Archive

Monthly Archives: January 2017

January 21, 2017

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto

500 million people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Jaron Lanier, a master programmer and virtual reality pioneer, writes a book about the ways people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate.

In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for a person. We all profess to know this, but when we get online it becomes easy to forget. In Facebook, as it is with other online social networks, life is turned into a database, and this is a degradation.

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto:

  1. We know that having two thousand friends on Facebook is not what it looks like and we know that we are using software to behave in a certain, superficial way towards others. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us?
  2. Software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible.
  3. Imagine a computer without the files. Or consider MIDI, an inflexible, early eighties digital music protocol for connecting different musical components, such as a keyboard and computer. It’s the basis of all the music we hear today, despite its limited musical range.
  4. Designs are often taken up in a slap-dash last minute manner and then become “locked-in.” Because they are software used by millions of people, they are too difficult to adapt or change.
  5. Is the software we are locked into really fulfilling our needs? Or are we reducing ourselves to the software? Giving it power it doesn’t have. Fetishizing technology, because we believe if it’s new it must be good.
  6. Lock-in happens quickly and we forget what exactly we are locking into. Facebook was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? Do you have a life – prove it, post pictures. Do you like the right sorts of things – movies, music, books and television, (but not architecture, ideas, or plants).

Quote

These designs came together very recently, and there’s a haphazard, accidental quality to them. Resist the easy grooves they guide you into. If you love a medium made of software, there’s a danger that you will become entrapped in someone else’s careless thoughts. Fight against this!

The Careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore

When a human being becomes a set of data on a website like Facebook, he or she is reduced. Everything shrinks. Individual character. Friendships. Language. Sensibility. We’re preoccupied with personal trivia because that’s what Mark Zukerberg thinks friendship is.

Step back from your Facebook Wall for a moment: doesn’t it, suddenly, look a little ridiculous? Your life in this format?

 

Take Away Points and Context

  • Because society places such an emphasis on new technology, it’s easy to believe that what is new is good. We seldom stop to think about whether the adoption of a technology is right.
  • In a sense, the big social media companies have pulled off a massive coup. We give them our time and attention and they make millions selling us stuff through advertisements.
  • Technological lock-in can happen quick: 500 million people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard Sophomore (and, no I don’t want to poke you).

 

Full Article:

Generation Why?

Zadie Smith

 

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto

by Jaron Lanier
Knopf, 209 pp., $24.95

 

You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto. Your comments are welcome below.

January 21, 2017

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living

To find happiness we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Russ Harris writes that everything we believe about happiness is inaccurate, misleading or false. These beliefs make us miserable – our very efforts to find happiness actually prevent us from achieving it. Everyone is in the same boat – including all those psychologists, psychiatrists, and self-help gurus who claim they have the answers.

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living:

  1. A growing body of scientific research suggests we are all caught in a powerful psychological trap. We lead our lives ruled by many unhelpful and inaccurate beliefs about happiness – ideas widely accepted because “everyone knows they are true.”
  2. Despite the West’s wealth it’s inhabitants don’t appear to be happy. Despite all the advice from experts and gurus, human happiness does not appear to be diminishing but growing by leaps and bounds. The statistics are staggering. 30% of the adult population will suffer from a recognized psychological disorder; depression is widespread; a quarter of people will suffer drug or alcohol addiction at some point in their life. One in 10 people attempt suicide and a half contemplate it for a period of at least two weeks or more. It’s not a pretty picture, lasting happiness is not normal.

