Cultures Can Rise and Fall

Cultures can rise and fall because we create culture and we have the power to change it, if there is enough support. Our culture is created through our society’s collective values and ideas, the majority becoming the culture. In order to make changes to it, the majority must come to some sort of mutual agreement on values and priorities. This may be harder to accomplish today compared to when humans were just beginning to group and cooperate in hunting and gathering societies. Back then, there was a mutual agreement that the priority was the survival of the community and growing the population. However, today’s priorities vary greatly from person to person as we have much more complex lives, which includes the concept of materialism and success as defined by wealth instead of simply surviving to see the next day with your offspring.

In Ray and Anderson’s book, they explain that worldview, and ultimately culture, changes occur through a change in values and priorities. However, they also explain this generally means that people who are actively trying to achieve this change must step out of the dominant culture in our society. This in turn causes them to be viewed negatively and as threats by those who believe in and follow to dominant culture. In order to achieve a positive change in the current worldview, a strong network of support is needed at all levels of our society, starting from large groups at the bottom and strong advocates and protectors at the top. This change may be happening with the rise of a new culture in our generation and new incoming generation, the Cultural Creatives. Their beliefs and values, as thoroughly explained by the authors, seem to follow along the basic lines of caring and respecting our environment as well as each other and moving away from the materialistic values and embracing our social connectivity. The Cultural Creatives also accept varying degrees of intensity so that there is a place for everyone from people who just wish to carry on in their day with their beliefs to daily activists fighting hard for change, which encourages diversity in their group and none to be shunned or looked down upon due to lack of activity.

I believe our society is already on the verge of shifting towards this new cultural perspective of the Creative Culture, such as recent women’s rights movements and marriage equality success, it will just take more time for our generation to rise up to the positions of power needed to influence hard written laws while the old culture steps down and retires. Current activists just have to continue moving forward with encouraging others to open up about their more positive and inclusive belief systems such as equality in race and gender, social connection over materialism, and optimism. Continue to teach the new upcoming generation about the very core values of caring for others and living with nature, not against or outside.

Book Source:

Ray, Paul H. and Anderson, Sherry Ruth, Who Are the Cultural Creatives?, Chapter 1 from The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000)

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Police Repression?

This topic hits very close to home as I have an extensive law enforcement family, one of which works in a specialized air unit that utilizes some of the equipment the author points out without explaining their uses. When addressing issues of how the United States is governed one must remember that in a republican system it is the people who are sovereign. Power, while it can easily be perceived as being concentrated into the hands of the few, is ultimately in the hands of everyone, or at least the majority. Therefore, while the system may be broken, such as in the cases of money and corruption in politics like the Citizens United ruling and its consequences, and  just everyday lobbying, the power to change the system rests with the electorate. If real change is to be sought it must begin at the bottom. Leaders can be effective but must lead a movement of the people or else they are just dictating their views alone, a democratic leader must the the vessel of the people’s will.  From there, laws, regulations, and norms can be changed. We must also accept that sometimes the will of the majority does not align with the beliefs of the minority, that is the nature of the system. Desegregation was not a popular idea at the time but was forced upon the people in the national minority, the pendulum swings both ways.

Now, the Truthdig article definitely has its own points to make about the system and no one would argue that the events it covers are not regrettable and should be prevented in the future. However, no one could also argue that their views and complaints come from a fairly biased and one sided perspective. Some may go as far to say that the author is at times detached from reality. On their first point, the militarization of law enforcement. Police officers have the unenviable duty of potentially putting themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis. The author complains about the carrying of long rifles and armored vehicles but ignores the reason why, see the 1997 North Hollywood shootout. They even complain about the use of night vision and infrared technology to track people but conveniently forgets the equipment is more often used in search and rescue applications (see links below), in which the specialized air unit of the Sheriff’s department spend many hours training with. For example, the night vision equipment is used to search for hikers during night rescue missions and the officers follow extensive training annually and keep detailed records of who uses the tech and when. One would expect the author to shun the location and navigation features of their smartphone because it relies on military GPS technology and equipment.

The authors next complaint is that the less than lethal tool employed by law enforcement officers is also objectionable. That deterrents such as gas, bean bags, rubber bullets and even sound are unacceptable tools for police to do their job with. Either the author would like a return to police using billy clubs in close range that can easily break arms and legs or they would prefer rioters to simply be allowed to run amuck and do as they please. The later is counter to a democracy where, while peaceful protests are clearly allowed (just look at the various marches in the last few months) violence is not as it is not the will of the people to allow a small minority of a community to destroy the property of the rest of the community. Is it not then preferable, both for the rioters on the receiving end and to the law enforcement officers, who would both like to be able to go home to their families when the event is over and not suffer any injuries, to seek solutions that allow them to do their jobs at a distance to reduce their likelihood of injury and injury to the people.

