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Posts Tagged ‘utilitarianism

“It’s not an effective protest if it’s not pissing people off”*…

 

extinctionrevolution

 

In 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.

In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.

Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.

In each case, civil resistance by ordinary members of the public trumped the political elite to achieve radical change.

There are, of course, many ethical reasons to use nonviolent strategies. But compelling research by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, confirms that civil disobedience is not only the moral choice; it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics – by a long way.

Looking at hundreds of campaigns over the last century, Chenoweth found that nonviolent campaigns are twice as likely to achieve their goals as violent campaigns. And although the exact dynamics will depend on many factors, she has shown it takes around 3.5% of the population actively participating in the protests to ensure serious political change.

Chenoweth’s influence can be seen in the recent Extinction Rebellion protests, whose founders say they have been directly inspired by her findings

… despite being twice as successful as the violent conflicts, peaceful resistance still failed 47% of the time. As Chenoweth and Stephan pointed out in their book, that’s sometimes because they never really gained enough support or momentum to “erode the power base of the adversary and maintain resilience in the face of repression”. But some relatively large nonviolent protests also failed, such as the protests against the communist party in East Germany in the 1950s, which attracted 400,000 members (around 2% of the population) at their peak, but still failed to bring about change.

In Chenoweth’s data set, it was only once the nonviolent protests had achieved that 3.5% threshold of active engagement that success seemed to be guaranteed – and raising even that level of support is no mean feat. In the UK it would amount to 2.3 million people actively engaging in a movement (roughly twice the size of Birmingham, the UK’s second largest city); in the US, it would involve 11 million citizens – more than the total population of New York City.

The fact remains, however, that nonviolent campaigns are the only reliable way of maintaining that kind of engagement…

Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change: “The ‘3.5% Rule’: How a small minority can change the world.”

* John Scalzi, Lock In

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As we take it to the streets, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to John Stuart Mill; he was born on this date in 1806.  A philosopher, political economist, civil servant, and reformer, he was a founder of what we now call “Classical Liberalism” and a major contributor to the development of Utilitarianism.  Mill reputedly learned Greek at the age of three, Latin and arithmetic at eight, and logic at twelve. He studied with Jeremy Bentham, and followed Bentham’s Utilitarian lead, though Mill both extended and deviated from his mentor’s thinking.  His conception of liberty was– and remains– an oft-cited justification of individual freedom in opposition to unlimited state and social control.

220px-John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870 source

 

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”*…

 

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With the appearance of the first rays of the sun from Cerro Huantajaya in Alto Hospicio, northern Chile, people celebrate the arrival of the Aymara New Year, Machaq Mara, and the arrival of new energies.

 

For centuries, Inuit hunters navigated the Arctic by consulting wind, snow and sky. Now they use GPS. Speakers of the aboriginal language Gurindji, in northern Australia, used to command 28 variants of each cardinal direction. Children there now use the four basic terms, and they don’t use them very well. In the arid heights of the Andes, the Aymara developed an unusual way of understanding time, imagining the past as in front of them, and the future at their backs. But for the youngest generation of Aymara speakers – increasingly influenced by Spanish – the future lies ahead.

These are not just isolated changes. On all continents, even in the world’s remotest regions, indigenous people are swapping their distinctive ways of parsing the world for Western, globalised ones. As a result, human cognitive diversity is dwindling – and, sadly, those of us who study the mind had only just begun to appreciate it.

In 2010, a paper titled ‘The Weirdest People in the World?’ gave the field of cognitive science a seismic shock. Its authors, led by the psychologist Joe Henrich at the University of British Columbia, made two fundamental points. The first was that researchers in the behavioural sciences had almost exclusively focused on a small sliver of humanity: people from Western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic societies. The second was that this sliver is not representative of the larger whole, but that people in London, Buenos Aires and Seattle were, in an acronym, WEIRD.

