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Posts Tagged ‘society

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*…


Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

(Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

* newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence


As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)



Written by LW

March 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

“When we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out again and took our victory to re-make in the likeness of the former world they knew”*…


The term “technological unemployment” is from John Maynard Keynes’s 1930 lecture, “Economic possibilities for our grandchildren,” where he predicted that in the future, around 2030, the production problem would be solved and there would be enough for everyone, but machines (robots, he thought) would cause “technological unemployment.” There would be plenty to go around, but the means of getting a share in it, jobs, might be scarce.

We are not quite at 2030, but I believe we have reached the “Keynes point,” where indeed enough is produced by the economy, both physical and virtual, for all of us. (If total US household income of $8.495 trillion were shared by America’s 116 million households, each would earn $73,000, enough for a decent middle-class life.) And we have reached a point where technological unemployment is becoming a reality.

The problem in this new phase we’ve entered is not quite jobs, it is access to what’s produced. Jobs have been the main means of access for only 200 or 300 years. Before that, farm labor, small craft workshops, voluntary piecework, or inherited wealth provided access. Now access needs to change again.

However this happens, we have entered a different phase for the economy, a new era where production matters less and what matters more is access to that production: distribution, in other words—who gets what and how they get it.

We have entered the distributive era…

From a very provocative essay by a very wise man, Brian Arthur.  You can– and should– read it in its entirety at “Where is technology taking the economy?

See also: “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution”*…

[Image above: source]

* T.E. Lawrence


As we rethink the fundamentals, we might recall that it was on this date in 1994 that The Superhighway Summit was held at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Royce Hall.

It was the “first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field [and] also began the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications.” The conference was organized by Richard Frank of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Jeffrey Cole and Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-directors of UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy.The keynote speaker was Vice President Al Gore who said:  “We have a dream for…an information superhighway that can save lives, create jobs and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere.”

According to Cynthia Lee in UCLA Today: “The participants underscored the point that the major challenge of the Information Highway would lie in access or the ‘gap between those who will have access to it because they can afford to equip themselves with the latest electronic devices and those who can’t.’”  [source]

Vice President Gore at the Summit’s podium




Written by LW

January 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment”*…


We’ve all heard it before: There’s no time like the present. Broadly speaking, of course, it means to “seize the opportunity right now,” or maybe in my case, to avoid procrastinating. From a psychological perspective, this makes a lot of sense. As humans we experience time “passing,” and there is a special quality to the present moment. Hypnosis and dreams aside, there is no way to directly experience either the past or the future in the same way we experience the present. But is the aphorism true? Does modern physics actually tell us that there’s no time like the present?

Our best current physical theory of space and time is general relativity. Prior to Einstein’s revolution over a century ago, physics considered time to be an “external parameter”—an independent, fundamental feature of reality not influenced by any other factor in the universe. Whether or not the passage of time is real or illusory (this is an age-old philosophical debate that predates Einstein and is indeed not settled by his theory), we now know that time intervals are not external or universally determined. Time is an internal component of a physical system, a dimension intertwined with three spatial dimensions. Taken together, this is “spacetime,” and is influenced by varying factors and is influenced by varying factors, including speed (relative to other observers or systems) and gravitational forces. Because the theory of relativity posits the constancy of the speed of light for all observers (even if they are moving relative to each other), spacetime itself must dilate and the concept of a time interval becomes elastic.

As a result, there is no universal notion of the present that applies equally to all observers. What looks present to me could just as easily be in someone else’s future, and in a third person’s past. Simultaneity is relative…

Think there’s no time like the present? As Mark Shumelda suggests, modern physics begs to differ: “Actually, There Is a Time Like the Present.”

* Kurt Vonnegut Jr.


As we cogitate on carpe diem, we might send playful birthday greetings to Johan Huizinga; he was born on this date in 1872.  A Dutch historian and one of the founders of modern cultural history, he is probably best remembered for his 1938 book Homo Ludens, in which he argues for the importance of the play element of culture and society, suggesting that play is primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture.



Written by LW

December 7, 2017 at 1:01 am

The mechanics of minority rule…

In this visualization, we see the tipping point where minority opinion (shown in red) quickly becomes majority opinion. Over time, the minority opinion grows. Once the minority opinion reached 10 percent of the population, the network quickly changes as the minority opinion takes over the original majority opinion (shown in green).


 Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals…

“In general, people do not like to have an unpopular opinion and are always seeking to try locally to come to consensus. We set up this dynamic in each of our models,” said SCNARC Research Associate and corresponding paper author Sameet Sreenivasan. To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models “talked” to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener’s belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

“As agents of change start to convince more and more people, the situation begins to change,” Sreenivasan said. “People begin to question their own views at first and then completely adopt the new view to spread it even further. If the true believers just influenced their neighbors, that wouldn’t change anything within the larger system, as we saw with percentages less than 10.”

Read the full story at Physorg.com.

As we dress for the Tea Party, we might recall that it was on this date in 1974 that President Richard M. Nixon released subpoenaed White House recordings after being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court… well, sort of: six days later, on August 6, the White House released another tape, recorded days after the Watergate Break-in, on which it was clear that the President knew of the burglary and conspired in the cover-up.  Nixon resigned on August 8.

Nixon departing the White House after his resignation (source)

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