Creating The Common Good By Habit: Nate Garvis at TEDxTC (Transcript)

Following is the full text of author and civic though leader Nate Garvis’ talk titled “Creating The Common Good By Habit” at TEDxTC conference.

Nate Garvis – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

Let’s talk about this fabulous world that we live in, and let’s talk about how can make it a little bit better, because it seems like we’re having a little bit of trouble making it a little bit better these days.

You know, from the dawn of time, we’ve looked at the stars and we’ve said, “Where am I?” and “What does that mean?”

We’ve asked other really important questions of ourselves, questions like, I don’t know, “Why are my crops failing?”

“Why are rivers rising?”

“Why did a puma eat my kid this morning?”

“Why are armies marching?”

And, “Why are very bad things happening to very good people?”

It is a fabulous world, but we have always had very big challenges. There’s a lot of nature and a lot of human nature to overcome, but throughout our history, we’ve always reverted to one thing. And we do it quite well.

We like to make tools. We’re very good at making tools. You know, maybe, I don’t know, maybe I want to track the sun, I want to grow some crops, maybe I would like to, you know, turn it into something tasty, right it down into a recipe. It’s such a good recipe, I want to sell it and buy myself a big house, and make sure it’s heated as well.

Or maybe, I want to just have an aspirin and a cocktail and fly away from it all, right? These are all tools. This is our technology. And, friends, you heard it here first: whiskey is a tool.

But there is a different side of the toolbox. We don’t usually think of these things as invented and as tools, but they are. These are the institutions that populate our lives. All of the civic organizations, all of our governments, all of our religious traditions, all of the businesses that make the technology that we love and drives us nuts, they were all invented as well. They’re all designed.

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And our tools have a ton of power. Not good, not bad, but both. You know, we can look here in the United States and we can think of that as a designed tool as well, and the designed documents are things that we know as the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. And this intention goes into our larger conversation of our tools and making sure that they do good things for us and aid to the common good, because they have this power. You can capture fire and invite the neighbors over for a bowl of chilli.

Or you might want to lob some flaming arrows at them. Capture an atom. You could, you know, power a city, or if you choose to, you could wipe it off the map. You can understand the human genome and start solving some problems around disease, or you can pervert that and create mechanized death. All versions of our tools.

Because they’re powerful, we need to purpose them for the common good. We need to make them regulated. Put this regulation more than, we’re at large, something accountable, something accountable to the common good.

But we’ve been having some problems about this accountable conversation, because we’ve been thinking in a very narrow way. We usually think of regulation as something like this: a law.

But there’s a problem thinking about regulation as only a law. First of all, it’s made in a place like this. This is a temple of conflict, populated by professionally pissed-off people.

Now, think about it. No, seriously. It’s a great design, but it isn’t an adversarial design. You know, committee hearings, party identification, issue identification. It’s actually a great design when the issue at hand is a policy: “I’m black; you’re white. We’ll debate. We’ll get to gray.”

But too infrequently, that’s what it looks like. Too often, it’s about politics, and this is how that design works in politics: “You’re black; I’m white. You have to be blacker; I have to be whiter. And we get killed, if we even look gray.”

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That’s a problem.

We can’t produce very good laws right now, but, guess what, there’s a bigger issue at hand. You see, we live in a world that looks like a whole world right now. We have globalized. And laws are products of physical, political jurisdictions.

Think of the financial crisis. Money, at the technology of money, flowed from New York, to London, to Tokyo, and back, but the tool of law did not follow it. Our technology outstripped an institution. We don’t have a global regulatory framework around finances. We have other kinds of regulation, though, and we always have, quite frankly.

In this case, we have global cooperation with central banks, but we have always populated ourselves with other kinds of regulation, whether it is things like table manners, or rules of the road, accords, religious tradition, contracts.

There’s lots of ways that we regulate our world. What if we looked at regulation as something of habit? What if it was just stuff that we did? I used to describe habit as something that we’re not told to do. And habits live in “habitats”.

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