Happiness Myths:

  1. Happiness Is the Natural State for All Human Beings. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, our culture insists that humans are naturally happy. When you add in all the misery caused by problems that are not classified as psychiatric disorders – loneliness, divorce, work stress, midlife crises, relationship issues, social isolation, prejudice, and lack of meaning and purpose – you get an idea of how rare happiness is. Unfortunately, we often walk around with the belief that everyone else is happy. This creates even more unhappiness.
  2. If You’re not Happy, You’re Defective. Western society assumes that mental suffering is abnormal. It is seen as a weakness or illness, a product of a mind that is faulty or defective. Consequently, when we do experience painful thoughts and feelings, we often criticize ourselves for being weak or stupid.
  3. To Create a better Life, We Must Get Rid of Negative Feelings. We live in a feel-good society, a culture thoroughly obsessed with finding happiness. And what does society tell us to do? To eliminate ‘negative’ feelings and accumulate ‘positive’ ones  in their place. This despite that everything meaningful we embark on in life – jobs, careers, families, relationships, business projects – will all generate both positive and negative experiences. There will be wonderful feelings, but there will also be disappointments, set-backs and frustrations. Not to mention stress, fear and anxiety.
  4. You Should Be Able to Control What You Think and Feel. We actually have much less control over our thoughts and feelings than we would like. It’s not that we have no control; it’s just that we have much less than most people would have us believe. However, we do have a huge amount of control over our actions. And it’s through taking action that we can create a rich, full, and meaningful life.

Quote

Thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories are not that easy to control. It’s not that you don’t have any control over these things; it’s just that you have much less control than you thought. Or else why aren’t we all living in perpetual bliss?

The actual degree of control we have over our thoughts and feelings depends largely on how intense they are, and what situation we are in – the less intense the feelings and the less stressful the situation, the more control we have.

The more intense our thoughts and feelings are and the more stressful environment we are in, the less effective our attempts at control will be.

Increasing self-awareness is a start. Noticing your thoughts and feelings during the day, possibly keeping a journal. In order to better deal with unpleasant thoughts we can make room for them, instead of pushing them away. We can feel them, explore them. You can observe yourself thinking, using a powerful, but often under-appreciated aspect of the mind, that of the Observer Self. And you can clarify what is important to you by understanding and connecting with your values and taking action to realize them.

Take Away Points and Context

  • The Human mind has given us an enormous advantage as a species. It enables us to make plans, invent things, coordinate actions, analyze problems, share knowledge, learn from our experiences, and imagine new futures. It was built for threat detection and survival, however, not happiness. Fleeting positive emotions helped drive survival-conducive behavior.
  • Life involves pain. Sooner or later we will all grow infirm, get sick and die. We will lose valued relationships through rejection, separation, or death, and we will come face to face with crises, disappointment and failure.
  • Great advice about how to improve your life comes at you from all directions: find a meaningful job, do this work-out, get out in nature, take-up a hobby, join a club, contribute to charity, learn new skills, have fun with friends, and so on. All of these activities can be deeply satisfying if you do them because they are important and meaningful to you. If these activities are used to mainly escape unpleasant thoughts and feelings, chances are, they won’t be very rewarding.
  • To find happiness we try to avoid or get rid of bad feelings, but the harder we try, the more bad feelings we create. Try to look at the costs of avoidance, examine your negative feelings, can you help understand and diffuse them?

 

 

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living. You Comments Welcome below.

January 21, 2017

Die Broke: Quit Today Pay Cash Don’t Retire

Die Broke: Quit Today Pay Cash Don’t Retire

What does it do to a person's soul when they have a reason to look forward to the death of a loved one?

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Stephen M. Pollan writes that our approach to money, career, and much else in life is outmoded, based on principles and beliefs that come from the past. Your fear of dying broke is an early twentieth-century fear carried forward to twenty-first-century life.

