Thursday, April 12, 2007

The difference between Ishmael and Poison Ivy.

As I read the ending to Ishmael, I kept thinking of Poison Ivy. For those of you who don't know (and, yes, I will forgive you) Poison Ivy is one of the villains of Gotham City. She usually endangers countless citizens of Gotham with her vile plots to destroy humanity and leave the world for the plants, only to be stopped by a Batman who assures us that human beings have a right to live.

Poison Ivy says that the world was once a peaceful and nurturing place before Man arrived to plunder her. I find that some of Ishmael's arguments are as thin. Sure, I thought his prison analogy was brilliant (does it remind anyone else of a certain shadowy cave?), and what he's saying makes crystal clear biological sense: for life in general to continue, certain weaker individuals must lose their lives before they can procreate. When human beings stepped outside of the "rules", they stopped biological progress (ignoring, of course, the various parasites and bacteria which are thriving and evolving faster than scientists can create new antibiotics) for the world.

With the knowledge of the gods, they halted creation.

But, somehow, when I look at the world this continued creation would have made, it makes me wonder a little. It's not a world of plants, like Poison Ivy would have envisioned, but a world where all animals are in constant competition, living unknowingly to a more complex and self-aware end. But a perfect utopia where Man and animals starve, die of preventable diseases, and Man lives in small tribes which would kill one another on sight (as Ishmael says the Native Americans did, thus ensuring Man lived within his bounds) seems like a contradiction of terms.

In principle, I'm all for the Tree of Life. In practice, I feel like Batman facing down Poison Ivy.

That's It?

Why did this book end like every book I read in fifth grade? I could picture my fourth or fifth grade teacher fighting back a tear as he/she read about Ishmael's demise even as I read the final pages to myself. Timeless as the formula my be, it didn't leave a great impression on me.

The end message of the book? Change your way of thinking about your relationship with the Earth. I suppose to some extent the book was effective, but it's really leaving it up to the reader what a real image of unity between Mankind and Earth looks like. Oh well, It was a swell effort. I enjoyed reading something that wasn't ultra-academic for a change anyway. Great book study Scott! Thanks a bunch!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Evolved Wisdom?

Ishmael implies in this chapter that Leavers hold a kind of evolved wisdom. He considers them to be the last holders of the natural order in the human race, as if they hold the knowledge of their ancient ancestors. I think Ishmael is is correct, but misleading. He somehow treats Takers as though they just started planting things because they chose to ignore the natural order. I look at the Taker culture as something that evolved from the natural order. By Ishmael's description of the transformation from nonhuman primate life to homo s. s. Leavers, one could easily also describe the gradual process that has led from Leaver to Taker culture. There is a gray area between Taker and Leaver that Ishmael is not giving enough attention. He, in my opinion, has focused to much attention on the inciting incident at the beginning of agriculture. Taker culture is the bastard son of Leaver culture. Evolution is not always pretty.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Existentialism in Qiunn

I am virtually positive that Quinn is bringing us to some existentialist conclusions in this book.
The reason that I believe this to be so, is because of the way he has framed the Taker and Leaver culture. He has made participation in Taker or Leaver culture a choice, and therefore, the essence of humanity now is based upon a taker culture that has centered the materials of the world around the preservation of its being.
What interests me is that I think Quinn is saying is that the Leavers are not afraid to not exist, they simply co-exist with the iminent non-being that all beings eventually become. The Takers on the other hand, are perhaps filled with an anxiety because despite having controlled some elements of existence, takers are not yet able to control the end result of their existence, which is non-being.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The "gods [sic]" must be crazy.

