Colonial rule, however, is corrosive in its effects. Since the Second Intifada, Palestinian citizens in Israel have been reminded at every turn that they are not welcome, from the police killing of 13 demonstrators in October 2000, to Benjamin Netanyahu’s election day warning last May: ‘Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organisations are busing them out.’ The spectre of ‘Arab voters’ was hardly new: the Israeli right has never looked fondly on Arabs exercising their voting rights, unless they can be presented as evidence of the virtues of ‘Jewish democracy’. What is novel is the intensifying campaign inside Israel against those ‘left-wing organisations’ Netanyahu mentioned: human rights NGOs and their (mostly) Jewish leaders. The campaign has been launched both in the Knesset and on the street, with an apparently high level of co-ordination between state officials and ultra-nationalist militants. Israel is increasingly ‘Jewish towards Arabs’, as Tibi said, but it’s also on its way to becoming less and less democratic for Jews.
Friday, February 12, 2016
—After Faiz Ahmed Faiz's Kuttey
Not even dogs
Go as quietly as these men
Battered and bruised
Idle and begging
Homeless and hearthless
Stabbing each other for scraps
Starving in silence
What myth is it
That keeps you
That keeps you
To your strength
by Anjum Altaf
Davide Castelvecchi in Nature:
Peter Holley in The Washington Post:
A Virginia school district has banned the use of an educational video about racial inequality after some parents complained that its messaging is racially divisive. The four-minute, animated video — “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race” — was shown last week to students at an assembly at Glen Allen High School, in Henrico County, as a part of the school’s Black History Month program. The video contextualizes historic racial disparity in the United States using the metaphor of a race track in which runners face different obstacles depending upon their racial background. It has been shown hundreds of thousands of times at schools and workshops across the country since it was created more than a decade ago, according to the African American Policy Forum, which produced it.
“The video is designed for the general public,” said Luke Harris, co-founder of the African American Policy Forum and an associate professor of political science at Vassar College. “We produced something you could show in elementary and secondary schools or in college studies courses.” He added: “We found that the video has a huge impact on the people that we’re showing it to. Most of us know very little about the social history of the United States and its contemporary impact. It was designed as a tool to throw light on American history.” But in Glen Allen, about 14 miles north of Richmond, some parents complained, calling it a “white guilt video.” Henrico County Public Schools officials initially defended the video, saying it was “one component of a thoughtful discussion in which all viewpoints were encouraged.” But after the story began to spread nationally, school officials switched gears, labeling the video “racially divisive” two days later.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Nika Knight interviews Brian Boyd in Guernica:
The author on what evolutionary science can teach us about art and literature, his enduring interest in Nabokov, and why a good joke never dies.
Why do we tell stories? According to Brian Boyd, author and Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Auckland, evolutionary science has the answer. In On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, published in 2009, Boyd argues that recent advances in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary biology can help us not only to better understand our greatest and most enduring works of art, but also to make an empirical claim for their importance. “An evolutionary understanding of human nature has begun to reshape psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, economics, history, political studies, linguistics, law, and religion,” Boyd writes. “Can it also help explain even art, even human minds at their freest and most inventive?” Boyd defines art as “cognitive play with pattern,” characterizing a piece of artwork as “like a playground for the mind.” Our urge to play—shared with all mammals—is not a waste of energy or a simple frivolity but, in fact, a seminal method by which we ensure our own survival. Fictional narratives, Boyd claims, lend insight into how others experience the world, and thus aid in establishing and developing our capacity for empathy, a necessary precursor to cooperation—an ability not only unique to humans but also critical to our continuity as a species.
Vinson Cunningham in The New York Times:
On an unnervingly balmy November day, the scene at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn was restless and expectant. Ta-Nehisi Coates was scheduled to appear on campus for a discussion about his best-selling book, ‘‘Between the World and Me.’’ Evers has a student body that is over 80 percent black, and interest in the event was palpable. Outside, on Bedford Avenue, a diasporic survey of music — reggae, soca, R.&B., trap — flew out the windows of rusted sedans as a slow parade of students filed into the building: a group of young men in near-identical oxfords and knit ties; a woman in a knee-length camouflage hoodie, black tights and Timberland boots; kids wearing mohawks, flattops, cornrows and uncountable Afros. Coates was running late, and the director of the school’s Center for Black Literature, a stocky man with yellow-brown skin, closely cropped hair and a heather gray goatee, was worried about the time. He turned to the man standing next to him: Chris Jackson, Coates’s book editor. ‘‘When do you think he’ll get here?’’ he asked. ‘‘We set up a greenroom for him to relax and have some water before the talk, but we’ve only got so much time.’’
