Before you ask Mike Daisey’s opinion on a subject, make sure you’re sure you want to know! (I am, and I do.)
Remember when I wrote that Daisey, raconteurius nonpariculus, was “one of the most imaginative and entrancing talkers in America”? Dude, I was totally right. Daisey generously gave me an hour of his time, and he had way more interesting things to say than I could possibly use in my preview of The Last Cargo Cult, his latest solo show at Woolly Mammoth.
After the jump, luxuriate in the cogent and persuasive glow of a few more of those glorious “lucid, flowing paragraphs” I mentioned, which Daisey freestyled live and uncut into my iPod one week ago.
Enjoy. I’m seeing the show tonight. Can’t wait.
ON OUR FINANCIAL SYSTEM: “RUNNING AN ENGINE TOO HOT”
“The system is actually quite stable if you run it at a reasonable growth rate. If we ran America with our tax liabilities so that we had one to two percent GDP growth every year, that’s sustainable forever. But nobody thinks that’s acceptable. That’s actually a depression! As a consequence, people want to run it at seven percent, nine percent. It’s like running an engine too hot. If you grow at that rate, you eventually generate a mania and crash. The 20th century had, like, 15 crashes. It’s the same fucking story every time. Nothing was learned. The only way you learn from a crash is for it to go really poorly. They learned from the crash of ’29, because there was a decade-long recession, and people were throwing themselves out of windows and shooting themselves. The market lost 40 percent of its value.”
THE SCIENCE OF ECONOMICS IS SOFT, AND SENSITIVE ABOUT IT
“The problem is with core assumptions. If you identify as a biologist, that means you accept certain things, like scientific theory: You have a hypothesis, and then we’ll test it. Some of the core assumptions of how economics works is intentionally set up to divorce it from humans. One of the reasons that’s done is that all your ‘soft’ sciences — economics, sociology, anthropology — are hungry to be taken as seriously as ‘hard’ sciences like biology and chemistry. And if you want to be taken seriously, that means you need to have laws. You need to be able to say this is X’s law of economics, and prove that it works again and again. But economics is about human behavior. You can upend all economic theory with human behavior.”
THE FORGETTING, IT’S BUBBLICIOUS
“I find it very surprising that it’s 2010, and I’m doing a show that is in large part about a bubble bursting and the aftermath of that bubble. I came to national prominence in 2002 doing a monologue about a bubble bursting and the consequences of that bubble. The only difference is the scale of the bubble. [The 90s] bubble was pretty large. It depressed the tech sector enormously for a number of years. The fallout in long-term capital management about a decade ago would have devastated the markets if a coalition of banks, under the guidance of the Fed, hadn’t banded together and made sure all the losses were covered. That was a decade ago. No one remembers that disaster now. A decade later, the same thing happens, but because globalization keeps increasing, the scale of the disaster is so big that a coalition of banks can’t do jack shit. So now you call in the Federal government. We borrow a huge amount of money and we cover the losses. But nothing has changed.
“Another decade — as globalization increases, the spikes keep getting higher and the drops deeper — there’ll be another crash. Is there anyone who believes there will not be another bubble and another crash? If they’re trending larger, the next one must be larger than the last one. Perhaps the next one will be the one where our trade imbalance with China will finally be pushed over the edge. Chinese bankers, even though we have a knife to their throat and they have a knife to ours, may decide, ‘You know, we should stop this right now. This is going to be very painful, but if we stop it right now, we’ll be in a slightly better position than they will.’ And we will be fucked. We will be insolvent.
“This is a serious problem, an economic problem that no one is grappling with. Until a day ago or something, we had a filibuster-proof Congressional majority, and it’s not even on the slate to talk about these things. We had an economic crash in the fall, and no economic reform has moved forward to the point of even being discussed. By the time it is discussed, the banks will be making record profits again, already, as they are now. The Dow will be back up. No one is going to want to talk about what’s wrong. No one. Nothing is going to happen. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing the show. We need to talk about this. This is a serious problem.”
And the one that I’m going to print out and tape over my desk . . .
BLOCKED? BLAME SOCIETY.
“There are things that need to be talked about. Otherwise, we should give up. I understand that it’s hard for young artists to find their voices. But you know what’s even harder is this language of finding a voice. Like, ‘Why do I matter?’ If you really think about it, that’s really the language of death. If you follow it to its end, it’s like, ‘Why should I speak of this thing? Why would anyone care what I say?’ They all end with, ‘Perhaps I should stop breathing, and then I would die, and then I would take up no resources.’ They always lead to the same fuckin’ place.
“Maybe it’s me, but I think that’s the psychosis. It’s a sign of a society whose priorities are inverted, and puritanically obsessed, that we somehow decide the people who are speaking are the ones who are the problem. And somehow the ‘normal’ people, the baseline normal, are people who are cowed enough that they are not speaking. Because I think that if you’re conscious, and alert — and maybe some people aren’t conscious — but if you are conscious, and you are reading about the things that happen in your culture, and you take them in, there can be no other response but to resonate and to speak. And if you cannot speak because you are so convinced by your culture at large that you have no value, or that you have so little value that no one wants to hear your words, I would hope that instead of despair, that would make people furious. That is fucking terrible, to have a culture constructed in such a way that people perceive that of themselves.”
Read my review of Daisey’s 2009 Woolly Mammoth performance of How Theatre Failed America.