Die Broke: Quit Today Pay Cash Don’t Retire

  1. Employment is not as secure as it used to be, don’t vest too much in any one job. Mentally separate yourself from your employer and realize that you are on your own. Once you quit in your head, being fired is no longer a real threat: You’re already a free agent on the lookout for your next opportunity.
  2. It’s rare today for a job to be rewarding both emotionally and financially. Be mercantile. View your job as an income-generating device. Focus on the job, not your whole career. Any other benefits other than money are purely secondary.
  3. Pay cash. Frugality has long-lasting psychic rewards. Working hard to save for something means you’ll truly value it when you get it, and, you’ll be careful about what you buy. You’ll earn interest while saving rather than paying interest while borrowing.
  4. Don’t retire. The world is changing. People are living longer, company pensions are shrinking, so is state support, the retirement age is rising. Don’t hang all your hopes on retiring at 65. Plan to work for longer. There are proven psychological benefits if you can continue working in work you find acceptable or even enjoy.
  5. Die Broke. Inheritance made sense when it consisted of fixed assets – like a family farm, a business, or a set of tools – and was part of an implicit contract between generations. This has changed. Inheritance hurts the hoarder who chooses not to spend money on themselves. It can hurt families and even the recipients who may be less motivated to go out and earn themselves.
  6. Inheritance is also inefficient, subject to large amounts of tax, and hurts society by keeping wealth locked up in real-estate.

Quote

Having a mercantile approach doesn’t mean obsessing over money. It simply means using your job to generate the money you need to pursue your goals, rather than looking to the job itself to fulfill those goals. A career is simply a series of such jobs viewed from above and placed in some kind of context. And a life’s work need not be what is done on the job.
Forget about retirement. Look at your working life as a lifelong journey up and down hills rather than as a single climb up a steep cliff that ends with a fatal step off the edge at the arbitrary age of sixty-five.

Combined, the four points made in Die Broke offer an alternative way to plan our finances, lives and careers. We can view work not as a life-long slog that ends with freedom and steady decline, but as a series of adventures. Much will be done to earn us money, some will be done for enjoyment. That money will go further if we are frugal and save, taking advantage of tax benefits to put money away for retirement. That retirement should never come, though, as you may find it more profitable and enjoyable to keep working. You can also keep spending. Month-long trips abroad, studying Renaissance art in Italy, going to the cinema and theater more often…

“The last check should be to the undertaker…and it should bounce.”

Take Away Points and Context

  • Frugality offers dramatic real-life benefits – it’s a life preserver that can keep you from drowning in a sea of red ink.
  • Estates and potential inheritance can hurt families. Be inserting economic self-interest into emotional decisions, they can damage family dynamics and relationships. What does it do to a persons soul when they have a reason to look forward to the death of a loved one?
  • Saving, persevering in jobs you don’t like, spending wisely, searching for meaningful pursuits, alternative employments and dying broke are all things to consider.

 

 

Die Broke: Quit Today Pay Cash Don’t Retire. Comments welcome below.
January 20, 2017

Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway

Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway

Our lives are often ruled by fears, even for the most seemingly successful people.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Susan Jeffers’ classic on understanding and dealing with fears. How to turn your fear and indecision into confidence and action.

Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway:

Everyone has fears in their life and they can be broken down into three levels.

Level One Fears. These are the surface story. Fears that happen such as aging, becoming disabled, retirement, being alone, children leaving home, natural disasters, loss of financial security, change, dying, war, illness. Also fears that require action such as going back to school, making decisions, changing career, making friends, ending or beginning a relationship, public speaking, using the telephone, asserting oneself, losing weight, being interviewed, driving.

Level Two Fears. Behind level one fears are level two fears, fears to do with the ego. Rejection, Success, Failure, Being Vulnerable, Being Conned, Helplessness, Disapproval, Loss of Image. All these fears are to do with inner states of mind. They are generalized fears and can affect many areas of a person’s life. A fear of rejection will affect friends, relationships, job interviews etc…

Level Three Fear. At the bottom of every fear is the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may throw at you. All fears all translate to the level three fear:

  • I can’t handle illness.
  • I can’t handle a mistake.
  • I can’t handle losing my job.
  • I can’t handle getting old.
  • I can’t handle being alone.
  • I can’t handle making a fool out of myself.
  • I can’t handle success.
  • I cant handle failure.
  • I can’t handle being rejected.
  • And so on and so forth….