But there is a third fundamental point, and it was the psychologist Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania who made it. In his commentary on the 2010 article, Rozin noted that this same WEIRD slice of humanity was ‘a harbinger of the future of the world’. He had seen this trend in his own research. Where he found cross-cultural differences, they were more pronounced in older generations. The world’s young people, in other words, are converging. The signs are unmistakable: the age of global WEIRDing is upon us….

Are we breeding a global cultural and cognitive monoculture?  More at: “What happens to cognitive diversity when everyone is more WEIRD?.”

* Stephen R. Covey

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As we delight in difference, we might send utilitarian birthday greetings to Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer was born on this date in 1748.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of his students, including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

 

“There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort”*…

 

From campground to crab shack to suburban backyard, the picnic table is so ubiquitous that it is nearly invisible as a designed object. Yet this ingenious form — a structurally bolted frame that unites bench seats and table into a sturdy package — has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. Having transcended the picnic, it is now the ideal setting for any outdoor event that compels us to face one another squarely across a shared surface…

These qualities of familiarity and abundance have made the picnic table an American icon. On the website of The Home Depot, buyers can choose from among 102 models, priced between $109 and $2,260. That seems an impossible variety, and we should be grateful that we typically don’t make the purchasing decisions. For most of the past hundred years, we have occupied picnic tables chosen by others, by the operators of car washes and rest stops and fairgrounds, and it is never uncomfortable…

Dig in at: “An Illustrated History of the Picnic Table.”

* W. Somerset Maugham

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As we parse the pastoral prandium, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

Written by LW

June 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it”*…

 

John Stuart Mill, the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, is today best remembered as the author of On Liberty…  in which he argues, relentlessly and over the course of around 50,000 words, that there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of any individual except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others.  That prohibition applies to legislative or state action, but also to those informal modes of coercion that can be practised by society itself. And the ban is total. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Though occasionally challenged by the collectivist left, the position Mill argues for has become orthodoxy in modern Anglo-American political thought.

But while liberalism itself remains pre-eminent, Mill’s arguments for that position have fallen out of sight in recent discussions. In contrast to many contemporary thinkers, Mill’s defence of liberal principles is historical and local – not abstract and universal…

Part of a wonderful series in the Times Literary Supplement, Footnotes to Plato— an appreciation of the relevance of Mill’s thought in our time: “John Stuart Mill: higher happiness.”

* John Stuart Mill, “The Spirit of the Age, I

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As we get in touch with our inner Utilitarian, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the “temporary insanity” defense was first successfully deployed in the U.S., when it was used as a plea by U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in his trial for the shooting of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key— for which Sickles was acquitted, though he’d been witnessed executing his rival and had confessed.  Sickles went on to serve as Sheriff in New York in 1890.

 source (and larger image)

 

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate”*…

 

From electricity, giant telescopes, escalators, diesel turbines, and talking movies, the 1900 World’s Fair promised dazzling technology for the 50 million visitors who flocked to Paris. But among the expo’s 80,000 exhibitions, one comparatively low-tech production from the American contingent demonstrated perhaps the most consequential achievement of that time.

The Exhibit of American Negroes” enshrined the contributions of African Americans to the US economy, just 35 years after slavery was abolished in the US. The showcase within the fair’s Palace of Social Economy featured a gallery of photographs, 350 patents awarded to black inventors, a small statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, 200 books and periodicals by black scholars including an illustrated study by the noted sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois…

The extraordinary works that Du Bois had his students (at [Clark] Atlanta University) create are riveting both for their account of Africa-American life at the turn of the last century and for their remarkable power as infographics.  See them at “Hand-drawn infographics commissioned by W.E.B. Du Bois illuminate how Black Americans lived in the 1900s.”

* Toni Morrison

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As we agree with Ali,** we might send utilitarian birthday greetings to Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer was born on this date in 1748.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

** “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.”  – Muhammad Ali

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance”*…

 

Man in a Three-Piece Suit Dancing Within the Circle at a Wedding,” Rockville Centre, New York, 1976.

