(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘society

“Visualizations act as a campfire around which we gather to tell stories”*…

From home ownership to digital media consumption, climate change to job growth– more, with commentary, at: “10 Charts That Capture How the World Is Changing,” from @rex_woodbury.

Al Shalloway

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As we ponder patterns, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that RKO released Walt Disney’s animated musical anthology Fantasia— eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski. First released as a theatrical roadshow held in 13 cities across the U.S. between 1940 and 1941, it was acclaimed by critics. But it initially failed to turn a profit owing to World War II’s cutting off distribution to the European market, the film’s high production costs, and the expense of building Fantasound equipment and leasing theatres for the roadshow presentations. That said, since 1942, the film has been reissued multiple times by RKO and Buena Vista Distribution (with its original footage and audio being variously deleted, modified, or restored in each version). To date, when adjusted for inflation, Fantasia is the 23rd highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 13, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Comparisons are odious”*…

… but sometimes instructive in the very ways that they fail…

The innovations which make their appearance in East Asia round about the year 1000 … form such a coherent and extensive whole that we have to yield to the evidence: at this period, the Chinese world experienced a real transformation. … The analogies [with the European Renaissance] are numerous – the return to the classical tradition, the diffusion of knowledge, the upsurge of science and technology (printing, explosives, advance in seafaring techniques, the clock with escapement …), a new philosophy, and a new view of the world. … There is not a single sector of political, social or economic life in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries which does not show evidence of radical changes in comparison with earlier ages. It is not simply a matter of a change of scale (increase in population, general expansion of production, development of internal and external trade) but of a change of character. Political habits, society, the relations between town and country, and economic patterns are quite different from what they had been. … A new world had been born.

Jacques Gernet. A History of Chinese Civilization, pp. 298-300

Doug Jones, on what the remarkable story of the Song Dynasty can and can’t tell us about other periods…

Scholars contemplating the sweeping economic, social, and political transformation of China under the Song dynasty (960-1279) seem compelled to draw analogies with later dramatic occurrences in Europe – with the Renaissance (as in the quote above) or with the Economic Revolution in England on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.

The changes are dramatic. Population roughly doubles, from about 50 million to about 100 million. Cities grow. Both internal and external trade boom. The division of labor advances, with different households and different parts of the country specializing in “goods such as rice, wheat, lighting oil, candles, dyes, oranges, litchi nuts, vegetables, sugar and sugarcane, lumber, cattle, fish, sheep, paper, lacquer, textiles and iron.” In a number of fields of technology – iron production, shipbuilding – China reaches heights which the West will not attain for many centuries.

With changes in the economy come changes in the relation between society and state. Taxes come to be mostly collected in cash rather than kind, Eventually revenues from taxes on commerce, including excise taxes and state monopolies, will greatly exceed those from land tax. A Council of State will put constitutional checks on the power of the emperor.

Yet Imperial China will ultimately follow a different, less dramatic developmental pathway than Europe. Some reasons why…

On the ways in which history doesn’t repeat itself: “A cycle of Cathay,” from @logarithmic_h.

* Proverb

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As we listen for the rhyme, we might recall that today is Schicksalstag (“Day of Fate”) in Germany. On this date five momentous events took place: Robert Blum, a leader in the Vienna revolts, was executed in 1848; Kaiser Wilhelm II resigned, marking the end of German monarchies in 1918; the Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch failed in 1923; Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) and the Nazi antisemitic pogroms raged in 1938; and the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

East and West Germans at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 (source)

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November 9, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge”*…

Royal Society, Crane Court, off Fleet Street, London: a meeting in progress, with Isaac Newton in the chair. Wood engraving by J. Quartley after [J.M.L.R.], 1883. Credit: Wellcome Library

Geoff Anders unpacks the the social, cultural, and political dilemma facing science…

In November of 1660, at Gresham College in London, an invisible college of learned men held their first meeting after 20 years of informal collaboration. They chose their coat of arms: the royal crown’s three lions of England set against a white backdrop. Their motto: “Nullius in verba,” or “take no one’s word for it.” Three years later, they received a charter from King Charles II and became what was and remains the world’s preeminent scientific institution: the Royal Society.

Three and a half centuries later, in July of 2021, even respected publications began to grow weary of a different, now constant refrain: “Trust the science.” It was a mantra everyone was supposed to accept, repeated again and again, ad nauseum

This new motto was the latest culmination of a series of transformations science has undergone since the founding of the Royal Society, reflecting the changing nature of science on one hand, and its expanding social role on the other. 

The present world’s preeminent system of thought now takes science as a central pillar and wields its authority to great consequence. But the story of how that came to be is, as one might expect, only barely understood…

How “science” has become a political and cultural lightning rod, and what we can do about it: “The Transformations of Science,” from @geoffanders in @palladiummag.

Apposite (and sad): RIP, Bruno Latour.

* Carl Sagan

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As we excavate epistemology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Margaret Sanger, her sister, Ethel Byrne, both nurses, and an associate, Fania Mindell opened the Brownsville Clinic in Brooklyn– the first family planning and birth control clinic in the United States. (The first such clinic in the world opened in Amsterdam in 1885.)  The police quickly closed the facility; Sanger served 30 days in jail.  But she and her colleagues gamely re-opened; and in 1917, Sanger helped organize the National Birth Control League, which would later become the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Sanger (center) at the Brownsville Clinic

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“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation”*…

… and happily that prospect may be more likely than we’d been led to believe in works like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone

Despite widespread worries that the social fabric is disintegrating, data from the American Psychological Association shows that since the 1950s, cooperation between strangers has steadily increased in the United States.

