Re: What forces have shaped humanity most?
Virginia Postrel is a political and cultural writer who is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, editor-in-chief of DeepGlamour.net, and the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She is currently writing a book on glamour for The Free Press. She previously wrote an economics column in The New York Times for six years, served as editor of Reason and has worked as a reporter for Inc. Magazine and The Wall Street Journal. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Individual Rights and is a popular blogger and speaker. She was educated at Princeton University and lives in Los Angeles.
Virginia Postrel: Well I think that there is a drive in human beings, and perhaps in some of our ancestors . . . ape ancestors as well . . . There’s something that happens to human beings where there is a kind of dissatisfaction. Where it can be as simple as a tool that doesn’t work very well, and you modify it so it works better. There is sort of a drive to make incremental improvements. And it could be, you know, you really hate the way your parents behaved towards you. So when you have kids you’re gonna do it a different way. And maybe it’s better and maybe it’s worse. And your kids then do it a different way. And it can be as simple as modifying recipes. It can be as big as, you know, writing the U.S. Constitution and sort of creating a new country. And there’s a learning process that takes place with that. And a lot of that learning – and this is one of the message in “The Future and Its Enemies” is very incremental. It’s a lot of modest changes and experiments that add up over time to major progress. And you don’t necessarily know where you’re headed. There’s a writer named Henry Patrosky who’s a civil engineering professor at Duke. And he writes about the evolution of technical things . . . of objects and artifacts. And he has this great phrase: “Form follows failure” which is of course a play on “Form follows function.” And his idea is when you have an artifact, as soon as it exists, you find the things that you don’t like about it. And the existence of the initial artifact allows you to innovate and say, “Oh well, this is how we’d like to improve it.” And I think that’s a process that goes far beyond artifacts. It is how we get technological improvements, but it is not the only way. So that’s . . . That doesn’t account for everything of how we’ve done all this, but that’s a lot of it. I think there is a power of individuals when they interact a lot together. There’s an idea that I sort of took from Daniel Boorstin – as you can see I am a big synthesizer . . . everything has a footnote for somebody else – called . . ., which is the idea of different things coming together. So it could be ethnic groups trading. Different geographical regions coming together. This notion that’s where a lot of creativity takes place. And I think that a lot of the creative power of cities over the centuries has come from that sort of being a place where people of some kind of difference interact in a positive . . . usually more in a positive way. Trade is a lot of that. Various forms of learning is a lot of that. Even things like missionary efforts can take place there, and that you know . . . There’s positives and negatives, but that’s ultimately where you come from. This sort of exchange is where a lot of the sort of progress, and growth, and development of civilizations come from. And then there are things that you just go, “How could that happen?” It’s so amazing. There are bad things that happen to you, but even on the positive side, how is it . . . I’ve been reading a lot about Renaissance . . . How did that happen? What is the historian’s puzzle of this? How do you have this flourishing of art in certain places or of science in certain places? What was it about Vienna in the early 20th century, or Budapest that allowed these great minds to prosper . . .each other in such interesting ways? Or London or Edinburgh in the 18th century. What happened there? What was going on with the founding fathers? They seem like a remarkable group of people. That had something to do with interaction. The parts are great, but the whole is even somehow greater than the sum of the parts. And these are, I think in some sense, historical mysteries, but really worthy of thinking about and studying. Because they go beyond the simple incrementalism of saying there could be progress even if it is very modest efforts of making better toothpaste or whatever.
Recorded on: 7/4/07
The drive to improve has shaped humanity.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In their findings the authors state:
to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like
violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students
do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones,
speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment
to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on
controversial issues is "always acceptable."
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.
- A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
- This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
- The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
- The commercial was written by IBM's Watson. It was acted and directed by humans.
- Lexus says humans played a minimal part in influencing Watson, in terms of the writing.
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