‘‘He’s . . . ’’ Jackson said, trailing off. ‘‘He’s on his way. He had a thing right before this, and he’s got a thing right after. It’s crazy these days.’’ That was perhaps an understatement. That year, Coates won a MacArthur ‘‘genius’’ grant, was tapped to write a new installment of Marvel’s ‘‘Black Panther’’ comic series and saw ‘‘Between the World and Me’’ nominated for the National Book Award. Coates’s book — and his ongoing tour of the country to promote it — was the latest peak in Jackson’s career. Over the last decade and a half, Jackson has ushered into being the works of category-defying novelists like Victor LaValle and Mat Johnson, polemicist-experientialists like Coates and the civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson and pop-cultural vanguardists like the chef-memoirist Eddie Huang and the rapper-entrepreneur Jay Z. To the extent that 21st-century literary audiences have been introduced to the realities and absurdities born of the phenomenon of race in America, Jackson has done a disproportionate amount of that introducing.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Nicola Twilley in The New Yorker:
Just over a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies from here, a pair of black holes collided. They had been circling each other for aeons, in a sort of mating dance, gathering pace with each orbit, hurtling closer and closer. By the time they were a few hundred miles apart, they were whipping around at nearly the speed of light, releasing great shudders of gravitational energy. Space and time became distorted, like water at a rolling boil. In the fraction of a second that it took for the black holes to finally merge, they radiated a hundred times more energy than all the stars in the universe combined. They formed a new black hole, sixty-two times as heavy as our sun and almost as wide across as the state of Maine. As it smoothed itself out, assuming the shape of a slightly flattened sphere, a few last quivers of energy escaped. Then space and time became silent again.
The waves rippled outward in every direction, weakening as they went. On Earth, dinosaurs arose, evolved, and went extinct. The waves kept going. About fifty thousand years ago, they entered our own Milky Way galaxy, just as Homo sapiens were beginning to replace our Neanderthal cousins as the planet’s dominant species of ape. A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein, one of the more advanced members of the species, predicted the waves’ existence, inspiring decades of speculation and fruitless searching. Twenty-two years ago, construction began on an enormous detector, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Then, on September 14, 2015, at just before eleven in the morning, Central European Time, the waves reached Earth.
Dennis Overbye in the New York Times:
A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.
More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.
Conveyed by these gravitational waves, an energy 50 times greater than that of all the stars in the universe put together vibrated a pair of L-shaped antennas in Washington State and Louisiana known as LIGO on Sept. 14.
If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr. Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.
Paul Halpern in Medium:
The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) project was proposed by physicist Rainer (Rai) Weiss of MIT, along with Kip Thorne, Ronald Drever, Rochus Vogt and other researchers at Caltech. Born in Berlin in 1932 to a politically active family, Weiss emigrated with them at a young age to the United States to escape the terrors of the Nazi regime. Weiss received his PhD at MIT, in the field of atomic physics under the supervision of Jerrold Zacharias.
Zacharias had dedicated himself to building high-precision timepieces based on the predictable rhythms of atoms, an extraordinarily important endeavor with broad implications for a variety of scientific fields. As Weiss related, even Einstein in his final years, while engrossed in the search for a unified field theory, expressed interest in the MIT project to develop such clocks. If such devices could be perfected, one of their possible applications would be precise measurement of the effects of gravitation on time. This would help provide further confirmation of general relativity. Zacharias proudly introduced his project to Weiss.
“Jerrold said to me,” recalled Weiss, “that he had made himself a clock called the ‘fountain clock,’ which was a brand new idea involving tossing atoms high into the air and timing them. The idea was to get a long observation time on the atom. He kept telling me that if we could get the clock running, I would travel to the Jungfraujoch, a scientific observatory high in the Swiss Alps. He would be with his clock in the valley and we would measure the Einstein redshift. That’s what set the bee in my bonnet about relativity. But the clock didn’t work; it was a total failure.”
Nevertheless, Weiss’s interest in experimental tests of general relativity only grew.
There is a lot of talk now, in the United States at least, about political poetry and even revolutionary poetry, and what these are, and how to write them. The discussants should consider the work of a young Russian poet, Galina Rymbu.