 

The Truths

  1. To diminish your fear you must trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way. If you’re feeling fear this means you are not feeling good enough about your abilities to cope. Develop trust in yourself, say to yourself: “Whatever happens to me, given any situation, I can handle it.”
  2. Fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow. As long as you set new goals, take new risks, challenge yourself, you will always feel some fear.
  3. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it. The ‘doing it’ comes before the fear goes away. There is no waiting until you feel better.
  4. The only way to feel better about something is to go out and do it. Many successful people have felt fear and pushed through it.
  5. Everyone feels fear whenever they are on unfamiliar territory. Even Presidents and CEOs feel fear doing something new.
  6. Pushing through fear is less frightening than living with the underlying fear that comes from a feeling of helplessness. Everyone feels fear as they move through life. The more helpless we feel, the more severe is the undercurrent of dread we have facing situations we know we have no control over.

 

Quote

So Commit! Commit yourself to pushing through the fear and becoming more than you are at the present moment. The you that could be is absolutely colossal. You don’t need to change what you are doing – simply commit to learning how to bring whatever you do in life the loving and powerful energy of your Higher self.

Choosing to Say Yes

Charles chose to rehabilitate himself after a being paralyzed from the waist down. Before the accident, Charles had been blind to the fact his life had meaning. Now he believes he was more handicapped before the accident; only since then has he derived satisfaction from living.

Giving Away

Genuine giving is altruistic and makes us feel better. Give away your thanks, time, money, and love. When we give from a place of love, rather than a place of expectation, we usually get more back to us than we imagine.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Our lives are often ruled by fears, even the most seemingly successful people. These fears can be understood on different levels. Understanding our fears and their underlying causes is one step to helping us strengthens our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us.
  • Trying is more important than success. Understanding and strengthening our ability to cope with our fears means we can take more risks. Changing beliefs and habits take time. We all have a right to a life free of fear.
  • Understand you fears and then…do it anyway.

 

Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway: Comment Welcome Below.

 

January 20, 2017

Knowing When to Quit (And When to Stick)

Knowing When to Quit (And When to Stick)

We are often seduced by stories of innate talent and instant success and forget the effort required there.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Seth Godin writes a book on quitting, specifically strategic quitting. Every new project (or career or relationship) starts out exciting and fun. Then it gets harder and less fun, until it hits a low point – really hard, really not fun. At this point you may be in a Dip, which will get better if you keep pushing, or a Cul-de-Sac, which will never get better no matter how hard you try.

It benefits to know which one you are in.

Knowing When to Quit (And When to Stick):

  1. Benefits accrue to those who are able to push a bit longer than most. Benefits also accrue to those with the guts to quit early and refocus their efforts on something else.
  2. The market place loves a winner. The number one in any marketplace often accrues 30% or more of sales.
  3. The mass market is dying. There is no longer one best song or coffee. Now there are a million micro-markets, but each micro-market still has a best.
  4. The dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. It can act as a screen or barrier to keep the unmotivated out. A typical resume of any CEO shows they’ve endured a twenty-five year Dip before landing the job. There are all sorts of dips.
  5. The Cul-de-Sac (French for “Dead End”) is a situation where you work and work and nothing gets better. A Cul-de-Sac keeps you from doing something else. Stick with the Dips that are likely to pan out, quit the Cul-de-sacs to focus your resources.
  6. If it’s worth doing then its probably has a Dip. Because few people work through the Dip there is scarcity, scarcity creates value.

Quote

The market wants to see you persist. It demands a signal from you that you’re serious, powerful, accepted, and safe. The bulk of a market, any market, is made up of those folks who are in the middle of the bell curve, the ones who want to buy something proven and valued.

You know it, but you may not be doing anything about it. When it comes right down to it, right down to the hard decisions, are you quitting any project that isn’t a Dip? Or is it just easier not to rock the boat, to hang in there, to avoid the short-term hassle or changing paths?

Superstars

Superstars are in fields with steep Dips. There is a barrier between those who try and those who succeed. This isn’t for everyone, that’s why there are so few Superstars. To succeed in the Dip you need to quit all your Cul-de-Sacs. You must quit all the projects, investments and endeavors that don’t offer you the same opportunity.

