USA as an Experiment

Interview with Valerie Olson

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Video transcript: "So one of the cultural notes of pride that certain groups of elites want to invoke when they talk about the United States is that it's a political experiment in democracy, or that it's a place in which people can experiment with new ideas and new ways of living. That idea of experimentation is a settler colonial idea that occurs after the violent removal and killing of indigenous peoples. What that experiment idea allows, like the idea of frontier, is for a sense of newness or an attempt to think differently about social organization.

And I think that paradox, that the idea of the experiment, or the idea of the frontier that the U.S. has come to symbolize is, on the one hand, a violent idea of complete transformation and appropriation of spaces and resources, with this idea of creating something new, is exactly, I think, what people face when they think about sustainable solutions. And I think there's something instructive to remembering that even ideas like sustainability, or ideas like efficiency, or ideas like innovation have, on the one hand, these promises, they carry these promises with them, this promissory idea of improvement, of advancement. They also have embedded in them all kinds of ideas that are taken for granted about what kinds of resources and what kinds of processes are the best to use.

Southern California is a great example of a gigantic experiment in the sustaining of mega-populations of people with resources brought in from the outside. We do not have enough water here to sustain these metropolises and water is trucked in from elsewhere, it's being pumped out from elsewhere. We have food coming in from elsewhere. So this experiment that's happening in Southern California is also creating a set of pressures that lead to other experiments. And so there's a lot of work in this area, with people trying to understand how to respond to increasing extremification: in the hydrology labs, in the ecology labs… Everyone is trying to figure out what to do with this growing extreme, a paradox in which the pressures and problems created by powerful elites and industrial elites are leading to these experimental responses."

Other interviews with Valerie Olson

Related tags: Tactic, Story, Sustainability, Innovation, Extreme,