[BOOK] Michael Specter’s ‘Denialism’: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives
First Broadcast: November 07, 2009
Refusing Flu Shots? Maybe You’re A ‘Denialist’
Nearly 20 percent of the families in Vashon Island, Wash., aren’t getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases. At the Ocean Charter School near Marina del Rey, Calif., 40 percent of the 2008 kindergarten class received vaccination exemptions. Author Michael Specter says the parents in these upscale enclaves are prime examples of what he calls “denialism.”
That’s also the title of his new book, . “We can all believe irrational things,” the author of Denialism tells NPR’s Scott Simon. “The problem is that I think an increasing number of Americans are acting on those beliefs instead of acting on facts that are readily present.”
The Motives And Consequences of ‘Denialism’
But the Vashon Island and Marina del Rey communities aren’t places where religious or cultural traditions argue against vaccinations —- like the Amish or Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Instead, they believe vaccinations are harmful to their children, citing stories they’ve heard about mistakes by doctors or pharmaceutical fraud.
But, Specter says, when parents make that decision, they focus on the one-in-10-million chance that a vaccine could kill a child and ignore the one-in-1,000 chance that a disease will do so. “These people retreat into denialism,” he says. “It’s like denial, but writ large, [because] this has consequences.”
Those consequences don’t just affect the children who go unvaccinated, but everyone they interact with as well, Specter adds. He points out that diseases like measles, which had almost been eradicated in North America, are now coming back.
The Fetish Of Organic Food
“Denialism,” the author says, is evident in far more than vaccination rates. Take organic food. Specter considers himself a fan, but he draws the line at demonizing genetically engineered food.
“In other parts of the world,” he says, “a billion people go to bed hungry every night. Those people need science to help them. It isn’t about whether people want to go to Whole Foods or not … The thing that killed the most people in the history of the world — except maybe for insects —- was pure water and natural, untreated food.”
He argues that some people look at “natural” products, such as vitamins, and think that they’re automatically good. But, he argues, “it’s no different than anything else you swallow.”
“Someone told me they didn’t want to take a flu shot because they didn’t want to put a foreign substance into their body,” says Specter. “What do they think they do at dinner every night?”
by MICHAEL SPECTER
The most blatant forms of denialism are rarely malevolent; they combine decency, a fear of change, and the misguided desire to do good — for our health, our families, and the world. That is why so many physicians dismiss the idea that a patient’s race can, and often should, be used as a tool for better diagnoses and treatment. Similar motivations — in other words, wishful thinking — have helped drive the growing national obsession with organic food. We want our food to taste good, but also to be safe and healthy. That’s natural. Food is more than a meal, it’s about history, culture, and a common set of rituals. We put food in the mouths of our children; it is the glue that unites families and communities. And because we don’t see our food until we eat it, any fear attached to it takes on greater resonance.
The corrosive implications of this obsession barely register in America or Europe, where calories are cheap and food is plentiful. But in Africa, where arable land is scarce, science offers the only hope of providing a solution to the growing problem of hunger. To suggest that organic vegetables, which cost far more than conventional produce, can feed billions of people in parts of the world without roads or proper irrigation may be a fantasy based on the finest intentions. But it is a cruel fantasy nonetheless.
Denialist arguments are often bolstered by accurate information taken wildly out of context, wielded selectively, and supported by fake experts who often don’t seem fake at all. If vast factory farms inject hormones and antibiotics into animals, which is often true and always deplorable, then all industrial farming destroys the earth and all organic food helps sustain it. If a pricey drug like Nexium, the blockbuster “purple pill” sold so successfully to treat acid reflux disease, offers few additional benefits to justify its staggering cost, then all pharmaceutical companies always gouge their customers and “natural” alternatives — largely unregulated and rarely tested with rigor — offer the only acceptable solution.
We no longer trust authorities, in part because we used to trust them too much. Fortunately, they are easily replaced with experts of our own. All it takes is an Internet connection. Anyone can seem impressive with a good Web site and some decent graphics. Type the word “vaccination” into Google and one of the first of the fifteen million or so listings that pops up, after the Centers for Disease Control, is the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it’s just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.
Fifty years ago, we venerated technology. At least until we placed our feet on lunar soil, our culture was largely one of uncritical reverence for the glories that science would soon deliver. The dominant image of popular American culture was progress. TV shows like Star Trek andThe Jetsons were based on a kind of utopian view of the scientific future. Even the Flintstones were described as a “modern” Stone Age family. We were entering an era without disease or hunger. If we ran out of water we would siphon salt from the seas and make more; if nature was broken we could fix it. If not, we could always move to another planet.
That vision no longer seems quite so enchanting. No doubt our expectations were unreasonable — for science and for ourselves. We also began to recognize the unintended consequences of our undeniable success. About a month before Neil Armstrong made his large step on the moon, the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River erupted in flames near Cleveland, creating an indelible image of industry at war with nature. A few years later, in 1976, Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support, igniting the first horrific battle of the modern era over how we live and die. The end of the decade was marked by the ghastly accident at Three Mile Island, which showed more clearly than ever that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not all benign. The thalidomide disaster, mad cow disease, even the dramatic and sustained lies of Big Tobacco have all contributed to the sense that if the promise of science wasn’t a lie, it wasn’t exactly the truth either.
Today the image of a madman whipping up a batch of smallpox, or manufacturing an effective version of bird flu in his kitchen, while not exactly as easy as baking a cake, is no longer so far-fetched. Indeed, if there is anything more frightening than the threat of global nuclear war, it is the certainty that humans not only stand on the verge of producing new life forms but may soon be able to tinker with them as if they were vintage convertibles or bonsai trees.
Our technical and scientific capabilities have brought the world to a turning point, one in which accomplishments clash with expectations. The result often manifests itself as a kind of cultural schizophrenia. We expect miracles, but have little faith in those capable of producing them. Famine remains a serious blight on humanity, yet the leaders of more than one African nation, urged on by rich Europeans who have never missed a meal, have decided it would be better to let their citizens starve than to import genetically modified grains that could feed them.
Food is a compelling example of how fear has trumped science, but it is not the only evidence that we are waging a war against progress, rather than, as Peter Melchett would have it, against nature. The issues may be complex but the choices are not: we are either going to embrace new technologies, along with their limitations and threats, or slink into an era of magical thinking. Humanity has nearly suffocated the globe with carbon dioxide, yet nuclear power plants that produce no such emissions are so mired in objections and obstruction that, despite renewed interest on every continent, it is unlikely another will be built in the United States. Such is the opposition to any research involving experiments with animals that in scores of the best universities in the world, laboratories are anonymous, unmarked, and surrounded by platoons of security guards.
Excerpted from Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, by Michael Specter.
Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science
“I always say that electricity is a fantastic invention,” the British economist Michael Lipton once told Michael Specter, whose bristling new book, “Denialism,” explores the dangerous ways in which scientific progress can be misunderstood. “But if the first two products had been the electric chair and the cattle prod,” Mr. Lipton continued, “I doubt that most consumers would have seen the point.”
Here is what they would have done instead, if Mr. Specter, a staff writer for The New Yorker and former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, correctly captures the motifs that shape the stubbornly anti-scientific thinking for which his book is named: they would have denounced electricity as a force for evil, blamed its prevalence on venal utility companies, universalized the relatively rare horrific experiences of people who have been injured by electrical currents and called for a ban on electricity use.
The term “denialism,” used by Mr. Specter as an all-purpose, pop-sci buzzword, is defined by him as what happens “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.”
In this hotly argued yet data-filled diatribe, Mr. Specter skips past some of the easiest realms of science baiting (i.e., evolution) to address more current issues, from the ethical questions raised by genome research to the furiously fought debate over the safety of childhood vaccinations. (more…)
April 29, 2013 | Categories: Economics, History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Authors, Books, Current Affairs, Death, Design, Education, Environment, Environmentalism, Health, Human Nature, Leftism, Memetics, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization | 2 Comments »
[AUDIO/VIDEO] Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind – NPR. Why Vilifying MONSANTO without perusing all the facts may not make much sense.
This post is not to claim that Monsanto is a force of good. I understand the worry, the fear, the consternation of the many who profess antipathy for the actions of this corporation. I am not a supporter of Monsanto’s business practices nor am I on one side or the other on GMO. I remain agnostic. It does concern me however that so many are online today willing to help perpetuate ignorance and irrationality. A healthy debate and discussion in my opinion takes into account multiple perspectives and is not merely an opportunity to spread dogma. Monsanto, as with most human endeavour, possesses both positive as well as negative attributes. In the paranoid hysteria of the Internet today, it is portrayed as though Monsanto and GMO food technology is merely in existence to inflict pain and wreak havoc. For these reasons, I sought to extract some unbiased, neutral, perhaps surprising facts about this emotional issue.
All Things Considered
First Broadcast: January 20, 2013
“For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.
His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.
Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.
At the Oxford Farming Conference in Britain, Lynas apologized for helping “to start the anti-GMO movement” and told his former allies to “get out of the way, and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.”
