We Are Too Many to Fit in Noah’s Ark

The first likely climate change refugees from the continental US were featured in an article in the NYTimes today. With the headline, “Florida Keys Deliver a Hard Message: As Seas Rise, Some Places Can’t Be Saved,” the article showed the painful cost of delay in confronting this threat. A new study done for the Florida Keys showed that the cost of protecting a three-mile stretch of road serving about two dozen homes would be so much that it could not be justified. Given present estimates of ocean rise, the cost of raising this short stretch would be about $75 million to avoid inundation in 2025, $128 million in 2045, and $181 million in 2060. Those home owners are, naturally, quite upset. Asked how she expected residents would respond, Mayor Carruthers said she expects pushback. “I’m sure that some of them will be very irate, and we’ll probably face some lawsuits,” she said. “But we can’t completely keep the water away.” The view from the higher ground is also fraught because the obligation of the local government to protect the homes and their occupants is fuzzy. The law generally requires local governments to maintain roads and other infrastructure, because failure to… Read More

Continue Reading

Emotional Intelligence

In my daily ramblings through my email and on the web, I often spot something worth commenting on in my blog. Thinking back to when I started blogging about 11 years ago, I divided my posts between ones about my books and somethings about politics or the state of the world. I cannot do much with the latter topics these days. it’s just too depressing. But I still can try to tie my own work to the larger picture, and that’s what follows in this post I was reading a post from one of my regular weekly bloggers and found another tie to the divided brain model, so central, now, to my work. The item was about the work of Alain de Botton, a name unfamiliar to me. With a kittle research, I found that he is a prolific writer about emotional intelligence and related topics. The blogger has included this extract from his book, The School of Life: An Emotional Education: The knack of our species lies in our capacity to transmit our accumulated knowledge down the generations. The slowest among us can, in a few hours, pick up ideas that it took a few rare geniuses a lifetime… Read More

Continue Reading

An Old Poet’s Warning

I have been writing poetry for a while. I put something on my blog earlier this month. A number of the poems have a political theme and won’t stand the test of time or literary chops, so i might as well expose them now. I will be adding more from time to time. Here’s a sonnet, written about a year ago. An Old Poet’s Warning “The centre cannot hold”–Yeats’s sharp line Seems to be on the verge of coming true. His “second coming” is blocking my view And I feel shivers moving up my spine. His slouching “rough beast” has emerged full grown With a ghostly pallor like a carrot. Its reedy voice tweets just like a parrot And traps us in its stultifying drone. The center is where all the bright rays meet And where opposing views get evened out. It’s the only spot to hear freedom’s shout And to dissipate rancor’s stifling heat. If we can awaken before too late, We still may avoid Yeats’s dreadful fate.

Continue Reading

Right v. Rights

I have been doing some computer and files housekeeping, and uncovered an older article from the NYTimes “The Stone” column (about philosophy), that merits comment. The article, “What We Owe to Others: Simone Weil’s Radical Reminder,” by Robert Zaretsky recalls that her “reflections on the nature of obligation offer a bracing dose of sanity in our perplexing and polarizing times.” It’s a great article and deserves to be read in its entirety. Zaretsky focuses on Weil’s concern about the focus on one’s rights, a personal concern versus what is morally right, an impersonal, universal concept. The problem, for Weil, with the liberal conception of rights — and the laws that codify them — is that it is rooted in the personal, not the impersonal. Our society, she insists, is one where personal rights are tied at the hip to private property. Taking his cue from Weil, political theorist Edward Andrew suggests that a rights-based society “is the consensual society where everything is vendible at constitutional conventions or the marketplace.” This reveals what Weil, like Thomas Hobbes, believes to be the sole universal truth concerning human affairs: certain groups will always wield greater clout than other groups. “Rights talk” deals with… Read More

Continue Reading

My Safety Valve

I think I may have posted a few of my poems on this blog before. I have been writing poetry fairly seriously for the last couple of years. Mostly sonnets, but a few old-fashioned, structured poems like villanelles, sestinas, and pantoums. Here is a villanelle I wrote around Election Day, 2018. I find writing verse is a good way to relieve the tightness that I find pervades every part of me these days. Villanelles repeat the 1st and 3rd lines of the first stanza in an ordered way through the rest of the poem. Where I stand on the political spectrum should be no surprise to regular readers of this blog. I would love to get some feedback. Every Vote Counts The world is in a downward slump, And it has made my tummy tight. Today was just another bump. Some days, it feels like I’m a chump To think our lives will turn out right. The world is in a downward slump. Our rights will be restored when Trump And his corrupt crew take to flight. Today was just another bump. He kicked our country in the rump. The future is not shining bright. The world is in a… Read More

