I'm a little dismayed I didn't learn about this a long time ago, when I was discovering some of the classic texts (e.g., The Lonely Crowd or The OrgI'm a little dismayed I didn't learn about this a long time ago, when I was discovering some of the classic texts (e.g., The Lonely Crowd or The Organization Man .)
❝“Politics and Vision,” subtitled “Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought,” appeared at a time when American political science was under the sway of the behavioralist revolution, which emphasized the quantitative analysis of data rather than political ideas as a way to explain political behavior.
Professor Wolin, then teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, galvanized the profession by gathering key political philosophers, beginning with the Greeks, in a grand debate on democracy and examining their ideas not as historical artifacts, but as a way to criticize current political structures.
“The book revitalized political theory by making its history relevant to an analysis of the present,” Nicholas Xenos, a student of Professor Wolin’s and a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, wrote in an email. “It challenged the behavioralists, for whom history was increasingly irrelevant. It also provided a way to criticize the present using the concepts and vocabulary that since antiquity had sustained concern for what he called ‘the possibilities of collectivity, common action and shared purposes.’ ”
In 1985, the American Political Science Association honored the book with the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award in recognition of its lasting impact. It was reissued in expanded form in 2004.❞
It appears to be quite appropriate to study today....more
Unread, and maybe too big to really want to tackle.
The crisis in the economically dominant western states seems to me to be a symptom of a long termUnread, and maybe too big to really want to tackle.
The crisis in the economically dominant western states seems to me to be a symptom of a long term decline of economic hegemony. Many in the Anglo-American "core" are concerned that this signals a shift towards rising power principally to China.
I suspect that the similarity between European and American cultures has made the shifts of the past few hundred years relatively easy, but this will eventually be seen as a provident aberration. Cross-cultural hegemonic shifts require, I suspect, a radical "reset" in the economic system, the most recent of which we refer to as "the dark ages."
So my hypothesis is that the rise of China will be interrupted by a new dark ages, simultaneously brought upon by the deep cultural chaos implicit in such a shift as well as the economic crisis of climate change.
This thinking is crudely informed by my very brief exposure to World Systems Analysis, so I'd like to look more deeply into it, albeit not at an academic level. Giovanni Arrighi's book seems to be a plausible place to start.
But it isn't as if I don't already have too much reading I want to do....more
Mark Hertsgaard wrote an essay for The Nation: Hurricane Sandy as Greek Tragedy which provides yet more evidence of our world's slow-motion train wreck. The name of the hurricane provides the most poignant and realistic note:
Sandy is short for Cassandra, the Greek mythological figure who epitomizes tragedy. The gods gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy; depending on which version of the story one prefers, she could either see or smell the future. But with this gift also came a curse: Cassandra’s warnings about future disasters were fated to be ignored. That is the essence of this tragedy: to know that a given course of action will lead to disaster but to pursue it nevertheless.
Hertsgaard states that “There are signs of hope” — but his threshold must be abysmally low. Does he really believe that “Especially in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there is no reason to continue disregarding scientists’ warnings about where our current path leads”? Of course, there are plenty of reasons, and he knows what they are. There is plenty of money behind the push to deny this, and huge portions of the American demos have passively chosen to believe there is a controversy, either because the issue is tied strongly to their other ideological positions, or because it is more convenient to be too busy to worry about such long-term problems.
Hertsgaard again has the wrong attitude and the wrong tone of voice. This message might be a bit more persuasive if it were delivered in tones of a thundering Mosaic condemnation from Mount Sinai. Because he leavens his message with unwarranted optimism, his message and the tragedy are both left easy to ignore.
Back to my original review —
• • • • •
Mark Hertsgaard’s book covers a lot of ground, and I’d argue that in the coming years there is no more important topic that anyone could study. This book is a decent start, but in the end I was disappointed — primarily because he was too optimistic.
All of the accumulated evidence is that we are so far from any significant mitigation of global warming that it as if someone is writing the script for a very black comedy of errors. But Hersgaard ends in an upbeat mood, asserting that we’ll do this, because… well, because we have to. The alternative is too horrendous to contemplate.
The problem with that prognosis is two-fold. First, even people that believe global warming is taking place seldom have examined how very nasty the latter half of the twentieth century will probably be. Sure, some cautionary descriptions have floated around, but even picking a single example hides the panoramic sweep of the changes and the trauma. Much like looking at the aftermath of a hurricane or tsunami through a telescope, you only examine details by losing the ability to see everything else.
