The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, better known as the Royal Society for the Arts, and best known simply as the RSA, was founded in 1754. At the time, nobody could have imagined a world in which the people of every land, no matter how far-flung, could hear the same talks by well-known scholars and speakers, let alone see them animated as if on a conference-room whiteboard. Yet even back then, in an era before the invention of animation and whiteboards, let alone computers and the internet, people had an appetite for strong, often counterintuitive or even contrarian ideas to diagnose and potentially even solve social problems — an appetite for which the RSA Animate series of videos was made.
We can't understand what goes right and what goes wrong in our societies without understanding how we think. To that end the RSA has commissioned animated videos based on talks by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist on our "divided brain," former political strategist (and current RSA Chief Executive) Matthew Taylor on how our left and right brains shape our politics, psychologist Steven Pinker on language as a window into human nature, philosopher-sociologist Renata Salecl on the paradoxical downside of choice, psychologist Philip Zimbardo on our perception of time, "social and ethical prophet" Jeremy Rifkin on empathy, philosopher Roman Krznaric on "outrospection," journalist Barbara Ehrenreich on "the darker side of positive thinking," and behavioral-economics researcher Dan Ariely on drive and dishonesty.
Economics is another field that has provided the RSA with a surfeit of animatable material — even of the kind "economists don’t want you to see," as the RSA promotes economist Ha-joon Chang's talk on "why every single person can and SHOULD get their head around basic economics" and "how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel."
Freakonomics co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner make an appearance to break down altruism, and "economic geographer" David Harvey attempts to envision a system beyond capitalism. And on the parts of the intellectual map where economics overlaps politics, the RSA brings us figures like Slavoj Žižek, who "investigates the surprising ethical implications of charitable giving."
As, in essence, an educational enterprise, RSA Animate videos also look into new ways to think about education itself. Educationalist Carol Dweck examines the issues of "why kids say they’re bored at school, or why they stop trying when the work gets harder" by looking at what kind of praise helps young students, and what kind harms them.
Education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson explains the need to change our very paradigms of education. And according to the RSA's speakers, those aren't the only paradigms we should change: Microsoft Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin argues that we should re-imagine work, and technology critic Evgeny Morozov argues that we should rethink the "cyber-utopianism" that has exposed harmful side-effects of our digital world.
But it is in this world that the RSA promotes "21st-century enlightenment," a concept further explored in another talk by Matthew Taylor — and one of which you can get a few doses, ten minutes at a time, on the full RSA Animate Youtube playlist. Watch the complete playlist of 21 videos, from start to finish, below.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.