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Say No 2 War (from the Iraq era, but it’s good now and always)

30 Aug

NO2WAR

Are We Causing the Sixth Extinction?

30 Jul

Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker, 2009:

Over the past half-billion years, there have been at least twenty mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth has suddenly and dramatically contracted. Five of these—the so-called Big Five—were so devastating that they are usually put in their own category. The first took place during the late Ordovician period, nearly four hundred and fifty million years ago, when life was still confined mainly to water. Geological records indicate that more than eighty per cent of marine species died out. The fifth occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period, sixty-five million years ago. The end-Cretaceous event exterminated not just the dinosaurs but seventy-five per cent of all species on earth.

The significance of mass extinctions goes beyond the sheer number of organisms involved. In contrast to ordinary, or so-called background, extinctions, which claim species that, for one reason or another, have become unfit, mass extinctions strike down the fit and the unfit at once. For example, brachiopods, which look like clams but have an entirely different anatomy, dominated the ocean floor for hundreds of millions of years. In the third of the Big Five extinctions—the end-Permian—the hugely successful brachiopods were nearly wiped out, along with trilobites, blastoids, and eurypterids. (In the end-Permian event, more than ninety per cent of marine species and seventy per cent of terrestrial species vanished; the event is sometimes referred to as “the mother of mass extinctions” or “the great dying.”)

Once a mass extinction occurs, it takes millions of years for life to recover, and when it does it generally has a new cast of characters; following the end-Cretaceous event, mammals rose up (or crept out) to replace the departed dinosaurs. In this way, mass extinctions, though missing from the original theory of evolution, have played a determining role in evolution’s course; as Richard Leakey has put it, such events “restructure the biosphere” and so “create the pattern of life.” It is now generally agreed among biologists that another mass extinction is under way. Though it’s difficult to put a precise figure on the losses, it is estimated that, if current trends continue, by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone.

Continue reading

Five Easy Pieces: Race in the Symbolic Universe

29 Jul

A T&T working paper: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2473235. The five pieces have been previously published on New Savanna.

Abstract: How did Western culture get from Shakespeare’s Caliban to Bill Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable? This essay examines that trajectory by consider six imaginative works: Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Forster’s A Passage to India, Faulkner’s Light in August, Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and The Cosby Show. The focus is on the projective dynamics of racisim where the racial Other is made to express feelings and desires that the dominant culture denies.

The concept of freedom did not emerge in a vacuum. Nothing highlighted freedom—if it did not in fact create it—like slavery. . . . For in that construction of blackness and enslavement could be found not only the not-free but also, with the dramatic polarity created by skin color, the projection of the not-me. The result was a playground for the imagination. What rose out of collective needs to allay internal fears and to rationalize external exploitation was an American Africanism—a fabricated brew of darkness, otherness, alarm, and desire that is uniquely American.
– Toni Morrison,
Playing in the Dark

There’s a young black boy on my job and those white cats have made him tell them so many lies about what they call his love life that he can’t tell whether he’s coming or going. They want to believe that we screw like dogs or cats–you know, just go out there and get you a piece, just like they might scratch their backs or get a glass of water. . . Another thing, if we were just like dogs, then all the rotten things they have done and are doing to us would be okay!
– Clifford Yancy, in John Langston Gwaltney,
Drylongso

Introduction: A Universe of Symbols

Each culture has a universe of symbols through which its members understand themselves and one another. We use these symbols to elaborate our mental world and to communicate with one another, for symbolism gives graphic and linguistic form to our feelings and desires. The olive branch and white dove of peace, the blood-red planet Mars betokening war, the serpent of wisdom, or of life and healing, are examples of such symbols. American society is culturally diverse. While all Americans may share some symbols–perhaps the American flag, the Thanksgiving turkey–other symbols belong to specific cultures. Each subculture has its own symbolic universe, with its own symbols.

European-American culture includes a vast network of symbols, a network in which African-Americans have played, and continue to play, an important role. The way whites symbolize blacks has more to do with the hearts and minds of whites than it does with black reality. Thus if we are to understand the role that black culture has played in the development of general American culture, we will need to understand the role that white culture has already assigned to blacks. The subject is vast, but we don’t need to survey it all in order to get the lay of the land. A few examples will serve. Continue reading

ANALYSIS: Can ‘obscure cleric’ save Iraq from brutal terrorism of ISIS? | Lapido Media – Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs

23 Jun

In some ways, though, the second reason that Sistani and his leanings should be of great interest to the non-Islamic world is even more significant: he is a force for moderation within Iraq, consistently appealing to the entire population of Iraq rather than to the Shias only, both during the periods of sectarian ‘cleansing’ during the recent war in Iraq, and at present, when sectarian feelings are running high across the Middle East, and Iraq itself is beset by a Sunni resurgence, going under the name of ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

via ANALYSIS: Can ‘obscure cleric’ save Iraq from brutal terrorism of ISIS? | Lapido Media – Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs.

The Absolute Dog

28 May

by Charlie Keil

Review of Antisthenes of Athens: Setting the World Aright by Luis E. Navia. Greenwood Press. 2001

“I share Bertrand Russell’s conviction that modern cynicism constitutes the very antithesis of classical Cynicism.”
– Luis Navia

A little poem to make the main point: 
		after the socratic crack
		the dogs continued to roam free
		plato the first fire hydrant 
		aristotle the nearest tree

We have been following the wrong ancient Greek philosophers for almost 2500 years because we have let words on the page speak louder than actions in the street.

