Category Archives: Media

How evil happens

BOOK REVIEW

Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, Author: Noga Arikha.
Eichmann in Jerusalem, Author: Hannah Arendt.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Author: Simon Baron-Cohen.
Home Fire, Author: Kamila Shamsie.

By Noga Arikha – The ‘sapiens’ in Homo sapiens does not fully describe our species: we are as violent as we are smart.

This might be why we are the only Homo genus left over in the first place, and why we have been so destructively successful at dominating our planet. But still the question nags away: how are ordinary people capable of such obscene acts of violence?

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behavior, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.

The social neuroscientist Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig in Germany defines empathy as the ability to ‘resonate’ with the feelings of the other. It develops from babyhood on – as imitation at first, then joint attention – into the ability to adopt the point of view of another, along with a shift in spatial perception from self to other, as if one were literally stepping into another’s shoes.

This requires an ability to distinguish between self and other in the first place, an aspect of the so-called ‘theory of mind’ that one acquires over the first five years of life.

But while empathy ensures the cohesion of a group or a society, it is also biased and parochial. Revenge thrives on it. more>

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Updates from Adobe

5 & 3/4 Questions
Alicia Rius – My work with animals is like an immersive experience. I like to get close to the subjects so you can feel yourself in them. The images are clean, simple, and emotional.

I’m a memory collector. I’ve been documenting my life’s experiences with photos and in writing since I was a kid. But 2010 is when I started to take it more seriously. I bought my first DSLR, and I learned everything with YouTube videos and countless hours of practicing.

One day, when I was out there, I stumbled upon an abandoned farmhouse. It was amazing to see all things they had left behind, all those memories! How could they? That eerie feeling hooked me up, and then I started to document abandoned places around Europe.

The work that I feel most identified with is the work that has the right balance of beauty and eeriness. Both my Abandoned series and my hairless cat series are good examples.

Both are personal projects, and personal projects allow me to be who I am as a photographer. more>

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Looking Past GDP to Measure Economic Strength

By Sophie Mitra – GDP has many limitations. It captures only a very narrow slice of economic activity: goods and services. It pays no attention to what is produced, how it is produced, or how it might improve lives.

Still, many policymakers, analysts, and reporters remain fixated on the GDP growth rate, as if it encapsulates all of a nation’s economic goals, performance, and progress.

The obsession about GDP comes, in part, from the misconception that economics only has to do with market transactions, money, and wealth. But the economy is also about people.

Despite the media’s obsession with GDP, many economists would agree that economics considers wealth or the production of goods and services as means to improve the human condition.

One approach is to have a dashboard of indicators that are assessed on a regular basis. For instance, workers’ earnings, the share of the population with health insurance, and life expectancy could be monitored closely, in addition to GDP.

However, this dashboard approach is less convenient and simple than having one indicator to measure progress against. A wide set of indicators are, in fact, available already in the U.S.—but attention remains stuck on GDP. more>

The Progressives’ Plan to Win in 2018

By Elaine Godfrey – Democrats have been grappling with key questions about coalition building since the 2016 election: Should they prioritize winning back the voters they lost to Trump?

Should they attempt to woo the white voters gradually fleeing the party?

Progressives this weekend said, emphatically, no. It’s a genuine attempt to remake the Democratic Party at a time when racial and class tensions are the highest they’ve been since the 1960s—and it’s also put them on a collision course with party leaders and other Democrats.

That doesn’t mean ignoring whites and Trump voters, she says. Instead, “it’s rejecting the notion that our way to victory is having a centrist, moderate right-leaning strategy that feels like we could peel off Romney Republicans, versus investing in communities of color, marginalized groups, and progressive white people,” Anoa Changa said. “There is this notion that … we can’t address the issues of race, systemic oppression, because we don’t want to piss these voters off. We have to find a way to do both.” more>

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What’s More Dangerous, Immigration Or Russian Meddling?

By Robert Reich – What’s the most worrisome foreign intrusion into the United States—unauthorized immigrants, Chinese imports, or interference in our democracy?

For Trump, it’s immigrants and imports. He doesn’t care much about the third.

Yet Trump continues to assert that talk of Russian meddling in American elections is “a big hoax.” And his White House still has no plan for dealing with it.

In fact, Trump has it backwards.

Illegal immigration isn’t the problem he makes it out to be. Illegal border crossings have been declining for years.

And if the Chinese want to continue to send us cheap imports that we pay for with U.S. dollars and our own IOUs, that’s as much of a potential problem for them as it is for us.

But Russian attacks on our democracy are a clear and present threat aimed at the heart of America. more>

The Western Illusion of Chinese Innovation

By Zhang Jun – In the West, many economists and observers now portray China as a fierce competitor for global technological supremacy. They believe that the Chinese state’s capacity is enabling the country, through top-down industrial policies, to stand virtually shoulder-to-shoulder with Europe and the US.

This is a serious misrepresentation.

While it is true that digital technologies are transforming China’s economy, this reflects the implementation of mobile-Internet-enabled business models more than the development of cutting-edge technologies, and it affects consumption patterns more than, say, manufacturing.

In fact, Western observers – not just the media, but also academics and government leaders, including US President Donald Trump – have fundamentally misunderstood the nature and exaggerated the role of China’s policies for developing strategic and high-tech industries. Contrary to popular belief, these policies do little more than help lower the entry cost for firms and enhance competition. In fact, such policies encourage excessive entry, and the resulting competition and lack of protection for existing firms have been constantly criticized in China. Therefore, if China relies on effective industrial policies, they would not create much unfairness in terms of global rules.

Clearly, there is a big difference between applying digital technologies to consumer-oriented business models and becoming a world leader in developing and producing hard technology. more>

Marginalized People Don’t Need Lessons in Civility

By Terese Marie Mailhot – White people tend to use the word “civilized” in its adjectival form. To them, it describes being polite and respecting other people’s opinions and beliefs. For me, as for many other natives, “civilized” is a historical verb, recalling a bloody ultimatum imposed on us by an invading army. White people were never more “civilized” than us; they perpetuated the dichotomy of civilized versus savage to dehumanize us.

Those who posit themselves as most civil are often the people with the most power and privilege, and they’re also often the most forgetful of the history of this continent, which was founded in blood. I do not believe in civility, just as I do not believe in savagery. I believe in decency and see the living traumas still unresolved in my own people’s history. There are remnants of distrust that go back to when my grandmother went to Indian residential school, and indigenous people still distrust the government, not only for the massacres throughout indigenous history, but also for parts of our history that are often neglected or overlooked, like the coerced and forced sterilization of indigenous women in both Canada and the United States, which occurred as recently as 1990.

Civility is an invention that has been weaponized against indigenous people since settlers first started coming to indigenous lands. The rhetoric Europeans used, the language settlers used, the words presidents used against indigenous people argued that Indians were savages. more>

In extremis

By Nabeelah Jaffer – to understand what has led someone to extremism it is not enough to point to ideology. Ideas alone did not bring Mair to leave his home that morning with a sawn-off shotgun and a seven-inch knife. The accounts that emerged in the weeks after Cox’s murder dwelt on many details of Mair’s previously blameless life.

‘Loneliness is the common ground of terror’ – and not just the terror of totalitarian governments, of which Hannah Arendt was thinking when she wrote those words in The Origins of Totalitarianism. It also generates the sort of psychic terror that can creep up on a perfectly ordinary individual, cloaking everything in a mist of urgent fear and uncertainty.

Totalitarian ideas offer a ‘total explanation’ – a single idea is sufficient to explain everything. Independent thought is rendered irrelevant in the act of joining up to their black-and-white worldview.

Becoming an ‘idealist’ assuaged these fears (the word is perhaps better read as ‘ideologue’). After all, if you sign up to the idea that class struggle, racial competition or civilizational conflict is absolute, then you can achieve meaning and kinship as part of a race, class or civilization without ever requiring two-sided thought – the kind of thought that involves weighing competing imperatives and empathizing with a range of people. more>

What makes people distrust science? Surprisingly, not politics

By Bastiaan T Rutjens – Today, there is a crisis of trust in science. Many people – including politicians and, yes, even presidents – publicly express doubts about the validity of scientific findings. Meanwhile, scientific institutions and journals express their concerns about the public’s increasing distrust in science.

How is it possible that science, the products of which permeate our everyday lives, making them in many ways more comfortable, elicits such negative attitudes among a substantial part of the population?

Understanding why people distrust science will go a long way towards understanding what needs to be done for people to take science seriously.

Political ideology is seen by many researchers as the main culprit of science skepticism. The sociologist Gordon Gauchat has shown that political conservatives in the United States have become more distrusting of science, a trend that started in the 1970s.

From these studies there are a couple of lessons to be learned about the current crisis of faith that plagues science. Science skepticism is quite diverse. Further, distrust of science is not really that much about political ideology, with the exception of climate-change skepticism, which is consistently found to be politically driven.

Additionally, these results suggest that science skepticism cannot simply be remedied by increasing people’s knowledge about science. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

By John Wasik – Finland sits at the top of the United Nations’ 2018 World Happiness Report, which ranked more than 150 countries by their happiness level. The country that gave the world the mobile game Angry Birds scored high on all six variables that the report deems pillars of happiness: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. News reports touted Finland’s stability, its free health care and higher education, and even the saunas and metal bands for which it’s famous.

Yet abundance does not equate to happiness, according to research—even on a longer time frame. In most developed countries, the average person is rich by the standards of a century ago. Millions more people have access to safe food, clean drinking water, and in most cases state-funded health care.

And in countries with a growing middle class, millions more are now finding themselves able to purchase big-screen televisions, smart phones, and cars.

But this growth in wealth hasn’t made people happier.

People gain more happiness when they satisfy their inherent rather than learned preferences—needs rather than wants. more>

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