This chapter is another failed attempt by Quinn to construct a convincing metaphor. If he was going to use the Adam and Eve story from a monotheistic tradition, he should never have told a story involving gods(plural). I wasn't confused, I just think this sounded like a story the author made up on the toilet while reading a hotel's Gideon Bible. He must never have thought about the implications. Despite using this new analogy and revisiting the failed aviator, this chapter still held some value. I think the image of the conflict between Caine and Able was quite fitting as a metaphor for the competition between the Takers and Leavers. Anyway, I'm unimpressed with the progression of this story. What was an interesting collection of revelations has slowly regressed into wishy washy folklore analogies and aimless story telling. I'm waiting for the world saving solutions this book has to offer that don't involve mass famine and neglecting the hungry. This book is obviously not timeless, many of it's assumptions are old truths. I'm pretty sure people are talking very seriously about family planning in the third world as I am writing this. For me it's not about increased food production and simultaneous increases in population or the reversal of this, it's about education against Quinn's brand of social Darwinism, the spread of compassion and the war against reproductive ignorance. If people alter their reality to reject Mother Culture, not just to follow the Law of Nature, but to take the third path, or environmental Golden Mean man can survive. We can't have it both ways, but there is an amazing compromise between Nature and Culture. How to to live? Ask Nature. Why to live? Ask Culture. From this point in history neither can truly be ignored. Dig it?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Child labour regulation as environmental policy?

My cultural psychology textbook makes an interesting claim about cultural influences on birth rates: Children are economic assets in societies where their labour is expected, but in industrialized and urbanized societies, they are economic liabilities. In the latter societies, children may be protected from employment. If having a child generates expense rather than revenue, people may be less eager to procreate. This supposedly helps to explain why the latter societies have lower birth rates (in addition to the cause of women being able to control their fertilities). Could child labour regulation, if it discourages having children, be an important factor in sustainability (or resiliency)?

Friday, March 9, 2007

The truth about the world is rather unsettling, but I’m learning to cope. I couldn’t have chosen a better major for study at this time in my life than Political Science. History and theories about leadership have showed me a continuous cycle of manipulation and exploitation. In relation to my faith this has been extremely challenging (examples in the church are infinite). I have known people afraid to study anything but business, multimedia, or communications for fear that any sciences, natural or otherwise, might contradict their six-thousand-year history of the world. The academic study of religion is also frightening to someone accustomed to a fundamentalist Christian relationship with science and society, not to mention the ‘heretic’ study of philosophy. I heard someone say that the Creationist’s view of geology and biology is analogous to Flat Earth Geography. I agree with this to some extent, but I also know that the world as God created it will always be flat in a metaphoric sense as mystery and wonder remain a constant. Opposite the Neo-Con Fundamentalists (I use this term lightly) are the scientists who argue either that we should abandon technology and live as Leavers (described in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael) or that man can completely manipulate, predict and control the planet, saving it from destruction caused by pollution and human strain and make it new again. In so many words, we are either to live as well adjusted animals or as cyborgs. There is a medium here, and I am still searching for it. In almost every respect I have embraced, or at least considered, the benefits of all the extremes mentioned above.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I am very happy to see that each of us in the book study are starting to become book critics. From calls for transformation, ananlysis of analogy and metaphor, to the definitive explanantions of man to nature. We have indeed created a good and proper discussion on issues within and beyond the book.

I think that Heather did it best when describing her frustration with Ishamel's teaching. She began questioning Ishmael's connection of Earth to the human spirit, and by spirit I think Ishmael means condition.

The only Mother culture, insofar as humanity is concerned, is in relationship to how we get by, live, and exist; the bottom line is that we have to meet the needs of our basic condition and once those are met, the ability to design necessities beyond are trivial in relation to that first priority. Whether it is taker or leaver, our primary goal is the same and all subsequent goals dependent on the first alone.

Okay, Ishmael lost me.

We finally got to The Law, and, while I expected something of the sort, I'm still mildly confused. Well, confused is too general a term. I'm not confused so much as not convinced.

I was with Ishmael when he said that we are enacting a story that puts us at war with the world through our use of agriculture. I could even understand how he said that increased food production always leads to an increased population. But when he said that the answer was to let people starve (and, yes, I admit that I'm probably coming from Mother Culture's perspective here), there he lost me. How can we be concerned with maintaining the diversity of the planet and not be concerned with people who are dying for lack of food?

