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In Praise of Charles Cameron

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I am not sure how many of the readers ever make it to the “About” page, but there are blurbs for all of the bloggers here, done in my usual ad hoc style. This is what it reads for Charles Cameron:

Charles Cameron,  has also posted at Small Wars Journal, All Things Counterterrorism, for the Chicago Boyz Afghanistan 2050 roundtable and elsewhere.  Charles read Theology at Christ Church, Oxford, under AE Harvey, and was at one time a Principal Researcher with Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies and the Senior Analyst with the Arlington Institute

All well and good, though that does not begin to scratch the surface of Charles who has a most interesting biography as a poet, bohemian adventurer and independent scholar. There’s a bit more available at his Sembl project page. If you ever have the chance to sit and talk with Charles F2F over coffee or a beer, you are in for a treat, if wide-ranging intellect and deep learning delivered with gentlemanly grace is your thing.

The reason for this post is that there is a new addition to Charles’ bio – he is now the Managing Editor of zenpundit.com.

Charles’s contributions here in terms of writing are invaluable, but he has also been an increasing factor behind the scenes. His ideas for potential round table projects, soliciting guest posts, recruiting new bloggers and raising the profile of ZP have been all to the good. I have come to realize that my own limitations in terms of schedule to execute some of these ideas Charles has brought may be preventing good things from happening that the readership would enjoy. It is time for me to step back a bit and give Charles the freedom to grow the blog and move zenpundit.com  forward.  I can’t think of anyone better suited for the role than Charles Cameron.

Yes, I will still be here, as will Scott Shipman and Lynn Rees, but it’s time for a new hand at the wheel.

“Truth is lived, not taught”

 - Herman Hesse

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Choices: Burning Man or Bali?

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- we have as many possible futures as there are eyes in the tails of numberless peacocks -- for your consideration, here are two of them ]
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Sources:

  • Burning Man, live webcast, h/t Scott Hess
  • Bali, Pura Tanah Lot
  • **

    I’ll go for Bali, with wifi and a laptop to watch the live feed from Burning Man. You?

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    The Nation of Islam and Scientology

    Saturday, August 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- at the confluence of two relatively new religious movements ]
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    I’ve known for a while that Minister Louis Farrakhan had expressed a positive view of L Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, but this short clip from a Nation of Islam leadership talk took me by surprise:
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    I am not a member of either faith, let alone both — but as a student of religions I find possible confluences between them — such as this one promises to be — fascinating.

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    New Book: America 3.0 is Now Launched!

    Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

    America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

    I am confident that this deeply researched and thoughtfully argued book  is going to make a big political splash, especially in conservative circles – and has already garnered a strong endorsement from Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan and this review from  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today :

    Future’s so bright we have to wear shades: Column 

    ….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.

    That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.

    America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.

    At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.

    It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.

    To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.

    But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.

    Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak,  Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.

    Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.

    But don’t take my word for it.

    The authors will be guests Tuesday evening on Lou Dobb’s Tonight and you can hear them firsthand and find out why they believe “America’s best days are yet to come

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    E.O. Wilson on the Evolutionary Origin of Creativity and Art

    Thursday, April 4th, 2013

    E.O. Wilson 

    Last summer, eminent sociobiologist E.O. Wilson published an article in Harvard Magazine:

    On the Origins of the Arts 

    ….By using this power in addition to examine human history, we can gain insights into the origin and nature of aesthetic judgment. For example, neurobiological monitoring, in particular measurements of the damping of alpha waves during perceptions of abstract designs, have shown that the brain is most aroused by patterns in which there is about a 20 percent redundancy of elements or, put roughly, the amount of complexity found in a simple maze, or two turns of a logarithmic spiral, or an asymmetric cross. It may be coincidence (although I think not) that about the same degree of complexity is shared by a great deal of the art in friezes, grillwork, colophons, logographs, and flag designs. It crops up again in the glyphs of the ancient Middle East and Mesoamerica, as well in the pictographs and letters of modern Asian languages. The same level of complexity characterizes part of what is considered attractive in primitive art and modern abstract art and design. The source of the principle may be that this amount of complexity is the most that the brain can process in a single glance, in the same way that seven is the highest number of objects that can be counted at a single glance. When a picture is more complex, the eye grasps its content by the eye’s saccade or consciously reflective travel from one sector to the next. A quality of great art is its ability to guide attention from one of its parts to another in a manner that pleases, informs, and provokes

    This is fascinating.  My first question would be how we could determine if the pattern of degree of complexity is the result of cognitive structural limits (a cap on our thinking) or if it represents a sufficient visual sensory catalyst in terms of numbers of elements to cause an excitory response (neurons firing, release of dopamine, acetylcholine etc. ) and a subsequent feedback loop. Great art, or just sometimes interesting designs exhibiting novelty can hold us with a mysterious, absorbing fascination

    Later, Wilson writes:

    ….If ever there was a reason for bringing the humanities and science closer together, it is the need to understand the true nature of the human sensory world, as contrasted with that seen by the rest of life. But there is another, even more important reason to move toward consilience among the great branches of learning. Substantial evidence now exists that human social behavior arose genetically by multilevel evolution. If this interpretation is correct, and a growing number of evolutionary biologists and anthropologists believe it is, we can expect a continuing conflict between components of behavior favored by individual selection and those favored by group selection. Selection at the individual level tends to create competitiveness and selfish behavior among group members—in status, mating, and the securing of resources. In opposition, selection between groups tends to create selfless behavior, expressed in
    greater generosity and altruism, which in turn promote stronger cohesion and strength of the group as a whole 

    Very interesting.

    First, while I am in no way qualified to argue evolution with E.O. Wilson, I am dimly aware that some biological scientists might be apt to take issue with Wilson’s primacy of multilevel evolution. As a matter of common sense, it seems likely to me that biological systems might have a point where they experience emergent evolutionary effects – the system itself has to be able to adapt to the larger environmental context – how do we know what level of “multilevel” will be the significant driver of natural selection and under what conditions? Or does one level have a rough sort of “hegemony” over the evolutionary process with the rest as “tweaking” influences? Or is there more randomness here than process?

    That part is way beyond my ken and readers are welcome to weigh in here.

    The second part, given Wilson’s assumptions are more graspable. Creativity often is a matter of individual insights becoming elaborated and exploited, but also has strong collaborative and social aspects. That kind of cooperation may not even be purposeful or ends-driven by both parties, it may simply be behaviors that incidentally  help create an environment or social space where creative innovation becomes more likely to flourish – such as the advent of writing and the spread of literacy giving birth to a literary cultural explosion of ideas and invention – and battles over credit and more tangible rewards.

    Need to ponder this some more.

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