I first came across a poem of hers shortly after she posted it on LiveJournal, a social network popular in Russia, on February 27, 2014. It was the day that Russian troops started operating in Crimea, and several days after the victory of the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv and the tawdry close of the Sochi Olympics. Russian media fanned the flames of patriotic hysteria and the Kremlin was clearly going to exploit Maidan to crack down on domestic dissent.
It felt strange that a work of this artistic sophistication and power could be composed and posted on the Web simultaneously with the events it responded to. Its viewpoint was that of the minuscule and very young Russian Left—roughly the same political alignment as those of the poet-activist Kirill Medvedev and of Pussy Riot, to cite figures known to some Western readers. But the poetry was different. It was Big Poetry, very much grounded in tradition but also propelling it forward, into the terra incognita of the now. It’s been a while since I read a poem that felt so real.
That poem has since appeared in English translation by Jonathan Platt. It can be read here, the middle one, starting with “the dream is over, Lesbia, now it’s time for sorrow…” I want to talk about the Russian original a little, and then say a few things about the present publication of Rymbu’s work in Platt’s translation in Music & Literature.
It is hard to formulate to an English-speaking audience why the Lesbia poem spoke to me so personally. The practices and traditions it incorporates are either alien or have a different significance than in the US. In Russia the “Western” “classics” that Rymbu alludes to are associated with Enlightenment values, and are consequently politically anti-government. For various cultural reasons, self-publishing on the Internet carries no opprobrium: the point of poetry is not to bulk up the author’s résumé. A poem, if it’s good, belongs to everybody.
Q: So you’ve written a book in defense of thinking? Where’s the argument? Nobody is really against thinking.
A: Are you serious? Anti-intellectualism is virtually our civic religion. “Critical thinking” may be a ubiquitous educational slogan—a vaguely defined skill we hope our children pick up on the way to adulthood—but the rewards for not using your intelligence are immediate and abundant.
As consumers of culture, we are lulled into passivity or, at best, prodded toward a state of pseudo-semi-self-awareness, encouraged toward either the defensive group identity of fanhood or a shallow, half-ironic eclecticism. Meanwhile, as citizens of the political commonwealth, we are conscripted into a polarized climate of ideological belligerence in which bluster too often substitutes for argument.
There is no room for doubt and little time for reflection as we find ourselves buffeted by a barrage of sensations and a flood of opinion. We can fantasize about slowing down or opting out, but ultimately we must learn to live in the world as we find it and to see it as clearly as we can. This is no simple task. It is easier to seek out the comforts of groupthink, prejudice, and ignorance. Resisting those temptations requires vigilance, discipline, and curiosity.
What fascinates Copenhaver is the overlap between magic and science. His anthology probes the moment when “the author of a scientific encyclopedia wrote that the skin of a hyena will ward off the evil eye”. Drawing on Max Weber’s idea of a “disenchanted world”, Copenhaver uses the unusual form of the anthology to trace the arc of disenchantment. Magic, Weber thought, was ritual while religion is ethical; magic coerces, but religion supplicates. Yet, by Weber’s standards, Moses and Jesus were magicians (as Christopher Marlowe also noted, allegedly saying that “Moses was but a juggler, and one Harriot, Wat Ralegh’s man, can do more than he”). Copenhaver seems unaware of other recent responses to Weberian thinking, notably Morris Berman’s The Re-enchantment of the World (1981), which takes a hard and critical look at Cartesian rationality and materialism.
Yet Copenhaver’s choice of texts does little to unsettle the assumption that Protestants are sceptical. While Protestant polemicists went to inordinate lengths to portray their Catholic opponents as either jugglers or as actual Satan-worshippers, these endeavours did not make them appear rational, but simply fearful. Later, the idea of Catholic demon-worshippers was turned into the equally fictive idea of Catholic witch-hunters, even though many of the worst witch-hunts took place in Protestant-dominated places. For Whigs, magic eventually collapses into science, and alchemy into economics and mercantilism, while household theurgies are displaced by insurance policies and the welfare state. But what about all the people for whom this doesn’t appear to have happened?
