The Trek Episode 23 on History: Civics Unplugged discuss the cyclical patterns seen in history – in collaboration with Humanity 2.0

Contributed by: Show Editorial Team

Gary Sheng, Madison Adams, Leora SoibelmanAngel Nwadibia, Jonah Zacks, Rose Clubock, Raven Owens and special guest Ervin Adler discuss history on this week’s episode of The Trek


  • Civics Unplugged hosts Trek Session with Gen Z community on the cyclical patterns seen throughout history
  • Prominent Gen Z figures discuss the importance of learning from mistakes and successes made in the past
  • Future leaders of America discuss the importance of venerating people or ideals from the past and the balance of not being consumed by it



Brought to you by: Humanity 2.0 – a Non-Profit (Non-Government Organization) focused on identifying and removing the most significant impediments to human flourishing through technology and thought-leadership in collaboration with the Holy See (Vatican).

Special consideration; to CommPro Worldwide for their PR and media support

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS: Gary Sheng, Co-Founder/COO at Civics Unplugged, Madison Adams, Director of Dialogue at Civics Unplugged, Leora Soibelman, Video Producer at Civics Unplugged, Angel Nwadibia, Co-executive Director at Planet Justice, Jonah Zacks, Steering Committee Member at Civics Unplugged, Rose Clubock, 2021 Fellow at Civics Unplugged, Raven Owens, 2021 Fellow at Civics Unplugged and special guest Ervin Adler, Chair Member at Civics Unplugged

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:00:09

Hello everyone and welcome to the Trek. The trek is a Civics Unplugged series where community members participate in meaningful discussions on topics that are too often neglected when thinking about building the future. Through prompting questions and provocations we’ve ventured together into complex, but important conversations related to building the future and democracy. We understand that this work requires ongoing dialogue, but it’s a journey worth trekking through. My name is Madison and I’m a high school senior from Verdigris Oklahoma. And I am joined by some of our amazing community members who will all introduce themselves when we start with our word association. So today we’re talking to you about history and everyone is going to introduce themselves and then say one to three words that they associate with history and why. And angel, you can go ahead and get us started. 

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:00:57

Awesome. Hey everyone. My name is angel. I’m a first year at Yale, but I’m currently based around the outskirts of DC. And honestly, when I think about history, one of the words that continuously circulates around my mind is repetitive. For reasons I’m sure we all can agree on patterns in history do have a tendency to rhyme with those that we see in the present as we can see today. So yeah, when I think of history, I do think of it as a repetitive kind of phenomenon.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:01:45

My name is listed next. When I think of history I guess the words I’m going to go with are anything but inevitable and that just comes from something, a history teacher I had last year would always use to tell us, Oh, sorry. I should introduce myself first. My bad. My name is Jonah. I’m a high school senior. I’m in St. Louis, Missouri. I’m 18 years old. And anyway, those three words come from something that a history teacher last year used to tell us about how nothing it’s easy for things to look like they were always destined to happen going back. But if everything were really inevitable, there wouldn’t be any point in studying history. This stuff would just happen.

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:16

Hi, I’m Rose. I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and I’m a high school junior. I was going to say I have two where it’s one is kind of like Angels. I was thinking more cyclical. So I think that some parts of history kind of seem to go through cycles, but at the same time, I also see history as a progression at the same time towards society getting better. I don’t know necessarily how the two seem to contradict. So I don’t know which it always is, in my opinion.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:03:59

Hi I’m Leora. I’m a high school senior from right outside of Boston, Massachusetts. I guess the first word that came to mind was interesting because I’ve always been very intrigued by history has always been one of my favorite subjects in school. And also very important was my next word. I think understanding history and being able to think critically about it is one of our most important skills as people.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:04:36

Hi. I am I’m Ervin. And it’s interesting that earlier you mentioned that you see history as a cycle and the fact that the terrains with itself, I think it also is driven like professor Jared Diamond here at UCLA has said by germs, guns and steel, which is a parable for pathogens, technology and conflict, and like somebody mentioned earlier, it’s not inevitable, but it requires vigilance from all of us to make sure that we don’t get trapped in the more vicious aspects of the cycle, especially today with the COVID going on and not beyond the rest in the country, we really have to pay attention to the lessons that history teaches us.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:50

Do you have any like words that you would want to put down for the word association?