He spoke to Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about his change of heart.”
Written By HUDSON LOFCHIE
Published On January 16, 2013
I want to talk about something today, and I hope that it does not result in my office getting burned down. But I work in a basement, so I guess its not that much of an issue. Genetically modified crops — devil incarnate or world savior? Solution to the hunger problem, or a capitalist venture? Each of these holds a little bit of truth, and I want to explore a side of the debate that isn’t normally discussed in the press — GM crops as the good guys.
When talking about genetically modified crops, Monsanto is, for the most part, the centerpiece of conversation. Debates, if they can even be called that, are riddled with hearsay, rumors, myths, “I read this” or “I heard that.” It seems to me that most people simply have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. And those who do have some knowledge on the subject are focusing on all the wrong things.
As bad press and political heat goes, Monsanto is on the sharp end of it more often than not. The “liberal” media paints Monsanto as a mean, heartless company, set on destroying any and all competition.
So Monsanto has some rather shrewd business practices … all successful companies do. They have some of the most consistently stable stock prices on Wall Street, and have earned massive investments from both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. So what is it about Monsanto that the public finds so appalling? Most of the arguments I have heard against this company are that Monsanto destroys the small farmer. While many small farmers are bankrupt by lawsuits with Monsanto, it is merely the result of Monsanto defending its intellectual property … to the death.
Monsanto makes a large percentage of its money from licensing patented genes to other companies. They have contracts with Dow Chemical, Syngenta, Novartis and many others. Monsanto is truly ruthless in its negotiations when licensing out its patents, and it should be. (more…)
April 28, 2013 | Categories: AUDIO, Economics, History, Interview, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Politics, Science, Society, VIDEO, virginal commentary | Tags: Current Affairs, Education, Environment, Environmentalism, Food, Health, Human Nature, Leftism, Memetics, mythology, Nature, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization | 2 Comments »
[AUDIO] “Anxiety is an essential human emotion but it’s important to distinguish between normal day to day worry and an actual anxiety disorder. It can manifest in a range of forms including obsessive compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety and panic attacks. New Yorker Daniel Smith has lived with chronic anxiety, or his ‘Monkey Mind’, for most of his life and says it’s the only mental disorder which can be both excruciatingly painful and funny at the same time. Hear about what eventually helped him manage his intense worrying.”
First Broadcast: Sunday 21 April 2013
“Monkey Mind is a tragicomic memoir about anxiety — both the emotion, which is universal, and the clinical condition, which is rampant. Mostly it’s about the clinical condition. It’s about anxiety so acute and chronic that it permeates every waking moment, affecting your body and mind, your friendships and relationships, your work and your will.
Write what you know, they say.
I’ve known anxiety for most, maybe all, of my life. The condition is genetic. My father was anxious. My mother was anxious. My grandparents were anxious. Probably my ancestors were all anxious. My last name is Smith, but this is what’s known as an “Ellis Island name” — something the authorities gave my great-grandfather when he arrived in the early twentieth century. The original family name is Gomolski.
In other words, we’re Jewish. There is no race or ethnic group on Earth that does not suffer from anxiety. But Jews are particularly good at that kind of suffering.
I didn’t know I was anxious until I was a teenager. Before that, I was “sensitive” and “nervous.” I had phobias and tics and sudden fears. Then, when I was sixteen, I lost my virginity under odd, unfortunate circumstances (see the book; it’s a cool story), and my anxiety began to take over my life. Monkey Mind tells how that happened; the troubles and difficulties that followed over the coming years; and the many attempts, wise and unwise, I have made to alleviate my anxiety.
Notice: alleviate, not cure. Anxiety isn’t a condition like pneumonia or chicken pox. It isn’t something you can eradicate. It’s a state of being, a coloration in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts. It isn’t a disorder, necessarily, though it can be exquisitely painful and it does sometimes stem from trauma. What it is, is a state of mind. It can be reduced, in some cases radically, but it never totally goes away.
What I set out to do in Monkey Mind was to describe and explain the experience of anxiety. Anxiety is often spoken of in cultural and collective terms: we are living, it is said, in an “age of anxiety.” But what does anxiety feel like? How does it affect everyday life? Kierkegaard, who was maybe the most anxious person ever to live, described anxiety in this way:
And no Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has anxiety, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as anxiety knows how, and no sharpwitted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as anxiety does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion nor by noise, neither at work nor at play, neither by day nor by night.
What does it mean for a person to have to deal — day after day, night after night — with that Grand Inquisitor in her head?
The short answer is: It isn’t fun. The long answer is this book.
So then why tragicomic? Because for all the pain, anxiety is an inherently comical disorder. It destroys lives, but it destroys them with absurdity. To witness a person in the throes of true anxiety is to witness a person actively tripping himself, a person whose sane faculties — the ability to reason and recognize threat, the capacity to apply logic — have grown to monstrous, B-movie proportions. Anxiety is the intellect gone feral. Also, to treat anxiety as an absurd state of mind is to declaw the experience and reveal its pettiness. Anxiety can indeed destroy relationships. It has destroyed some of mine. But it can do so only when the sufferer treats it with blind seriousness, when he treats it as applicable to meaningful bonds and meaningful decisions. Yet anxiety doesn’t care what its object is: it’s ecumenically corrosive. In the grip of anxiety, a sufferer is capable of reasoning himself not just out of marriage but out of lunch. On more than one occasion anxiety has paralyzed me over a salad, convincing me that a choice between blue cheese and vinaigrette is as dire a choice as that between life and death. Once this is recognized, anxiety loses some of its power.
This is what Monkey Mind is designed to accomplish. I have written with sheer honesty about the self-destructive absurdities, both major and minor, into which anxiety has led me. The goal is to expose anxiety as the pudgy, weak-willed wizard behind the curtain of dread. The goal is to tame what has always seemed to me, and to the tens of millions of others who suffer from anxiety, as a horrible, sharp-fanged beast.”
April 28, 2013 | Categories: AUDIO, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Science | Tags: Authors, Books, darwinism, Death, Education, Environment, Evolution, Health, Human Nature, natural selection, Parenting, socialization | Leave A Comment »
[AUDIO] CBC RADIO’S QUIRKS AND QUARKS DISCUSSES THE CONCEPT OF TIME AND WHY IT ACTUALLY MAY NOT BE AN ILLUSION, AFTER ALL – WITH LEE SMOLIN OF THE PERIMETER INSTITUTE
“Dr. Lee Smolin thinks the trouble with physics is that we need more time. Dr. Smolin has been contemplating a fundamental question: “Is Time Real?” This is an important question because much of the physics we’ve generated for the last 400 years or so seems to suggest that time isn’t real, and that it’s a kind of illusion that disguises the real way the laws of physics work. But in his new book, Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe, Dr. Smolin makes the case that time is real. And he thinks that working out what time is will help us solve some of the deep problems of the universe, including the question of where it all really came from. Dr. Smolin is a founding and senior faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.
Time Reborn - lecture by Dr. Smolin at the Perimeter Institute
“What is time? Is our perception of time passing an illusion which hides a deeper, timeless reality? Or is it real, indeed, the most real aspect of our experience of the world? Einstein said that “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion,” and many contemporary theorists agree that time emerges from a more fundamental timeless quantum universe. But, in recent cosmological speculation, this timeless picture of nature seems to have reached a dead end, populated by infinite numbers of imagined unobservable universes.
In his talk, Lee Smolin explains why he changed his mind about the nature of time. Like many fellow theorists, he used to believe time is an illusion, but he now embraces the view that time is real and everything else, including the laws of nature, evolves. Drawing from his new book, Time Reborn, Smolin explains how the great unsolved problems in physics and cosmology may be solved by adopting the view of a real time. then he will go beyond physics to explain how our view of time affects how we think of everything from our personal and family lives to how we face major problems such as climate change and economic crisis. In a world in which time is real, the future is open and there is an essential role for human agency and imagination in envisioning and shaping a good future.”
[AUDIO] A much better question than “Why are we here?” is “What is time?”
[AUDIO] Ever wonder why TIME can not be conceived of as the concept of ‘God’? Did the dinosaurs perceive the passage of time the same way we do today? And how about our contemporary neighbours, like Whales, Squids, Dolphins, Elephants etc etc etc–do they perceive time as we do? What really is a billions years to …a human who lives only perhaps 75? Could it be that the lack of the ability to actually perceive or understand TIME itself, is a cause of great misapprehension of reality–both past and future, for humanoids?
[VIDEO] RSA ANIMATE: Professor Philip Zimbardo lectures on how perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world. Present oriented, past oriented, future oriented perspectives.
It’s easy to bash on Monsanto and other corporations. I’m not saying there isn’t some truth to the criticism, there is always grains of truth to most arguments, but nothing is black and white. Norman Borlaug’s research led to many of Monsanto’s products. Without his activity, India and China would not have been able to add their respective 1 billion people, since 1950…
“Normal Borlaug is an agricultural scientist and the father of the Green Revolution, directly responsible for saving over a billion lives from starvation in the third world through the spread and advance of genetically modified crops and technology. He’s spent his life saving people and improving the world. This clip is from the Penn and Teller: Bullshit! episode Eat This! from Season 1, on diets and world hunger. He’s truly a great, great person, and I wanted to share the word, as far too few people know about Borlaug and his work.”