Please remember that law enforcement officers have two roles to fill that naturally contradict each other and are difficult to balance: enforce the law and protect and serve their citizens. It is not their fault the laws they must enforce are not truly fair and equal. Do not let the media convince you that their intent is entirely violent and evil as those are the only stories the media will cover due to shock value and ratings. Who do you call when your property is stolen? Who do you call when your child goes missing? Who arrives first to respond to an accident? Who searches for you for hours using advanced military technology and aircraft when you decide to go off into the woods and get lost and hurt? I have provided additional links in the sources to remind everyone of the services law enforcement provides that are conveniently forgotten.

Sources:

Truthdig article on police repression

http://www.truthdig.com/report/page4/a_guide_to_police_repression_from_ferguson_to_baltimore_and_beyond_20150506

When California was hit by massive rain storms:

http://ktla.com/2016/12/16/at-least-1-trapped-in-rushing-water-of-san-gabriel-river-near-el-monte-rescue-attempt-underway/

Hikers:

http://ktla.com/2017/03/13/hiker-rescued-from-eaton-canyon-waterfall-area-after-falling-50-feet-lasd/

http://ktla.com/2017/02/25/female-hiker-dog-rescued-after-falling-800-feet-over-side-of-cliff-in-forest-above-altadena/

http://ktla.com/2017/02/04/at-least-3-seriously-hikers-injured-possibly-3-more-missing-after-falling-down-ice-chute-near-angeles-crest/

Crowd-sourcing: Cooperation for the Common Good in the Digital Age

After viewing TED Talks on crowd-sourcing by Clay Shirky and Luis Von Ahn, I am convinced this method of cooperation is the right way we can begin solving large-scale problems while not having to convince others to completely change themselves or way of life, which is very hard to do even on an individual level, let alone an entire city, county, or country. Von Ahn had found a way to digitize text while also creating a security measure against bots using ReCaptcha while not having to convince the thousands of internet users who come across this feature daily to perform this work for free. That in itself is an amazing system that not only benefits the users by offering security from bots, but also the general public by immortalizing written works on the internet. Perhaps there is a way to address larger problems like global climate change awareness and understanding by having users participate in a system that benefits them in exchange for a few seconds of their time. Shirky reminds us that we spend a massive amount of time already connected to the internet to consume, create, and share unproductive material, why not use such time that is productive and has civic value rather than just communal? Is it possible to design a system similar to ReCaptcha that has users contributing without really being aware to large scale problems? Is this method ethical? Is even the smaller scale ReCaptcha ethical by having users perform work without their consent? Or should it not matter as the end justifies the means for the common good?
Sources:

Shirky, Clay, How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World, published by TED@Cannes in June 2010, http://www.ted.com/talks/ clay_shirky_how_cognitive_surplus_will_change_the_world

Von Ahn, Luis, Massive-Scale Online Collaboration, published by TEDxCMU in April 2011, http://www.ted.com/talks/luis_von_ahn_massive_scale_online_collaboration

Can We Become Slime Mold to Better Our World?

Slime mold. It is not a plant or animal, but it is a simple single-cell organism. Why should we become like the slime mold and how would that help solve large scale problems? Because in a way, this organism can do something we humans cannot seem to do very well: cooperating and working together as one in order to achieve a single goal free of bias without following a ringleader. Usually, slime mold functions with its parts and pieces going about individually. However, once the basic needs for food or relocation arises, the nuclei instinctively band together to seek food or move to a new location, then they carry on their individual existences once the goal has been achieved. As Steven Johnson explains, many have researched this self-organizing system and applied it to many fields such as city planning and software development, as well as the concept of bottom-up and decentralized thinking. Using this fully cooperative concept, we can more efficiently address many global scale issues such as climate change, hunger, and diseases, as well as everyday functions.

However, in order to replicate the efficiency of the slime mold, humans must set aside their individual biases and focus on achieving the shared single goal. That may be the major hang-up in this paradigm shift. The slime mold can achieve the goal of seeking food and relocating because they are simple creatures who only have basic needs. Humans, on the other hand, are emotionally complex creatures. We are driven by our desires and interests, and even if the general goal is for the common good, people may not participate due to their differences in beliefs and personal biases and motivations.

Source:

Johnson, Steven, Introduction: Here Comes Everybody! from Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Scribner (2001)

Economies are Natural

First off, reading the first two chapters of Jane Jacobs’ The Nature of Economies was slightly off-putting due to the choice of using a dialogue to explain her take on economies. The personal backgrounds and the interaction between the characters was very distracting when trying to comprehend the actual point and concepts that were constantly interrupted by the fictional novel taking place. I really don’t care if one of the characters can sense a book in the making or how many shrugs or grins were produced. I also don’t care for how many times the word “said” was used. I would take a dry textbook or peer reviewed article any day for learning more about an already abstract and complex topic such as economy over a creative writing assignment gone bad. At least they have illustrations and figures that make sense. I understand trying to make a dry subject like economics fun, but I felt this method was poorly executed.

