Leaving Tangier

A reflection by Martha Schabas

The House community gathered last week for Between the Two of Us, the 2024 edition of our signature festival. More than 85 speakers and 750 global leaders in business, science, art, and activism came to Tangier, Morocco, to craft a narrative for a life-centered economy. In this reflection, our editorial director, Martha Schabas, explores some of the most compelling discussions and insights that emerged.

The day after the festival, I left Tangier by train and traveled south across the country. The landscape changes dramatically once you pass Casablanca. Save for the odd desiccated shrub, the vegetation is subsumed by an orange desert that extends in all directions. I watched the sun set from my old-fashioned berth (Morocco’s new high-speed trains only follow the coastline) and thought about the preceding days.

I had dozens of powerful provocations to reflect on. Political pundit Anand Giridharadas spoke of the U.S.’s existential crisis and the incredible force of the country’s student body as they speak truth to a jaded world. Futurist Geci Karuri-Sebina spoke of the way data and technology are creating temporal inequalities, to the extent that we are no longer occupying the same present. Poet Puno Selesho lifted our spirits with an electrifying song of Blackness and girlhood. Peace builder Aziz Abu Sarah reminded us that activism doesn’t have to start with grand ambitions; we need only “bring our spoons.”

Here are the most powerful ideas that stuck with me:

We must make the right choice

“They killed my brother, but they didn’t kill my ability to make a choice.” 

Aziz Abu Sarah, peacebuilder

Choice was a theme that recurred in different guises. Our agency over how we react and behave gives us power to reshape the world. This idea applies to feminism, climate change, and peacebuilding; it’s about recognizing the enduring distortions of patriarchy as much as it is about deciding to buy second-hand goods. It’s about refusing to inherit old grievances and stopping cycles of violence and pain. Choice is the recognition that we are responsible for our own understanding of the world. We author our own realities and should live in accordance with their values and aspirations.

It’s time to rethink time

“We are no longer occupying the same present.”

Geci Karuri-Sebina, futurist

The tech-forward world, compounded by our obsessions with productivity and efficiency, has distorted our perception of time. A lack of diversity behind the development of machine intelligence has meant that our experience of this temporal distortion is unequal, too. We must reconceptualize being in time. By tolerating the ambivalence of each moment, we’ll glean wisdom on how to live richer and more meaningful lives.

Complicated and complex are not one and the same

“We are so trapped in a reductionist way of thinking that we can’t see a pathway out of our challenges.”

John Fullerton, regenerative economist

The church of economics has propagated the belief that everything can be reduced to supply and demand, and that other forces naturally fall away. But the human economy is a living system, full of various layers, dynamic input, and diverse stakeholders. To honor the complexity of life on earth, we must challenge ourselves to look beyond what can be whittled down to a theory.

Death is coming

“We must build cities to live in and die in. That is what makes a civilization.”

Soraya Hosni Gonzales, agritech entrepreneur

I’m haunted by the discussion of death and the way it kept popping up in different incarnations. There was a consensus among the progressive economists who spoke that things need to die in order for life-centered sustainability to emerge (among these things: glorified consumerism, superfluous industries, the god of GDP). We can expect a rocky road as these old tenets fall to the wayside. But we also explored how the shortness of life is part of what makes it precious and meaningful, and how that meaning underscores our responsibility to the generations to come.

We need to build a world that we are comfortable to leave.

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