Antisthenes, some say the most dedicated student of Socrates, became known as “the Dog” or “the Absolute Dog” because of his “absolute commitment to reason infused by a creative energy” (E. Bignone cited in Navia) for setting the world aright. Similarly, Diogenes became known as “the Dog” or “the Dog of Sinope,” and it was as “dogs” that a variety of popular or “street” philosophers found “a will to resist and to set the world aright by means of the application of rational principles to human conduct” (Navia, pg. 96) over an 8 century period from 5th century BC to 3rd century AD. Remember dogs were not the overbred poojies of bourgeois pet fetishism that we know today, but they did stand guard, sorted out friends from foes, lived lives without shame, indifferent to ettiquette and rules. The Dogs

“became, with pride and self-assurance, self-chosen dogs because that name reflected in some measure the way in which they presented themselves. In appearing in the garb of dogs or doggish people, however, their intention was not to abandon human nature and replace it with canine nature or to advocate the transformation of people into animals. In them, as can be gathered from statements attributed to Antisthenes, the point was to distinguish between nature (‘fesis’ in Greek) and convention (‘nomos’ or “law” in Greek), and to remain attached to the former, while setting aside the later. If a happy and virtuous life is to be attained, we must divest ourselves of the artificiality under which we have become buried through the influence of irrational conventions and atavistic modes of being. We must deface the currency that has made us what we were not meant to be. The flight from what is natural that characterizes the human condition is what needs to be corrected, and if the world is to be set aright, it is to nature that we must return.” (Navia, pg 100)

I really like just about everything I can find to read about the Dogs (see Bibliography below). Navia’s book about Antisthenes makes me understand how and why the Dogs were hidden from me during the 60 of my 65 years that I spent being taught and then teaching in schools. I could have been learning about why Diogenes chose to live in a tub when I was in Kindergarten; all the stories about Diogenes confronting the big men of his time convey simple lessons that a child in Kindergarten or first grade could learn: Alexander the Great to Diogenes, “Let me grant your greatest wish o wise man!” Diogenes to Alexander the Great, “Dude, could you move just a little to one side or the other? You’re blocking my sunshine.” Yet I didn’t figure out that the Dogs of antiquity were probably the first western anarchists and resisters, the prime or prototype opponents of civilization and class society, perhaps early western Buddhists and certainly the first beatniks, until after I had retired from academia. I took four consecutive semesters of philosophy courses at Yale in the late 1950s and never got to word one about the Dogs; none of my profs took their “black humor, paradox and surprise, ethical seriousness” (A.A. Long 1996:33) seriously. Graduate school in 1960s Anthropology did not steer me toward the Dogs as the first fieldworkers and participant-observer-critics in social and cultural anthropology, the first westerners to advocate for slaves, women and “barbarians” and against racism, sexism, and imperialism. Somehow, thirty years of research, writing and teaching at a university while working with left and anarchist colleagues didn’t encourage me to sniff out my ancestral Doggie ancestors. Continue reading

Have the Oligarchs and Plutocrats Won?

4 Apr

Just watched Alex Gibney’s powerful documentary Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream (you can stream it on Netflix). Here’s the trailer:

 

It uses the conceit of two Park Avenues to tell the story of the 1%, living on the Park Ave of Manhattan’s upper East Side, and the (bottom quartile of) the 99%, living on the portion of Park Ave that extends into the South Bronx. It’s one thing to know the story in numbers and graphs, which Gibney presents, but it’s another thing entirely to see the story in actions through moving images and spoken words. The combination of the two is potent, and, alas, depressing.

As I think over the film the sections that keep coming back, however, are those featuring a social psychologist at U Cal. Berkeley, Paul Piff, and some students. Piff had pairs of students play Monopoly, the board game born during the Depression. But, they played the game with a crucial difference. One player started with twice the amount of money as the other player and was allowed to roll both dice; the other player could roll only one die. The student players were assigned to these roles randomly.

The privileged players, of course, walked all over the others, whose disadvantage was too much to surmount. No surprise there. What was interesting, and chilling, is that over the course of a game, the privileged players assumed at attitude of entitlement – you could see it in their posture and hear it in their comments. It was their RIGHT to win. But they did nothing to earn that right; it was simply given to them at the beginning of the game. The oligarchs Gibney showed us displayed that same entitlement even as they lobbied to cut their taxes and blathered on about creating opportunity for all. Continue reading

Advice for the MacArthur Genius Grants

23 Mar

Originally posted on Ideas, Predictions & Advice:

I had heard of the MacArthur Foundation and its Fellows Program, where they give grants of $500,000 (turns out it has gone up to $625,000) to people who are doing work that they want to encourage.  A bit of reading on the matter yielded the dismaying impression that, to a considerable extent, the Program functions as just another liberal self-congratulatory scheme, awarded disproportionately to professors at places like Harvard and Berkeley.

In other words, I grew concerned at the prospect that many of these awards might be serving merely to burnish the résumés and supplement the wealth of elite northerners who were already pretty well-positioned to pursue their talents and their visions.  Maybe I had been overly idealistic about the MacArthur Foundation  in general, and about this program in particular.  But it seemed appropriate to offer a suggestion that might eventually facilitate some improvement; hence this email on…

View original 290 more words

This Is Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality…: Tomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century/Inequality and Capitalism in the Long Run: The Honest Broker

19 Dec

Piketty says: sociologically, America today may be the worst of all worlds for those who are neither top income earners nor top wealth successors: you are poor, and depicted as dumb & undeserving:  “nobody was trying to depict Ancien Régime inequality as fair”.

via This Is Brad DeLong’s Grasping Reality…: Tomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century/Inequality and Capitalism in the Long Run: The Honest Broker.

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