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:05:57

I think I would put down conflict. I would put down technology and I would put down pathogens. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:22

I’m going to put launch pad for future. And it’s only the case that it is if we actually study it with clear eyes.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:06:41

And I would just say manual, I think that history teaches us a lot, obviously what not to do, but there are still a lot of things that can be dissected from it that are worth understanding and applying like Ervin mentioned, there’s a lot of lessons to be learned that could be beneficial to, to apply to building the future.

Raven Owens – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:17

I think first word is tiresome. Right now I’m in AP world history and all the things we’re learning, it’s just draining. It’s just like so many things happen and you know, sometimes not always for good. So whenever I first think it’s just tiresome. But then also my second word would probably be crucial because if we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past, we’ll just repeat them in the future. So those are my two words.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:07:51

Awesome. Those were all great. And now we can go into like the actual conversation. So here we just, anyone can pose a question or a provocation and we can start talking about it. So does anyone have a question or a provocation to get us started off with?

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:13

I guess my question is, is there anyone we can or anything really that we can venerate in history? It seems to me every time you think you’ve found yourself a role model in history, anything or anyone that we can really venerate in history so hard? Yeah, because it seems to me every time you think you have a role model, they’ve also done something really bad.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:08:45

I think the reason that’s very hard is because we have only realistic expectations of historical figures. We expect them to be perfect. And in reality they are flawed human beings, like all of us, and they are faced with unique challenges that we don’t always understand. And it’s difficult to understand, for example, a personality like Winston Churchill, who happens to be one of my heroes when he had the history of rebel rousing being involved with British colonial powers having led the life of an adventure yet in the most crucial moment of our recent history he was instrumental in saving Western civilization from certainly fascism. And you could say also from communism. So it’s very difficult to pass judgment on people like him because they are flawed personalities, both physically character wise in the aspect, but when the time comes, they step up and they do exceptional things.

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:10:29

I think that there are actions or ideals that historical figures can have done or held. But I think that we should always be looking at historical figures with a nuanced lens because if we are going to use the history as a manual for our future or a launchpad for a future, and we do need to be critical especially since a lot of historical figures have perpetuated harm against probably some, especially the ones that were missed or the ones that led a whole country. They probably did actions that we need to better now. So we should be cognizant.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:11:12

I agree with everything that’s been said. I’m not sure who said this. Some person in the past once said that you should kill your idols. And I think that really stuck with me. I heard it so many years ago, but it’s really stuck with me because it’s been said before these people are human just like you as well. But specifically when it comes to the verbiage of the question, yes, there are definitely people and things that you can venerate in history and focusing more specifically on the word history is not only comprised of people, but it’s also comprised of movements. And I think that if you do go searching hard enough, there are a lot of movements that at least I would deem worthy of quote unquote veneration movements across the world for just an equitable liberation, I would think are worth being respected and uplifted and I guess idealized, but that’s also a very slippery slope. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:12:38

I would argue that if we’re looking at it through the lens of, you know, nobody’s perfect, we can have unrealistic expectations. Like if you’re thinking that to venerate someone or something in history, they have to be this perfect thing. Then basically you’re saying that you can’t really venerate anything at all, like past present or future, because literally there’s no person, no thing, no movement that’s perfect. And I think the idea that something has to be completely perfect in order to be respected or learn from is just not realistic. And it’s more of like, it’s tricky, right. I think a lot of it is taking the spirit of a lot of things of certain movements and people and using those as inspirations for what you’re doing and trying to like we’ve said, use that as a manual for building in the future.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:13:40

I feel like it’s almost necessary to venerate things and let me explain what I mean by that. Is that obviously not seeing things as black and white, you have to see everything he wants, but if we didn’t see some things as good and other things as bad, then how would we know what to do next and how would we know what the right thing to do is, so if you don’t see things in the past that this was a good thing that somebody did. And then I feel like it’s much harder to find a good way to move forward. If that makes sense.

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:14:20

I think that the word venerate is I agree that we should respect and learn from people in the past. Like, even if they weren’t perfect, but sometimes people venerate historical figures and they don’t criticize them or think about those things. So I think that’s where veneration can be bad. And I also think about thinking about movements that are worth veneration is I think that there are definitely are movements that we should build from and learn it have goals that we should strive for, but also often movements can have issues that we should also think about, why did they not work out throughout history that time?

