In December 2013 David Marty did an extensive interview with Michael Albert. We present it in nine parts – of which this is the ninth. Other parts address: Radicalization, Media, Debating Vision, Venezuela, Occupy and IOPS, Fanfare, and Chomsky.
As time passes and one’s experience and understanding of how things should be reaches a certain point, don’t you get increasingly impatient about how slow everything goes? Younger people tend to appreciate a slower pace because they are learning and questioning every step of the way. Do you agree with that?
I have never heard anything remotely like that – I am actually laughing while answering because, I guess, it is so opposite to what I usually hear. The usual formulation is that the young are incredibly impatient and the old are doddering, and so the old expect and even welcome a snails pace.
But what is the real difference between young and old – regarding perception of time – supposing we set politics and desires aside? I actually think I have a little piece of an answer to that, though I can’t remember where I first heard it. When you are, say, ten, an hour is a long time, a day is a big patch, a week is a nearly interminable drag, and a year feels like eternity. When you are seventy, say – or in my case sixty six, things are very different. An hour is like a minute, a day goes by in a blink, a week seems to have passed without any duration, and a year is barely more. Why? I think the reason has to do with the percentage of your prior waking life that the time in question is. That percentage keeps dropping.
Suppose your cognizant period starts at age five. Before that, let’s say, time doesn’t register much. So at ten years old, a year is one fifth of your whole past cognizant life. At seventy (to make the math easier), it is one sixty fifth of your whole past cognizant life. So, the year feels much shorter. That’s my theory, at any rate – and I am sticking to it. And I certainly experience it. Weeks pass – in my case from seeing a favorite TV show, say, to seeing the next installment of it, and it appears to me to take no time. Similarly, there goes another year – bam – where the hell did it disappear to? Partly, in my case, this is also due to my having nearly no memory – so I barely know what happened in the passing week, or year, making the time lapse seem that much shorter, but I Think the phenomenon is pretty general for aging.
Now back to politics. I was only young once, and when I was young, well, I wanted everything and I wanted it immediately. Now, though I still want an end to all kinds of injustice immediately, I know better the myriad of steps that must occur. So to that extent, it isn’t so much patience that age imparts, as understanding. On the other hand, I can see the other side of what you are saying. Frustration certainly accumulates, and even more so, I think, when you can see all the various ways that people could be doing constructive things and aren’t, which aggravates the situation a lot. It isn’t not winning immediately that frustrates one at an older age. It is falling far short of the possible, even the easy, that frustrates, and one is better attuned to know when that is happening, I suspect.
I think maybe you are asking me, are you more frustrated regarding conditions in the world now, than you were thirty or forty years ago? Yes, I probably I am. Quite a bit more, in some respects. Whatever the combination of factors may be causing it, and I should add that of course one factor is questioning the efficacy of your own past choices, something the young are not known for.
What is your main concern for the future and what are the prospects for the next 5-10-20 years?
I suppose my main concern is that humanity will suffer interminably escalating woes. On the one hand, there is impending ecological disaster of diverse sorts – not just global warming. On the other hand, there is war, economic dislocation and destitution, violence against women, racial violence, and so on, all still very prevalent, and all conceivably poised to become much worse. There is “high water everywhere.” My main hope, in contrast, is that humanity overcomes the vicious flood of deprivations with new institutions which instead propel self management, solidarity, equity, diversity, ecological sanity, and peace.
I think social and environmental prospects depend very much on people’s choices. Do young people wake up. Do older people wake up. And do awakened people, whether young or old, think clearly enough to discern truly worthy things to do? Finally, and perhaps hardest, can newly awakening people manage to combine collectively to successfully win change? If the answers prove negative, we are in for hell. If the answers prove positive, we will usher in a new and far better human condition.
In conclusion, what would you like to say to all the people reading this interview?
Beyond what you have already asked? I could beseech, I guess, but it would just sound like platitudes. Peace activists, anti racist, immigration, and civil rights activists, women activists, gay and lesbian activists, labor and anti capitalist activists, prison and legal activists, seekers of democracy and participation, all those and many more have for decades and longer pointed to at least the first step: “Get up, stand up.” It isn’t just a wise and catchy lyric. That fact about winning a better future, that you can’t win if you don’t try, isn’t complicated. We must commit to the task. Then, once we commit, we can together think through our options, experiment with various approaches, learn lessons from successes and failures, share insights, create movements and organizations, and collectively win change.