And I do take issue with the fact that Ishmael said we always hear about sending food to impoverished countries, but not contraceptives. I, at least, have heard about sending contraceptives to impoverished countries, although it was in the context of slowing AIDS and giving women control over their bodies.

I also take issue, much like the narrator, with the fact that Ishmael calls our culture "Mother Culture". The fact that Ishmael explains this away by saying that culture is nurturing only offends me more. Who says that men can't be nurturing? And why is it still expected that women need to fill that nurturuing role? There are plenty of women who don't appreciate being boxed into that personality archetype.

Also, I disagreed with Ishmael's notion that the Leaver culture is somehow more conducive to the human spirit. On page 148 he says, "They're not seething with discontent and rebellion, not incessantly wrangling over what should be allowed and what forbidden, not forever accusing each other of not living the right way, not living in terror of each other, not going crazy because their lives seem empty and pointless, not having to stupefy themselves with drugs to get through the days, not inventing a new religion every week to give them something to hold on to, not forever searching for something to do or something to believe in that will make their lives worth living."

Well, of course not. They're busy surviving. That doesn't mean the Leavers feel more nurtured... it means they're tired. And that doesn't strike me as an automatically more healthy way to live.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Taker Thunderbolt

Is this analogy flawed? To refer to the Taker story as a falling object destined to hit the ground is, in my opinion, a little inappropriate, or at least suspect. If our society is to change midway, and at the last minute, to glide safely to the skies, are we really the Kamikaze Thunderbolt Ishmael speaks about in chapter 6? If we change our course, are we still Takers? Or are we a new story all together; Borrowers for example? In this free fall I believe our fate may not be as perilous as that of our early aviator example. Ishmael would have us believe we cannot abandon ship mid flight, construct a new flying machine, and soar into the heavens. I can appreciate this analogy, although I find it pessimistic. I'd like to say we can put back what we've "Taken". What is the aerodynamic Borrower story? I hope the next few chapters give me some idea what this may be like. Although it may be impossible to return to the cliff top from which we launched 10,000 years ago, it may be possible to repair our doomed vessel. It could be like Apollo 13 or something.

A world of transformation and resilience

Scott and I really enjoyed a recent essay, "The Resilient World", by Jamais Cascio (who, incidentally, I got to meet last month). It's worth a read.


Some of us (I'm talking about myself here) who stay up late studying technocriticism for fun occasionally need to be reminded about the priority of political, economic, and social concerns over those of technoscience. Technocritical writers like Carrico, however, understand the sociopolitics and the technoscience to be tightly interwoven. Our energy crisis and its associated climate effects, for instance, are not apolitical problems of technology. This perspective is well-explained in his 2006 essay, "Transformation, Not Transcendence". I especially like this quote (which itself contains a quote).

“The future,” writes science fiction author Bruce Sterling, “isn’t an alien world, it is this very world.” It’s the kind of insight that you never knew you needed to hear, until you actually hear it said. The future will be here, not elsewhere. And it will be shared. “The future is a process,” Sterling goes on to say. That process, whatever our wishes in the matter, will never amount simply to a process of scientific discovery or of engineers solving problems. Progress is not a wave for you to ride on or a Truth for you to die for, but a project that needs many collaborators to succeed.

I want to change the world, not to leave it. I want transformation, not transcendence.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How Silly of Me!

Ishmael talks about how the gods have played tricks on us. For instance, "they didn't put the world where the Takers thought it belonged, in the center of the universe." And moreover, that "they should have the decency to produce him in a manner suited to his dignaty and importance, - in a separate, special act of creation." (pg. 103)

I love how ironic Ishmael can be, and I love these statements. If there is one thing that has keep the human species from learning and discovering the truth is ego and pride. So sad that something so intangible is the hardest thing to swallow.