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:15:08

I think that the word veneration, this is towards I guess we were as point. I definitely agree with the sentiment of the premise of your argument. But also I think that the word veneration carries with it such a heavy connotation as well. Like when I use the word venerate, at least personally for me, I view it in an almost religious context. I’m worshiping something, I’m venerating something. So when you, at least once again, in my experience, when I say that I venerate something, I’m holding it to a standard that is almost more greater or not more but more common, greater than human. So I think it’s possible to not venerate a historical figure or a historical movement without or to not venerate these things while simultaneously recognizing the good and the bad present you know, like Rose said using nuance. And I would say that while there are a select few of things worth veneration it’s more, how do I say, I think that there’s definitely a lot more use in looking at things through the nuanced, through the gray lens. So, I agree with Rose.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:16:52

I think I totally agree with it to say, I think venerating is now that I think about like a very strong word and there are ways to, you can recognize, like you were saying, recognize the good and bad without using that term. So, yeah, I agree.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:17:11

The stuff you’ve been saying about perfection and how it doesn’t really exist for some reason, and this may be entirely insane, but for some reason it reminds me of the galleon dialectics, like this idea that Hagle had in Germany where humanity is constantly progressing upwards towards something. And that Hagle thought they had gotten there and like, this is it we’re done. We’re good. Which to me is interesting because if you do get to that perfect point, you can just stop and call it a day. That seems to me really bad, right? The idea that we would ever stop struggling, striving to improve something, anything seems like it is in itself, a deep production. Again, I’m not sure if that came off as totally whacked out, but I like to think of it.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:18:12

I’m a huge Hagle Stan. So I’d love to comment on this. I think that I agree with you, but I would also say that Hagle recognizes that the dialectics emphasis on the plural can end in multiple different situations, at least as I understand it. But then you’re going into the metaphysical and it’s not necessarily a practicum for everyday reality, but someone mentioned that history was cyclical and ultimately progressive. And I think those two words definitely capture at least some of the spirit of the Galean dialectic because we don’t necessarily get that progress to I guess the quote unquote end of history. However valid you may think that is if you don’t do the work to arrive towards that progress. 

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:19:57

The assumption that we are making that history is on an up for arc is fraught with a lot of risk because we are sitting today at the cusp of human affairs being affected in a massive way by technology. And there are authors, for example, like Val Harari that raise a cautionary note in terms of what the future will look like if we don’t master the technology. There may be points in history in which unless action is taken, you end up in a dystopic situation that’s very difficult to break if it can be broken at all. And today with the emergence of AI and quantum computing and the fusion of those two technologies, social media and big data the arc of history may well turn into a dystopic future rather than into positive, continuously improving the Galea model.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:21:58

Ervin you bring up a really interesting point and it makes me wonder how people’s perception of the future has changed throughout history. So, I wonder if like a hundred years ago, if people were really optimistic about the future and if this is one of the first times in history where people have like, Oh, there’s a large percentage of people who do consider themselves to be pretty pessimistic about the future. Cause I know that there are a lot of people who do feel that way. And so I’d just be curious to know like how people’s view of that to change over time.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:22:35

Well, if I reflect back on my grandparents who were born at the end of the 19th century. They had just like we had the up till recently a very positive, upward view of the world. They were born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, which was Mangal ancient regimes. One of the few that accepted well ahead of its time diversity and the inclusion and what happened before they were born the revolution in 1848, all over the world here in this country for the civil war, it created the format that ended up destabilizing, not just the Austro-Hungarian empire, but essentially after world war one which evolved into world war two, basically all of these big Imperial powers ended up collapsing. My grandfather never comprehended the arc of history that he was on. And eventually it consumed him in the fires of the Holocaust. So he was optimistic. He cheered some of the things that were happening along the way, and to his surprise it, then it turned into dystopic at the very rapid rate. So optimism involved, it’s always a characteristic of human nature and needs to be really accompanied by a solid dose of skepticism and questioning of the premises on which that optimism is based.