Second, collective action is naturally slow in coming when the costs of change will undoubtedly be high. Deniers have been criminal in making things worse by sowing doubt when there really is very little doubt. A reasonable prediction is that people won’t agree on the need for real action until much later in the game. A few hundred deaths from a clutch of tornadoes here, a few billion dollars in damage from hurricanes there, climbing food scarcity due to floods here and droughts there — it will all get shrugged off as just plain bad luck for another decade or more. And by that time…
Hertsgaard has a very well-chosen framing narrative here (although, as other reviewers have noted he gets too bathetic, especially towards the end of the book). He has recently become a father, and there is some cognitive dissonance between the horror story he keeps finding as he has researched this book, and the warm and happy feelings he has when he looks at his young daughter. He’s right to worry. In her anticipated lifespan she could easily witness changes that dramatically reduce any expectation she has for a pleasant life.
It’s too bad that this book hasn’t told the bad side of that story. Many pages were devoted to how, for example, a few tiny parts of the United States and other wealthy countries have made baby steps towards adaptation. And more pages turn to how difficult it is to prepare. But while he notes out that “floods kill thousands, drought can kill millions,” but he doesn’t go much deeper. Drought is potentially a problem in so many parts of the world that he should probably warn about tens of millions of deaths. And once people start seeing that, do we really expect them to peacefully beg for help? Water wars have been a hot topic of study in international relations for many years now — where are the interviews regarding that? With climate change triggering food scarcity, these problems are likely to cascade upon one another.
The book’s single instance of humor is inadequately dark: “You know the joke, don’t you? Under climate change the future is definitely going to be wetter. Or drier. Unless it’s both.”
I think the only honest conclusion is that the future is definitely going to be wetter, drier and much deadlier.
It's a love story set in the relatively near future, but the story itself is quite boring, and the charactersI gave up on this about halfway through.
It's a love story set in the relatively near future, but the story itself is quite boring, and the characters are mostly unlikeable and excruciatingly pathetic.
In Shteyngart's vision, almost everyone is a loser and those that are seen by the public as "winners" would be deemed horrifying monsters in any civilized society.
There was one — and only one — compelling aspect here. Shteyngart has extrapolated today's social trends and while the result is exaggerated (we can only hope), some parts ring true and others serve as amusing satire on today's practice. For example, in one painful scene, the early-middle-aged friends of the protagonist are hanging out in a bar, and one suggests "lets FAC" to a young lady. That would be "Form a Community", in which their mobile devices reveal everything to everyone, with ratings flooding in to humiliate the losers. Lenny, the hero, discovers his "fuckability" rating is abyssal and is considered the ugliest man in the bar, but his relatively high income (which is also pegged to the Yuan, and thus protected against the feared collapse of the dollar) mitigates this, showing up as a fairly high "Personalit¥".
The mashup of various memes and extension of trends is pointed and often amusing. But it isn't enough to carry the book.
My recommendation: if you're curious, read a few chapters for the mood and clever bits, then dump it. ...more
Q upon reading: does this come close to getting the underlying sociological trends correct? What about the evolutionary basis of those trends, or a phQ upon reading: does this come close to getting the underlying sociological trends correct? What about the evolutionary basis of those trends, or a philosophical examination of that foundation?...more
Do you need to re-read this, as I do? It has been too many years and I'm sure I'll respond differently than previously. Especially after listening toDo you need to re-read this, as I do? It has been too many years and I'm sure I'll respond differently than previously. Especially after listening to the excellentIn Our Time podcast discussing the book. (Available on the BBC website here, but unfortunately only in a streaming format, not downloadable or directly downloadable here). As the host of that program says in his email:
There are books that you read a while ago and yet are still convinced you know well. At least that's my experience. I must have read Brave New World at university or thereabouts and, if challenged, would have nodded and said yes, I know that book. Well, I know the author's name. I also knew that it involved a state a few hundred years after the death of Henry Ford. I remembered the alphas, betas, gamma, deltas and epsilons. I could call up the incubators and words like 'feelies' and 'soma' would drift around somewhere. But when taxed (admittedly by the producer James Cook and myself -- a sort of self-taxation) to get a grip on it for In Our Time, I discovered how little you retain, even in areas where you have been programmed (now that would have fitted in with Brave New World) to remember.
I've also lately become especially intrigued by books that discuss "big ideas" without getting preachy or clumsy to see how they integrate what undoubtedly takes ungainly amounts of dialog into the plot. Hopefully this is one of them.