As I’ve often said, with Global Warming….most injustice, and war….and with this gaining momentum via the internet of attacks on Monsanto and GMO technology….the problem must be acknowledged as actually being human overpopulation. A metaphorical mango tree which provides for, say, 3 people sufficiently…would be fought over were 50 people to find themselves surrounding it, depending upon its fruit. Politics and power advantage/disadvantage arise from scarcity…observing injustice alone rarely solves the ultimate sources of problems. Should we not ask why and from where those extra 47 people came from? Rather than fear, malign, attack and protest attempts at trying to feed them? In my opinion, reducing future populations would resolve, or make obsolete, many of these concerns.
from the best photoblog in Toronto:
March 30, 2013 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Society, Toronto, Urbanism | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Canadian History, Design, Environment, Human Nature, Photoblog, Photography, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
What Canadian cities can learn from the German federal ministry of transport, building and urban development
written by Rudra Sarkar
April 17, 2012
This paper evaluates the German National Public Transit Policy from a Canadian perspective. While Germany possesses a decades-long record of federal regulatory and fiscal support for public transit, Canada remains lacking in any such federal policy, and for this reason there may be much to learn from the German experience. Today, Canadian urban areas continue to suffer from vehicular congestion, high levels of GHG emissions, inadequate public transit options, dislocated urban life and woefully underfunded public transit agencies. Congestion in the Toronto area alone has been calculated to be costing the Canadian economy over $6 billion dollars every year (Toronto Board of Trade, 2010). Canada is overdue in finally developing a strong, long-term, well-funded national pubic transit strategy in order to reconstruct its urban areas as well as the way in which residents travel within them.
Canada and Germany are both democracies with federal systems of government, in which the interaction of national, state/provincial and local levels shapes transportation policy (Buehler, 2011a). Germany is comprised of 16 states and has a population of 82.1 million people. Canada is comprised of 10 provinces and 3 territories, with a population of 34.6 million people. Both nations are highly urbanized, with 80% of Canadians and 74% of Germans living in cities (Statscan, Worldbank).
The subject of public transit necessarily focuses on urban populations. Germany’s urban centres are more densely populated than Canada’s, as would be expected from most Western European municipalities. Nevertheless, it must be noted that in World War II many urban centres in Germany suffered enough damage to require the construction of vast areas anew. Such developments however, although not as dense as preserved historic centres, are still not as sparsely populated as post-war Canadian suburbs. Figure 1 displays the population densities of the top five most populous urban centres in both countries. (more…)
March 21, 2013 | Categories: Economics, Knowledge Creation, Politics, Society, The Law, Toronto, Urbanism, virginal commentary | Tags: Canadian History, Canadian Politics, Current Affairs, Environment, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] Jim AI.Khalili – ORDER AND DISORDER BBC HORIZON – The Story of Energy & Information and the Advancement of Man
Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigates one of the most important concepts in the world today – information. He discovers how we harnessed the power of symbols, everything from the first alphabet to the electric telegraph through to the modern digital age. But on this journey he learns that information is not just about human communication, it is woven very profoundly into the fabric of reality.
November 27, 2012 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, darwinism, Design, Documentary Film, Education, Environment, Evolution, Memetics, natural selection, Nature | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] ALAIN DE BOTTON – THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS: Lecture at Toronto’s Design Exchange, Wednesday October 11, 2006
“One of the great, but often unmentioned, causes of both happiness and misery is the quality of our environment: the kind of walls, chairs, buildings and streets we’re surrounded by.
And yet a concern for architecture and design is too often described as frivolous, even self-indulgent. The Architecture of Happiness starts from the idea that where we are heavily influences who we can be - and argues that it is architecture’s task to stand as an eloquent reminder of our full potential.
Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, the book has at its centre the large and naïve question: ‘What is a beautiful building?’ It amounts to a tour through the philosophy and psychology of architecture, which aims to change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves.” - Alain de Botton
October 12, 2012 | Categories: History, Humour, Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Religion, Science, Society, The Law, Toronto, Urbanism, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Atheism, Authors, Books, Design, Education, Environment, Feminism, Gender, Human Nature, Justice, Linguistics, Literature, Marriage, Memetics, misogyny, Music, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting, Patriarchy, Relationships, Satire, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization, The Female, Torture, Tribalism, Urban Planning, War | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] ARTISTIC PROFANITY: Immortal Technique’s ‘Dance With the Devil’ & the Canadian film ‘Incendies’
WARNING DISTURBING, FOR MATURE, ARTISTICALLY INCLINED AUDIENCES (who can handle the human condition)
raw hiphop with a narrative which punches you in the gut
raw Canadian film-making which punches you in the gut
September 18, 2012 | Categories: People of Thought, Philosophy, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Art, Death, Environment, Human Nature, Justice, Literature, misogyny, Music, The Female, Torture, War | Leave A Comment »
[AUDIO] Cultural anthropologists assess the information/communication revolution thus far, in 2012; And how it is altering our behaviour and the way in which we relate to one another
Transcript from the radio program ‘Future Tense’ on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
First Broadcast:Sunday 9 September 2012
Antony Funnell: Hello, this is Future Tense, I’m Antony Funnell, and welcome as always.
Today on the show we’ll hear from two prominent internet scholars, Ethan Zuckerman and Genevieve Bell.
Both were in Australia recently to deliver the inaugural James Tizard Memorial Lecture at the Science Exchange in Adelaide. The lecture was entitled ‘Many Internets, Many Lives’.
James Tizard died last year. He was the CEO of SABRENet, a collaboration between the South Australian state government, the Australian federal government and South Australia’s universities. SABRENet is a high speed broadband network connecting a variety of teaching institutions and research institutes.
Let’s hear first from Genevieve Bell. Regular listeners will know that we’ve had Dr Bell on the program before. She’s an Australian-born cultural anthropologist who now lives in the United States and heads the Intel Corporation’s Interaction and Experience Research Lab.
I’ve said this before, but what we like about Dr Bell’s work is that she’s interested in discovering how people are actually using and engaging with technology, not how she or her corporation think they should be.
Here’s Genevieve Bell:
Genevieve Bell: For me there is something wonderful about realising that even as we talk today about the fact that the internet is a global technology and it is a technology of huge potential, it’s still not everywhere and it’s still not everywhere in places we think of as already being hyper connected.
So thinking here about what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in fact to deceive ourselves because the technology is also tied up with people. It’s tied up with the rhythms of our lives, it’s tied up with buildings, it’s tied up with structures and the fact that people take Sundays off. And what it means to imagine a technology that is all-pervasive is in some ways to imagine a world that is not populated by people.
And so what it means for me to think about the present of technology is to think about a technology that is always going to be uneven. Not that it won’t be present but that it will be a layering effect. In some places it’s going to be 3G on a cellphone, in some places it might be an iPad and a tablet, in some places it will be a cybercafe you will visit, and in other places it will be a really pretty boring Nokia feature phone where you connect to the internet and the internet is textbased and, by the way, it only works when you’re in town. So imagining that what it means to talk about the internet is never to talk about a system where everything is going to be evenly distributed but will always be unevenly distributed is for me as a researcher actually what makes it an interesting world, and it’s something I know Ethan will talk a lot more about momentarily.
It’s also the case I now spend my time in many strategic conversations in American industry, and everyone has been talking about the fact that the PC is dead, I’ve heard this phrase, that now we’re in the post-PC era, the PC is dead. I realise this is a bit like saying we’re in a post-paper period or the end of cash. It turns out that the PC is remarkably stubborn. People may not think it’s sexy anymore but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Much like some of the things we have called dead well ahead of time, like paper and cash, it turns out they persist in important ways. The tooth fairy doesn’t take credit cards, it’s really hard to leave post-it notes digitally because no one can see them, it turns out there are things that paper and cash and, one will argue, PCs are always going to do.
So as we think about the future and the present, I often think as a scholar we need to be careful about the stories we tell and about how real they really are, and about the kind of catchphrases that move across the boundaries between policy and marketing, to imagine what the realities really are. And as we think about what it means to imagine a world of connected people, again, it’s not all going to be…in a post-PC world there are still going to be these kind of huge infrastructures that are incredibly important, and all the other ways we know that people are going to connect to technology are part of both the present and the future of the internet and of broadband and of all the legacy of things that are interesting.
It also means that there is an increasing conversation going on both in Australia and I would say on the global stage about what we’re doing with all this technology. I spend a lot of time in people’s homes around the world and I hear a persistent and lingering anxiety about what it means for people to be constantly connected, and whether it’s an anxiety manifested in ‘my child has turned six, should I get them a mobile phone’, ‘I want to take the iPad away but then they scream in the back of the car’, ‘I’m really worried my child knows how to use the iPad and I don’t and she’s two’, ‘what will it mean for our language that everyone is now speaking in text messaging and emoticons’. We manifest this incredible anxiety about what the technology will bring forward.