Take Away Points and Context

  • We are often seduced by stories of innate talent and instant success. An actress being discovered at the local drugstore, an entrepreneur or novelist who makes it big. It seems easy and exciting and we forget the effort required before-hand to get them there.
  • Quitting in a Dip can be bad short term decision, if you want success you will need to work through the Dip. Strategic quitting is a conscious decision you make based on the choices available to you. If you realize you are at a dead-end, seeing no improvement at all, quitting is a smart, reasonable choice.
  • Quitting in a Dip can mean settling for less. Not everyone wants to be a CEO, success is how you define it. That success may come through quitting Cul-de-Sacs and working through Dips.

 

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)

Seth Godin

A New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller

 

Knowing When to Quit (And When to Stick). Comment Welcome below.

January 12, 2017

We Are All Mortal: The Importance of End of Life Care

We are all mortal

The tragedy of old age and death cannot be fixed by medicine. 

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

A surgeon, Atul Gawande, writes a book on mortality, the inevitability of decline and the how our medical systems fails us in the end. No matter how careful or healthy we are, we – like everyone else – will one day die. Most likely after a long period of decline and debility.

We Are All Mortal:

  1. The average Westerner spends a year or more disabled and living in a nursing home. The change from traditional ways of life, where families live together and children support their parents, has many reasons. These include increased age spans, improved medical practice and financial independence.
  2. Many elderly enjoy their independence and report greater contentment than the young do. Decline is inevitable though and there are three main types. Fatal diseases, such as an incurable cancer, for which treatment can hold death off for a short period of time. Chronic diseases, such as emphysema, treatable, but relapses wear the body down. Finally, there is frailty, the accumulated crumbling of one’s systems.
  3. The major threat to old people is that they will fall down. Most falls are due to muscle weakness and poor balance, and from taking multiple medications.  About 20 percent of elderly people who fall and fracture a hip will develop complications within a year that they will never recover from.

We Are All Mortal:

  1. Nursing homes arose as a solution for hospitals that needed to empty their beds of patients who had nowhere else to go. They were not foremost designed as places where the elderly would be content. There quality varies. In the worst, residents sleep two to a room and are medicated when awake. All place safety before autonomy and are designed to appeal to the residents children not the resident themselves. Many elderly dislike the lack of control and the unfamiliarity of their surroundings, preferring their own homes, despite the dangers.
  2. Death comes for most people after a long medical struggle. No one wants to give up, it’s even harder if the victim is still young. Even when physicians know how bleak the outcome is they often hide it from their patients. Survival statistics form a long bell-shaped curve in which a few people live longer than the norm. Most believe they can beat the odds, and physicians are loath to discourage them.
  3. When the suffering outweighs the benefits, the author favors palliative care. He cites research that shows that those who see a palliative care specialist stop treatment sooner, enter hospice earlier, experience less suffering at the end of their lives—and live 25 percent longer.

Quote

The waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit. They are spent in institutions—nursing homes and intensive care units—where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life. Our reluctance to examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need.

No one ever has control. Physics and biology and accident have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines.

A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure is how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond being safe and living longer.

That the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.

Hard Facts

Our mortality is often something we need reminding about.  Around the age of forty a person begins to lose muscle mass and power. As we age lung capacity decreases, bowls slow down, glands stop functioning, even our brain shrinks. By the age of seventy there is a inch of space in the skull that wasn’t there before and falls can easily lead to cerebral bleeding.

The progress in medical and public health has been remarkable. We no longer keel over at thirty. For most of us the end is not sudden and dramatic, but a slow deterioration of health. A decline,  then a plateau, then another deterioration. Travelling along these downhill stretches we often regard the declines as embarrassments.

We regard dependence as weakness and hold up examples of the long tail as something we should all aspire to. Often the medical system supports us in these aspirations, providing minimal-benefit treatments or striving to keep us alive no matter the cost – both physically and mentally.

Hard talks matter. Before under-going any treatment Gawande implores us discuss and understand what matters to us most and what we are willing to risk.