Raven Owens – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:25:09

And a little bit more with that. I feel like a lot of times when you’re actually looking at the future, it’s hard to be optimistic when you see where you are right now, but then the more you progress and you look back at where you were say, five years ago, 10 years ago, it’s easier to be like, wow. Some things actually have changed a bit. My grandmother, she’s 85 right now. You know, her mother was still a slave. My grandmother actually still even grew up on a plantation. And so the fact that, Hey, like her sons were able to go to college, I’m able to go to college right now. I’m able to walk into a diner with white and Asian folk and I don’t have to sit in a separate seating area, you know, when you think of changes like that, that it’s okay, I feel like it’s all too easy to be pessimistic and say that no change is happening, but I feel like a lot of people in today’s time just want change to happen like that. And they want it to be major change. And we’re kind of forgetting that change happens in little sections.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:26:31

This is such a great conversation. That kind of, I guess I’m bringing up a provocation slash question now based on what’s been said, at least what Raven said reminded me of I guess there’s this ever-present debate in this new, activist society at least amongst gen Z. And that’s the question of reform versus revolution. And I guess which one should be preferred, which one is weighted more heavily? I guess in the context of history. So what do you guys think about that? Because whenever I’d come across or whenever I at least come across this theme in various online platforms, I see a lot of people at least with the circles that I am involved with a favor ring revolution over minor reforms. What do you guys think about that?

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:27:46

I think it’s a very good question that you are raising the before this meeting, Gary and I had the conversation earlier in the day about the subject. That’s tangentially related to your question, but it’s an important point that I think we need to bring up the problem with reforms and revolutions are that we tend to be very on disciplined in putting to test the ideas that we want to apply it as reforms or as revolution. For example, if they would have used the same kind of sloppy testing of ideas that we using social science to and apply that to the development of the vaccine. It would have probably taken us years to develop the vaccine if we could develop it at all. The point I’m trying to make, it’s less important, whether we pursue revolutions or reform than making sure that the ideas that underpin either the reform or the revolution are grounded in tested hypotheses that are demonstrated at a societal scale before being applied for a major upheaval in a country, be that the small one or a large one most revolutions are spotty in terms of their success. If you go back in time the most recent big revolution that we encountered a global scale was the Russian revolution. And it ended up being based on a lot of untested premises that eventually ended up bringing about the collapse of the Russian state. Similarly, the French revolution had very lofty ideas. Eventually it degenerated in the reign of terror and ultimately in Napoleon’s autocratic rule over most of Europe. And the reason both of these revolutions failed like the 1848 revolution before that was because the ideas on which the revolution was based were untested. And I think both reforms and revolutions need to have people that are less true believers, and they are more rational thinkers to understand that it’s very easy to destroy and it’s very difficult to build.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:31:36

Yeah. So I want to ask some context Irv before he retired was an executive at Boeing before the whole Boeing max thing. So that’s when Boeing was at its top. Just kidding. But so it seems very relevant to have people being a part of the Civics Unplugged community who are immigrants whose parents were Holocaust survivors and who recognize that there are things like facts that are needed to get airplanes in the air, right. And that same sort of thinking needs to be applied to how we develop our operating system for our country.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:32:33

Yes. And I think Gary if we look upon social science as a science, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that we are advocating for reform or revolution at any given time to prove the facts and the data that whatever ideas we are pursuing indeed can improve the overall wellbeing of human society and not just the segment of it. And the reason that revolutions fail and most reforms end up being consumed by counter reforms is that they take on lofty ideas and they are designed to only benefit a small segment of the overall population, which inevitably leads to their collapse. And for example, today we have a lot of problems in this country and the solutions that are being offered on either side of the political spectrum are in many respects, wishful aspirational goals, rather than rational, well thought out experiments that would validate the hypothesis on which the social theories are based.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:34:16

It’s interesting to me that you bring up the revolutions of 1848,and the French, and then the Russians, because all of these untested premises seem to build on each other. So the revolutions of 1848, right? The springtime of peoples, these guys are all in, on nationalism, all over the place, and yet they’re very decentralized. And they don’t have sort of any character piece of unifying theory, right? That’s the whole point of their nationalist ideology. And then you go into the French revolution, which takes a nationalism, which is interesting because they just watched nationalism flop in 1848 and then adds on a bunch of, I guess the French revolution would have been long before this. So, that kind of changes the way I was thinking about it a little bit, but I guess, not in a way, it kind of does the opposite of what I was thinking, which would make a lot more sense. So let me try this again. So you have the French revolution because nationalism has democracy, it has all kinds of other stuff. And that defaults into Napoleon. Then you have revolutions of 1848, where they strip away a bunch of the extra stuff. Like you don’t get paintings of Liberty leading the people you don’t get the month of Thermador or whatever was going on in France, you’ve just got, you want to say in the empire and then that, you know, still fails, but it doesn’t result in catastrophic destruction. And then you get to the Russian revolution where you just strip it away even more. So we’re not even going to have nationalism. I’m just going to show up and offer you a loaf of bread. And I think in a lot of ways was the closest to a successful revolution that of the three, because it created a government that I don’t think any of us would defend in any way. Like none of us would agree with it. It wasn’t good, but it was long lasting relatively speaking. 