I also loved the beauty presented from the idea of the lion and the gazelle. It's so true that only to us are they mortal enemies, to them it's natural and the way of life, and its beautiful. There are so many things in life that are given taboos that are perfectly natural and beautiful, and they are shoved under the rug for one reason or another. Open your minds!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Planetary engineering: Agony or thrill?

A journalist, Gwynne Dyer, published an essay earlier this month which sardonically proclaims: "Welcome to the job of planetary maintenance engineer." Dyer, who speaks to much of what we discussed today in the dingy library chamber, writes with an ominous tone; he confronts the challenge of geoengineering with mild dread. But why? Why not think of planetary engineering as something fun and interesting--something akin to an adventure? I don't suggest we should jump on the bunny trail and merrily start sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere like circus comedians clumsily pumping gas out of a burping helium balloon. But maybe we can think of it as a fun puzzle whose solving would mean a lot of learning and yet another validation of our ingenuity.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who lost Paradise?

There are a few major themes I picked up from these chapters, the first being:

1. We can master the environment. Ruler of the terrestrial biomes and the oceans, the mountains and thier valleys, the forests and the plains. We have discovered how to master the environment, but it doesn't belong to us. We are a mere constituent of it.
2. We're just a visitor. Humans have lived on the earth for an eye-blink of the earth's existance, yet the history of the earth often begins with our creaion and for the longest time was though to only have existed for 6000 years. A part of Christian theology that may tie in is the idea that we are not of this world but only passing through, that in our essence we are part of God's world. I don't know how well I even understand this idea but I thought it fitting.
3. Pg. 89 - "The world was given to man to turn into paradise." WTF?!?!? We really have taken over this world, built up resorts and luxury and highways and homes, and this is our attempt at turning the world into a paradise? Personally, I find Paradise when all I have is enough food for the weekend and a pack on my back, and I am in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps surrounded by the Rockies in all their splendor, smelling the pine and listening to the river. Or in the deserty Chaparral dominant in the areas around CLU, and walking across campus in the rain admist complaints when it's a blessing; the rain gives life. Water. Life. If there is anything fundamentally wrong with humans it the attempt to change the world, because it's already a paradise.

Wow. Calvinism is more prevalent than I thought...

Okay, I've read through chapter five, and I don't think I'm ahead, so - for good or for ill - I'm going to go ahead and post my thoughts.

According to Ishmael, our culture's story is telling us that:

1) the world is for us, but needs changing,
2) this change is impossible for us to achieve, because humans are fundamentally flawed,
3) and even if this change were possible, we wouldn't know how to effect it because the right way to live is unknowable,
4) but we should try anyway.

The depressing part of this - to me - was how built into religions this is. We're constantly told that we would be sinful even if we always knew what good is (which we don't), but we should try for perfection anyway. As a result, we all spend our lives trying not to look where we're going, only to sigh to ourselves and say we're not surprised when we don't get there.

Unfortunately, I don't have any solutions to offer. I know too many people who have so much compassion that they champion every cause, shelter every stray, and spend their entire lives staring all the hurt and cruelty in the world right in the face just so they don't have to realize their own heart is bleeding.

There has to be a happy medium somewhere. I'm tempted to say more realistic expectations might help, but that's part of the problem, isn't it? The bar is already set so low that people don't feel moved to act. I guess my main question is: Is there a way to raise the bar without slapping people in the face?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Leopold: A political animal like any other

Warning: My criticism of Leopold is based only upon cursory familiarity with his work. I should want to learn more.

