The "Yes, and..." Culture

In improvisational theater and comedy, one of the first rules of participation is allowing co-creation. Basically, instead of saying “No, wait!” you respond to your collaborators with “Yes, and…” to continue the conversation and start to create something great together.

That principle of collaborative and cumulative creation is a fundamental aspect of modern culture in general. Remixing, rebooting, remaking and re-imagining culture require a “Yes, and…” aesthetic. When a moment of online inspiration blossoms into a full-fledged meme, communities from 4Chan to YouTube are demonstrating their embrace of improvisational culture.

But this doesn’t just apply to goofy web memes. This could be an interesting, even important aspect of how society and policy evolve as well.

Yes, and…

Take, for example, the recent Citizens United case at the Supreme Court. The ruling states, in effect, that companies can now spend an unlimited amount of their funds on political campaign ads for various candidates. People who prefer humans to corporations are, naturally, concerned about the pending completion of the corporate takeover of elections.

So, opponents of the decision are reacting as you’d expect, by trying to pass legislation to undo this damage to our democracy. But trying to roll back the clock on this sort of thing tends to get into the usual long, expensive, unproductive cultural-battle-masquerading-as-political-battle that makes so many of us get turned off by politics.

What could it look like in a “Yes, and….” culture, though? What if, while acknowledging that spending is not speech, we decide to forgo trying to roll back the law, and instead roll it forward? Yes, corporations can buy political advertisements, but what if any employee of the corporation could submit the content of the advertisement? The last video in before a TV station’s programming deadline would be the one that went on the air, privileging those who are nimble with media, instead of just corporate officers.

Or if we struggle with Arizona’s new law which allows police to detain suspected undocumented immigrants, instead of merely fighting to repeal the policy, we should extend it. Any legal resident or citizen of the United States who is wrongly detained by the police should get a free gun, perhaps one of those confiscated by the police. In that way, when we abridge the Fourth Amendment rights of someone, we make it up to them by supporting their Second Amendment rights. You want to protect the rights of Americans? Yes, and… we do too.

While the particular examples might be polarizing, the key principle is that you don’t change culture by trying to stuff the cat back into the bag. I’m writing this up mostly as a reminder to myself, but hopefully some of you will find it useful, too.

Relatedly: What happens when vast numbers of social networking citizens find another law that they consider irrelevant? It’s a million mixer march.