Free entry at the Festival location Forum Stadtpark! -> Full programme info.
Elevate's festival theme 2020 is "Human Nature". What's your second thought about it?
My second thought about the theme Human Nature is that we are collectively starting to realize that our task on this planet - the task of our generation - is to turn around all the misconceptions that we were taught in school, at university, at work, in media and wherever, which intensified over the last few centuries and especially in the last few decades. We are starting to realize that we have to unlearn these misconceptions. That we cannot continue business as usual. That business as usual destroys everything we have and love and that it cannot and will never fulfil us. And that the time to change is now. That human nature is not just our capitalistic understanding of who we are (or what we have), that it is so much more and that we can connect to other sources of knowledge - or more precisely - of wisdom. It is time to let our arrogance go. The arrogance of the belief that we westerners know better - because we obviously don’t. We have the intellectual & technological resources and skills to turn the existential crises we are facing around right now, if we can make ourselves clear in front of the people that somehow are in the position to decide where we are going. But we can’t do it without changing our view on ourselves and on others, and we can’t make these changes by following the paths the people before us went. We have to be brave, we have to be willing to put ourselves in an uncomfortable position and to speak up and to spread our knowledge and at the same time to stay kind and understanding with those who were not able yet to break loose from old habits we all once had. We have to let go of our apathy and motivate others to do the same, because if more people are willing to step up, to speak up, to be loud and clear, those in charge have to follow eventually and change the destructive, unjust system we are currently living in.
We have to be willing to learn from other cultures, from intuition and from nature, then - I think - there is a chance to reach the next step in human evolution.
And your first?
My first thought about the theme is the broad spectrum Human Nature encompasses. Who are we? What makes us human? And does our human nature really imply destruction?
Because it surely looks and feels like it, considering all the problems we cause and did cause in the past. Does our human nature imply killing others, killing innocent creatures and killing the very basis of our lives - meaning our Mother Earth? Who do we think we are? Our whole lives, in western society, we are taught that we, as humans, have a special position on this planet - or actually probably even in the known universe. That we are the most important species here and that we can just take everything we want (that means if we can pay for it of course). On the other hand, I felt this deep disconnection for so long and couldn’t really grasp where it came from. But lately I started to realize where it’s coming from - it comes from the fact that we are a part of this beautiful and amazing planet, that we are carrying it in ourselves and that we bleed when the planet bleeds. Our planet, our home, we are currently destroying because of our ego and our short—sightedness. We are trying to fit in a destructive system, to be recognized by others as worthy of appreciation purely based on materialistic values, instead of focusing on our own inner growth. Why? Does it work? I don’t think so, I don’t see it. And I surely can’t feel it.
Quo Vadis Humanity? In 2009 Elevate's main theme was the climate crisis. 10 years have passed. Whats your take on the next 10?
Looking back the last 10 years, my first thought is that far too little happened. I mean, 10 years ago I was in my teens and even though I felt that something is deeply wrong with this planet, or with humankind in particular, I couldn’t understand it back then. I didn’t know where we were standing.
The world - as calculated by the Mayas - should have gone down by the end of 2012. It didn’t, at least not from one moment to the other - what a relief. The problem with that is that it is currently going down, more than 100 species go extinct every day. But the world is big and we, in central Europe, couldn’t and still cannot really feel it in our own Eurocentric worlview. We always valued our own individual self more than the world around us. 2020 started with massive bushfires in Australia where at least 1 billion animals were burned alive. It is such a horrible fact and thought and still - I have the impression - we can’t, we don’t, we don’t want to REALLY feel it. Because it’s so far away, because we are so used to death (our culture, apparently, can’t even live with the idea of meatless days - an example of many), because something else is always more important, clouding our minds and our hearts. The disconnection is real, but I think slowly but surely, it starts to crumble. Many amazing ideas and lifestyles were (re-)born and got momentum in the last decade - minimalism, veganism, secondhand, etc. - and are gaining more and more followers every day. Right now, I would say that for the majority of our society these lifestyles are still connected with the idea of sacrifices - oh, we don’t like to abstain from things we like or were taught to like - but nevertheless the ideas are spreading and manifesting. And once looked into, one can see that there it's no sacrifice but a major gain by changing the perspective and old habits. That consumption is not our reason to be on this beautiful planet, that to some extent it is a necessary and beautiful part of our lives, that we can enjoy, but that we are so much more than just consumers and with this realization the beauty of life really just begins. I think - or at least hope - that in the next decade these ideas and convictions will spread as fast as the bushfires in Australia. Because if they don’t, life on earth will never be as it used to be.