Year of the Fire Monkey
Ho you Fire Monkey
Adorable Familiar of blessed places
Cunning when need be
Your chatter flattens the dolts of ignorance
When you take
Charge in a carpe diem kind of way
Your ballast of confidence
Lifts our spirits
Seer of the future
Interlocutor to lost opportunities
Let’s take to heart
the ease of your swing from here to there
Always awake in the fire
by Jaqueline Gens
from Poetry Mind
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Adam Shatz in the LRB:
Ahmad Tibi, a long-standing Arab member of the Knesset, once remarked that ‘Israel is democratic towards Jews, and Jewish towards Arabs.’ For many years, that soundbite nicely captured the contradictions of ‘Jewish democracy’: fair elections, press freedom, cantankerous debate and due process for some; land theft, administrative detention, curfews, assassinations and ‘muscular interrogations’ for others. Tibi meant to call attention to the hypocrisy of Israel’s claims to be a democratic state, but as he effectively admitted, Jewish democracy did work for Jews – even Jews radically opposed to the occupation and indeed to Zionism itself. For as long as it did, liberals in Tel Aviv could tell themselves that things weren’t so bad behind the Green Line, the border between Israel and the territory it captured in the 1967 war. Indeed, the resilience of Israel’s democratic institutions helped sustain the illusion that the Green Line was still a frontier, even as it vanished under the weight of the settlement project, launched when Labor was in power and subsidised by every subsequent government.
Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
In Delhi and in four other locations across northern India stand the “Jantar Mantars,” clusters of giant astronomical instruments built by an 18th-century Maharaja, Jai Singh II, many of them so tall they seem to challenge the sky. Here’s an exercise in counterfactual history: If the German Jewish literary critic Walter Benjamin had carefully explored all the possible routes out of Nazi-occupied Europe in the late 1930s, and if he had been quicker to flee Europe than he actually was, he might have escaped via the unusual route of the British-controlled subcontinent. And had he done so, he might have stood in one of the Jantar Mantars during the twilight years of the Raj and experienced the stars (a recurring and powerful motif scattered across Benjamin’s writings) anew. He probably would have reached the Jantar Mantar in Delhi or its counterpart in Jaipur, Jai Singh’s Rajasthani capital, neither of which city, incidentally, would have offered him the same culture of pedestrian flâneurship he had loved in Paris. As compensation, at night he could have looked up at the constellations, or examined the tiles depicting signs of the zodiac, which are pressed into the clay walls of the instruments. He might have appreciated Jantar Mantar’s combination of astronomical and astrological devices, and he surely would have noted the lack of conflict between astronomy and the belief in the influence of planets and stars on human fortune — indeed, the way these practices were still united on these historical instruments. The real Benjamin did not escape Europe; as is very well known, his fate was to commit suicide on the Spanish border during a failed escape to flee occupied France. It was 1940; he was 48. But try to forget this real Benjamin for a moment, and instead follow his counterfactual twin to the subcontinent.
Carl L. Hart in Vice:
The long subway ride from DC's airport to Silver Spring was unusually pleasant. It had been about an hour since I had taken a low dose of methamphetamine. It was my 40th birthday—October 30, 2006—and I was headed to a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)-sponsored meeting.
A friend, who had a prescription for the drug, had given me a couple of pills as a gift, knowing that I was an expert on amphetamines but had never actually taken any myself. I sat on the train feeling alert, mentally stimulated, and euphorically serene.
And when the effects had worn off after a few hours, I thought, that was nice, worked out, and enjoyed a productive two-day meeting. Well, maybe not enjoyed—it was a NIDA meeting after all. But I didn't crave the drug or feel the need to take any more. I certainly didn't engage in any unusual behaviors—hardly the stereotypical picture of a "meth head."
So why is it, then, that the general public has such a radically different view of this drug?
Perhaps it has something to do with public "educational" campaigns aimed at discouraging methamphetamine use.
Eric Michael Johnson interviews Fritjof Capra in Evonomics:
The role of systems thinking in economics has grown in prominence throughout the late 20th Century—much of it due to the pioneering work of Fritjof Capra, whose writings and movies have inspired a generation of young scholars and practitioners to view economics and politics through the lens of ecological (living) systems.
We are delighted to share this exclusive interview, conducted by science journalist and Evonomics advisor Eric Michael Johnson (EJ), with Dr. Capra (FC) about the implications this approach has for the new paradigm of complexity and evolutionary economics. He is offering a new course on this topic that begins in April 2016, which we highly recommend.
EJ: In your latest book, The Systems View of Life, you emphasize the need to shift from the concept of “quantitative growth,” as economists use it, to that of “qualitative growth” that you say is more akin to evaluating the health of ecological systems. How do ecologists measure this qualitative growth and how would it be translated to economics?
