Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.
Archive for October, 2012
Howard Zinn: The Optimism of Uncertainty
We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. Even when we don’t “win,” there is fun and fulfillment in the fact that we have been involved, with other good people, in something worthwhile. We need hope. An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
Finally, public opinion around the biotech industry’s contamination of our food supply and destruction of our environment has reached the tipping point. We’re fighting back.
Gorgeous scene from East Iceland
Instead of cataloging only what is going wrong, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will now also track and reward successful efforts to conserve species and their environments.
Tulip fields in the Netherlands
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, famed for seeking “happiness” for its citizens, is aiming to become the first nation in the world to turn its home-grown food and farmers 100 percent organic.
The tiny Buddhist-majority nation wedged between China and India has an unusual and some say enviable approach to economic development, centred on protecting the environment and focusing on mental well-being.
A new type of antibiotic can effectively treat an antibiotic-resistant infection by disarming instead of killing the bacteria that cause it. Researchers report their findings in the October 2 issue of mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.
“Traditionally, people have tried to find antibiotics that rapidly kill bacteria. But we found a new class of antibiotics which has no ability to kill Acinetobacter that can still protect, not by killing the bug, but by completely preventing it from turning on host inflammation,” says Brad Spellberg of the UCLA Medical Center and David Geffen School of Medicine, a researcher on the study.
Arianna Huffington of Huffingtonpost.com said that the media has a responsibility to “cover what is working, to put the spotlight on the good things happening.” She described dedicated sections at The Huffington Post meant to do just that. “We need to celebrate the good obsessively,” she said.
Arianna went on to say, “We need to change the narrative away from this fatalistic hopelessness that is permeating this country at the moment, and towards the belief once again, that as John Gardner said, ‘What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.’”