eliminate the problem at its root? Are you motivated to figure this out or are you defeated by the prospect?
DH: I'm kind of showing up and dreading a hypothetical future date in which it becomes too much and the great disappointment comes and I lose faith in humanity. But I don't think it's happened yet. Granted, I have also not experienced a lot of the true garbage dumped on a lot of humans by other humans just based on my positionality and my privilege. I think at the heart of the issue here is the question of How much of myself am I investing and how willing am I to be hurt in order to achieve the greater good?
I will honestly disclaim that I am not an expert on progressive politics, but I kind of see a lot of this tying back to the struggle between personal purity and personal accountability and the question of, very simply, What if I am wrong? What are my needs? And when do I prioritize my needs over your needs? And that's where I think a lot of the difficulty comes among really progressive groups is that there is not the trust that a group that prioritizes the rights of people of color will also prioritize the rights of white women. What does it mean when trusting that someone else is going to have my back in X -situation might open me up to harm?
I will also admit I'm not super great at this 100% of the time, but I feel like it's worth it to continue to open myself up to harm and possible harm in the ways that I can handle in order to create that space for changing the narrative in terms of a resource scarcity way - in order to create more trust in the world. If I can keep showing up in that way, maybe that will change some of the assumptions that we move through the world with. I don't know. It also might be banging one's head against a wall.
ACT: Was there anything else that you wanted to talk about?
DH: Well, I already went off about Star Trek, so I think I'm doing alright. I feel strange being interviewed here. There's definitely quite a bit of imposter syndrome coming up for me just because I look on the website and I see all the faces and names and thoughts of folks who are doing an incredible amount of work in this community of Bend. Part of me wants to backtrack and say, I don't have all the answers. I don't know what I'm talking about here. But another part of me wants to just unrepentantly throw my ideas out there.
I want to have the hard conversations with people on pretty much anything. I want to get to a place with the people that I live with and the people that I run into daily that I can question in an honest way the assumptions that I make about the world - what is right and what is to be dismissed or thrown away. I want to be held accountable. I want to hold other people accountable. And to do that in a way that is not oppositional, but is a really loving, we're-all-in-this-together, we-can-create-a-better-thing-than-we-have-going-on-right-now kind of a way. I don't want to shy away from those conversations because they're hard.