Voice and Exit Festival Forges Paths to Utopia of Utopias

By: Fergus Hodgson - @FergHodgson - Jun 23, 2015, 2:42 pm

For more than 400 free thinkers gathered in Austin, Texas, over the weekend, a single utopia was not enough. With the tagline “maximize human potential,” participants at the third annual Voice and Exit festival explored the frontiers of entrepreneurship and innovation towards a utopia of utopias — from bossless organizations (holacracy) and seasteading to “conscious capitalism” and the philosophy of action.

Although diverse in content and audience, the event’s distinct name signals the unifying themes or “human algorithm,” as promoted by cofounder Max Borders: “voice” refers to persuasion and peaceful association, and “exit” refers to creating one’s own systems and alternatives to escape the status quo. Borders advocates “criticism through creation” and “non-coercive means of making social change.”

Organizers divided the two-day event into three phases: seeds, sprouts, and harvest — moving from short speeches on provocative ideas to small-group discussions and then finally to action plans on Sunday. The festival, which included talks on health and physiology, also featured various artistic performances and live painting.

Voice and Exit participants joined in group artistic works, alongside the presentations and group discussions. (PanAm Post)
Voice and Exit participants joined in group artistic work, alongside the presentations and discussions. (PanAm Post)

Dylan Evans was one of the featured speakers, a British author now based in Guatemala, and he explained the respect for individuality and creativity on account of there not being a “one-size-fits-all” ideal.

“A utopia really is … a space that gives room for lots of different people to do their own way of living, to set up their own experiment. Some of those will fail; some of them will attract more people,” but “that broad framework of freedom to innovate” is what Evans was there to promote.

The youthful crowd heard from John Mackey, Whole Foods Market founder and chief executive, as he promoted mission-oriented ventures. He sought to break down the distinction between for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and remove the bad wrap that the former type receives.

“Business is fundamentally good, because it is the greatest value creator in the world,” he said. “For-profit business creates far more value than all the governments and all the nonprofits added together, by an exponential factor.” He added that business is also ethical, “because it’s based on voluntary exchange.”

One of the recurring terms was creative destruction. Education entrepreneur Isaac Morehouse of Praxis, for example, explained how he was providing an accelerated and targeted form of higher education, for those not willing to wait through the conventional four-year bachelors degree. He echoed the sentiment of a fellow speaker, author and media entrepreneur Ryan Holiday, who dropped out of college to engage with a wider audience.

The event website explicitly shunned politics as obsolete — “the era of force is passing away” — but that didn’t mean policy was irrelevant to attendees. Many speakers addressed the tension between the eagerness to innovate and the lag time of laws and government. Jeffrey Tucker of opined that in the meantime many people would suffer the wrath of protectionism, and shared sadness at the life prison sentence imposed on the founder of the online black-market platform Silk Road.

Randolph Hencken (left) shares insights on the progress of the Seasteading Institute, flanked from left to right by Joe Quirk, Dylan Evans, and Michael Strong. (PanAm Post)
Randolph Hencken (left) shares insights on the progress of the Seasteading Institute, flanked from left to right by colleague Joe Quirk, Dylan Evans of the Utopia Experiment, and education entrepreneur Michael Strong. (PanAm Post)

Others offered potential arbitrage opportunities and ways out from underneath such laws. Michael Strong explained the ZEDEs or special development zones in Honduras, while Randolph Hencken and Joe Quirk went over the prospects and challenges associated with starting communities on the ocean. Despite many setbacks, they remain hopeful of finding a friendly host nation that will permit such a project on their waters.

Along the same lines, Alex Tabarrok, an economics professor of George Mason University, spoke of the moral problem of border constraints. He described these as a grave barrier to human progress and a form of discrimination. He believes that “the big picture, however, is in the right direction. Most notably, take a look at the European Union.… That is an incredible achievement in humanity.… Now people are free to move across these countries.”

Sara Robertson was a local attendee who volunteered to man one of the booths in exchange for entry. She came “just to learn new thoughts and ideas,” and described herself as a non-scholastic, an opponent of traditional education. It turned out “a little more on the nerdy side … really free thinking,” although she enjoyed the bio-hacking portion.