Take Away Points and Context

  • The tragedy of old age and death cannot be fixed by medicine and as society we need to find a better way to deal with it.
  • Several studies have shown that nursing homes that have more stimulation and autonomy increase both longevity and the happiness of patients.
  • Endings matter and it important to understand a person’s priorities, what their fears are, what they can accept what they cannot.

Full article:

A Better Way Out

Marcia Angell

 

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande
Metropolitan, 282 pp., $26.00

We Are All Mortal: End of Life Care’s Importance. Your comments welcome below.

January 8, 2017

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

We are not alone on earth. There are several highly intelligent, emphatic species right here within our midst.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Carl Safina’s ground-breaking book details the richness of animals inner lives. He offers compelling evidence that large brained animals – the great apes, killer whales, bottle-nosed dolphins, elephants and wolves, have emotions and cultures that are richer than previously thought.

What Animals Think and Feel:

  1. Emotions evolved in the distant past. Oxytocin, is the chemical that creates feelings of pleasure and increases sociability. It seems to have evolved over 700 million years ago. Even worms exhibit great behavioral sophistication. Charles Darwin believed that their emotional responses to their environment meant they deserved to be classed as intelligent.
  2. Those who have spent decades studying elephants call them smart, social, emotional, personable, respectful of ancestors, playful, self-aware and compassionate. Matriarch led clans of female elephants sometimes associate in larger groups. Individual elephants are able to recognize up to a thousand individuals. They have been known to extract spears from wounded friends, to stay with infants born with disabilities, and to grieve their losses.
  3. Dogs and wolves are intelligent too. There are many similarities between wolves and humans. They are tough, flexible in social structure, capable of forming pair bonds and adaptable to changing hierarchies. While the traditional view is that human’s domesticated dogs over tens of thousands of years ago, the plausible alternative is that wolves initiated contact and the relationship developed out of mutual value to each other.

What Animals Think and Feel:

  1. Sperm whales have the largest brains on earth, around six times larger than our own. Like elephants, adult males live independent lives, roaming solo or moving from group to group. Females and children live in clans of up to thirty. They are social too, taking care of each other’s young and communicating through sonar clicks. Each clan’s clicks are distinctive and mark identity. They allow the whales to synchronize their diving, feeding and other activities.
  2. Killer Whales (Orcas) have a different social organization. Males remain with their mothers all their life. All the young whales have extended lactating periods, reaching, in some cases, to 15 years. Along with human’s they are the only other mammal to experience the menopause. As much as a quarter of the females in any group can be post reproductive but still active. With lifespans of eighty years, grandmothers are important in killer whale societies due to their accumulated knowledge.
  3. Killer whales are also xenophobic and clans have their own food taboos. Some clans eat only one species of seal, others only one species of salmon and they don’t intermingle with members of the other clans. Like sperm whales, the vocalizations are also clan specific. They have been known to form working relations with humans, hunting together and sharing the prey afterwards.

Quote

So strong is elephant empathy that they sometimes bury their dead, and will return repeatedly to the skeleton of a deceased matriarch to fondle her tusks and bones. When the Amboseli matriarch Eleanor was dying, the matriarch Grace approached her, her facial glands streaming with emotion, and tried to lift her to her feet.

Grace stayed with the stricken Eleanor through the night of her death, and on the third day Eleanor’s family and closest friend Maya visited the corpse. A week after the death the family returned again to express what can only be called their grief.

A researcher once played the recording of a deceased elephant’s voice to its family. The creatures went wild searching for their lost relative, and the dead elephant’s daughter called for days after.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel builds on the recent evidence that suggests animals lives are more complex than we have previously taken for granted. We are not alone on earth. There is intelligent life here. There are several smart, socially emphatic species within our midst.
  • It is a unfamiliar conclusion, but one based on evidence. Before the domestication of plants and the invention of writing, there was little difference between human societies and those of the higher animals.
  • The brains of dogs, as well as humans, have shrunk since we began living together, perhaps because of the mutual aid offered. Our dogs understand us and love us, but we often surrender from the full implications. Why asks the author has it taken so long for to understand animals are intelligent too? Are our egos threatened? Does acknowledging the mind of others make it harder to abuse them?