“We were surprised by our findings that Americans became more cooperative over the last six decades because many people believe U.S. society is becoming less socially connected, less trusting, and less committed to the common good,” said lead researcher Yu Kou, Ph.D., a professor of social psychology at Beijing Normal University. “Greater cooperation within and between societies may help us tackle global challenges, such as responses to pandemics, climate change, and immigrant crises.”

Over 63,000 people participated in 511 studies that were carried out in the US between 1956 and 2017 that were analyzed by the researchers. These studies included lab tests that evaluated strangers’ cooperation. The study was recently published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

The study discovered a slight, gradual rise in collaboration over the period of 61 years…

Good News: Cooperation Among Strangers Has Increased for the Past 60 Years.” The full study is here.

* Bertrand Russell

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As we bowl together, we might recall that any improvement on cooperation is on a base that’s not too high: it was on this date in 1957 that nine Black students, having been denied entrance to Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School (in defiance of a 1954 Supreme Court ruling), were escorted to school by soldiers of the Airborne Battle Group of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. Two days earlier the Black students had faced an angry mob of over 1,000 Whites in front of Central High School who were protesting the integration project; as the students were escorted inside by the Little Rock police (supporting national Guard troops), violence escalated, and they were removed from the school. President Eisenhower responded by calling in the regular Army.

Elizabeth Eckford attempts to enter Central High on September 4, 1957

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September 25, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Material progress does not merely fail to relieve poverty, it actually produces it. This association of progress with poverty is the great enigma of our times. It is the riddle that the sphinx of fate puts to our civilization. And which NOT to answer is to be destroyed.”*…

John Burn-Murdoch brings the data…

Where would you rather live? A society where the rich are extraordinarily rich and the poor are very poor, or one where the rich are merely very well off but even those on the lowest incomes also enjoy a decent standard of living?

For all but the most ardent free-market libertarians, the answer would be the latter. Research has consistently shown that while most people express a desire for some distance between top and bottom, they would rather live in considerably more equal societies than they do at present. Many would even opt for the more egalitarian society if the overall pie was smaller than in a less equal one.

On this basis, it follows that one good way to evaluate which countries are better places to live than others is to ask: is life good for everyone there, or is it only good for rich people?

To find the answer, we can look at how people at different points on the income distribution compare to their peers elsewhere. If you’re a proud Brit or American, you may want to look away now…

To be clear, the US data show that both broad-based growth and the equal distribution of its proceeds matter for wellbeing. Five years of healthy pre-pandemic growth in US living standards across the distribution lifted all boats, a trend that was conspicuously absent in the UK.

But redistributing the gains more evenly would have a far more transformative impact on quality of life for millions. The growth spurt boosted incomes of the bottom decile of US households by roughly an extra 10 per cent. But transpose Norway’s inequality gradient on to the US, and the poorest decile of Americans would be a further 40 per cent better off while the top decile would remain richer than the top of almost every other country on the planet.

Our leaders are of course right to target economic growth, but to wave away concerns about the distribution of a decent standard of living — which is what income inequality essentially measures — is to be disinterested in the lives of millions. Until those gradients are made less steep, the UK and US will remain poor societies with pockets of rich people…

Britain and the US are poor societies with some very rich people,” from @jburnmurdoch.

For a different (but not altogether contrary) perspective, see Noah Smith (@Noahpinion): “No, the U.S. is not “a poor society with some very rich people” (“We’re a rich society with some very poor people…”)

For an authoritative (and fascinating) account of how we got here: “Our Ancestors Thought We’d Build an Economic Paradise. Instead We Got 2022,” from @delong, adapted from his terrific new book, Slouching Toward Utopia.

Henry George, Progress and Poverty (whose point seems to accrue whether one comes down with Burn-Murdoch or with Smith…)

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As we ponder progress, we might recall that it was on this date in 1962 that Americans met The Jetsons; the animated series premiered on ABC (the first color series on the network). The show was scheduled opposite Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Dennis the Menace and didn’t receive much attention; it was cancelled after one season and moved to Saturday mornings, where it was very successful.

Apart from flying cars and outer-space dwellings, much of the technology of The Jetsons has become commonplace: people now communicate via video chat on flat screens; domestic robots (like Roomba) are widespread, and various high-tech devices are the instruments of our leisure. But The Jetsons broader portrayal of life is still far from commonplace: while its world is one in which capitalism and entrepreneurship still exist and technology has not changed fundamental elements of human nature, it posits social advances (e.g., George Jetson works an hour a day, two days a week) that haven’t accrued and a society– no people of color, no working mothers, no single parents, no gay marriage, no poverty– that seem (to put it politely) quaint. Still, Smithsonian‘s Matt Novak, in an article called “Why The Show Still Matters” argues, “Today The Jetsons stands as the single most important piece of 20th century futurism… It’s easy for some people to dismiss The Jetsons as just a TV show, and a lowly cartoon at that. But this little show—for better and for worse—has had a profound impact on the way that Americans think and talk about the future.”

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And we might agree with  Andrew Womack (@Womack) and Rosecrans Baldwin (@rosecrans) that “it is a special pleasure to link this year after year: “it’s decorative gourd season, motherf*ckers.”

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 23, 2022 at 1:00 am

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