However, I do have an interest in how economies are actually part of nature. I had taken a course last quarter, Economic Geography, and it was drilled into our minds that the concept of an economy is, as one of the characters describes, artificial and abstract. The concept is completely man made and separate from nature. Yet Jacobs explains how we focus so much on the things (the production and consumption of goods and services) that we forget about the process as a whole. Economy is defined as the wealth and resources of a country in terms of production and consumption, however it can also be defined as “careful management of available resources”.

An example of the management definition Jacobs uses is how early ecologists were actually botanists, who studied the  interdependence within plant communities and noticed how these communities functioned in a way that closely resembled an economic relationship. This reminds me of polyculture. Some plants are providing “services” such as shade for soil level plants  or stalks for vine plants to take hold in return for management of nutrient resources and water. Perhaps this is an avenue environmentalists can use to connect with economists when discussing issues that mix the two fields, such as the problem of consumerism culture. Environmental specialists and economists often do not get along due to greatly differing opinions, however if an environmental specialists are able to use economic terminology with an environmental twist, perhaps economists can take a step back and realize through the plant example that economies are part of nature therefore effects on nature must be considered.

 

Biomimicry: Improving Aerodynamics in Aviation

Biomimicry. It is defined as “the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes”. I had not previously heard the technical term for this concept until recently but was aware of the general notion as aviation and the very idea of flight was inspired by birds.

After viewing Janine Benyus’ TED Talks on Biomimicry, I explored the website she mentioned in her “Biomimicry in Action” called asknature.org. I came across an interesting short article that presented a compelling new design of an airfoil (a structure on aircraft wings to induce drag without losing too much lift) in a turbine type aircraft engine based off of a seal whisker, of all things. This design helps decrease the chance of the air coming away from the airfoil at high angles (stall), thus allowing the blade to have functionality at higher angles with more controlled airflows, creating more efficient and safer operating ranges. Although aircraft are generally part of the pollution problem, they are not going away anytime soon. A good starting point for making the machines more efficient, therefore using less fuel, is to perfect the aerodynamics. In fact, Airbus has a section of their website dedicated to biomimicry and how they incorporate these concepts into their designs. The best role model and source of inspiration is nature.

sealion_seal_vibrissa
Comparison of sea lion and harbor seal whiskers.
sample airfoils
Airfoil blades

Sources: Janine Benyus: Mimicry in Action https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_GFq12w5WU&t=1057s

Janine Benyus at the Circular Economy 100 Annual Summit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AE-2rDZwMXA

Janine Benyus:12 Sustainable Design Ideas from Nature

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n77BfxnVlyc&t=1220s

Seal Blade Low Drag Airfoil

https://asknature.org/idea/seal-blade-low-drag-airfoil/#.WPWIHNLyvIU

AIRBUS Biomimicry

http://www.airbus.com/company/eco-efficiency/biodiversity/biomimicry/

Technology Has Failed to Increase Happiness

Dr. Huesemann’s talk on Techno-fixes and why technology won’t save us reaffirmed that our world has gone in the wrong direction with a great idea. On the one hand, technological advances have brought with it medicines to cure diseases and infections that otherwise commonly killed people in the past on a daily basis. However, Dr. Huesemann points out a fact that really hit home:

Technology has failed to increase happiness

– (21:25)

Due to the rise of technology, specifically entertainment technology, we as beings have lost touch with traditional sources of happiness. Traditional sources of happiness used to be social interaction between family and friends, satisfaction at work, and closeness to nature. No matter how many cool toys we have such as high-tech smartphones and gaming PCs, these things cannot replace physically interacting with our world and our fellow beings. We are social beings with a driving psychological need to belong, to love and feel loved. We are natural beings who once explored the earth openly under the bright skies and dark starry nights. After closing ourselves off in our homes to be on the computer and internet, it is no wonder we are increasingly lonely and unhappy. Even if we can interact with people all over the world via the internet, we still need and desire to be physically close to each other and no technology can replace that.

Happiness is what everyone strives for in life no matter the age, sex, religion, class status, and location. Without happiness, what is the point of continuously buying into new tech toys? Thus, technology and material affluence is not a sustainable source of happiness, no matter what anyone tells you (money is everything). Instead, we need to look back to our roots as beings to realize we can obtain happiness the same way they did back then: interacting with one another, dedicating time to each other without the distraction of tech, and get away from concrete and buildings to bring the peaceful nature back into human beings to which we are still a part of.

Video source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDbmJh8uSAY