When Leopold, his various disciples, and others who shy away from taking responsibility for the adventure that is human artifice endorse their particular vision of a "natural" order of human communities (which, as Carrico has observed, often includes an appeal to nature as a moral category), they are still exercising their distinctive emotional and cognitive muscles with which only we, as political animals, have yet been endowed. No act of powerful human volition--not even the act of dreaming of a "state of nature" where humans try awkwardly to disrobe themselves of their artificial clothes (by "clothes" I mean everything we build atop the edifice of nature, including our political institutions, symphonies and financial markets)--can expunge that volition. There aren't very many kinds of animals (or cyborgs or other agents, if any) who could do what Leopold did, or who could do what Leopold wanted us to do with our politics (assuming the particular desires Leopold happened to proclaim are even possible to achieve in practice). And so far as I can tell, all of those exceptionally-endowed agents fit reasonably well in the category of the "human". Not even Leopold could escape from embodying human exceptionalism! (Nonetheless, one wonders whether he actually thought he had plucked his vision from an ethereal Tree of Truth rather than simply used his imagination--like all political animals--to invent his vision.)

Whether we like it or not, we are increasingly responsible for life on this planet. Rather than deny our special role, why shouldn't we embrace it?

(I'm trying not to sound human-racist, but as usual, it's difficult.)

(Acknowledgment: Thanks to Walter Truett Anderson for inspiration.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007


I loved this chapter! I love the whole creation and the intelligent design debate, but this was a whole new twist on the topic that I had never thought about before. Every account of evolution I've studied in geology really does end with the creation of man, but by no means do I believe that world was created for us. Religion teaches us this as well. Earth was made for us, that's how it always ends (but wait a minute, nothing has ended yet!!!!) I mean, for a species that has existed for an eye-blink of the earth's history, it sure is selfish of us to think it was created for us. Yet humankind takes its resources for granted, like on page 61: "If the world was made for us, then it belongs to us and we can do what we damn well please with it." Ah, if only we could take the words of Aldo Leopold and recognize that we are not the rulers of the earth but mere constituents of its community. We are not the king but mere subjects. We build and use and destroy, even so, hurricanes and earthquakes still bring us down to our knees. I do, however, want to refute the statement that "man's appearance caused no more stir than the appearance of a jellyfish." (pg 58) Did jellyfish drill oil fields, build highways and erect skyscrapers, destroy our coasts, and drop atomic bombs? Would they ever have developed this capacity. How selfish we are.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Textbooks are myth anthologies Ishmael says

"The Takers regard the world as a sort of human life-support system, as a machine designed to produce and sustain human life."

According to Ishmael, the human myth sees creation and the birth of the universe as a means to an End, that End being Mankind. Mankind is viewed by man as the end all be all of life-the most highly evolved of all creatures. The world, according to man, was made for Mankind, not necessarily by God, but by fate and destiny. This anthropocentric (Thank you David for the vocab.) view is both natural and cultural. Just as the invertebrate jelly on the edge of the primordial bowl viewed itself as the center of its universe, man sees himself as ultimately significant.

This is something we all recognize. Who is the proudest of these species?

This chapter describes quite a revelation for Ishmael's student, who denies the existence of the myth entirely. Later he accepts his ignorance as a result of his apparent acculturation. Much the same way Americans view liberal democracy as the greatest of all political systems, man as a whole is obsessed with his own dominance and way of life. I feel man may be as foolish today as he was during the dark ages. In many ways the world is still very flat. In so many words, creation was a means to an end-the end of the world, just as birth is a means to die.

If I get back from the city by the bay in time, I'll see you all Friday. If not, cheers until next time.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Check this out!

Since we are trying to save the world I think that it would be a really good idea to get a whole new perspective on the world. This is a really cool visual, it's called the breathing earth.

I am still absolutely baffled by the existence of a creation myth for our society, becuase though we have them derived from our religious traditions, religion is not a universal entity, and often times religious people are the source of conflict. Unless, perhaps as someone hinted, the creation of this 2nd chapter of the story of humanity lies in the creation of the Takers and agriculture. I am really excited to keep reading this book, I love how it pushes you.
After today's discussion, I was thinking that there is perhaps a startling feature to the vision of mankind. This feature can be thought of as the 'destined goal of humanity'. I think what is implied here is the myth about mankind's potential because it assumes we exist to achieve either a furthering of our species alone or that we have a purpose beyond that of our current position in the universe.
I believe that humans are starting to understand that our myth may be well intentioned, but is purely romantic. We all would love to see a more advanced humanity, but we should not lock ourselves in a box of anthropocentric design.
Why must we have a myth or story which seeks to focus human potential back onto itself? Why can't our vision of humanity being the 'final aim of the universe' simply be a vision of beings with a great amount of potential?

