When my best friend died and then my father died, I had a particularly low tolerance for nonsense. Not the Dr Seuss type, amusing nonsense, but the type that my son might now call bull crap...
➳Avoid the bull
➳IEA on energy transistion
➳Eco-modernist (Ted Nordhaus) interview
➳My conversation with dramaturg Jonathan Meth
➳My conversation with Tom Gosling, purpose + incentives
➳How old is civilisation?
➳Artists and money, and the myth of the unpaid artist
➳Save date for Unconference
➳Save date for Speake Easy | Mingle
....My tolerance has risen a little, but the power of the idea “life is short” hits home when loved ones die.
I move away from timewasters. I try and not engage with bull crap and move on.
How many summer holidays will our children want to be with us? Perhaps, 15. How many Christmas times will be viewed as magical? Perhaps, 8. How much life do we want to squander in matters unimportant to us?
Figuring out what matters can be difficult, yet worthwhile. Easier is discovering the bull crap and moving on.
JP currently and for a little time now doesn’t embark on these long train journeys to nowhere. But I have no regrets for all the times we did them. We did them to the full.
We had a small series of Science Oscar. Where we recorded certain efforts, for instance playing with gallium. It was effortful and I wish we had done more when the impulse lasted. It was a thing that mattered.
I am lucky I do a job which I think matters. I also work in theatre which I think matters.
Obviously, we need to make ends meet before we can consider other matters too deeply but when I think back to what death has taught me, it comes down to:
➳do the things that matter to you
➳relish the time with your loved ones
➳always swerve around the bull crap.
Unconference on 23 July. Save the Date.
-Do you have ideas to solve climate challenges?
-Are you underwhelmed by traditional conferences?
-Are you seeking a forum for participatory cross-silo ideas discussion?
Come to UnConference. We intend to solve the problem of unproductive sustainability conferences by applying participatory techniques (OpenSpace) in an UnConference. What? An innovative conference format bringing cross-silo thinkers and doers together on Sustainability challenges. Where: Chatham House, 23 July. Save the Date.
And Speak Easy meets Mingle. Come mingle with creatives, investors, sustainability thinkers; left, right, up, down. 1 July, evening, Chatham House. Save the Date. Note, some risk this will be delayed will send link on initial confirmation.
I have two more additions into my curious podcast series.
I have a podcast chat with Jonathan Meth. We cover dramaturgy and in particular Jonathan’s work in disability arts. We discuss some of the positive happenings and a lengthy list of challenges. If you’d like a glimpse into a long time dramaturge thinking have a listen, read the transcript.
Jonathan Meth is a dramaturg extraordinaire, director, curator, very involved in the European theatre and disability arts. He's a lecturer at Goldsmiths. He's worked with many of the major theatre organizations in Britain, and he's a fascinating theatre thinker.
We speak about dramaturgy and theatre as playwright lead and theatre as colloboration lead. We discuss disability arts and a little about what autism has taught us. Jonathan looks at theatre funding and infrastrucutre and what it might mean to build back differently.
We discuss his work with Fence and what he has learned teaching a wide mix of international students.
Jonathan makes a case for the power of questions and curiosity. A fascinating, wide ranging conversation. (Video, Transcript, or podcast).
On a different side of culture, I have a fascinating chat with Tom Gosling. Tom has done a lot of work on purpose as applied to companies, and thinking on incentives, and Board strategy. We end up with a long theme on the democratic accountability of governments and to what extent matters should be government, corporate or individual responsibilities. There is also a guest appearance from my son (!)
Tom Gosling was a partner at PwC, and an advisor to boards around executive pay and incentives, governance, and strategy. He's currently an Executive Fellow at London Business School and helps steer the work of the purposeful company collaboration.
Tom speaks about the benefits of purpose and the risk of corporate puff. We touch on audit reform and the challenges of regulation. We discuss the importance of democractic process and the role of government compared to the role of business. We underrate/overrate carbon taxes, diversity targets, Milton Friedman and financial incentives.
On a personal note, we talk about the challenges of achieving a personal net zero, the joys of singing and the importance of understanding what makes you happy. There is a special guest cameo appearance in the video.
It's a fascinating conversation on many currently debated topics. Listen here or read the transcript below.
In sustainability land, there’s been deep coverage of the IEA (International Energy Agency) new net zero report. Carbon brief covers it here. The original report is here. (227 pages but worth going to site for infographics.
This serves as a partial counterpoint (partial as it shows still a way to go) to the more gloomy JPM/Smil report I covered last letter.
I think it’s worth considering this alongside a recent interview with Ted Nordhaus, leading “ecomodernist”. (Not to be confused with William Nordhaus, Nobel laureate).
Nordhaus argues that technology (in particular nuclear along with solar and wind; alongside electrification) will be key and that the emphasis on de-growth is harmful (partly as it discourages innovation and partly as growth is necessary for lifting out poverty).
"...The big driver in the decline of population growth is just actually economic growth, which is something that degrowthers will never recognize. This decline began when the entire human population, which a couple hundred years ago lived in rural agrarian poverty, began moving to urban, industrial, modern living arrangements. That is the fundamental transformation that human societies have been undergoing for the last couple of hundred years...."