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:36:32

If you take a look at the span of the Soviet state, it lasted from the depending from where you count its beginnings from the end of world war one, all the way till 1989, pretty much 1990. So it lasted for, let’s say slightly short of it. Eventually the Russian empire was in effect for almost a thousand years beforehand. So the Russian revolution was very successful in destroying the Russian core civilization, and shaping it into its mold, but it wasn’t lasting because the means that they were using to achieve ultimately their goals, were flawed. And the fundamental flaw was that they believe that through sheer brute force, you could achieve lasting social change, absent dialogue, they resorted on conflict.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:38:02

Star Trek has a thing there as again, as with all the best questions, Star Trek does offer an answer where in the second movie in the wrath of Khan, they have this device, they call it the Genesis device. And it’s basically just a bomb where it can instantly replace the entire, not instantly, but very rapidly replaced the entire ecosystem of planet with what they call it an M-Class plan. So an Earth-like planet and the design of this is to be used on barren asteroids or moons, where there’s no possibility for life, because you don’t want to be responsible for destroying that. But then of course it gets misused and stuff. And so Dr. Mccoy kind of flips out justifiably too. He says, it’s always been easier to destroy then to create. And now we can do both at the same time. And it gets at this idea where maybe it’s a good thing, that creation is difficult because if creation were easy, then there would be no incentive not to destroy.

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:39:17

I think one thing about with reform versus revolution is some have already touched on this, but I like the ideals being focused on in revolution. I’ve heard someone say before, I don’t know who said it, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So I think it’s really important not to idealize revolutions that may have good ideas, but definitely did not end up well. And that’s why I think it’s important not to glamorize revolutions in general, just because I think as we talked about, they do end badly except in cases where the same people in power stay in power for, and after revolution, like the American revolution, I would argue at the same people were in charge before and after in the colonies. I think in general, marginalized groups tend to fall through the cracks in revolutions. So I do think that reform can feel really difficult because it’s so slowly and people who are being oppressed by the current system at the moment that’s a lot to ask to wait and wait until a reform happens. But I also think that revolutions nowadays are often looked up to were a lot, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing as we talked about often also there’s all the other mentioned aforementioned issues with revolution.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:40:45

Yeah. I agree. And I think that I would argue that it’s neither I think with reform and revolution, there’s almost this connotation that once you reform or once there’s a revolution, it’s kind of over. I think of the American revolution and just because of that, we need to make sure that our organizing systems are something that are constantly evolving and that evolve with us. And I also want Gary to speak more on this because he recently wrote something about the word reform that kind of changed the way that I see it. And I almost wonder if it’s more build or something like that. So, I want to hear what you have to say about that, Gary.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:41:32

Yeah. So whole question of reform versus revolution kind of reminds me of a Democrat or Republican who’s going to save us. And I’m just like, this is just the wrong question. Certainly the wrong question for the long-term or even the medium term. So reform makes it seem like this current structures are like, let’s make it five, 10, 15% better. And there’s oftentimes the systems that we want to perform need to perform 10 times better for one 10th of the cost. So do you install, I mean, just think about the, you know, in a business kind of context often what happened in practice? What happens is not that the CEO of a competitor company is beaten up by some kind of guerrilla hit mob by the competitors there’s beaten out because some kind of competitive system is providing much more value to the than the competitors providing. So the big question for us is one way to inspire the incumbent system to evolve a lot faster is to right. To create competition, right. And to do basically show that the system can do a lot better. So the question is how do we build kind of alternative systems that as it relates to kind of organizing systems? Well, what is the point of the US government? It should be supporting our human flourishing, but it’s doing a really bad job of that. So what can we build as a civil society that provides a lot of what government has, unfortunately, historically over the last, 60 years done a little bit too much of, so we can kind of show just how ineffectual a lot of it is, right. And that’s a simplistic answer, right? To what needs to be done. We need to do reform, we need to build new systems. We need to revolutionize some things. But this question of reform versus revolution is just a little bit too simplistic.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:44:07