We talk about what it means for people to be connected, to be hyper connected, we worry about what the nature of that connectivity is, what people are connecting to, and to whom and under what circumstances. In some ways those are remarkably persistent anxieties. We were worried about the same things when the telephone came along and when electricity came along and when television came along and when radio came along, and even when electricity came along.
And it turns out I think there is something about the moral anxiety that accompanies technology. And any technology that threatens to do three things always invokes that anxiety. If it threatens to rearrange our relationships to time, our relationships to space and our relationships to other people. And as soon as a technology has that potential we immediately imagine nothing good will come of it. And it is usually followed by phrases like ‘it will be the end of our society’, ‘it will be the death of our culture’, ‘have you seen what the young people are doing’. It’s never good.
What’s fascinating to me is the persistence of this anxiety and the fact that you can read the accounts of electricity and rock ‘n’ roll and the internet and hear exactly the same anxiety running through all of them. Because what they are is technologies that rearrange social relationships, and they rearranged our relationships to each other and to the places we were from. And of those are powerful forces and they are always accompanied by fear. So for me, playing through those anxieties is always an incredibly important part of the puzzle of both the present and the promised future.
It is also the case that I think the world is very different than it was when SABRENet was first imagined back in 2002. Starting in 2000 and really by 2002 about 70% of the world’s population that was online was in America. By today less than 15% of the world’s internet users are in America. The fastest growing languages online are Bengali and Arabic and Hindi and Spanish and Chinese. The biggest sites of internet production are happening in places far from here, about things that aren’t necessarily in the languages we read.
It is also the case that when SABRENet was first getting going, the most obvious way to connect to the internet was through a desktop or a laptop. Now there are a myriad of devices that connect us to the internet and the internet is different on each one of those. Whether it is as a delivery pipe on the Kindle or as a back-end in a smart electrical meter, whether it is what the internet looks like on your phone or a tablet or a computer or arguably in your car or in smart signage, the internet has become many things.
The technology industry, however, stubbornly clings to the notion there will be one device. It’s like the Tolkien fantasy; one device to rule them all. And if we can just find that one device, it will be great. And every time a new device turns up they go, ‘This is it, everyone is going to abandon everything else.’ And in my lab I sit there going, ‘Really? Have you unpacked anybody’s handbag recently?’ It turns out we didn’t abandon it, we just stuffed it in our bags along with everything else.
And the reality is when you unpack the handbags and backpacks and cars and houses of many places on this world, you find lots of technology, all of them being used to connect to the internet, all of them for different reasons and different experiences. And imagining that there’s one right away anymore gets really pretty complicated. And for most people there are lots of different choices people make about whether it’s a touch-based interface they like or something that doesn’t need certain kinds of virus protection, or if it’s a phone because you don’t have to share it with your parents. There are lots of different ways that we are connecting. And what that means for regulation, among other things, is incredibly complicated. This is no longer a single beast anymore, it is many.
And of course last but by no means least for me is the fact that we’re now talking about new models of engagement. About eight months ago a piece of video turned up on YouTube. This is a little 47-second video, really of great happiness as far as I’m concerned because what it is is a Furby, which is the large digital toy in the background. You may remember these are from the 1990s, they were hateful. They squeak a lot, they rolled their eyes, they fluttered their eyelashes and wiggled their ears and attempted to engage in some form of communication, most of it atonal.
In the foreground of this image is an Apple iPhone with Siri, a personal digital assistant, running on top of it. In this 47-second clip someone starts the Furby up and the Furby goes [squeaks], and Siri says, ‘Would you like me to call Shell Oil?’ And the Furby says [squeaks] and Siri says, I don’t think I understand.’ And the Furby goes [squeaks] and it says, ‘Would you like me to call Graham?’ And this goes on for 47 seconds of bliss and happiness of miscommunication.
Clearly the person who put this together thought this was quite funny and indeed it is, but for me it said something really interesting, which was here we were at this moment where something had really happened powerfully. When I saw this…and as an anthropologist I couldn’t help but see this as a genealogy of things that talk. So there’s the Furby as the first generation of talking digital stuff, and there’s the Siri, the most recent generation of talking digital stuff. And I’m sure the person who put it there was basically trying to say these were equally unhelpful talking digital things.
What I realised, however, was the really powerful thing about this was that what it was was that the Furby was making noise, and the Siri, it wasn’t that it was talking, it was that it was listening. And the listening is the really interesting thing, because however imperfect it is, what it promises is the prospect that you might be listened to by an object, not that it is talking at you but listening. And the listening is the promise of something quite different than we’ve had in our relationships with technology in the past. And I think the listening is the promise of a shift here from a moment where we’ve interacted with technology to a moment where we will have relationships with technology.
Whenever I say that to my American engineering colleagues, they immediately say to me, ‘When the machines are smart enough to have a relationship with us, they’ll kill us.’ Persistently. I’m like, ‘Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yes. The Terminator.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a movie. How?’ ‘Space Odyssey.’ I’m like, ‘Also a movie based on science fiction.’ They’re like, ‘Blade Runner.’ I’m like, ‘Based on a short story, also fiction.’ They’re like, ‘But that’s what will happen.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ And they’re like, ‘Yes.’
So I go to my colleagues in Japan and I’m like, ‘So, you have robots.’ They’re like, ‘Yes.’ I’m like, ‘Do you think they are going to kill you?’ They’re like, ‘Why would we think the robots were going to kill us?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, because they do in America.’ They’re like, ‘That’s just a movie.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, good.’
So my Japanese colleagues and I got into a conversation about what would it mean to imagine that objects might take care of you, and they looked at me and said, ‘But they already are. We have robots in our nursing homes, we have robots in our schools. We can fully imagine a world in which there is a relationship between people and technology. The future that you’re talking about is already here.’
And for me what I’m fascinated by is what comes next. And I’m fascinated by thinking about the world that James built, the broadband that he built and the promise that he was making about what comes next. And for me this notion that we are moving from a world of technology that we have to do all the work for, we have to plug in, we have to update them, we have to give them passwords and networks, and it’s just a lot of palaver looking at these machines. And imagine when they can start to look after themselves and start to look after us (and not kill us), is this promise of a remarkably different way of thinking about what we might be with technology as we move forward.
For me it’s about how we empower everyone, where that empowerment is going to look like different things for different people. In some places it’s about citizenship, in other places it’s going to be about consumption and consumerism, for some people it’s going to be about creativity, for other people it’s going to be about political resistance. But whatever it is going to take, it’s about how we build a system and sustain a system that makes those things possible. And for me that is not just about the technology, it’s about how we capacity-build in our citizens, it’s how we create the possibilities and the prospects and also the imagination to think about how it might be different. Thank you.
Antony Funnell: Dr Genevieve Bell, the head of the Interaction and Experience Research Lab at Intel Corporation. And out of interest, Dr Bell is a native of South Australia even though she now resides in the United States.
Now, as I indicated earlier, the inaugural James Tizard lecture was a double act; Genevieve Bell and Ethan Zuckerman. Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the centre for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT. He’s also a former researcher at the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society at Harvard and the co-founder of the website Global Voices.
Zuckerman has long focussed on our perceptions of the internet, exploring the reality between our idea of the digital world and our actual day to day usage of the web and social media.
Here’s Ethan Zuckerman:
Ethan Zuckerman: There was a lot of illusion very early on in the internet. When we go back into this past, when we go into, say, the late ’80s, the early 1990s, there’s this sort of naive belief that once we had networks then some fundamental changes to society would come about. The first change was that information would just be incredibly pervasive, we’d have access to whatever we wanted to know anywhere in the world at any moment in time. That suddenly, because everyone could be on these networks and it didn’t matter where you were, where you are coming from, what your background was, you could participate in the conversation, that we would have this incredible wealth of deliberation, and that we would be connected to everybody on the planet, that eventually we’d hit the point where you could reach out and have a conversation with any other person out there.
We’ve now hit a point where it’s very reasonable to look at these questions and ask ourselves; how are we doing? And I would argue on the first score we’re actually not doing badly. I think if you look at the combination of crowd sourced things, like Wikipedia, and you look at commercial solutions like Google, which in a very strange way is actually a crowd source thing, Google helps you find things, but what it’s actually helping you find is something that someone else has already written.
So in that sense of the internet putting out enormous amounts of human knowledge and making it accessible, we are growing up with a generation of people who never have that moment of saying, ‘Gee, I really wish I could know this.’ And if it’s a simple fact that we don’t have at hand, we always have it at hand. And that experience of that cocktail party conversation or the conversation over the beers of how big is this, how large is this, we’re never going to have it again. So as far as simple fact, we’re there. As far as complicated knowledge, still getting tricky, but I would say on this score we’ve done fairly well.
