I heart Steven Pinker. And I have hearted Steven Pinker since 1998, when I first* read "How the Mind Works."
*: I have read it probably a dozen times since then, and although some of his ideas have fallen out of favor since the time of publication, I still enjoy it and learn things from it all the time.
Edited at 2008-06-10 02:07 am (UTC)
They say that environmentalism is the religion of liberals.
(Disclaimer: I consider myself mostly liberal so I'm allowed to make these jokes!)
2008-06-10 07:32 am (UTC)
The analogy between dangers of (Islamic) terrorism in Western socities and dangers of horse-shit might be fine. You just have to travel outside the Western world to see that terrorism is hardly a global concern. Currently I am in India (where terrorist attacks are far more than in Israel-Palestine) and yes, it is present here in minds of people but it is certainly not the thing that they see as ending the world. They see terrorism mainly as a nuisance. Ofcourse the western-looking (english) media is buying more and more into this islamo-fascist taking over the world bullshit (or should I say horse shit).
Another thing I hate is the term "post 9/11-world". The world hardly changed after 9/11. What did change is America and, I must say, for the worst.
On the other hand, environment is a different phenomenon. People everywhere are noting it. Irregular rain patterns, increasing temperatures, lower water tables, fish disappearing are some of the things people are noticing. I must say a lot of this might not have to do with global warming but is a direct effect of human intervention with nature.
oh, i'm not at all disputing that we are causing harmful effects to the environment. i'm not even claiming it's exaggerated. what i don't agree with is the projections for the future. in particular, what we should do to minimize future harm. i believe the answer is more/better technology, not less.
for instance, carbon sequestration by seeding the oceans with iron or spraying the stratosphere with sulfur can reverse global warming at a ridiculously low cost, so low that bill gates can probably fund it with his personal wealth. of course, we need more research before we can actually do so because we don't know what the side effects will be.
the problem is, research on geo-engineering gets zero funding. in fact, no one is even willing to talk openly about it. there is this distinctly religious aspect to it: it is as if interfering with the earth in a fundamental way is sacrilege. and yet, that is exactly what we've been doing for the last century, and geo-engineering is simply about cleaning up after ourselves.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planetary_engineering#Geoengineering
That exactly is "the" problem with "Technology". The side effects you talk about can never be comprehended in its entirety, no matter how many years you spend researching on it.
Human beings will find ways to progress, thats probably why human race is still alive. It is an inherent trait, the progress could be Technology, Spirituality, Wealth, Medicine... whatever. It cannot be and should not be stopped. But the process of achieving progress should be SHOULD change, so that one learns the discipline to handle the progress during the course of achieving it. The debate should not be about "less" technology or "more/better" technology, it should be about the discipline required in using the technology.
A martial art student has to sweat and struggle for years to master the art. Once he becomes a true master, he will not go on a bone-breaking spree hurting people. He won't abuse his power, because he has acquired the discipline and discretion to use the power when he struggled for it.
But, that is not the case with modern technology. Power is something that money can buy - so, why not buy it!? Why bother understanding precisely why and when a revolver can be used, when one can buy it over the counter and shoot others at will?
Technology should be "used" and not "abused". This fundamental change of view could possibly solve most of our problems.
2008-06-11 05:34 am (UTC)
Re: Use and Abuse
perhaps you should watch that video, and then explain why if guns are so easy to abuse, why murder rates in the modern world are several orders of magnitude lower than our ancestors.
"A martial art student has to sweat and struggle for years to master the art. Once he becomes a true master, he will not go on a bone-breaking spree hurting people. He won't abuse his power, because he has acquired the discipline and discretion to use the power when he struggled for it."
let me guess.. were you reading jurassic park? :-)
the notion that pre-industrial cultures used discipline or whatever with technology is nonsense. the romans hunted the lions out of existence, upset the ecosystem and created the sahara. the native americans caused drastic changes to the vegetation of the americas. forest fires everywhere burned out of control. they managed to do so much harm with so little. in contrast, we've been a lot more humble about our technology, identifying (and usually panicking about :-) potential problems well before they cause harm that's on the same scale as the benefit we receive from them.