 

The first monograph by the New York-based photographer Meryl Meisler, published last year, included rambunctious scenes from Manhattan’s disco scene, taken in Meisler’s club-hopping youth, alongside images of a crumbling, pre-gentrifying Bushwick, shot when Meisler was teaching art at a local public school, in the early eighties. But, before she began documenting urban life in New York, Meisler trained her eye outside of the city, photographing her own Jewish extended family on Long Island’s South Shore. In the early seventies, while home on winter break from studying illustration at the University of Wisconsin, Meisler began experimenting with deadpan self-portraiture, donning the Girl Scouts uniforms and the ballet and tap costumes of her childhood. Soon she was photographing her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—the whole mishpocha—finding loopy antics and exaggerated period detail in holiday gatherings and daily ritual. The result is a delightfully outlandish family photo album, and a capsule of seventies suburbia crackling with humor and mischief. In the Meisler-clan milieu, kitsch bedspreads match kitsch wallpaper, hairdressers blow chewing-gum bubbles the size of their clients’ bouffants, Hustler is the beach reading of choice, and everyone is a character or a ham…

“Mom Getting Her Hair Teased at Besame Beauty Salon,” North Massapequa, New York.

 

See it all at “Seventies Long Island: The Whole Mishpocha.”

* George Bernard Shaw, Immaturity

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As we prepare to reune, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

Written by LW

June 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

The Domestic Lives of Great Philosophers, Part 6: Jeremy Bentham’s Recipes…

 

University College London proudly displays the remains of one of its founders, the Father of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham.  They’re also anxious to display his works…  but they comprise 60,000 manuscript folios– lots of handwriting to transcribe.  The college has been at it since 1959, and the going has been slow– until relatively recently:

The genesis of Transcribe Bentham was in 2009, when the Co-Director of the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, Melissa Terras, was asked by the head of the Bentham Project, Professor Philip Schofield, for advice on procuring funding to digitise the 60,000 folios. “The days for getting funding for pure ‘scan and dump’ digitisation projects are over,” explains Terras, “and I wondered if we could do something more interesting.”

Around the same time, the MPs expenses scandal had broken in the UK, and Terras noticed something interesting: “The Guardian newspaper had built a platform to allow their readers to sift through the thousands of pages of MP’s receipts and I wondered — could we do the same? Could we ask people to read these manuscripts?”

The answer is a definite “yes.” Transcribe Bentham has been a certifiable success, and continues to grow in scale. With funding from the Mellon Foundation, the project has now expanded to encompass the British Library’s collection of 12,500 manuscript folios by Bentham…

[Read the whole story at Gizmodo.uk]

As the digitization has proceeded– in many cases, the first reading of Bentham’s scrawls– some interesting discoveries have been made; the exploration has shed new light, for instance of his stance on animal rights.  But perhaps most surprisingly, volunteer readers have discovered a tranche of recipes (complete with the costs of their ingredients) from the great thinker.  An excerpt from the manuscript page above:

Walnut shell pickle 

1/2 lb—
The husks of ripe
walnuts at the time
They separate most
easily from the walnut
& before they begin
to rot—
6 tb — 1d
Salt 1 tb 1
Labour 1/2
21/2

Pound the husks adding the  salt when they are nearly bruised into an uniform mass so that it may be perfectly mixed.  This & all other pickles must be kept in close vessels, casks headed down, jars with bladder tied over the mouth, or cloth or paper covered with melted pitch &c. When a stone vessel is opened it should be emptied into smaller ones, so that no more than sufficient for two or three weeks consumption may be put into each.

See Bentham’s other culinary creations– and the rest of his work– at Transcribe Bentham.

###

As we clear our palettes, we might send unorthodox birthday greetings to Otto Gross; he was born on this date in 1877.  A psychoanalyst  by training (he was an early disciple of Freud), Gross became a champion of an early form of anti-psychiatry  (“depth psychology“) and sexual liberation, and an anarchist.  His impact on psychology was limited (though Jung claimed that Gross “changed [his] entire worldview”); but he was an important influence on  D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka, and other artists– including the founders of Berlin Dada.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

March 17, 2013 at 1:01 am

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