Sunday, February 4, 2007

To exist, or to be free?

We've talked a lot recently about "saving the world" and "saving humanity". Dale Carrico (one of my own favorite writers) has a different perspective: the championing of freedom and democracy above all else. The following is from a recent email from Dr Carrico. One of the great qualities of Carrico's writing is that it is dense with things to talk about. I'd like to hear Dr Brint's response to this in terms of conflicts between freedom and liberty (as he described in his book, Tragedy and Denial).
I will add, as an aside, however, that I am not too keen on the rhetoric of a humanity that needs saving when all is said and done, since what I think humanity needs most of all is to be free. I do not mean to belittle in the least the discourse of existential risk (and I am an advocate, for example, of a proportionate version of the precautionary principle as a democratizing peer-to-peer deliberative framework for technodevelopment, one that is more likely to encourage public works and r & d than to discourage them) and so on. But I do worry that the commonplace move of thinking about "the" future through repeated recourse to survival over self-creation, security over democracy, threats over promises, and more particularly elite knowledge of threats over rash and biased popular ignorance about these threats skews too much "futurist" discourse into profoundly (bio)conservative forms, usually forms that drift all-too-comfortably into ready-made neoliberal economic terms and forms of security-speak that rationalize endless military spending (that is to say, in affirmative action for elites). Again, I don't deny the dangers, but I insist that democratization yields more a robust, flexible, reliable, responsive knowledge base with which to deal with danger, and hence democracy is a priority even if one worries about danger. Again, I don't deny the instrumental force of concrete technodevelopmental outcomes, but I insist that it is not this force but the fairer distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of concrete technodevelopmental outcomes that renders them emancipatory or not.

Why I love Worldchanging

Since Scott has brought the Worldchanging community to our attention, let me explain--from the perspective of a sympathizer and cheerleader--some of its cool features, in no particular order. (Keep in mind that some would likely debate my stronger claims. They're just my own biased perceptions as a person who has been enthusiastically watching the group since its launch in 2003.) I strongly suggest starting by reading the very short "about" blurb on their site.

Worldchanging is a movement that aims, step by step, to actualize the fair, robust, and sustainable human civilization that now exists only in potential. And when they say "potential", they mean it. In fact, they don't even say "potential"; they say "it's here" already, and that we need only "to put the pieces together".

Worldchangers see the present political, economic, and social moment as a battleground on which a high-stakes, "all-or-nothing" (to use Steffen's words) battle is transpiring for the continuation of human life as we probably want to live it (unless we have a deranged idea of "the good life"). We either fail to put those pieces together (in which case the world falls into deeper and deeper turmoil), or we actually succeed. The prize for success could be about as close to utopia as we can get. The struggle for sustainable polyculture and more efficient industry is merely one facet of what Steffen (who I also had the pleasure of meeting recently), in the same piece referenced above, labels as the larger "fabric" of plights that challenge us now: climate, biodiversity, population, poverty, conflict, public health, toxics, terrorism.

In the face of this great struggle, it's all too easy to fall into the trap of nostalgia. "Technology is ripping the world apart! Let's reject all technology and restore our civilization to 'the natural order'!" This kind of bleak, depressing reminiscence of the past is known (to some of us) as "dark green environmentalism". The color of Worldchanging is--you guessed it--bright green! Worldchangers don't conflate (as many environmentalists make the mistake of doing) the insensitive, exploitative technodevelopment of the past with the potentially globe-renewing technoscience of the present and future. For me, that's a great reason to embrace Worldchanging.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Pearl Jam for Real?