FC: Growth in nature always balanced and multi-faceted. While certain parts of organisms, or ecosystems, grow, others decline, releasing and recycling their components which become resources for new growth. I have called this kind of growth, well known to biologists and ecologists, “qualitative growth” to contrast it with the concept of quantitative growth, measured in terms of the undifferentiated index of the GDP, used by today’s economists.
The books and manuscripts were disappearing from a room no one seemed to be entering. Its doors were almost never opened, the room itself closed to public view. There was no believable explanation for where the materials might be going, so the least believable reasoning soon took hold. It was the work of the devil, the residents said. A poltergeist. A symbolic act of God meant to communicate something, if only they could interpret the signs.
This was, after all, a monastery—indeed, one of the world’s most picturesque, Mont Sainte-Odile, perched high in the mountains of France, nearly on the border with Germany—and its library was vanishing into thin air. A manuscript here, a bound volume there; five, six, a dozen, all quickly adding up to nearly a thousand key pieces of church scholarship missing from the shelves and tables.
When the police were finally notified, they chose not to perform an exorcism. Being a secular institution, they instead installed a hidden surveillance camera, and, in May 2002, the truth came to light. It was not a ghost at all, but an engineering teacher from Strasbourg. He had been entering the room through a long-forgotten secret passage, access to which was hidden inside one of the bookcases. Unseen—indeed entirely unsuspected—he was able to remove the library’s priceless collection piece by piece, emerging from the walls to take entire shelves of books at a time.
I first discovered Piero Manzoni when I was, as Gilbert and George call it, “a baby artist cogitating on what art was and what art could be”. On my own and among friends, I was trying to find the point where the real world stopped and art began. Originality appeared to be a process of “coming up with” ideas and then checking them off against art history to see if anyone else had already had them.
On a trip to the Tate, in the presence of an Yves Klein monochrome blue painting, I could hear people of all ages saying “anyone could have done that”. Which got me thinking of things that everyone has done. “What about shit?” I thought, “that’s been done by everyone”, only to find out it actually had been (and before I was even born), in 1961 by Piero Manzoni.
Merda d’Artista consisted of 30g of the artist’s shit preserved in a tin, to be sold for the equivalent value of the gold price of the day. In today’s money, a can should cost £500, as opposed to the £180,000 and upwards you would actually have to pay if you wanted to take this shit home. Why is it so expensive? Because it’s just such a “good” idea. It’s definitive and takes art to its edge – that is to say it’s art that defines art.
In 1994, the “New Generation” of poets was intent on bringing about one of those shifts that periodically redefine a culture. Twenty-odd years later, we can see that, imperfect though the project may have been, the baby boomers did change the face of British poetry. The class of ’94 still dominates the field, as this quartet of fine books demonstrates.
Of the four poets under review – one each from the remaining big trade poetry publishers – it is Kathleen Jamie who has arguably shifted ground the most over the decades. She is now equally well known for her insightful, evocative prose about the Scottish environment, in Findings and Sightlines. Like her prize-winning previous collection, The Overhaul, The Bonniest Companie is alive to every detail of plant and creature. Though they also capture skies, stones and animals, its (mostly short) poems work a little like a herbarium, storing these details for us to examine “a rock-pipit’s seed-small notes”, or “every fairmer’s fenceposts/splashed with gold”.
But the excitement of The Bonniest Companie comes in the concentration of its language and the way that concentration reveals its author’s fierce focus. The inclusion by anglophone Scots of entirely Scots poems in English-language books is a contemporary cliché and can be rebarbative. By contrast, Jamie reinvigorates poetic language, using dialect and loanwords alongside standard English to create vivid, springy textures. Colloquial compressions add to the bouncing, tight rhythms. Stepped lines compress the springs yet further.
Eleftherios P. Diamandis considers when to retire in Nature:
About 30 years ago, I emigrated to Canada to pursue my scientific training. For the past 25 years, my laboratory at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto has sought biomarkers for use in the early detection of cancer. I love my job as both clinician and scientist. I am now 63 and people throw all kinds of questions at me owing to my diverse experience — and my white hair. But the one I hate the most is: “When are you going to retire?” I hate it because it reminds me that I am in transition. The first time I was asked it, I was 58. The question was unexpected yet it stirred something in my head. And so, I resolved to record whenever people asked me it. At the age of 59, I was asked twice; at 60, four times; at 61, eight times; at 62, sixteen times; and at 63, thirty-two times. By extrapolation, I expect that next year the question will pop up 64 times and by 67, I will be facing it twice a day.