 

Full article:

The Amazing Inner Lives of Animals

Tim Flannery

See also:

Animals Minds: I think therefore…

The Economist

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel

by Carl Safina
Henry Holt, 461 pp., $32.00

 

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. Your comments welcome below.
January 7, 2017

Why American’s Love Guns: Another Day in the Death of America

Why American's Love Guns

While the evidence put forward that gun controls work is compelling, gun-control measures are unlikely to strengthen.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

New books look at guns, mass shootings and the victims from the angles of those both for and against stricter gun laws.

Why American’s Love Guns:

  1. There are over 30,000 gun deaths in America each year, two thirds suicides and one third murder.
  2. The murder rate per 100,000 citizens is 3.4, more than 5 times any other developed country.
  3. Many Americans believe firearms are the cornerstone of political liberty and that restricting them would cause more crime.
  4. There are already 300 million guns in private hands and congress consistently votes down even weak gun control measures.
  5. Many American’s disagree with their country’s gun culture but feel helpless to act.
  6. Pro-gun lobbies strongly influence the debate through lobbying of congress and the promotion of libertarian ideologies.

Quote

In “Another Day in the Death of America”, a journalist, Gary Younge, examines the most excruciating gun casualties of all: children and teenagers. The book recounts the stories of the ten young people, aged 19 or under, who were shot and killed on the arbitrarily selected date of Saturday November 23rd 2013.

The result is a sharp portrait of America, painted in blood. The victims are white, black and Latino (though mainly the latter two), from all over the country. For example: A nine-year-old shot by his mother’s vengeful ex-boyfriend. An eleven year-old  shot in the head by a friend as they played with a rifle. A sixteen year old killed by a friend while goofing around with a pistol they had bought.

Massacres

In “Rampage Nation”, Louis Klarevas, a security expert, looks at mass shootings, such as the school massacres at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.  These types of attacks are the most well known and documented but they account for only a small number of firearm homicides.

All violent crimes, Mr Klarevas notes, are composed of a perpetrator, a target and a weapon. Preventing them involves removing at least one of those elements. But the perpetrators of gun massacres cannot be deterred (most already plan to die); anyone can be a target, and protecting everyone all the time is impossible. The only plausible strategy is to restrict sales of guns that rapidly fire large numbers of bullets.

Take Away Points and Context

  • There is an unbridgeable gap in America between those who see guns morally unacceptable, devices of pointless tragedy and a public health issue, and those for which guns are bound up with ideas of political freedom.
  • Many of the proposed reforms in favor of stricter gun control would require handing over power to government and public institutions, something many American’s are loath to do.
  • While the evidence put forward that gun controls work is compelling, gun-control measures are unlikely to strengthen. The constitution’s Second Amendment begins with a clause about militias. In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that it gives individuals the right to own guns.

 

Full Article:

Barrel of deaths: Why Americans love guns

The Economist

 

Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives.

By Gary Younge. Nation Books; 267 pages; $25.99.

Guardian Faber; £16.99.

Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings.

By Louis Klarevas.Prometheus;

397 pages; $25.

Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free.

By Cody Wilson. Gallery Books; 320 pages; $26.

Why American’s Love Guns. Your comments welcome below.
January 2, 2017

How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values

People want more than just freedom and choice. They want to belong, they want community rooted in something shared and they want to find meaning beyond themselves.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

Nick Spencer argues that the positive effects of the West’s Christian history are downplayed and that it still has role to play in people’s lives.

How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values:

  1. One view of Christianity is of it as a revolutionary idea. A voluntary basis for human association; the coming together of people in love rather than blood or shared material objectives.
  2. Christianity also emphasized individuality, through everyone’s unique relationship with God.
  3. Out of this came the modern world: a belief in equality as the proper basis for a legal system and the assertion of personal liberty stemming from inalienable natural rights.
  4. The Church was not sin free, says Mr. Spencer, but too often the sins of the establishment, both then and now, mean the communal, educational, creative and psychological benefits of Christendom are overlooked.
  5. Shorn of its establishment baggage, Mr Spencer argues, Christianity still has much to contribute toward dignity, freedom and equality.
  6. Not everyone in the West is disenchanted with religious faith and the end of religion is overstated.