I mentioned to Jon the other day that I was too ignorant to make links to relevant sites in my blogs for Ishmael. It turns out, when I joked that all I could knowledgeably link to were Pearl Jam lyrics I wasn't being as stupid as I had thought. In a Wikipeadia page I read today about Ishmael it mentions that Eddie Vedder, the lead singer for Pearl Jam, was inspired to write their album Yield by the book Ishmael. I didn't know this until today, but the very Pearl Jam song I was thinking about when I joked with Jon is on that album! It's called Do the Evolution. The lyrics are pretty relevant to our topic and are somewhat responsible for my feelings, impressionable young chap and music lover that I be. The video is amazing as are the lyrics. Take a look at them. Won't you?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

If my post seems a little redundant, it is. My mistake. I copied and pasted when I should have cut and pasted. Cheers.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'd like to say how much of a pleasure it is to work with and read with all y'all. I speak for myself when I say that some of the greatest minds at CLU will be meeting in Humanities on Fridays this semester to talk about some really important stuff. I'm not too optimistic about the world as we know it. Rest assured none of you are my reason for skepticism, but still I'm sure you'll understand my rationale by the end of the semester.

These are some reasons (or a rant) for why I feel the world cannot be saved.

1. Every time a product becomes more energy efficient, due to technological advances, it is just an excuse for everyone to have six of them instead of one, or, in the case of auto makers, an excuse to increase power, weight, or amenities cancelling out the savings of resources due to efficiency. If everyone can own a car that gets 100 miles to the gallon at a low price, the number of cars on the road will only increase and our pollution problem will remain. Large cars used to get around 20 miles to the gallon in the 1970s; SUVs today rarely get 20 miles per gallon. Consumer demand and ignorance perpetuates this trend.

2. People will not give up what they already have. It is damn near impossible to convince someone to voluntarily give up some energy or resource hogging device that makes their life, what they consider to be, easier or more convenient. It would be even more unlikely to get a politician who benefits from sale or application of that device to restrict or prohibit its use.

3. Most of the organic food eaten in America is consumed by babies, and even that is tainted thanks to those wasteful little jars.

4. Most people, including myself, are in denial. It can really be as bad as Al Gore says it is, can it?

5. People drink bottled water, religiously.

6. Most will not give up what they already have. It is damn near impossible to convince someone to voluntarily give up some energy or resource hogging device that makes their life, what they consider to be, easier or more convenient. It would be even more unlikely to get a politician who benefits from sale or application of that device to restrict or prohibit its use.

Like I said, a rant.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Grocery Store Wars

Ok so everyone needs to go to and search for Grocery War Stores, its the most amazing thing ever. Trust me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Should we embrace neophilia?

Thanks to the "futuramb blog", I found a provocative story by Simon Jenkins published today in The Gaurdian. His point is that we often overestimate the advancement of technology. I wrote a brief reaction (inspired by Dale Carrico). It might be relevant to a possible discussion of climate change.

Jenkins' take on technologic "progress" (or its lacking) is clear. But what about social progress? "We watch the future", he writes, "and have stopped watching the present." Insofar as I accept his claim that "we" (whoever "we" are) are making a mistake, I offer another opinion: We watch the technical, and fail to watch the social, the political, and the civil. We watch the technology of the elite, and have ignored that of the marginalized, the impoverished, and the victimized. Jenkins rejects neophilia, but does he also reject the rampant injustice of the "old" and especially of the present? His rhetoric inches treacherously close to reverence for our present material conditions. Yet the material basis of our present civilization is on the brink of failure! Jenkins is welcome to wallow in the nostalgia of primitive, dirty twentieth century technology. But if that sort of discourse gets in the way of demanding a brighter, greener world--one in which renewable energy can power the prosperity of billions, one where digital networks can transform our cultures and economies, and where democracy and human rights can flourish with the help of collaborative communication and institutions--then critical neophilia (or, better yet, a simply progressive attitude) is a sorely needed riposte.