...So what might be the optimal choice? Staying in the lab. Throughout my career, I was blessed to forge relationships with diagnostic companies and to obtain patents for some of my lab's discoveries. Because research grants are becoming more difficult to obtain, I created an account that accumulates the resulting royalties and commercial donations. The fund should be large enough to support a couple of graduate students or postdocs, as well as my research manager, for up to ten years without further funding. This represents about 10% of my current lab staff, which I could handle easily as a mentor and adviser. I would be free to pop into my office at any time, to read Nature and Science, and to write manuscripts or articles like this. I could visit my grandchildren and then return them to their parents.
From The Black Past:
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.
It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.
For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.
We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.
The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.
It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.
It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.
By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.
For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.
Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.
Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias [so that] that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.
For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)
Patricia Pisters in Aeon:
Lynne Ramsay’s film We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) is an exquisite study in fear. Based on Lionel Shriver’s novel of the same name, about a teen on a killing spree, it opens with the nightmare of his mother (Tilda Swinton) drowning in the red juices of a tomato-throwing festival; she wakes up to find her house and car covered in red paint. From the start, fear permeates every image of the film. As spectators, we too experience that fear: in the filtered red light of the present and the chilling white light of the past, in the anxious expressions of the mother and the detached cold gaze of the son. Only gradually do we learn the extent of Kevin’s transgressions. But the narrative is the mother’s journey. We have been inside her head all along, and suspense emerges when basic emotions like fear collide with a wide spectrum of higher-level reactions – guilt, hope, despair, and other more nuanced feelings that have passed through the filter of the thinking brain. This new brand of film, the neurothriller, creates a spiral of fear or lust, a warm bath of sorrow, not through classic narrative, but with sound, image, and sophisticated computer technology, all of it tapping the circuitry of the ancient emotional brain.
Perhaps the first person to manipulate film to reach the emotional centres of the brain was the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, who called cinema his laboratory and said each film was an experiment in the interplay between a cinematographic technique and the effect it had on the audience. Suspense and surprise, desire and longing, laughter and fear, sympathy and disgust were the emotions and feelings that Hitchcock managed to induce in his spectators. Hitchcock’s way of distributing narrative information and cinematographic effects guided his audience masterfully from one emotion to the next.
During the shooting of North by Northwest (1959), Hitchcock even confessed to his scriptwriter Ernest Lehman that he would love to access the spectator’s emotions directly. ‘The audience is like a giant organ that you and I are playing. At one moment we play this note, and get this reaction, and then we play that chord and they react. And someday we won’t even have to make a movie – there’ll be electrodes implanted in their brains, as we’ll just press different buttons and they’ll go “oooh” and “aaah” and we’ll frighten them, and make them laugh. Won’t that be wonderful?’
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Tamsin Shaw in the New York Review of Books:
In 1971, the psychologist B.F. Skinner expressed the hope that the vast, humanly created problems defacing our beautiful planet (famines, wars, the threat of a nuclear holocaust) could all be solved by new “technologies of behavior.” The psychological school of behaviorism sought to replace the idea of human beings as autonomous agents with the “scientific” view of them as biological organisms, responding to external stimuli, whose behavior could be modified by altering their environment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 1964 Skinner’s claims about potential behavior modification had attracted funding from the CIA via a grant-making body called the Human Ecology Society.
Skinner was extremely dismayed that his promise of using his science to “maximize the achievements of which the human organism is capable” was derided by defenders of the entirely unscientific ideal of freedom. When Peter Gay, for instance, spoke of the “innate naïveté, intellectual bankruptcy, and half-deliberate cruelty of behaviorism,” Skinner, clearly wounded, protested that the “literature of freedom” had provoked in Gay “a sufficiently fanatical opposition to controlling practices to generate a neurotic if not psychotic response.” Skinner was unable to present any more robust moral defense of his project of social engineering.
In spite of the grandiosity of Skinner’s vision for humanity, he could not plausibly claim to be a moral expert. It is only more recently that the claims of psychologists to moral expertise have come to be taken seriously. Contributing to their new aura of authority has been their association with neuroscience, with its claims to illuminate the distinct neural pathways taken by our thoughts and judgments.