Continue Reading

Upside-down Economics

We now have, thanks to Kate Raworth, donut economics. Herman Daly gave us steady-state economics. Regular professionals gave us micro- and macroeconomics. And so on. Today, I am announcing a completely new type of economics: upside-down economics. It is the science of too much. From Adam Smith onward, economics has been largely about how to manage scarcity. But today, while scarcity is still a real issue for much of the world’s population, here in the US and other rich countries, the issue has been turned on its head; we have too much of a lot of things. It is important to keep in mind that I am only taking about real things here. We still have a huge scarcity of immaterial goods, like love, care, and, for me, most importantly, flourishing. That’s the point. There is a connection between these two categories as I believe having too much of the former leads to having too little of the latter. So, what do I mean by all this? Let’s start with cars. There are simply too many around. Traffic is crazy everywhere from Boston, where I live, to New Delhi in India. (Today’s news showed New Delhi with pollution levels almost… Read More

Continue Reading

A Fine Piece of Punditry and a Warning

I have tried to avoid blogging about the political morass we find ourselves in these days. I can’t avoid the mess, but do not have to add to the depth of all the stuff piling up out there. But today, I read an excellent, classy oped piece by Tom Friedman in the New York Times. The title, “Trump, Zuckerberg & Pals Are Breaking America,” is quite self-descriptive. I encourage anyone that follows my blog to read it. There is not much anyone of us can do, alone, about the breakdown of our political/governance system, except to honor your responsibilities as a citizen. But there is much all of us can do about the hubris of Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook. We can stop using it and encourage everyone we know to do the same. We can and, it seems, we ought to, live without it if we hope to rebuild the underlying need for trust in both people and facts that have been eroding before our eyes. It’s late right now, but I will be zapping my own Facebook account first thing tomorrow. But not until I use it to send out this message. If you read this and agree,… Read More

Continue Reading

One More Uncanny Encounter

As I was preparing to update a syllabus for a course I was considering to give at my learning-in-retirement “school,” I rediscovered a paper I had written about 10 years ago. It had the academic title of, “Reductionism and Its Cultural Fallout.” It was a polished version of a talk I had given at a conference. Most of it was taken from my first book, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture. It was a pretty good paper, but the point of this post is that I noticed a table comparing two sets of “ideas,” which I had labeled “unsustainable” and “sustainable.” The table is reproduced below.  Unsustainability and sustainability concepts Unsustainability Ideas Sustainability Ideas Reductionistic Holistic Mechanical Organic Independent Interdependent Quantitative Qualitative Individualistic Communitarian Determinacy Indeterminacy Complicated Complex Anthropocentric Biocentric   I wrote this paper just about ten years before I had an inkling of Iain McGilchrist’s divided-brain model, the one that is central to my new book. The match between these two columns and the two in the following table describing the main features of the two brain hemispheres is virtually perfect. Wow! Characteristics of an actors by the dominant hemisphere Left Hemisphere Right… Read More

Continue Reading

The Peace of Wild Things

The Peace of Wild Things Wendell Berry When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. From Wendell Berry, Collected Poems: 1957-1982 (North Point Press, 1987). If only I could find my wood drake. I know why I feel such sadness to leave the solace of Maine behind every fall. I can take the memory of those great herons and stretch it out to last until it is time to re-open in the spring. At least I can try to capture those memories, as does Berry, in poetry. Drain Tide John Ehrenfeld 2019 The ebb tide is at its seasonal low, Draining the bay to the… Read More

Continue Reading

John Dewey and the Brain

I realize that the divided-brain model is unfamiliar and strange to most of my readers and followers. I included some examples of how it works in explaining a wide variety of social and individual actions in the book, but I will use this blog, from time to time, to point to additional examples. Today, I have an excerpt from John Dewey’s, Liberalism and Social Action. This work was published in 1935, relatively late in his extraordinarily long productive life. He wrote: Let me mention three changes that have taken place in one of the institutions in which immense shifts have occurred, but that are still relatively external—external in the sense that the pattern of intelligent purpose and emotion has not been correspondingly modified. Civilization existed for most of human history in a state of scarcity in the material basis for a humane life. Our ways of thinking, planning and working have been attuned to this fact. Thanks to science and technology we now live in an age of potential plenty. The immediate effect of the emergence of the new possibility was simply to stimulate, to a point of incredible exaggeration, the striving for the material resources, called wealth, opened to… Read More

Continue Reading