The relationship of humans and technology - more reasons to be pessimistic or optimistic? Can you name some?
Technology is not my main interest or field of knowledge but from what I have heard and seen there is a trend of using technology wisely and adapting it to the needs of humans and also to nature. I’m thinking about the Ocean Cleanup Project for example that surely has it’s limitations but still raised awareness on the massive scale of plastic pollution. Policy changes were already made to reduce the plastic-problem at it’s source, at the production. Another example I’m thinking about is vertical farming which has the potential to revolutionize our food supply, reducing transportation routes, land and water use massively and at the same time bringing food production to the centre of society - the cities - where the majority of the world population will live by the middle of the century. Additionally, it makes the profession of a fresh produce farmer more accessible and attractive for young people.
And also the whole field of robotics and AI can have immensely positive effects on our society - if treated wisely and if the policy makers path the way for a better life for all (I’m thinking about the unconditional basic income). These are some of my optimistic thoughts regarding this topic. On the other side technology in the past was always connected with the military, war and destruction and the more advanced technology gets, the more destruction it can bring. Also, the whole field of facial recognition etc. can, and probably will, limit our freedom to speak up against injustices etc., which bring us closer and closer to a modern “1984” scenario.
And our relationship with nature? Of course we are "part of it", but....where are we going?
It’s really hard to say where „we“ are going collectively therefore I can just answer that from my own perspective originating from my own little bubble in society. But yeah, from my perspective I would say, that more and more people are starting to appreciate nature again. There is this huge trend of „plant-lovers“ on Instagram among young people, probably because they have to live on this planet the longest. As a consequence, they are drawn to this whole sustainability lifestyle, which includes buying less of what you don’t need, ditching airplanes for trains and busses, going vegan and so on. Another major factor that can be really beneficial for strengthening the relationship to nature is by using psychedelics and I really hope and am willing to fight for a big change in our drug policy to make these experiences accessible to more people that are interested but still too afraid to risk using them while illegal. Legalization alone will not be sufficient, but legalization is the prerequisite to being able to offer guided trips and the like. A lot has to happen there. Up until then the most important thing to build a relationship with nature is to be IN nature and one of the many amazing things about nature is, that nature is the biggest savior we possibly can have. And once there, it’s free of charge. I think projects like the tree-planting-project in Vienna, where 8 million trees will be planted in the next couple of years, will become more widespread, so at least a piece of nature will be easier to access even in bigger cities. From my perspective I would say that green cities will contribute massively to a change in our relationship with nature.
"Psycho-spiritual crisis", "a psychotic society",... How bad is the status quo of humanity?
Uff, I would say right now it’s really bad. I study psychology and the prevalence of mental disorders is rising every year. More people are depressed and anxious than ever (and I mean, it’s not a surprise if you’re looking at all the problems we are facing). On top of that people are distancing themselves from religion (at least from Christianity), often without having another spiritual practice or guidance they could follow. And I believe it’s an inherent wish of our souls to grow and to expand. On the other hand, we have access to everything, to every spiritual practice we could think of and the beautiful thing about that is that people are finding them and finding each other, talking about this topic. Diving into it. Feeling into it. And finding their own truth, not the truth of some guy who’s telling you what to believe in. I was raised in a Bahá'í-family (if you never heard of it, it’s the youngest world-religion and I love most of their ideas and views on humanity, you should check it out) and the Bahá'í-religion empathizes the „Independent search for truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition“. That’s what we need. We are in this unique position in time to really be able to take responsibility of our beliefs and of our lives.
A message to the Elevate Festival community? What can we do?
The fact that you are here, that you are interested in these discourses, is amazing. Thank you! Getting informed about the situation on this planet is a necessary requirement to act and I’m sure you all know that already. My message is to get active, talk to people, get in touch with each other and create beautiful things and exciting ideas together. We won’t be able to change our situation individually and we don’t have to, there are enough good people out there that are also unhappy with where we are heading right now. To sum up my thoughts here is another quote from a big thinker of the past, Socrates: „The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.“
Elevate features many amazing artists in the music & arts programme. Can we meet you on the Dancefloor too?
Oh I guess you can! I have to check out what where and when but I for sure know that I will be spending as much time at the Festival as I possibly can. I’m really excited about the opportunity to be a part of this beautiful gathering and hope to see you at our workshop on Sunday! :)
Free entry at the Festival location Forum Stadtpark! -> Full programme info.