Bear with me, here, for a bit. What, you ask, is Amanda (F!@#$%) Palmer doing on an obscure minor blog about Peak Everything and the possible/probable collapse of an increasingly complex industrial civilization and extreme climate change?
OK, first things first, as they say (i.e., full disclosure). I met her ages ago, and actually have had a few conversations with her about some of the things that are discussed here on a regular basis. She’s actually written her own bit about it (a long time ago), after she saw a talk by the very level headed Richard Heinberg. She is one of the hardest working and driven people I’ve ever met. She’s probably met a few hundred thousand people by now, and my guess is that she’s made friends with a lot of them. She’s even written a book, and yes, even done a TED talk.
That’s not the important part here; the important part is that we need people like this to lead.
Why, you ask, should we listen to an eccentric artist, ask her to take charge, run for office, make policy, or give advice? Shouldn’t we be asking people with experience in governance, technocrats and the like to take the reins of power? We’ve done that already, and to be frank – those folks haven’t done a great job, partly because many of them have never lived close to the ground, nor have they had to actually interact with people and convince them to do something without the threat of force or the law.
Some observations here:
One – people who are artists have known the daily grind of eking out a living. For years, the part that kept Amanda fed was the business of being a living statue, while she honed her craft as an artist and musician. When the time came to actually be a full-time musician (with another incredibly talented and hard working musician, Brian Viglione), they put in countless hours on the road, and more importantly, made real-life connections to their fans, who wound up having (and giving) deep and honest support to them. When people wondered how Amanda got her million-dollar attention on Kickstarter, it was years of meeting, talking, and connecting with people that laid the groundwork for that. Performers know how to connect with people.
Two – she, like other leaders, knew how to delegate, but also knew when to step in. There were some legendary events held at the Cloud Club, her domicile and the residence of quite a few other eccentric and creative characters. These were not simple affairs or just parties; there were multiple acts; films, performances and artwork. As someone who pitched in from time to time, it was interesting to watch how those events took place. If you’ve ever worked backstage for any sort of production, you know how complex these sorts of things can become. There were other events in the art/performance community in that era, and it always appeared to me that the hallmark of smooth running events was delegation of work, and the ability of the hosts (leaders) to attract responsible people to help pitch in and get things done. At the same time, when push came to shove, and mission critical choices had to be made (live shows and events always have glitches, even the best planned ones), they were done, and the show(s) went on.
Three – Probably most importantly, The Brigade. One of the hallmarks of the Dresden Dolls (the band that Amanda and Brian formed) was a culture of creativity and engagement that accompanied and complimented the “regular” show performance. This wasn’t audience participation in the Rocky Horror Picture Show kind (throw things at the screen) of vein, but something more; a way for people to bring their own creativity forward. An old FAQ of what the Brigade did (required reading if you want the full gist of things) has this essential piece of commentary, Amanda hatched the idea to make the experience much more than “watching the band play.” The key bit here was that people should stop being purely passive receivers of art, but active participants in its creation, at whatever level they felt comfortable. Some might consider this to be a modern version of those who used to follow the Grateful Dead or Phish, but to call the participants in the Brigade fans wouldn’t be quite on the mark. There was more of a direct connection, and a desire for the audience to become more than an audience; “We want the Brigade to be more than people getting dressed up for a Dresden Dolls show.”
Sure, she has an ego and a penchant for performance – that’s part of being an artist. Will you agree with everything she has said and done? Of course not; do you agree with everything even your closest friends has done? Being in the public eye, alas, is a tricky business, and double edged sword. If you’ve got 1.1+ million twitter followers, any comment that isn’t perfectly tweaked is going to amplified, and certainly not agreed with by everyone. This, of course, it the reason George Clooney has said he’d never join it ( “I like to have a drink at night,” … “I could easily say something stupid, and I also don’t think you need to be that available.“).
In our strange future, good leaders who can bring disparate forces together are going to be required. Some of us will be loyal lieutenants and sappers, doing the engineering/engine room work, making the little pieces come together, and ensuring essential infrastructure stays intact (things like communications, safety, sanitation). Some of us will lead small teams. We all, for sure, will need to get involved in this world and our nation, rather than being passive audience members. We will certainly need grand leaders, however, and unconventional ones at that. They may come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Amanda Palmer is that sort of person. We should be on the lookout for such folks; people who can command without being sociopaths, who can lead without coercion, and who understand the reality of the world.
Who knows? Amanda Palmer for President?
This week’s questions:
- What are some of the characteristics of good leaders? Of bad ones?
- From where else would we get a new breed of leaders? Might we select our leaders and representatives via lot, as was done in ancient Greece?
- Do you think we would do any worse with artists and other non-technocrats as leaders? Ronald Reagan (love or hate him; I wasn’t too keen on him), knew how lead, or at least set the tone for a worldview.
- It is said that people who want to be president automatically disqualify themselves from the office. How do we get good people to lead?
- Cincinnatus is the template for leaders who do the job of solving a society’s problems, and then go back to their old lives (a topic for another day). Do we have any examples of that in modern society? Would artists and others from different worlds be more or less likely to follow this lead?