This is the transcript of a speech I gave at the inaugural speakeasy, a gathering of social innovators that I organized in New York City (it was called Magazine at the time... funny how things change).
Dear old friends, new friends, and people I haven’t yet had a chance to meet: thank you, sincerely, for coming to the first gathering of Magazine.
My name is Abeer Desai, and quite frankly, I am scared shitless because I have never done anything like this before. That’s generally an indication of being on the right track, but If I am mistaken, please allow me to 3 minutes to deliver a few thoughts before ejecting me off this table and smacking me in the face for being too optimistic.
The communist experiment began with the best of intentions—liberty and equality for all—and defined the intellectual discourse of the 20th century. However, like any experiment, its true value resides not in design or intent, but in an analysis of its outcome.
There are two ways to view the facts. As they really are, and as we might wish them to be: Communism lost and Capitalism won. It is a cold, hard fact: the failure of a cultural innovation that should be approached with the same dispassionate quest for the truth that nature imposes on her biological ones. Bad innovations become extinct.
Like children of the night, our species has made a journey of unspeakable beauty over the past 200,000 years. Those early humans had the same capacity for love, fear, and abstract thought. The only difference between them and us was the voluminous encyclopedia of information about our universe—the universe out there, in here, and all around us—that we carry in our heads. Information that countless generations of humanity tediously accrued through bold, experimental thinking. It took over 199,000 years of human experience to uncover the simple truth that we were not designed, but again the biological result of bold, experimental thinking by nature.
Regardless of whatever achievements any of us ever attain, we have stood on the shoulders of giants ladies and gentlemen. The countless, nameless men and women who preceded us. Who build towering tributes to the immortal sun god, who believed Christianity was the one true path and unleashed an inquisition on those who disagreed, who devised the structure of a Corporation to sail across the oceans to colonize India. Whatever their ignorance, whatever their folly. I forgive them—their ignorance and their folly—because they are our relatives in the most intimate sense of the word. Not a single one of us would be standing in this room without their courageous actions and quest for the truth.
The Internet changes everything. The rate of cultural innovation has accelerated at an unfathomable speed, the concept of space irrevocably altered. The profound truth that all men, that all individuals are created equal spread with an innovation known as the printing press. What profound truths will we use our printing press to spread, to build solidarity, remove ignorance, and improve our lives?
My belief is that the key ideological struggle of the 21st century will be to bring a conscience to capitalism. Many of you in this room have been discussing ideas on how to achieve just that. The work I want to do in this world involves tweaking the system, or modifying marginal incentives, but by striking directly into the hearts of the “smart nodes”—the human beings—that operate this system. To imbue a sense of meaning, and a purpose higher than the individual that both close-minded, mainstream religions, and the shallow, self-centered ideology of consumerism have failed to address. Capitalism is just a way of managing capital and labor far more efficiently than any one group of people ever could. But how these resources are managed—what the word efficiency means—depends wholly on the individuals running the system: every single one of us.
While political power reached a stalemate with the atomic bomb, economic power has deftly replaced it. Corporations today are more powerful than governments. Every dollar is a vote for which ones we want to keep in power. This is a meta-political system that after the heroic journey from ignorance to truth our species has undergone finally has the capability to span the entire world and unite us as one—free from the blinding ignorance for division and dispute of our ancestors.
The truth is, for every dollar spent, you are not merely buying something for yourself. You are buying something for the rest of this planet—whether you like it or not. You are buying the continuation of a certain cultural concept of how business should be done.
Look at this dollar bill. By withholding it—by all of us withholding it—corporations will crumble. This is guerilla capitalism, and hinges entirely on a global, planetary reevaluation of our values. However, no level of global consciousness will matter without practical alternatives—corporations that are savvy with our generation’s need for authenticity, love, and solidarity amongst people.
One final point is that I would like you to take a second and think of the sound of your own voice. Not the voice you speak with, but the voice that speaks to you—inside your head. This voice has never existed in the history of the cosmos, and without a doubt will exist never again. The world will change whether you want it to or not. When you die, you die. So sing your song out loud while you are still a cast member of this cosmic drama.