That’s really interesting. I was actually having a similar conversation with a friend the other day, and he was saying very adamantly. And he’s like, what we need is a constitutional convention. And at first I really balked at that. I was like, that’s so funny that happened 200 something years ago. And you’re bringing this up now, but then it really made me think about this question of history, about how we think about these things in history all the time, but it’s not a terrible idea if we do something. So if we do something in today’s time, even though it is something that happened 200 something years ago, it could be helpful. And so I think that just goes to show the value of looking back at history to inform decisions. But that was just an interesting idea.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:02

Yeah. I think we feel like we’re so stuck in our current kind of conception of what America is. And a big part of that is because there’s no, like, can you point to a really famous civic or political leader that is charting out a very compelling vision for how America can run 10 times better? The American government can run 10 times better. And if there are we need to elevate them, but a lot of it might need to come from all of you slash us.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:45:40

Order of magnitude improvements are possible after one does repeated experiments on how to get there. We forget that in electronics Moore’s law was based on repeated experiments in people. When people try to use everything from vacuum to transistors, and eventually they got to integrated circuits. And once they got that down, finally, the improvements started taking off. The reason I bring this thing up is we need to adopt in government, the ideas that are implemented in tech today, rapid prototyping, fix it, break it, fix it, break it again at small scale, before you try to do the big things and absent that kind of a tinkering in the social lab, if you are going to be hampered by the limitations of what you can do, and the reason the American revolution, I think it’s one of the lasting revolution, as a matter of fact no other revolutionary regime to my knowledge has been in existence for as long as we have is because the people that build the architecture of our government made it a point to learn from the failures of all of the other systems that they saw in Europe. And they try to implement the first set of small scale, the 13 colonies, and then they expanded it and became a continent wide implementation. It’s all of the pluses and minuses that go with it. But if you want order of magnitude improvements, you have to be in this spiral development mindset that the software people adopt. And unfortunately we are driven by lawyers as a whole government. And the problem with lawyers is that they are more enamored with their arguments than they are enamored is their reality of and the viability of their arguments. 

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 00:48:42

Couldn’t agree more. This is a very inspiring conversation. Are, are people able to go like 20 minutes longer? I have one more provocation and then we can do reflection. So great. Wow. I think something I’m going to play around with is I think the FA and we should all think about this, maybe the role of the federal government, because it can kind of print money. And States can’t to fund local experiments that later in the decade could be applied at a wider scale. And I know there’s for example, UBI experiments happening in Stockton, California, and we went to Carolina and stuff like that, and other policies need to be applied with that sort of experimental mindset. Well, that wasn’t a provocation. I just wanted to respond, but let me actually type out the, one of my favorite quotes, actually from a bio, like a polymathic biologist, EO Wilson. I’m just curious your thoughts, anyone.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:49:53

I think Gary, this is a great thought because I think the thesis that our emotions and institutions lag the breakneck speed of technology is very valid. To a great extent, I think the turmoil that we see in the country today is the by-product of technology specifically, how we communicate with each other. And the enabling of the internet, satellite TV, the digital revolution, all got us way ahead on our skis. And we are going down a slope without knowing how to turn and we need to become more adapt in getting a handle on how our institutions and our mindset needs to change to keep up with the technology. And it’s clear to me based on what happened over the past week, that the current institutions are inadequate to control the direction in which the internet and AI will be taking us.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:52:02

I both agree and disagree with this quote and I’ll start with why I agree. Anecdote, a few days ago was scrolling through this subreddit called QAnon Casualties. And it was really sad to read it. It’s a subreddit filled with emotional pleas family members and friends talking about their loved ones who have been completely brainwashed and are now shells of themselves due to QAnon by a way of technology. So I say to make the argument that this quote, I think we’ve been in society has been engineered, so that we’re stuck in this framework of paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and God-like technology. And so I would disagree because I don’t think that we’re naturally predisposed to this equation. I think that once again, society has been a system systematically engineered, so that we’re kept in this quote unquote stone age mentality. I mean, look at our education system. It’s very quote unquote medieval. People are not taught to critically think they’re taught to regurgitate. They’re taught to be put to work and everything is facilitated by this God-like technology, which has the power to elevate our mindset so that we can transcend these paleolithic emotions and learn how to see the world in a more nuanced perspective. But just the reins on society makes it so that this technology instead bounds us within this infantile mindset so that people can’t see beyond their reality beyond their emotions, beyond these primal urges. It’s like, yes, but we can be better than this if we had a federal government who number one place the people over profit, a common moniker, but it’s very true. I think money and profit and our corporate has engineered society so that we were stuck in this mess.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 00:55:17

