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As I Am

(by alan spearman)

Chris Dean’s heart stopped when he was two. He died but he came back. When Chris was five, his father was murdered, riddled by more than 20 bullets in a gang shootout. At age 18, Chris gained national attention when he introduced President Barack Obama at his high school graduation. Chris is an observer and philosopher who has always had a few things to say about life from his vantage point in South Memphis. He and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Alan Spearman walked the neighborhood for eight weeks observing and recording what became the script of As I Am. This film floats through this remarkable young man’s landscape, revealing the lives that have shaped his world. Poetic and powerful imagery, captured by Spearman and cinematographer Mark Adams, combines with the young philosopher’s trenchant observations about life.

On Loving Bertrand Russell | Talking Philosophy

http://bit.ly/RsV5lf

From Talking Philosophy:

Bertrand Russell married his first love, Alys Pearsall Smith, on 13 December 1894. In the autumn of 1901, he had a revelation:

I went out bicycling one afternoon, and suddenly, as I was riding along a country road, I realised that I no longer loved Alys. I had had no idea until this moment that my love for her was even lessening. The problem presented by this discovery was very grave. We had lived ever since our marriage in the closest possible intimacy. We always shared a bed, and neither of us ever had a separate dressing-room. We talked over together everything that ever happened to us… I knew that she was still devoted to me. I had no wish to be unkind, but I believed in those days…that in intimate relations one should speak the truth.

Russell justifies his change of feelings by levelling a number of criticisms against Alys.

Sphere representing all of Earth's water Spheres representing all of Earth's water, Earth's liquid fresh water, and water in lakes and rivers

(Sphere representing all of Earth’s water)

The Water Problem

From Talking Philosophy:

While people normally think of water in terms of something we drink, 92% of our water usage as a species is due to agriculture. Plants and animals need water directly, but water is also used for other purposes in the industry. For example, the feed given to animals requires water. In addition to the direct use of water, water is also “consumed” (that is, removed from being useful to humans) by contamination from agriculture. The chemicals and waste of agriculture often ends up in rivers and other bodies of water, rendering it unusable or at least harmful.

….

One obvious practical concern is working out how to efficiently handle water resources as the population increases. Adding to the difficulty of this matter is the fact that economic improvements in developing countries will most likely lead to a significant increase in the desire for meat, especially beef. Given the water cost of meat the agriculture industry will be hard pressed to meet such increased demand especially if the water supply is under even greater strain.

As might be imagined, there are various practical solutions to the technical problems of water. For example, more efficient agriculture would enable more food to be grown using less water. As another example, the development of cheaper means of purifying water of salt or pollutants would help. Obviously enough if the world eschewed meat in favor of plants, then that would have a significant impact on water usage.

The main moral concern is one of distribution. That is, using moral values to determine how the available water will be used and who will benefit from its use.The main moral concern is one of distribution. That is, using moral values to determine how the available water will be used and who will benefit from its use. As noted above, the growing of meat and other animal products is water intensive relative to growing plants. While there are practical grounds to moving away from animal agriculture, the decision to do so (or not do so) is a matter of ethics. After all, decisions about who is entitled to the water resources and how these resources should be distributed are moral decisions. If, for example, it is decided that water resources will be allocated to the beef industry, then this means that less water will be available to grow more water efficient foods, thus potentially reducing the food supply while also creating food that is relatively expensive for the consumer.

As the population grows, the moral concerns will become even more serious. After all, it is certainly worth considering that the demand on water resources will eventually be high enough that choosing between growing beef and raising more water efficient crops will be a choice between providing the more affluent few with a luxury food and providing the less affluent many with the food they need to survive.

An obvious counter to this is that we have always managed to find a solution to such problems in the past and hence we will surely find one (or more) in the future. After all, the population doomsdays predicted in the past all turned out to be in error.

While this response has considerable appeal, it is worth noting that there must be a point at which our ability to solve the water problem reaches its limit. After all, the supply of water on the earth is finite and even if we were to use the water with incredible efficiency there would be a point at which the available fresh water could not support a population of a certain size. Naturally, this can be countered by reducing population size—but determining whether we should do this or not and the details of the reduction would involve moral choices.

Link to the rest at Talking Philosophy.

46% of the U.S. Population Utterly in the Dark about Evolution
From Gallup:

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Link to the rest at Gallup, via Leiter Reports

46% of the U.S. Population Utterly in the Dark about Evolution

From Gallup:

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God’s guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

Link to the rest at Gallup, via Leiter Reports

poptech:

Are Memes & Internet Culture Creating a Singularity?