To me, certain elements of degrowth make sense - some easy wins - eg let’s try and minimise food waste at the table but I do think the capital allocation to innovation is far too low still currently given the scale of what we are looking at. And the easy wins are maybe not systemic. The interview should be read by degrowthers if even to make their own arguments sharper.
I’ve started reading The Death of the Artist (William Deresiewicz) on the economics of being an artist.
The arguments are that we should be paying artists but also that it’s a myth that in a market society that art should really be a gift.
".... [Lewis Hyde's] The Gift is inspiring—to stay for a moment with that book, which has shaped so many people’s thinking on the subject—but it is telling that Hyde’s examples come exclusively from folktale, anthropology, poetry, and myth, with scarcely a word about the actual history of the relationship between art and money. Hyde’s book hides the truth: gift economies are always sustained by underlying systems of support that ultimately depend, at least in modern societies, upon the market. That includes the one of which Hyde is, and I was, a member: academia. Hyde believes that science is a gift economy (as is, by extension, scholarship in general) because scientists do not receive payment for publishing their work. But of course they do: indirectly, from their universities, in the form of the jobs they get to keep, or the raises and promotions they receive, for being academically productive. Prestige is negotiated, under the table, for cold coin: the more prominent a scholar is, the more he or she tends to get paid. Universities, in turn, are funded by tuition, grants, taxes, and other monies, all of which are ultimately generated by the market. I saw this kind of mystification all the time in academia, especially when graduate students at my institution sought to form a union (because, like artists, they were getting screwed). One tenured professor—he owned a very fancy house, and a very fancy second house—would practically clutch his pearls at any talk of money in relation to the work that academics do. Money: what money? Money: how vulgar! We work for the love of it, the idea was, and the university rewards us out of its own high-minded generosity. Nothing to do with the market at all.
.... If art is work, then artists are workers. No one likes to hear this. Nonartists don’t, because it shatters their romantic ideas about the creative life. Artists don’t either, as people who have tried to organize them as workers have told me. They also buy into the myths; they also want to think they’re special. To be a worker is to be like everybody else. Yet to accept that art is work—in the specific sense that it deserves remuneration—can be a crucial act of self-empowerment, as well as self-definition.
...Art is hard. It never just comes to you. The idea of effortless inspiration is another romantic myth. For amateurs, making art may be a form of recreation, but no one, amateur or professional, who has tried to do it with any degree of seriousness is under the illusion that it’s easy...."
It’s based on many interviews with working artists and I think young artists should consider reading it for the money thinking side of art. Amazon link: Or at least the free introduction on kindle. (!)
This piece by Samo Burja argues that civilisation - or at least agriculture - might have started much earlier in humanity than previously thought.
From previous: I have an insightful podcast + videocast with leading British poet, Rishi Dastidar.
Rishi Dastidar and I chat about life, poetry, writing and poets always having another job. Rishi gives advice on how to be a poet, embracing Insta poets and whether last lines are harder than first lines, or second books harder than first books; and why we love lists and why we need to pay more attention to verbs. Blog, video and podcast here.
I wrote a short story with Anoushka as part of my idea of a recording story bench in a future Piccadilly Circus. You can hear me read it as part of this interactive model.
What will Piccadilly Circus look like in 100 years? I wrote a story and contributed an idea of a "story bench". Can you find me in 2035? (yes that's me above)
From AI-driven buildings to insect markets and canals, Futurescape London, a 3D digital model, allows the public to explore the future of city centres. Explore Futurescape to see what Piccadilly Circus could look like in 2035, 2060, 2090 and 2121. Explore this future model of Piccadilly circus.
In my occasional podcast chat series I talk with birdgirl aka Mya-Rose Craig. We chat about her love of birding touching upon birdsong and the mysteries of migration. We discuss accessibility to nature, activism what in birding terms is a “lifer” and how to “pish”.
Pishing…. “Oh, no, it's a real thing, but I can't even do it very well. So this is going to be very embarrassing, but pishing is basically, birders making a funny sound that makes the birds around you go, what's that funny sound. So they hop out into the open to try and figure out what that funny sound is. And weirdly there are not many sounds that do this, pishing is one of the few that pretty much always works, at least with lots of birds. And this is going to be very embarrassing now, but it's basically like a, pshh,pshh,pshh like over and over louder and quieter. And for some reason that always gets the birds out.” Transcript and video here. And podcast version
I chat with Rebecca Giggs on her new book looking at humanity through the lens of the whale. There is video and a transcript. Self-recommending.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think might be interested in signing up.
Archive and repeat words below. Stay well, Stay safe, Ben
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I’ve re-issued my 2006 play, Yellow Gentlemen (4 stars in Time Out and is one of my more personal works about the night immigrant Tommy Lee is dying). Buy it for laughs on Kindle for the price of a coffee. All profits to charity. I’ve only sold a few copies at the price of a coffee - 1.99.
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“...Through a long-term orientation and stewardship, this is the time for active investment managers to show their worth. It starts with asking the right long-term business questions. Some companies are giving us answers, but are we really listening?”
My full opinion article in the FT. (3 mins, behind paywall, but you get a free article or email me and I can send you a copy)
Find out more about my aphorism book and contact me for a copy.
The move to online dating has potentially empowered women as the cost to ghosting is so low.
Notes from a conversation with former Royal Court Lit. Manager.