I guess my question is, if that’s true, if that is the fundamental problem of humanity, what can we do about it? So we can modernize our institutions. So that solves one of our problems, but you can’t get rid of the technology. And those paleolithic emotions were bred out of millennia of evolution. And it’s only been a couple thousand years, which relatively speaking is a very, very short period of time since we started writing. It’s only been 2000 years since the formation of one of the most fundamental documents to morality on the face of the planet. So what can we do about it? And I think that our paleolithic emotions don’t have to be a hindrance. I think they can be a very legitimate, very useful check on our instinct to just build new things and to borrow from Facebook, moved fast and break things. And I think once again, Star Trek here has offered us a little bit of a guide. I really go back to Star Trek a lot lately, especially, but where you have these fights between Bones and Spock, where Spock is 100% rational, pure logic and Bones is a relatively emotional person saying, basically we can’t get rid of our emotions. We have that gut feeling of this is not the right thing to do, and we should pay attention to that. So I don’t know that the paleolithic emotions have to be a problem.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 00:57:23

Isn’t this also the plot of the book, The Giver, where they take emotions out of the equation. I haven’t read in a long time, so I could be incorrect but I think part of the book is that they take an people’s memory. They don’t remember anything and they take people’s emotions away. And yada, yada, yada, it’s a book about dystopia. So obviously it doesn’t turn out well. So I agree with Jonah on the point that our emotions, don’t have to be something that hinder us. I think if we didn’t have emotions, how would we have wants justice and things like that? 

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 00:58:32

I have to think that more negative emotions that maybe we want to work beyond could not much of that could go away once people are able to function better. And there’s more equality in general because of our modernized institutions and government working the way it should.

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 00:58:42

Yeah. I agree on the overall negative connotation that the quote gives to emotions. I mean yes, fear is quote unquote paleolithic, but so is empathy. You know, so there’s definitely a way in which we can harness our emotions to produce a better society. But unfortunately, we’re not being taught how to do so. 

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 00:59:22

I really like what Rose said, because the way that society is structured right now, for a lot of people, it just provokes the worst out of them. Like, of course, if your basic needs aren’t being met and you’re struggling to survive, those negative emotions are going to arise naturally. So we just have to organize government such that those basic needs are met, because how in the world can we expect people to be empathetic and kind and loving if they’re just struggling to survive. Any final thoughts before we move on to reflection. Cool. So I’m going to copy this link here so that you all can look at these notes from the name chat, and when you have a reflection that you want to shout out, go ahead, write it down.

Raven Owens – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:00:23

I go back to the reform versus revolution, because I think that question in itself is really funny because that question kind of insinuates that change is needed. And we have people that think everything is fine in society that there isn’t change needed. Like there are people like last week when we saw what happened at the Capitol, they were perfectly fine with that. So I think, the fact that some of us are arguing, Oh, how do we accomplish change? I think we more need to focus on actually educating the people who don’t even think change is needed before we even get to say, Oh, how do we accomplish change?

Angel Nwadibia – Co-executive Director, Planet Justice: 01:01:20

And on that note, I think there’s just a general consensus that we need change. From what I see, regardless of what side that you’re on. I think that the storming of the Capitol was due to a large, not necessarily a large, but a decent portion of the population realizing that their government isn’t representing them and that they’re not reaping the benefits of what they were so promised to by their politicians. And so they recognize that they need change, but unfortunately that recognition or that desire for representation was twisted and manipulated against, I guess, democracy itself against marginalized populations. So it’s not necessarily, I think a question of we need to educate the people who don’t think that we need to change. But we need to educate people or educate people about the methods through which change can be I guess, accomplished for everyone. And that change be beneficial for everyone. I’m not so vindictive and malicious.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:02:46

I think that’s beautiful, especially two days before MLK day the principles of non-violent movements are not satisfying, right? They’re not immediately, like, yeah, I’m getting so much, I’m feeling a win from destroying someone or beating someone or having a quick victory. But that’s really, I don’t know if there’s any other way except through that philosophy for us to actually achieve a radically better world for everyone.

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:03:25

I think Gary you and Angel are raising two very good points. The thought that comes to my mind, I think we are going to be stuck in the cycle of misdirected violence, be that from the right or left, unless we somehow change the dialogue to have a balance between the rights and obligations. I think from my perspective, we have too much emphasis both on the right and left on the rights in the conversation in which individual pursuit of rights and up taking a back seat to individual obligations to secure the common good. I think we would have a lot better opportunity to live up to Martin Luther King’s aspirations. And we would be doing a lot better in harnessing our emotions if you will, just to reflect on what’s the balance between our rights and our obligation to pursue a better society.

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:05:02

Well said, and with luck, we’re going to establish a partnership with the King center this spring. So we’ll make sure to invite you to an event in the spring when that happened.

Jonah Zacks – Steering Committee Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:05:22

My reflection here is that, personally I have been able to take kind of seemingly disparate things, which is incredibly deep knowledge and understanding of history combined with what I like to think of is at least passively deep understanding of fiction and use one to understand the other. And I think it goes both ways. And basically, I’ve always thought of history as sort of the real stories and fiction as the stories that couldn’t quite be real. But now I’m not so sure that’s true.

Leora Soibelman – Video Producer, Civics Unplugged: 01:06:17

As my refelction as well, last year I took this class in my high school, on public history and a lot of it was focused around how do we present history to the public? How has history been presented to the public and how should it be? And it was a lot about what stories do we tell ourselves and why? And so I’m just kind of thinking about moving into the future, how that exact question, what stories do we want to tell ourselves and how is that going to affect building a better society?

Gary Sheng – Co-Founder/COO, Civics Unplugged: 01:07:03

We’ll put, what is our story? I don’t know what our story in America right now is no idea. Also, for those who this is their first Trek, feel free to reflect on this experience.

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:07:23

So I’ve recently been a little bit cynical about the future or something with everything going on. And I feel like even if we feel cynical about it, and like Gary mentioned, the way that change is made, that we’ve seen work is frustrating. Like someone said it might be Winston Churchill, actually said democracy is the worst, or is not a good system, but it’s the best one we have just so, and how it’s not fun. But I think that can’t stop us from working towards it. Even though it’s very frustrating. And I also think that we can make small changes, but it might feel really frustrating.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:08:28

Yeah. And I would just say that, this helped put a lot of different things into perspective, or just gave me a new perspective on things. I like Jonah’s question about historical figures. And then I also really appreciated what Raven said about it can be discouraging looking at the future if you’re thinking about where you are now, but if you look back on how far you’ve come and I was just like, wow, that just made so much sense, but really good conversation. Thank you all so much. Anyone have any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Ervin Adler – Chair Member, Civics Unplugged: 01:09:09

Speaking for myself, Gary, I think I am really encouraged by our future, given the quality of the compensation and discourse that I see in this group. It’s really refreshing to see all of you engaged in civil discourse, on issues that are difficult to deal with. And I just wish we get into this same mode at the larger scale so that we can get the country back on track again.

Raven Owens – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:10:21

I think that in this day and age, so many people don’t want to really pay attention to anyone’s opinions, but themselves, or their way of thinking. Like sometimes they’ll listen, but it’ll be in one ear out the other. So I love this conversation because I got to actually pay attention to other people’s point of views and ways of thinking and see how other people think of things and just be like, wow, I never even thought about it that way. So now I can begin to think about things, some different ways I would normally think about things. 

Rose Clubock – 2021 Fellow, Civics Unplugged: 01:10:59

I really also enjoyed this conversation. It was really refreshing because I felt like it was really nuanced. That’s my favorite word. And that we talked about a lot of complexity, which I think is really missing from our discourse right now in America.

Madison Adams – Director of Dialogue, Civics Unplugged: 01:11:25

Thank you so much. Rose and Raven are two of our 2021 fellows that are about to start the fellowship, so very excited to have them here. And we’ll see them more in the future. And thank you again, Ervin. It was great to have you, especially with your perspective and all your experience. It’s just phenomenal to hear from you and maybe we can have you on again in the future as well. So, thank you all again, have a lovely evening and I will see you soon. Bye. Thank you.

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