The liberation side of this we’ve done dismally. It turns out that being more connected to one another, more people having voices probably makes it worse rather than making it better. It may actually make it harder to come to consensus. You’re trying to listen to everybody, everyone wants a turn to speak, all sorts of dynamics, who’s ever loudest, who’s ever the most passionate ends up having more power. That turns out to be a deeply human problem, not a technological problem.
The third problem is the one that I am obsessed with, which is the question of who we are connected to and really who we’re not connected to. Even in a digital age we are much more connected to the people that we know, the people in our local communities, the people in our home countries than we are connected to people elsewhere, and that shouldn’t be a surprise. If you think about what happens when you join Facebook, the first thing it says is who do you go to school with, who have you worked with, who do you already know? Let me help you connect to those people that you already know. The internet becomes that the way to stay in touch with people that you know from the real world.
This is a crazy change in about 20 years. When I found myself getting online, the internet was never going to connect me to the people of the small college that I was at because none of them were on the internet. It was to connect me to the crazy people who were only online, who cared about these things that I cared about and that I had the chance to reach out to and encounter. But we’ve completely changed that assumption over the course of about 20 years, and now we assume that what this technology is really good for is connecting us to the people that we know and that we’re closest to and most familiar with.
There has always been the role of technologies in telling us about the rest of the world. Historically we get our knowledge about the rest of the world through curated media. So whether that is through newspaper, whether that’s through television broadcast, someone goes out and says here’s what’s out there and what is important in the world. And historically this has been a really difficult, expensive, dangerous thing to do. It has required physically putting people out there with cameras and shooting film and shipping it back and developing it and putting it on the airwaves, and all of that has changed.
And what’s funny about it is that despite the fact that reporting on the rest of the world has gotten so cheap and so easy that you can do it from a mobile phone, you can hold it up and be live to the internet immediately, we actually get much less international news in our media. And this is a trend that we’re seeing in a number of different countries. We’re seeing it in the UK where the four major newspapers have actually decreased the amount of international coverage that they’ve had, 45% over the last four years. In the US the amount of a newscast that’s international has gone from about 40% to about 12% over the last 30 years.
The internet makes it better a little bit. I can go and I can read Ghanaian newspapers and say, well, that’s great, if you’re not going to tell me about Ghana, at least I can go there directly. But I’m a rounding error. And if you actually look at what media people look at, even in a digital age, the vast majority is local. We might go online, we might look at the Times of India, we might look at the New York Times, we might look at the BBC. You don’t, and I have the numbers. You guys are actually better than the US and the UK. The US and the UK are about 95% domestic, it’s about 84% domestic in Australia, but it’s predominantly looking to the local.
So again, we have more and more connectivity, but we also have more and more interest in what is in our backyard. So fortunately now we start having search, we have the ability to pick exactly what we want, go out, find exactly whatever information you want to know. If you come out of this and you’re fascinated by Ghana, you want to know more, you can go out and do it. But then the responsibility is on you. How do you decide what you want to know about the rest of the world? You can go to the salad bar and put whatever you want on your salad, but it is your responsibility to choose, and that’s what search is. Search essentially says you know what you want to know, you know what you need to know about the rest of the world, go out and get it. And you get to select it, and you’ll be more free and you’ll be more happy because you have the choice. But you also now have the responsibility.
So when you see the rise of things like Facebook, it really has to do with many of us essentially saying I’m not sure this is working. I don’t necessarily want that responsibility all the time. Sometimes I don’t know what I want to know. And so what we do instead is that we ask our friends, hey, what do you know? Maybe if I knew what you knew I would discover something novel, I would discover something really interesting. And so we go on to these social networks and we say what is new, what’s fun, what can you tell me about the world. And we get some interesting information but we get some limits to that information. And the reason there are limits to that information is that the people that we’re finding on these networks tend to be a lot like us. They tend to be from the same country as us, they tend to speak the same language that we do, they tend to have the same religion, they tend to have the same ethnicity. We end up falling victim to what sociologists call homophily, which is basically a fancy way of saying that birds of a feather flock together.
So we’ve gone from this world where much of our information is coming through curators, through someone who is basically saying here is what you might need to know about the world. We’ve gone into search where we basically say you know best, go figure out what you want to know about the world. And now we’re going through this phase of social where we basically say, well, maybe my friends will help me figure out what’s going on in the rest of the world. And the problem is that none of these necessarily prepare us to live in a world that’s as connected as the one that we actually live in.
This matters. And the reason that I care about this is that at least three-fold. One is that it is potentially dangerous to live in a world where we are deeply connected and we don’t know what all those connections are. You suddenly find yourself worrying about things like avian flu, you find yourself asking questions about what do people eat in Singapore because it turns out that people in Singapore get on aeroplanes and suddenly you have the possibility of a disease that might have been incredibly localised and could have been really devastating for one particular population suddenly becomes a global crisis. If you don’t have a way of looking at pandemic, if you don’t have a way of looking at international terror networks, if you don’t have a way of looking at very complicated financial flows from a multinational perspective, very, very bad things can end up happening.
You also have the possibility that if what we’re mostly getting is information from people who are like us, that we end up getting highly polarised. There’s a pair of books that are very helpful. One is put together by a constitutional law scholar in the US named Cass Sunstein. He put forward this book that basically offers a theory called the echo chamber. He says that if you’re only getting information from people who agree with you, you tend to become more polarised in your views. And this is a phenomenon called confirmation bias. If everyone over and over and over says, well, this point of view is the right one, eventually it becomes very hard for you to think about the fact that there might be another point of view. You put people who are politically to one side of the spectrum together with other people in a room and they actually all gravitate further to the right or further to the left. When we hang out with people who think the way we do, we get more like them. And there’s an argument that in societies that are getting more politically polarised, this is part of what’s going on.
My friend Eli Pariser went ahead and wrote a book that argues that this is getting even worse because the technologies are making it easier to do it. So it’s not just that we can choose to hang out with people on the left, it’s not even just that Google News can suddenly say ‘let me only give you news from the left’, it’s that even if you go out and try to look for people who have another point of view, Facebook is going to fight you, and it’s mostly going to give you information from the people that you pay attention to and that you care the most about and you’re going to get even more polarised from it.
These guys are both right but they are missing the point in some ways. This isn’t just about left/right, the filter bubble is three-dimensional. We have bubbles in terms of where we are from, what we think, whether we are identifying as Australians or identifying as Americans, we end up getting trapped in that identity, and it’s very, very hard for us to see the perspective of someone who is from a different country, who speaks a different language, who views the world in a very, very different way. So we end up getting polarised in terms of how we see ourselves as a nation rather than how other people are seeing themselves as citizens of the world.
The third reason that I think we ought to care about this is that historically connecting to other cultures, other points of view has been one of the most amazing sources of inspiration. Before Picasso was Picasso he spent an enormous amount of time hanging out in African art museums in Paris. And if you read about his time there, he really didn’t like them, he actually writes about how scary and how smelly and how foreign they were and how he didn’t want to encounter them, but something ended up speaking to him and he became an incredible collector of masks, mostly from Benin.
And shortly after he starts collecting these masks, his style changes radically and you start seeing these faces in Picasso that have these flat surfaces. And it’s very clear where it’s coming from. It’s referred to as his African period, is basically where Cubism starts emerging. It turns out that creativity is basically an import/export business. Creativity has a lot to do with finding ideas in a different part of the world and bringing them into a different context. And so if we’re heading towards a world where we are not able to go out and find those other ideas, not because we can’t but because we don’t remember to, we have this incredible possibility of missed potential.
Antony Funnell: Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Centre for Civic Media at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And you can find the full James Tizard Memorial Lecture on the Future Tense website.
Future Tense, new ideas, new approaches, new technologies, exploring the edge of change.
- Ethan Zuckerman
- Director of MIT’s Centre for Civic Media and co-founder of Global Voices.
- Dr Genevieve Bell
- Intel Fellow, Intel Labs Director, Interaction and Experience Research
September 10, 2012 | Categories: AUDIO, Economics, History, Interview, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Science, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Current Affairs, Design, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, Parenting, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
Time & Sustainability – An appraisal of Douglas Coupland’s novel ‘Player One’ from an Urban Planning Perspective
Time & Sustainability
“…what makes human beings different from everything else on the planet—or possibly in the universe, for that matter—is that they have the ability to experience the passage of time and they have the free will to make the most of that time…” (Player One – Douglas Coupland, 2010)
The concept of time may be said to be intrinsically linked to the notion of sustainability. The 1983 World Commission on Environment and Development, convened by the United Nations, now colloquially referred to as the Bruntland Commission, in publishing their 1987 report, Our Common Future, included a now oft-cited definition of Sustainability:
“…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future – United Nations, 1987)
To define the nebulous entity, ‘time’, really is however, not possible in a few lines of the English language. Indeed art, at times, has a greater capacity to convey that which is difficult to know or explain. Douglas Coupland, writing in 2010, weaves a dramatic, apocalyptic tale referencing concepts of sustainability and the future of mankind in a fictional piece entitled Player One. An over-arching theme of this story is the concept of time—how it is perceived as a reality, how it is understood with regard to the way life is lived as well as its affect upon decisions made in future tense.