Max Borders shared that attendance exceeded expectations, and that half a dozen attendees hoped to start spin-off events in other cities. Although he was excited about that, “there’s always a question of growing too fast, getting too big for your britches,” he said. “But certainly we would like to replicate this.”

Editor’s note: there will be in-depth interviews to come from this event. Stay tuned to the PanAm Post.

Fergus Hodgson Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson was the founding editor in chief of the PanAm Post, up until January 2016, and he now studies finance at Tulane University in Louisiana and Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala. Originally from New Zealand, he has also lived in Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Ireland, and the United States. Follow @FergHodgson and his Facebook page.

Chilean Teachers Prefer to Strike than Play Ball with Reform

By: Belén Marty - @belenmarty - Jun 23, 2015, 1:15 pm

EspañolWhile the eyes of the continent are focused on the Copa América soccer tournament, Chilean teachers begin their fourth week on strike, protesting proposed education reforms that threaten to make significant changes to their profession. On Wednesday, June 17, teachers and professors from across the country convened in Santiago to demand legislators withdraw the Teaching Profession Bill, currently being debated in the Chilean Congress. Those protesting claim teachers were not consulted by the Education Commission or the Ministry of Education at the time the controversial bill was written, and feel that their rights have been violated. In their call for lawmakers to withdraw the bill, teachers and student leaders highlighted 11 issues with the legislation, including the implementation of certification exams, changes in salary and performance evaluations, and an overall "reduction of rights." The College of Teachers of Chile (CPC) said in a press release that they were pleased by the more than 200,000 teachers that have turned out to protest throughout the country. "More than 130 buses arrived in Santiago from several regions across the country, demonstrating a large organizational deployment with great support and enthusiasm. The strike continues throughout the whole country, with 95 percent of public-school teachers participating and many from charter schools joining in as well," CPC Chairman Jaime Gajardo said. On Friday, June 12, the Congress suspended debate on the bill in an effort to build a dialogue between lawmakers, the Ministry of Education, and the CPC. CPC's national assembly, however, voted on Thursday, June 18, to continue the strike indefinitely. "National Assembly: delegates are debating the document submitted by the Education Committee." "Despite all the pressures, we will continue for as long as it's necessary," Jorge Abedrapo, chairman of CPC's metropolitan chapter, said. "The [bill's] implementation will lead to a competitive education market, and we are opposed to this and consider education a social right. We say no to certification, which is a central part of this bill." Meritocracy for Teachers? According to a May 11 CPC poll, 97 percent of Chilean teachers disapprove of the eduction reforms spearheaded by President Michelle Bachelet. Camila Vallejo, congresswoman for the Communist Youth Party and president of the Education Committee, says she considers the request to shelve the project "nonsense." "The request to withdraw the bill is, from my point of view, nonsense for the objectives of school teachers, because it leaves us unable to influence and help with a real teaching career. If they simply withdraw the bill, which the executive has already said they will not do, all that we're left with, unfortunately, is to reject the idea of legislating," she said. Among the major points of disagreement within the original bill is a proposal for salary adjustments based on the academic performance of each teacher, which would be determined by a rating system developed by the government. For more than three weeks, the strike has caused 2,200 charter schools to shut down, and over a million students to be out of class. The bill, however, is tied to one of the more highly anticipated education reforms promised by President Bachelet: a plan for the government to cover all university tuition for low-income students by 2016. Incentivizing Education Former Education Minister Harald Beyer says the proposal's value is in the way it will incentivize high-performing teachers. He insists the bill will change the face of the Chilean education system by "attacking one of its fundamental problems, which is the need to attract and retain the best teachers to produce high-quality education." Beyer notes that teacher salaries are presently based primarily on experience, while job performance only accounts for 5 percent of an educator's income. "We want to change this. Everyone will start at the same level, and then be able to progress, as time goes on, to a true career based on their commitment, skills, and knowledge. They will climb up and be recognized as professionals throughout all of Chile." The former minister believes this will give all teachers the same opportunity to increase their earnings. "Not everyone will be able to reach the highest level, but everyone will have the opportunity to do so. Today, this option does not exist, and that's the fundamental change we want to make." Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

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