Quote

People still want more than just freedom and choice. They want to belong, they want community rooted in something shared and they want to find meaning beyond themselves.

Having arrived at the secular self we kept on searching.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Since the early years of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, when a few brave philosophers attacked the hypocrisy of the established Church, religious views have been on decline in Europe and America (more so in Europe).
  • Many authors have declared the triumph of secular man, the evils of religion, and promoted the merits of Science vs. God.
  • Mr Spencer’s book offers a counter point, reasserting how much the West owes Christianity. And how much Christianity still has to offer.

 

Full Article:

Christianity and History: The Search Goes On

The Economist

 

The Evolution of the West: How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values.

By Nick Spencer.

SPCK; 190 pages; £9.99.

How Christianity Has Shaped Our Values. Comments welcome below.

January 1, 2017

Tibet: Cultural Genocide

Much like the American West, a people are being destroyed by a dominant, more populous and aggressive culture.

Click to Tweet

What’s it about?

The Economist writes a briefing on the effects of modernization and China’s administrative methods on Tibetan culture. Social transformation sometimes welcome, often resented.

Tibet: Cultural Genocide:

  1. The Chinese government has coerced hundreds of thousands of Tibetan nomads into settling into new villages.
  2. Han Chinese make up 90% of the population of China. Tibetan’s are less 0.5%. Most of them are in areas that are now occupied by Han Chinese.
  3. Central Tibet, because of its forbidding environment, is still Tibetan dominated but that is changing. Lhasa the capital now compromises 22% Han, up from 17% in 2000.
  4. New roads and railway lines connect central Tibet to the rest of China and have brought an influx of Chinese tourists, most of the benefits flow to other Han Chinese, who run the hotels and restaurants where tourists stay.
  5. Traditional Tibetan culture is under attack from both modernization and the in-flux of Chinese culture. Monasteries, once a central feature of Tibetan culture, are closing as the young lose interest and the Chinese government restrains their influence.
  6. Through a mixture of coercion and choice Tibetan culture is eroding. Some woman, for example, now use skin-whitening products following the common Chinese practice.

Quote

The Dalai Lama accuses China’s government of “cultural genocide”, a fear echoed by a tour guide in Qinghai, one of five provinces across which most of the country’s 6m Tibetans are scattered “We know what happened to the Jews,” he says. “We are fighting for our existence.”

Less commonly told is the despair felt by many young Tibetans who feel shut out of China’s boom. They are victims of Tibet’s remote and forbidding topography as well as of racial prejudice and the Chinese Communist party’s anti-separatist zeal. They often cannot migrate to coastal factories, and few factories will come to them.

Even fluent Mandarin speakers rarely find jobs outside their region.

A far away land (and problem)

Chinese and foreigners alike have long romanticized Tibet’s high-altitude vastness, Buddhist culture and simple nomadic economy, seeing in it a place of peace and tranquility. The reality for Tibetan’s is different.

China’s campaign to eradicate support for the Dalai Lhama and ensure no further uprisings, has broken whatever peace they had.  Even nursery school’s often teach in Mandarin Chinese. A singer who tried to protect the language was imprisoned for three years. Educated Tibetan’s are co-opted into Han government positions. Tibet’s economic wealth flows to Han migrants and Tibetan society falls under strict Han control.

Take Away Points and Context

  • Much like the American West, a people are being destroyed or assimilated by a dominant, more populous and aggressive culture.
  • While most traditional pastoral cultures face problems when they modernize, Chinese repression compounds the problem.
  • Because of China’s wealth and influence, and the often romantic view Westerner’s have of China, little is done to protect and assert Tibetan’s rights.

 

Full Article:

Tibet: The Plateau, Unpacified

The Economist

See also: Free Tibet a charity that promotes the rights of Tibetan’s.

 

Tibet: Cultural Genocide. Your comments are welcome below.