During my morning walk today, while taking in the Onam visuals, I was at the same time absorbing sound, in the form of conversation, from the same phone that was snapping pictures. I use the time of my walks to listen to podcasts, one of the easiest ways for me to stay attuned to happenings and ideas from the USA, my onetime home, and home to many of the people who visit properties we manage.
The central idea of today’s podcast, at once frank about the perils of the “Age” we are in now but also optimistic about how to harness modern tools to navigate these times, took me by surprise:
Some 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg, Nicolaus Copernicus, Michelangelo and others were part of the Renaissance, a time of significant cultural change. Now, authors Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna say we are in the midst of a second Renaissance.
…How do you think DaVinci and Michelangelo would navigate the situation today?
Kurtana: As you look at the history of the first Renaissance, one of the famous people who really had the best grasp of what was happening in the time he lived in was Machiavelli [Niccolo Machiavelli of Florence, author of The Prince, published in 1513]. Today, Machiavelli gets a bad wrap because he’s seen as Machiavellian. Historians themselves nowadays debate whether Machiavelli really was all that Machiavellian. But that conversation aside, he too said that we live in a moment of contest. One of his pieces of wisdom, of advice, to his contemporaries, which included DaVinci and Michelangelo, is that in a time of rapid upheaval, “It is better to be impetuous than cautious. We’ve got to continue to take risks.”
It was a very strange thing to say because it seemed very counterintuitive. The more fraught with risk our environment becomes, the more we want to hesitate, to press pause, to wait and see how things are going to fall out. Machiavelli told all of his peers, “No, no, no, that instinct is exactly backward.” Because in a time of rapid change, whatever our present habits are, they are rapidly becoming outdated, ill-suited to the time we live in, even dangerous to maintain. It’s bold action, it’s impetuous action, that shows the rest of us, what’s the new way of doing things, right? What’s the new wisdom that operates better in the time we live in?
And so we need to continue to take risks, to reset our expectations, and reset our basic habits of action so that we don’t just get left behind by the world that is changing around us.
It is worth listening to Kurtana’s ideas about how our times parallel those times, but one interesting thought that came to me was that if he is correct, then perhaps Werner Herzog is wrong. This imaginative, documentarian storyteller speaks of our age–specifically the same technological tools we now wrestle with–in a really different way. I have not seen the film he recently released, but in this interview he shares his conclusion that we are in an age equivalent to when man first mastered fire. From Herzog’s website: