Escaping the marshmallow brain trap.
- Roman Krznaric, philosopher and author of the book "The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking," says that there are two parts of the human brain that are driving our decisions and ultimately determining what kind of legacy we leave behind for future generations.
- Short-term thinking happens in the marshmallow brain (named after the famous Stanford marshmallow test), while long term thinking and strategizing occurs in the acorn brain. By retraining ourselves to use the acorn brain more often, we can ensure that trillions of people—including our grandchildren and their grandchildren—aren't inheriting a depleted world and the worst traits that humankind has to offer.
- "At the moment we're using on average 1.6 planet earths each year in terms of our ecological footprint," says Krznaric, but that doesn't mean that it's too late to turn things around. Thinking long term about things like politics and education can help "rebuild our imaginations of what a civilization could be."
The neoliberal call for more 'choice', seems hard to resist.
"Some of them are foreign-born and struggle with the language, and all of them are in distress! But I hardly have the time to explain the essentials to them. There's all the paperwork, and we're constantly understaffed.'
Such grievances have become sadly familiar – not only in medicine, but also in education and care-work. Even in more commercial environments, you're liable to hear similar objections: the engineer who wants to deliver quality but is told to focus on efficiency only; the gardener who wants to give the plants time to grow, but is told to focus on speed. The imperatives of productivity, profitability and the market rule.
Complaints come from the other side of the table as well. As patients and students, we want to be treated with care and responsibility, rather than as mere numbers. Wasn't there a time when professionals still knew how to serve us – a cosy, well-ordered world of responsible doctors, wise teachers and caring nurses? In this world, bakers still cared about the quality of their bread, and builders were proud of their constructions. One could trust these professionals; they knew what they were doing and were reliable guardians of their knowledge. Because people poured their souls into it, work was still meaningful – or was it?
In the grip of nostalgia, it's easy to overlook the dark sides of this old vocational model. On top of the fact that professional jobs were structured around hierarchies of gender and race, laypeople were expected to obey expert judgment without even asking questions. Deference to authority was the norm, and there were few ways of holding professionals to account. In Germany, for example, doctors were colloquially called 'demigods in white' because of their status vis-à-vis patients and other staff members. This is not exactly how we might think that citizens of democratic societies should relate to one other now.
Against this backdrop, the call for more autonomy, for more 'choice', seems hard to resist. This is precisely what happened with the rise of neoliberalism after the 1970s, when the advocates of 'New Public Management' promoted the idea that hard-nosed market thinking should be used to structure healthcare, education and other areas that typically belonged to the slow and complicated world of public red tape. In this way, neoliberalism undermined not only public institutions but the very idea of professionalism.
This attack was the culmination of two powerful agendas. The first was an economic argument about the alleged inefficiency of public services or the other non-market structures in which professional knowledge was hosted. Long queues, no choice, no competition, no exit options – that's the chorus that critics of public healthcare systems repeat to this day. The second was an argument about autonomy, about equal status, about liberation – 'Think for yourself!' instead of relying on experts. The advent of the internet seemed to offer perfect conditions for finding information and comparing offers: in short, for acting like a fully informed customer. These two imperatives – the economic and the individualistic – meshed extremely well under neoliberalism. The shift from addressing the needs of citizens to serving the demands of customers or consumers was complete.
We are all customers now; we are all supposed to be kings. But what if 'being a customer' is the wrong model for healthcare, education, and even highly specialised crafts and trades?
What the market-based model overlooks is hyperspecialisation, as the philosopher Elijah Millgram argues in The Great Endarkenment (2015). We depend on other people's knowledge and expertise, because we can learn and study only so many things in our lifetimes. Whenever specialist knowledge is at stake, we are the opposite of a well-informed customer. Often we don't want to have to do our own research, which would be patchy at best; sometimes, we are simply unable to do it, even if we tried. It's much more efficient (yes, efficient!) if we can trust those already in the know.
But it can be hard to trust professionals forced to work in neoliberal regimes. As the political scientist Wendy Brown argued in Undoing the Demos (2015), market logic turns everything, including one's own life, into a question of portfolio management: a series of projects in which you try to maximise the return on investment. By contrast, responsible professionalism imagines work-life as a series of relationships with individuals who are entrusted to you, along with the ethical standards and commitments you uphold as a member of a professional community. But marketisation threatens this collegiality, by introducing competitiveness among workers and undermining the trust that's needed to do a good job.
Is there a way out of this conundrum? Could professionalism be revived? If so, can we avoid its old problems of hierarchy while preserving space for equality and autonomy?
There are some promising proposals and real-life examples of such a revival. In his account of 'civic professionalism', Work and Integrity (2nd ed, 2004), the American education scholar William Sullivan argued that professionals need to be aware of the moral dimensions of their role. They need to be 'experts and citizens alike', and 'learn to think and act cooperatively with us', the non-experts. Similarly, the political theorist Albert Dzur argued in Democratic Professionalism (2008) for a revival of a more self-aware version of 'old' professionalism – one committed to democratic values, and an ongoing dialogue with laypeople. Dzur describes, for example, how experts in the field of bioethics have opened up their discussions to non-experts, reacting to public criticisms, and finding formats for bringing doctors, ethics consultants and laypeople into conversation.
Similar practices could be introduced in many other professions – as well as areas not traditionally understood as specialist vocations, but in which decisionmakers need to draw on highly specialised knowledge. Ideally, this could lead to trust in professionals being not blind, but justified: a trust based on a grasp of the institutional frameworks that hold them accountable, and on an awareness of mechanisms for double-checking and getting additional opinions within the profession.
But in many areas, the pressures of markets or quasi-markets prevail. This leaves our front-line professionals in a difficult spot, as Bernardo Zacka describes in When the State Meets the Street (2017): they are overworked, exhausted, pulled in different directions, and unsure about the whole point of their job. Highly motivated individuals, such as the young doctor I mentioned at the outset, are likely to leave the fields in which they could contribute most. Perhaps this is a price worth paying if it brings huge benefits elsewhere. But that doesn't seem to be happening, and it makes all of us non-experts vulnerable, too. We cannot be informed customers because we know too little – but we can't rely on being simply citizens any longer, either.
Up to a point, professionalisation is built on the persistence of ignorance: specialised knowledge is a form of power, and a form that's rather difficult to control. Yet it's clear that markets and quasi-markets are flawed strategies for dealing with this problem. By continuing to accept them as the only possible models, we forgo the opportunity to imagine and explore alternatives. We must be able to rely on other people's expertise. And for that, as the political philosopher Onora O'Neill argued in her 2002 Reith Lectures, we must be able to trust them.
The young doctor I interviewed had long considered leaving her job – so when the opportunity to get a research-based position came up, she jumped ship. 'The system was forcing me to act against my own best judgment, again and again,' she said. 'It was the opposite of what I thought being a doctor was all about.' Now is the time to help reimagine a system in which she can recover that sense of purpose, to everyone's benefit.
What's to blame for the recent uptick in containership accidents?
- At any given time, 6,000 containerships are moving the vast majority of global trade on the world's oceans.
- The average number of annual containership accidents has been on a downtrend for the past decade, but accidents have become more common since the start of the pandemic.
- One factor behind the recent rise in containership accidents could be rising demand for imported goods from U.S. consumers.
In November 2020, the containership ONE Apus was sailing from China to California when a severe storm struck. The 364-meter ship began rolling heavily. Soon, nearly 1,800 of the ship's containers—some of which were carrying dangerous goods like fireworks and liquid ethanol—came loose. Some crashed onto the deck. Others spilled into the ocean, lost forever.
The ONE Apus incident was one of at least six major containership accidents that occurred since November, which altogether have resulted in the loss of 2,980 containers. That's more than double the annual average number of lost containers from 2008 to 2019, according to a recent report from the World Shipping Council.
What's causing the uptick? It's likely a combination of bad weather and heavily loaded ships, some of which are packed to the brim due to increased U.S. imports since the beginning of the pandemic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that January brought the largest monthly increase in U.S. imports since 2012.
To be sure, the World Shipping Council notes that containership accidents have been on a downtrend over the past decade, writing "containers lost overboard represent less than one thousandth of 1% of the roughly 226 million containers currently shipped each year."
But that fraction of a percent adds up over time. After all, international containerships move more than 80 percent of global trade, representing a roughly $4 trillion industry. And while accidents are relatively rare, they pose significant threats to crew and the environment, not to mention the economic costs.
In its recent report, the World Shipping Council notes several ways the industry has been working to improve safety standards, including increased inspection programs and updated packing practices.
Still, accidents are bound to happen among the 6,000 containerships that are sailing the world's oceans at any given time. One reason is parametric rolling, a phenomenon only experienced by containerships.
The World Shipping Council
In short, parametric rolling is a sudden side-to-side movement of a large ship caused by a specific alignment of waves, usually during a storm. Parametric rolling can send containers, which are sometimes stacked six stories tall, toppling over each other.
Bigger ships tend to be more at risk.
"The new container ships coming to the market have large bow flare and wide beam to decrease the frictional resistance which is generated when the ship fore end passes through the water, making it streamlined with the hull," wrote Marine Insight.
"As the wave crest travels along the hull, it results in flare immersion in the wave crest and the bow comes down. The stability varies as a result of pitching and rolling of the ship. The combination of buoyancy and wave excitation forces push the ship to the other side."
On a broader scale, the cost of shipping goods by any method—train, truck, air, ocean—is rising as supply chains are becoming congested and demand for imports keeps increasing. For the most part, companies are fronting the bill.
As for U.S. consumers? They might start paying a premium for imported goods, or for goods that feature imported parts.
"Most prices along the supply chain have gone in one direction, and that's up, so it has to appear somewhere," Joanna Konings, a senior economist at ING, told CNN Business.
Singapore has approved the sale of a lab-grown meat product in an effort to secure its food supplies against disease and climate change.
Singapore faces a problem. The city-state currently imports the bulk of its food from overseas, producing only 10 percent domestically. This state of affairs leaves Singapore in a vulnerable position. An outbreak of disease, for example, could have outsized consequences on the country's food supply. So could the souring of fruitful political or economic partnerships. Looking into the future, climate change and population growth could see today's trade-friendly ports shuttered with closed signs as global food supplies become more tenuous.
In light of this reality, Singaporean leaders are doing something drastic and unprecedented for a world government—they're planning ahead.
Under the "30-by-30" Plan, Singapore aims to produce 30 percent of its food by the year 2030. But unlike the dominant food-producing countries—China, India, the U.S., and Brazil—this tiny island nation lacks the acreage to dedicate to traditional agriculture, so they've turned to modern technology. To produce more with less, the Singapore Food Agency is experimenting with rooftop gardens, high-rise hydroponic farms, and high-yield genetic crops.
Singapore is also looking at lab-grown meat as a sustainable, secure alternative to today's factory farming. In a recent step toward that future, its officials have given regulatory approval to sell lab-grown meat.
Approve for your dining pleasure
Eat Just, a company that produces animal-alternative food products, announced the news earlier this week. In what the company is calling a world first, Singapore has given it permission for a small-scale commercial launch of their GOOD Meat brand product line. For the initial run, the cultured chicken meat will be sold as an ingredient in "chicken bites."
"Singapore has long been a leader in innovation of all kinds, from information technology to biologics to now leading the world in building a healthier, safer food system. I'm sure that our regulatory approval for cultured meat will be the first of many in Singapore and in countries around the globe," Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, said in a release.
According to the release, Eat Just underwent an extensive safety review by the Singapore Food Agency. It provided officials "details on the purity, identity and stability of chicken cells during the manufacturing process, as well as a detailed description of the manufacturing process which demonstrated that harvested cultured chicken met quality controls and a rigorous food safety monitoring system." It also demonstrated the consistency of its production by running more than 20 cycles in its 1,200-liter bioreactors.
While Eat Just did not offer details on its propriety process, it likely follows one similar to other lab-grown meats. It starts with muscle cell samples drawn from a living animal. Technicians then isolate stem cells from the sample and culture them in vitro. These cultured stem cells are then placed in a bioreactor, essentially a fermenter for fleshy cells. The bioreactor contains scaffolding materials to keep the growing tissue from falling apart as well as a growth material—the sugars, salts, and other nutrients the tissue needs to grow. As the cells grow, they begin to differentiate into the muscle, fat, and other cells of meat tissue. Once grown, the tissues are formed into a meat product to be shipped to restaurants and supermarkets.
An abattoir abatement?
A graph showing the number of animals slaughtered in the United States per year from 1961–2018.
Credit: Our World in Data
Singapore's approval is an important step in support for clean meats—so-called because they don't require animal slaughter and would likely leave a reduced carbon footprint—but hurdles remain before widespread adoption is possible.
The most glaring is the price. The first lab-grown hamburger was eaten in London in 2013. It cost roughly $330,000. As with any new technology, investment, iteration, and improved manufacturing will see the price drop substantially and quickly. For comparison, Eat Just's chicken will be priced equivalent to premium chicken.
Other hurdles include up-scaling production, the need for further research, and developing techniques to reliably produce in-demand meats such as fish and beef. Finally, not all countries may be as receptive as Singapore. Countries with large, entrenched meat industries may protect this legacy industry through a protracted and difficult regulatory process. Though, the meat industry itself is investing in lab-grown meat. Tyson Foods, for example, has invested in the food-tech startup Memphis Meats, the company that debuted the world's first beef meatball.
"I would imagine what will happen is the U.S., Western Europe and others will see what Singapore has been able to do, the rigours of the framework that they put together. And I would imagine that they will try to use it as a template to put their own framework together," Tetrick told Reuter's during an interview.
Regardless of the challenges, the demand for meat substitutes is present and growing. In 2020, plant-based substitutes like Beyond Meat and Impossible foods gained a significant foothold in supermarkets as meat-packing factories became coronavirus hotspots. The looming threat of climate change has also turned people away from meat as animal products. Livestock production is environmentally taxing and leaves a much larger carbon footprint than grain and vegetable production.
Then there's the moral concern of animal cruelty. In 2018 alone, 302 million cows, 656 million turkeys, 1.48 billion pigs, and a gob-smacking 68 billion chickens were slaughtered for meat worldwide. And those figures do not include chickens killed in dairy or egg production.
If brought to scale and widely available, clean meats could become serious competitors to traditional meat. One report has even predicted that 60 percent of the meat people eat by 2040 won't come from slaughtered animals. It could be just the thing for people looking for a meat substitute but who find tofurkey as distasteful as, well tofurkey.
A study in the hospitality industry shows the importance of design, including during a pandemic.
- Ohio State University researchers found that the right type choice drives up donations in the hospitality industry.
- Warmth-focused versus competence-focused messages were matched with handwritten or machine-written typefaces.
- This research could help restaurants and hotels make targeted design choices as they struggle to survive.
Want people to take your business seriously? You might want to rethink using the Papyrus on your business card.
The medium is the message, even when it comes to choosing a typeface. That's the consensus from Ohio State University researchers behind a new study, published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.
Huiling Huang and Stephanie Liu, in the Department of Human Sciences, wanted to understand effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) marketing. They pitted two different messages—warmth-focused versus competence-focused—and two different typeface styles, either handwritten or machine-written.
CSR initiatives are important social and brand drivers in hospitality. Restaurants and hotels donate a percentage of sales or ask for contributions outright for causes they want to align with. This charitable endeavor raises money for organizations while making consumers feel like they're contributing to something important—a feeling that's (hopefully) transferred to the business sponsoring the event.
The authors cite Chili's raising over $72 million in customer donations for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital since 2002. The restaurant chain uses the tagline "the power to fight cancer is in your hand" as a call-to-action at their locations.
The researcher notes that CRS marketing is even more important in hospitality during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Based on the global Edelman Trust Barometer report, 81% of consumers consider a brand's involvement of CSR as the deciding factor of buying from the brand during COVID-19 and 65% claim that organizations' responses to this crisis will greatly influence their brand choices in the future."
When done right, social responsibility gives back—to the charity and the business. And, as this research shows, something as simple as typeface choice matters.
Donors were one-sixth more likely to give when the typeface matched the message. In this case, that meant "warmth-focused" messages were handwritten while "competence-focused" initiatives were machine-written.
Interestingly, the researchers also asked respondents if they trusted the organization—in this case, the focus was restaurants—more when the message and typeface matched up. Typeface choice matters here as well.
Warmth-focused messages tend to emphasize care, friendliness, and love, whereas competence-focused messages appeal to efficiency and effectiveness. Using a machine-written typeface for a blood drive, for example, increased people willing to become a blood donor—you want a competent person sticking a needle into your arm—while donations to blood drives increased with handwritten marketing.
More than anything, this research points to trustworthiness. As the authors conclude, "findings from the moderated mediation analyses reveal that brand trust is the psychological mechanism underlying these effects."
This is especially important information for the hospitality industry, which is one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. One blog has been keeping track of all the permanent restaurant closings in New York City, and it's not pretty. If ever a time for supporting local businesses mattered, we've reached it.
If something as simple as a typeface matters, use it in your marketing. For many, this is now a matter of survival.