You are right about jurassic park. I am not reading it.. in the sense of present tense, but that has definitely influenced my thought process.
But wrong about your assumption about my notion of pre-industrial cultures using discipline. My only suggestion is to think and do the "right thing", and not do the the thing right. There is no point in creating something, just because we could and worry about the problems it would create and panic later. There could be thousand such examples of how we are better than our ancestors, the debate could go to and fro, but the solution resides in our own thinking.
2008-06-11 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Use and Abuse
you know what's funny? my arguments in the original post were influenced by some of crichton's arguments
i read a long time ago :)
2008-06-10 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, I got that but I wanted to make things clear before stating my next point. You suggest the example of cars as a technological advance solving the horse shit problem (or even showing the ridicolus nature of it) and somehow want more funding for geoengineering. Firstly, it is very difficult to say what solution the technology will provide, even if actually succeeds in providing one. For every success of technology I can point out 10 fields where technology (or the chimera of technology) has hampered development. Energy being the foremost. Nuclear fusion comes to mind which used up a lot of money from basic research programs (improving efficiency, local use of solar , wind power, reducing usage of energy) and did not deliver anything. When (fusion) energy is going to be free and unlimited why worry about efficiency. Geoengineering seems to be climbing up the same tree and it would take a lot of convincing before it gets any credibility.
What is the answer for the energy problem and the related environment problem? I frankly do not have the courage to even pick an answer. It might be solar as you suggest or a portfolio as Al Gore suggests. One thing I'll bet against is Geoengineering as a solution.
Most likely there is no answer, that is, there might be more usage of solar , wind power etc but we will still use oil/coal to a large extent. The environment will suffer and so will people. But most of damage will be borne out by the poor people on a local scale (the poor people in New Orleans) and on a global scale (countries like Bangladesh, India, African countries). Unfortunately, it will not always be an event but a process which has already started. We will hardly notice it.
2008-06-12 06:04 am (UTC)
Firstly, it is incorrect to label violence in Iraq as terrorism. You can call it civil war or resistance but do not label it terrorism.
Secondly, India has seen worst times and circumstances and I would add that past 5 years (period after state sponsored terrorism in Gujarat) have been one of the most peaceful from a short term as well as a long term viewpoint.
Thirdly, I mention a somewhat controversial statement. One must never forget that today's terrorist could be tomorrow freedom fighters/revolutionaries. Recent history in India, Ireland, Algeria, China and numerous other places suggest that. Not every terrorist would be looked at in a good light tomorrow (reasons may vary) but being aware of such an idea might force one to look at things more objectively and even tackle the problems correctly. I think this might be digressing from the topic at discussion a lot. On the last note, I highly recommend the movie "Battle of Algiers".
ps: I forgot to sign my previous post.
2008-06-10 09:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Questions questions questions
eurabia is vastly overblown, but i don't like europe's culture of appeasement. however, i don't see this as having anything to do with terrorism. europe's being a giant pussy when it comes to integrating immigrant cultures, that's all. (i have some opinions on why they're being a pussy, but no time to elaborate. sorry.)
choosing products -- i'm not recommending anything! i'm just describing what's happening. how much you want to bend over is entirely up to you. personally, i recycle, i use cfl's, i'll probably buy a prius when i have a real job, etc. i don't buy organic food often. but when in-vitro meat is invented i'll be the first to switch to it.
how long i'll live? i'll probably do something stupid and get killed real soon :)
Hey Arvind! Sorry I didn't meet you for coffee while I was in Austin; I was there for literally one day. Next time, though!
oh, no worries.. i was actually in sf at the time (where, funnily enough, forvrkate
said she'd meet with me. somehow that never happened either.)