Jenkins grabs our artifacts, holds them before us, and tries (with debatable success) to tell us they haven't changed much and they haven't changed us much. My point is that they obviously haven't changed enough; the moral crisis in which we find ourselves should, indeed, compel us to make cleaner, more humane artifacts. (Of course, as I imagine Jenkins would agree, we should also use the ones we now have more wisely.) My hope is that improving our things--our machines, gizmos, products--will position us to more easily improve our selves and our social lives.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I just finished the first chapter of Ishmael.

I can’t quite put all of my impressions into a coherent thought right now (and I’m fairly certain that was some of the point), but I’m intrigued by the use of labels.

The part that was the most interesting to me was that Ishmael thought he didn’t exist anymore when his label of “Goliath” was pronounced false. Unaware what the name “Goliath” even entailed, he still managed to put his entire identity into it.

The story the narrator told about his philosophy paper where the Nazis have taken over the world ended on the note that humanity had managed to craft a label so pervasive that anything it didn’t encompass ceased to exist. There were no words for how Kurt had been lied to. That was the point.

Even the way Ishmael first learned language at the circus, through parents who were teaching children the words for things before the child knew the thing itself, fit into that theme.

I don’t know what any of that means, or if it even has a meaning, but I’m excited to find out. Thanks again for making this study, Scott!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Crisis Too Urgent for Wisdom

The following is an excerpt from an address to the Minnesota Social Investment Forum delivered 6/7/1993 by Daniel Quinn:

It happened once that a certain Thomas Abbens, or Abbena, reputed to be the wisest man in Europe at that time, was summoned to the court of a young Walachian prince. "I'm in need of a shrewd advisor," the prince informed him. "My subjects are unruly, my enemies ambitious, my sons disobedient, and my wife deceitful. Yet it may be that I will master them all, with your help."

"I'll gladly help you," Abbens replied, "but as a teacher, not as an advisor. We must review your education and remedy its manifest deficiencies."

But the prince sent the wise man away, saying, "It's not my education that troubles me but rather my subjects, my enemies, my sons, and my wife."

A score of years passed before the prince once again summoned Abbens to his side. "I bitterly regret," he said, "that I declined the proposal you made to me, but there's no time to accept it now, for the situation is desperate. My subjects plot against me, my enemies encroach at will upon our lands, my sons defy me before their friends, and my wife contrives to alienate what few allies I have left. Guide me through this crisis with your wisdom, then there'll be time to remedy the deficiencies you perceive in my education."

The wise man shook his head and replied, "What you're asking is that I become prince to your subjects, warrior to your enemies, father to your sons, and husband to your wife. How can this possibly save you? You must learn to become these things yourself, and even a feeble beginning is better than none at all."

But the prince sent Abbens away a second time, saying, "If you won't help me in this hour of crisis, then I must seek one who will."

When Abbens next met the prince, a decade later, he was a prince no longer but only a beggar in the streets of Budapest.

"It happened a year ago," the former prince explained. "Because my subjects were in open rebellion, my sons conspired to seize the throne. And my enemies, informed of the conspiracy by my treacherous wife, chose this opportunity to fall upon us. But perhaps some good may yet come of these calamities, for, if you will share it with me, I am at least now free to avail myself of the wisdom I formerly rejected."

But Abbens replied: "The catastrophe that wisdom might have averted has already befallen you. Of what use is wisdom to you now?"

Looking forward to the adventure

Dear Ishmaelers,

I look forward to participating in this project. Thanks Scott and Jonathan for setting up the blog.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Current Syllabus

Come to the meetings. That simple. If you miss it, YOU suffer...that's all.

I would like to see each member post an entry at least once a week. Length does NOT matter, simply I need to know where everyone is at. This will help me with the discussions.

Reaction essay:
At the end of this book study all members will write a summery of their reactions and critiques on this blog.