Coupland is well known to create and define new manners of conceptualizing socio-historical reality and does so with great flair within this story. Player One’s title refers to identities portrayed in cyberspace, while unable to process many subjective human apprehensions. He labels these as Binary Subjective Qualities. Those who experience life with neural pathologies, as with his character Rachel, or those who exhibit Autistic Spectral attributes, for example, may be said to lack the ability to apprehend these subjectivities—much as when one negotiates the world as a cyber-avatar.
Ann Dale, writing in Sustainable Development in the 21st Century, articulates a concept which Coupland’s seudo-character Player One conjures, in describing the whole of humanity as a Holon—with a new sense of meaning being created from perceiving human interconnectedness in a very different way (Coupland, 2010). The concept of Holonism entails leaving behind subjective sensitivities to apprehend systems as a whole. In Dale’s reference this implies the connectedness of humanity as a unitary system juxtaposed with the eco-system which supports it (Dale, 2001). Cybernetically speaking, this is reinforced when our subjective personalities are diminished online, while simultaneously objective human connectedness is greatly enhanced.
Urban Planning necessarily entails an appreciation of the progression of time; with the concept of sustainability soliciting a consideration for the future. At the level of analysis of Urban Planning, sustainable initiatives are concerned with, amongst other issues: “air quality, water quality and conservation, energy consumption, solid waste production, and levels of recycling, green buildings, open space, brownfield development and equity initiatives.” (Saha & Paterson, 2008) To these may be added the preservation of both the natural as well as human environment. The consequences of our relationship with time deems proceeding indefinitely without consideration for the future liable to eventually create in Coupland-speak the sadness of Chronocanine Envy—the realization that life can not merely be lived in present tense—as with the life of a canine. Quoting Kierkegaard, Coupland states, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)
Many issues facing Urban Planning Professionals today derive from past planning endeavours which lacked long-term perspectives for what in their time, were considered solutions. The Suburbs are a widely recognized example of this—ostensibly solving problems of inner-city crowding and disease transmission, but resulting with issues of social isolation, and community disconnect, not to mention traffic, pollution and many forms of waste; loss too, of the dynamism found in earlier more concentrated urban settlements and, in many instances, the built form around which it occurred. Contemporary Planning attempts a more holistic approach, promoting the three Es: Environment, Economy and Equity (or social imperatives). Saha & Paterson’s work speaks to the necessity for questioning and altering lifestyles.
The furthering of economic security, ecological sensitivity and social justice in the name of the future is said to require a shifting of paradigms (Greek for patterns) occupationally; recreationally; as well as existentially. (Saha & Paterson, 2008)
Only through such multi-pronged strategies, it is claimed, will current planning decisions have enduring positive influences on contemporary cities, towns and natural environments, both for the inhabitants of today as well as beyond contemporaneous lifetimes.
The Story of a Lifetime
“Our curse as humans is that we are trapped in time; our curse is that we are forced to interpret life as a sequence of events—a story—and when we can’t figure out what our particular story is, we feel lost somehow.” (Coupland, 2010; p5)
An interesting element of time that the characters in Coupland’s story ponder is that of the narrative of life. Mentioned in multiple circumstances, by distinct characters is what in Coupland-speak, three concepts allude to: Narrative Drive, Denarration and Sequential Dysphasia. The first of these terms describes the ascribing to life, a storyline, plot, or narrative thread. Denarration is said to be the loss of such a Narrative due to Sequential Dysphasia.
By definition, the question of a narrative to life implies the observance of a sequence of events, and apprehension of a purpose within this progression. Narrative structure is composed of a beginning, middle and end. This vision of timescape exists within the context of Sustainable Planning as well. Douglas Farr, in Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature (2008), notes the transience of North American existence and life progression. In contemporary built-form, such as within urban sprawl with imposed socio-economic and inter-generational segregation, neighbourhoods are unable to support the ‘aging in place’ of community residents, through the provision of “housing suited to every phase of life,” (Farr, 2008) thereby precluding vibrant, enduring social connectivity and strong relationships from flourishing both between individuals, as well as between places and people. In the vibrant neighbourhoods mentioned in Jane Jacobs’ popularly cited works, the most significant elements are the relationships between all the residents of a bustling diverse neighbourhood, composed of the youth and the aged, immigrant and native, financially modest and well-to-do. This rich tapestry is what created the socio-spatial narrative for Jacobs’ cherished Manhattan of the 1950s. (Jacobs, 1961)
Sustainability with regard to neighbourhoods is enriched from the planning for, and adapting to, the natural progression of life (and successive lives), so that a sense of togetherness and connectedness may be preserved without the disruption of necessary population upheavals on regular intervals from shifts of individuals and demographics. Planners, by challenging norms of corporate branding and market segmentation which have dominated city-building over the last several decades, can exert some influence on encouraging development which accounts for life progression and provide thereby, within the same geography, for the needs of a diversity of individuals in the narratives of neighbourhoods, and future generations. Historically, a failure of this has been witnessed in the socio-spatial fragmentation of traditional neighbourhood structures over the past several decades. (GHRS, 2009:p41)
An interesting observation Douglas Coupland makes in Player One is that humans have the ability to commodify time and opportunity. In coining the term Crystallographic Money Theory, he postulates that money is a ‘condensate’ or ‘crystalized’ combination of time and free will. The logic behind this contrivance carries over to sustainability once more, as it has been argued that the concept of sustainability signifies the striving to proffer future generations as many options as possible (Crabbe, 2006)—‘options’, it may be argued, are composed of free will and time. In the calculus of the three Es an attempt is being made to account for the current costs of future deprivation.
Dale states in no uncertain terms that unsustainable patterns of the recent past have persisted due to the transference of costs to the future, to other geographies or “to the buffer/sink capacity of the surrounding ecosphere.” (Dale, 2001) Having endured for over two generations, these unsustainable patterns have altered the landscape not only literally, but also figuratively with regard to systems of finance, land-use regulation, and the provision of, and infrastructure for, transportation. (Farr, 2008) Such composite elements entrench a sense of inevitability to the North American urban lifestyle. Long term strategic planning and policy initiatives are called for to cement the reorganization of priorities required to address sustainability concerns. This however would imply the raising of awareness of those who elect the officials and pay the taxes.
Awareness of Time
The introductory quotation of this paper makes reference to Time-Will Uniqueness, or in Coupland-speak, the belief that Free Will and Time Awareness is that which fundamentally separates humans from other earthlings. This cognizance is also that which allows humans to plan for the future, avoid untoward happenstances, and recognize patterns such as the weather and business cycles and work around them. Sustainable Planning evokes the idea of ‘Backcasting’ rather than Forecasting for the future—the former indicating working backwards from an ideal circumstance, rather than attempting to predict a future end result, as with the more common, latter, notion. (Dale, 2001)
The greatest gift or the greatest curse for humanity is being able to perceive the direction in which it is headed. Coupland as explanation for his term Proscenial Universe Theory, quotes Joyce Carol Oates as stating that Time is indeed “the element in which we exist. We are either borne along by it or drowned in it.” (Coupland, 2010). A Procenium is the small area on a theatre stage between the orchestra and the curtain. Coupland explicitly states at one point in Player One that “Fate is for Losers, and Destiny for Winners” (Coupland, 2010). This would suggest that those who remain passive with regard to the progression of time, must deal with their consequential fate; while those who embrace life actively, can appreciate their destiny. The metaphor here, for sustainable planning could not be more cogent. As the effects on the environment from human activity become more and more apparent and accepted, there are those who may choose merely to observe, while failing to alter their actions and behaviours. It is incumbent however, upon the vast majority of humanity to take action, to participate in altering the fate not only of the species, but of the entire biosphere, so as to appreciate a greater, sustained, destiny. As Farr pointedly exclaims, the “time for half measures has passed.” (Farr, 2008). Piecemeal efforts at urban planning sustainability may be argued to lack the coherency and the strategic force necessary for significant, real change to occur.
An unfortunate reality of humanity is that most do not perceive time beyond their lifetimes either historically or with regard to the future. As a very self-absorbed species, the present seems the most important as it is the time-frame being personally experienced. Coupland-speak refers to this as Centennial Blindness, and it may even lead to many not being able to contemplate further than the day after tomorrow, let alone further than a decade. This lends itself to justify the significance of the planning profession in furthering socio-political awareness of the issues facing the world today, and potential solutions in our lives at a municipal level.
When to Act
“Jesus, Rick, only losers make decisions when times are bad.” (Coupland, 2010) states a character in Player One. Coupland-speak refers to this as Castastrohasic Shifts—the dramatic, life-altering changes one attempts in the middle of a crisis—changes which are perhaps made in haste, without full consideration of the situation. Dale observes how humanity is hard-wired to react quickly to threats, emergencies, scarcities—to the immediate and personal, yet ignore the white-noise of the apparently routine. This she laments is what makes raising awareness about the gradual negative shifts in our biophysical environment so difficult. The world is not facing an acute natural disaster from human activity but rather a slow abiotic decline.