Here on the internet, we love us some memes. But where do they come from? Yes we know, they are user generated. But to an internet layman, they seem to just appear, in HUGE quantities, ready for cultural consumption. Are they a sign of a “cultural singularity”? Memes follow rules and code, are varied, self-referential, and seem to multiply at an ever increasing rate. It may seem like science fiction, but we’re close to a world where culture automatically and magically creates infinitely more culture.

"Success is a catalyst for failure"

jkottke:

Why don’t successful people become really successful? Greg McKeown explains in The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call “the clarity paradox,” which can be summed up in four predictable phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

There Is No Best

In her tongue-in-cheek article, 'Best of' lists – what are they good for? Absolutely nothing, Bim Adewunmi gives these interesting reasons why she hates lists such as the British Film Institutes Greatest Films Poll:

• They remove originality of thought. Have you ever tried to compile a list of the best books of all time? Have you automatically written down any or all of these usual suspects – Dickens, Nabokov, Austen, or Woolf – without even realising? We’ve all done it. These authors and their many works are undoubtedly excellent, but is that the only reason they came to mind? No, they’ve been “normed” into your life. Who wants to be the lone wolf standing up in class and saying The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic is their favourite book of all time when everyone else is nodding soberly along to Madame Bovary? Break free of the tyranny of lists! PS: the Shopaholic series is a delight.

• They kill joy. We’ve all used the clapping Orson Welles gif to punctuate Tumblr posts, sure, but have you ever watched all of Citizen Kane? All my life, I’ve been told it is the best thing my eyes will ever see. I have Citizen Kane fatigue. This is what lists do – when the hype gets too much, all joy is extracted from the endeavour. For example, I’m fairly obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In previous years, I would wax lyrical about how amazing the show was, sitting people down and explaining – season by season – how layered and brilliantly conceived the show was, before pressing a box set into their hands, telling them: “Just watch it.” Inevitably, my overactive hype machine sucked all the joy from the situation. The simple pleasure of accidentally stumbling upon the magnificence was gone. The expectations are too high, the disappointment inescapable. These days, I’ve scaled back my enthusiasm. If people want to appreciate the wonder of a groundbreaking and perfectly pitched series that exquisitely explored the ideas of autonomy and feminism via a wisecracking teenager who battles supernatural beings, they will.

• They confirm your most depressing fear: you are desperately uncool. By definition, lists are exclusionary, separating the wheat from the perceived chaff. And while we all have views that might be considered a bit left field, we imagine those mark us out as cool mavericks, not social pariahs. But imagine the explicit confirmation that you’re wrong about everything – your favourite film, your most treasured book, your most beloved album. All wrong. Your very opinion: invalidated. No one wants that. The NHS couldn’t handle the strain of all the crushed egos.

My comments after the jump

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Controlling Guns | Talking Philosophy

http://bit.ly/NnP99A

From Talking Philosophy:

Gun control, the limiting of gun ownership, can be supported by a very reasonable utilitarian argument. By restricting gun ownership, the likelihood of people getting injured or killed by guns is reduced. While denying people the right to own guns can be taken as a harm, this is supposed to be offset by the greater reduction in harms to the potential victims of guns (or people with guns).

….

In the United States, people are often inclined to view gun control as a special sort of matter rather than being a matter of general principle about the legitimate extents of liberties and limitations. On the right, gun ownership is sometimes venerated and defended with zealous devotion. On the left, guns are sometimes seen as inherently terrifying (perhaps even as mechanical monsters whose very existence threatens life and limb).

….

the main argument for restricting specific gun liberties or rights is to reduce or prevent harms that would be more likely to occur without restrictions. This is, obviously enough, based on the more general principle that rights or liberties can be restricted under the justification of preventing or reducing harms. As such, it would seem useful to discuss the matter of gun control in this more general context.

Given that the goal of gun control is to reduce or prevent harm, it might be tempting to argue in favor of complete gun control or, at least, incredibly strict restrictions. After all, if such a level of control could be established over the entire population, then the amount of harm involving guns would be greatly reduced. The general principle at work here would be, obviously enough, that a complete ban or incredibly strict restrictions would be justified by the fact that they would significantly reduce the harms that involved guns. While this has a certain appeal in regards to guns, it seems rather less appealing when applied to other things.

If the goal is simply to reduce the number of deaths, then gun control would be rather low on the priority list of things that need to be strictly controlled. After all, far more people perish due to automobiles, tobacco, alcohol and obesity than die in incidents of gun violence.  As such, if guns can be severely restricted under the justification that doing so would reduce the number of deaths, then it would follow that automobiles should be subject to the same level of restrictions because they generate a significantly greater death toll. Also, the causes of obesity should be addressed by very strict laws regulating what foods people can purchase, consumption volumes and exercise. While some do advocate for such restrictions, most would see these as absurd. However, if banning Big Macs and cars is absurd, then banning guns would also seem absurd.

Link to the rest at Talking Philosophy