Anthropocene, Coupland explains to us, represents the time period, or distinct ‘geological epoch’ which is defined by the human footprint on the planet Earth—there was a time before and after the advent of Man, and this is unfortunately ecologically observable. Player One reminds us however that the Anthropocene has in fact been quite short—especially in relation to other earthlings, current and past—with every human alive today having only 19 previous generations coming before. This knowledge should give us pause to the thought of how many future generations are to come. This destiny truly is available to be won.
“Humans have to endure everything in life in agonizing endless clock time—every single second of it. Not only that, but we have to remember enduring our entire lives. And then there is the cosmic punchline that our lives are, in fact, miniscule compared to geological time or the time frames of the galaxies and stars.” (Coupland, 2010)
Coupland draws a parallel between current generations of humans not having consideration for their progeny, and the tragic fate of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. “Alzheimer’s makes your parents forget you”, a character laments.
Alzheimer’s may be a “punishment sent to (humanity)” for refusing to change its ways, states another. Coupland’s use of the theme of time and humanity’s gift of awareness of it, reminds us that we must pay heed, or suffer the consequences. Current populations are the creators of their legacy and if they fail to consider them in the present, they all may as well be parents suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Coupland, D. (2010). Player One: What is to Become of Us? House of Anansi Press Inc. Toronto.
Crabbe, J. (2006). Challenges for sustainability in cultures where regard for the future may not be present. Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. Fall 2006. Volume. 2. Issue 2.
Dale, A. (2001). At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century. UBC Press. Vancouver.
Farr, D. (2008). Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with nature. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Global Report on Human Settlements. (2009). Planning Sustainable Cities. UN HABITAT. United Nations Human Settlement Programme. Earthscan: London.
Jacobs, J. (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. New York.
Our Common Future (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Transmitted to the General Assembly as an Annex to document A/42/427 - Development and International Co-operation: Environment. United Nations.
Saha, D. & Paterson, R.G. (2008). Local government efforts to promote the “Three Es” of Sustainable Development. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 28, pp. 21-37
 “Binary Subjective Qualities: Subjective human qualities that most of us take for granted but which remain elusive for some people with brain anomalies. These include humour, empathy, irony, musicality, and a sense of beauty. Subjective sensitivity is often regulated by specific nodes in the right side of the brain that fine-tune and contextualize the information we take in.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Chronocanine Envy – “Sadness experienced when one realizes that, unlike one’s dog, one can not live only in the present tense. As Kierkegaard said, “Life must be lived forward.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Narrative Drive – “The belief that life without a story is a life not worth living—quite common, and ironically accompanied by the fact that most people can not ascribe a story to their lives.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Denarration – “The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Sequential Dysphasia – “Dysfunctional mental states do stem from malfunctions in the brain’s sequencing capacity. One commonly known short-term sequencing dysfunction is dyslexia. People unable to sequence over a slightly longer term might be “no good with directions.” The ultimate sequencing dysfunction is the inability to look at one’s life as a meaningful sequence or story.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Crystallographic Money Theory – “The hypothesis that money is a crystallization or condensation of time and free will, the two characteristics that separate humans from other species.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Time-Will Uniqueness – “The belief that awareness of time and the possession of free will are the only two characteristics that separate humans from all other creatures.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Proscenial Universe Theory – “The notion that time simply provides a medium—an arena—within which emotions are able to plays themselves out.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Centennial Blindness – “The inability of most people to understand future time frames longer than about a hundred years. Many people have its cousin, Decimal Blindness-the inability to think beyond a ten-year time span—and some people have the higher speed version, Crastinal Blindness—the inability to think past tomorrow.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Castastrohasic Shifts – “Enormous, life-changing decisions that are delayed until a crisis has been reached. In most cases this is the worst time to be making such decisions.” (Coupland, 2010)
 Anthropocene – “A term recognizing that human intrusion on the planet’s surface and into the atmosphere has been so extreme as to qualify our time on earth as a specific geological epoch. Along with vast increases in anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, which have drastically raised the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, our human footprint now covers more than 83 percent of the earth’s surface, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.”
August 29, 2012 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Science, Society, Urbanism, virginal commentary | Tags: Anthropology, Art, Authors, Books, Environment, Environmentalism, Human Nature, Nature, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
“Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.” – TED Talks
August 17, 2012 | Categories: Knowledge Creation, Lectures, People of Thought, Philosophy, Religion, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, Child Abuse, darwinism, Death, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting, Patriarchy, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization | Leave A Comment »
“Vimeo user Tomislav Safundžić knitted NASA footage into this beautiful time-lapse video of Earth — its continents, seas, the lights of cities — and the surrounding sky and stars as they appear from the International Space Station. As astronaut Ron Garan wrote here on The Atlantic last December, seeing our planet like that imparts the realization “that we are all riding through the universe together on this spaceship we call Earth, that we are all interconnected, that we are all in this together, that we are all family.” Take two minutes to enjoy the video below (full-screen recommended), and get a glimpse of the world from that “orbital perspective” — both literally and figuratively.”
[VIDEO] The South American Spectacle Bear–the closest relative to the Giant Panda of China and the inspiration for Paddington Bear!
The most loving bear in nature. Mothering for 3 years.
“Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation. This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.”"
Toilets of the Gods
Or: The Colonisation of Space
By Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Space scientists recently completed an examination of orbital debris, recovered after circling the Earth for several years. They discovered that much of it was coated with a thin film of what was delicately described as “fecal matter”, attributed to astronaut’s sloppy sanitation.
This may solve one of the mysteries of life’s origin on Earth: it seems to have arisen almost as soon as conditions were favorable, and not after the billions of years of molecular trial and error required by what Isaac Asimov called the “unblind working of chance.”
Obviously, organized life-forms need have occurred only once in this Galaxy, if the very first space-faring civilization was as careless about the environment as we are. Years ago, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe suggested that life had a cosmic, and not terrestrial, origin. They may be right, though not precisely in the way they imagined. It’s a humbling thought that we may have arisen from dumped sewage; the first chapter of Genesis would certainly require drastic revision.
On the other hand, if – as some philosophers have suggested- this Earth does indeed harbor the only life in the Universe, that deplorable state of affairs is now being rectified. We may draw some consolation – I hesitate to say inspiration – from the fact that our descendants are already on their way to the stars.
But we certainly would not recognize them, and it might be tactless to ask exactly how they got there.
May 9, 2012 | Categories: History, Humour, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Science | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, darwinism, Environment, Evolution, Nature | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] WHY I LOVE CITIES AND THE PURPOSE OF URBAN PLANNING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: “Cities are the future, and innovations to make them better, smarter, and faster are happening every day. Take a beautiful tour of some of the most interesting urban projects and thinking going on today.” ALL THE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEMS OF CITIES WILL BE FOUND IN CITIES THEMSELVES…
February 23, 2012 | Categories: Economics, Knowledge Creation, Science, Society, Urbanism, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Design, Environment, Environmentalism, Human Nature, Memetics, Nature, Relationships, Social Conventions, socialization, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
January 15, 2012
By Sharon Begley
NEW YORK – From Darwinian evolution to the idea that personality is largely shaped by chance, the favourite theories of the world’s most eminent thinkers are as eclectic as science itself.
Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question.
In previous years, they have included “how is the Internet changing the way you think?” and “what is the most important invention in the last 2,000 years?”
This year, he posed the open-ended question “what is your favourite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?”
The responses, released at midnight on Sunday, provide a crash course in science both well known and far out-of-the-box, as admired by the likes of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, physicist Freeman Dyson and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Several of the nearly 200 scholars nominated what are arguably the two most powerful scientific theories ever developed. “Darwin’s natural selection wins hands down,” argues Dawkins, emeritus professor at Oxford University.
“Never in the field of human comprehension were so many facts explained by assuming so few,” he says of the theory that encompasses everything about life, based on the idea of natural selection operating on random genetic mutations.
Einstein’s theory of relativity, which explains gravity as the curvature of space, also gets a few nods.
As theoretical physicist Steve Giddings of the University of California, Santa Barbara, writes, “This central idea has shaped our ideas of modern cosmology (and) given us the image of the expanding universe.”
General relativity explains black holes, the bending of light and “even offers a possible explanation of the origin of our Universe – as quantum tunneling from ’nothing,”’ he writes.
Many of the nominated ideas, however, won’t be found in science courses taught in high school or even college.
Terrence Sejnowski, a computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, extols the discovery that the conscious, deliberative mind is not the author of important decisions such as what work people do and who they marry. Instead, he writes, “an ancient brain system called the basal ganglia, brain circuits that consciousness cannot access,” pull the strings.
Running on the neurochemical dopamine, they predict how rewarding a choice will be – if I pick this apartment, how happy will I be? – “evaluate the current state of the entire cortex and inform the brain about the best course of action,” explains Sejnowski. Only later do people construct an explanation of their choices, he said in an interview, convincing themselves incorrectly that volition and logic were responsible.
To neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University, the most beautiful idea is emergence, in which complex phenomena almost magically come into being from extremely simple components.
For instance, a human being arises from a few thousand genes. The intelligence of an ant colony – labor specialization, intricate underground nests – emerges from the seemingly senseless behavior of thousands of individual ants.
“Critically, there’s no blueprint or central source of command,” says Sapolsky. Each individual ant has a simple algorithm for interacting with the environment, “and out of this emerges a highly efficient colony.”
Among other tricks, the colony has solved the notorious Traveling Salesman problem, or the challenge of stopping at a long list of destinations by the shortest route possible.
THE OTHER PAVLOVIAN EFFECT
Stephen Kosslyn, director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, is most impressed by Pavlovian conditioning, in which a neutral stimulus such as a sound comes to be associated with a reward, such as food, producing a response, such as salivation.
That much is familiar. Less well known is that Pavlovian conditioning might account for placebo effects. After people have used analgesics such as ibuprofen or aspirin many times, the drugs begin to have effects before their active ingredients kick in.
From previous experience, the mere act of taking the pill has become like Pavlov’s bell was for his dogs, causing them to salivate: the “conditioned stimulus” of merely seeing the pill “triggers the pain-relieving processes invoked by the medicine itself,” explains Kosslyn.
Science theories that explain puzzling human behavior or the inner workings of the universe were also particular favourites of the Edge contributors:
* Psychologist Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley, is partial to one that accounts for why teenagers are so restless, reckless and emotional. Two brain systems, an emotional motivational system and a cognitive control system, have fallen out of sync, she explains.
The control system that inhibits impulses and allows you to delay gratification kicks in later than it did in past generations, but the motivational system is kicking in earlier and earlier.
The result: “A striking number of young adults who are enormously smart and knowledgeable but directionless, who are enthusiastic and exuberant but unable to commit to a particular work or a particular love until well into their twenties or thirties.”
* Neurobiologist Sam Barondes of the University of California, San Francisco, nominates the idea that personality is largely shaped by chance. One serendipitous force is which parental genes happen to be in the egg and sperm that produced the child.
“But there is also chance in how neurodevelopmental processes unfold – a little virus here, an intrauterine event there, and you have chance all over the place,” he said in an interview. Another toss of the dice: how a parent will respond to a child’s genetic disposition to be outgoing, neurotic, open to new experience and the like, either reinforcing the innate tendencies or countering them.
The role of chance in creating differences between people has moral consequences, says Barondes, “promoting understanding and compassion for the wide range of people with whom we share our lives.”
* Timothy Wilson nominates the idea that “people become what they do.” While people’s behavior arises from their character – someone returns a lost wallet because she is honest – “the reverse also holds,” says the University of Virginia psychologist. If we return a lost wallet, our assessment of how honest we are rises through what he calls “self-inference.” One implication of this phenomenon: “We should all heed Kurt Vonnegut’s advice,” Wilson says: “’We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”’
* Psychologist David Myers of Hope College finds “group polarization” a beautiful idea, since it explains how interacting with others tends to amplify people’s initial views. In particular, discussing issues with like-minded peers -increasingly the norm in the United States, where red states attract conservatives and blue states attract liberals – push people toward extremes. “The surprising thing is that the group as a whole becomes more extreme than its pre-discussion average,” he said in an interview.
* Martin Rees, professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, nominates the “astonishing concept” that what we consider the universe “could be hugely more extensive” than what astronomers observe.
If true, the known cosmos may instead “be a tiny part of the aftermath of ’our’ big bang, which is itself just one bang among a perhaps-infinite ensemble,” Rees writes. Even more intriguing is that different physics might prevail in these different universes, so that “some of what we call ’laws of nature’ may … be local bylaws.”
By Sharon Begley
January 16, 2012 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Science, Society | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, darwinism, Design, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, natural selection, Nature, Social Conventions | Leave A Comment »
In fifty years of broadcasting, Sir David Attenborough has travelled the globe to document the living world in all its wonder. Now, in the landmark series First Life, he goes back in time in search of the very first animals.
From the fog bound coastline of Newfoundland to the deserts of North Africa and the rain forests of Queensland, in First Life David Attenborough finds evidence in fossils and living animals of an extraordinary period in Earth’s history, half a billion years ago, when animals first appeared in the oceans. From the first eyes that saw, to the first predators that killed and the first legs that walked on land, these were creatures that evolved the traits and tools that allow all animals, including us, to survive to this day.
This is a story that can only be told now because in the last few years, stunning fossil finds at sites across the world have transformed our understanding of the First Life forms, and technology now allows us to recreate the first animals and their environments with photorealistic computer generated imagery
The Burgess Shale fossils, a Rocky Mountain treasure trove found in 1909 just west of the B.C.-Alberta border, represent the planet’s single most important snapshot of life as it existed during the so-called “Cambrian explosion” of organisms about 530 million years ago.
THE MAKING OF:
December 20, 2011 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Religion, Science, VIDEO | Tags: Atheism, darwinism, Environment, Evolution, natural selection, Nature | Leave A Comment »
[VIDEO] “Does science ruin the magic of life? Robin Ince argues no. The more we learn about the astonishing behavior of the universe — the more we stand in awe.” The unfortunate thing is, the majority of humanity continues following conceptualizations from a time before science aided every humans understanding of reality YET not living outside of science. I think they should not be able to do both. Those who any follow primitive thought should be obliged to live in a world as primitive as well. There were no cars, electricity, computers, modern medicine, nor higher learning mentioned in ‘holy books’–as those who wrote them were limited in their understanding of reality. You should not have it both ways.
Live life as though your reality matches your perceptions. One donkey, one cave…and a bucket full of ignorance of what is going on. -rudhro
November 18, 2011 | Categories: History, Knowledge Creation, Philosophy, Science, Society, VIDEO | Tags: Anthropology, Atheism, darwinism, Education, Environment, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, mythology, natural selection, Nature, Parenting | Leave A Comment »
Roberta Brandes Gratz
November 16, 2011
Fifty years ago this month, Jane Jacobs published Death and Life of Great American Cities and changed the way the world understands cities. Yet even when she’s acknowledged as an important urban thinker, the ‘housewife’ qualifier is invariably included. When we talk about strategies for city growth and economic development, women aren’t often offered seats at the table. They hold jobs in the field but few posts as critics. Jane was the exception. But the rules didn’t change a great deal.
Jacobs broke into the national discussion about cities somewhat by accident. She was a reluctant stand-in for her Architectural Forum male editor at a cities conference in 1956. She had written some insightful articles about how cities work, particularly in Vogue, documenting how New York City’s fur and flower districts evolved organically.
Today, her early observations are considered pathbreaking. But happenstance thrust her into the public eye.
Jacobs’ early attention-getting articles in Architectural Forum and Fortune Magazine happened because she had as a champion a distinguished male editor William Holly Whyte. Whyte gained fame for writing The Organization Man and for espousing ideas similar to hers. But he had to overcome a sputtering, angry Fortune publisher who once asked, “Who is this crazy dame?”
A housewife without even a college degree was unacceptable. After all, Lewis Mumford’s scathing review of Death and Life was headlined “Mother Jacobs Home Remedies.” (more…)
November 17, 2011 | Categories: Economics, History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Politics, Quotes, Society, Toronto, Urbanism | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Books, Design, Education, Environment, Feminism, Gender, Memetics, misogyny, mythology, Patriarchy, Social Conventions, Social Justice, socialization, The Female, Urban Planning | Leave A Comment »
Written by Adam Frank
November 15, 2011
The ice ages came and the ice ages went. For more than a half-million years Homo sapiens endured the changing climate by adapting. Then, deep in the frozen expanse of the last global big chill, something new happened. We woke up to ourselves in a new way.
We became self-conscious, creating art, culture and tools of far greater complexity than anything that had come before. When the ice pulled back yet again, we eventually took a step of even greater consequence. We domesticated ourselves and put the Earth to the plow.
With agriculture came surplus and with surplus came new social arrangements. Eventually, we built cities and far-ranging empires to support them. Human beings began buildingcivilization. In doing so we set ourselves and the entire planet onto a new trajectory.
But did anyone ever stop to ask if it was a good idea?
Now before you give in to the easy snort and chortle that accompanies a seemingly absurd question like this, I am going to ask you to take the long view. In this case long means billions of years, and billions of planets.
We don’t want to ask the question: Is civilization good for you (or me)? Instead we want to ask: Is civilization good — in the long term — for planets and their capacity to support life (or at least technologically adept civilizations)?
November 15, 2011 | Categories: Economics, History, Knowledge Creation, People of Thought, Philosophy, Quotes, Science, Society, Urbanism | Tags: Anthropology, Authors, Books, Design, Environment, Environmentalism, Evolution, Human Nature, Memetics, Nature, Social Conventions, socialization, Urban Planning | 2 Comments »