Thursday, June 14, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality—we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point—and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?”(ed note: That's the part they're cheering...here's what they missed)
If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—quite an active verb, “pursuit”—which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
McCullough's not telling everyone to back off, to stop thinking of themselves as special. He's telling them to BE special, because right now they are not, but they can be.
Contrast that with the conservatives who want to stop public education (which McCullough not only implies an endorsement for, but waxes poetic about the rapture of learning for learning's sake...could you imagine a student learning to learn and not to memorize?) and decertify teachers' unions and dismantle any program that doesn't lead to a bigotry of soft expectations.
In other words, conservatives cheer the very thing McCullough is mocking!
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
A study published last weekend on Nature Climate Change claims to give the lie to the notion that if the world is warming, it’s not our fault.
With the kind of certainty that will send the Heartland Institute reaching for Plan C (“the world should focus on mitigation”), the study, The study, Human-induced global ocean warming on multidecadal timescales, ends with the bald factual statement: “We have identified a human-induced fingerprint in observed estimates of upper-ocean warming on multidecadal timescales”.
Alternatively, as oceanographer Professor Nathan Bindoff of the University of Tasmania put it speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “No matter how you look at it, we did it”.
That creaking sound you hear is the wingnut machine gearing up to find someone else to blame. So much for "personal responsibility," huh?
The capitalist system, at least as espoused in this country, pretends that individual pursuits will create a greater good. And that only works in closed systems, and with heavy (Adam Smith* was quite clear on this point) governmental supervision with the potential for intervention.
(*side note: I'd actually give capitalism a try if we agreed to stick to the rules Smith laid out, by the way, and stop whining that "government is the problem.")
Why should government get involved? Because a person might be smart, but he's short-sighted. People as a body are stupid, but still short-sighted. If anyone doubts this, the lessons of Easter Island make it quite clear. There, an entire civilization cleared every tree off an island, destroyed the entire vegetative ecosystem and then vanished, mostly through exodus but in large part by simply dying off.
They killed themselves off in their greed.
A government that can identify and track a problem is in the best position to find solutions that restore some form of balance to the equation. It's not perfect, mostly because it's human, but it is a damn sight better than warning everyone to stop doing what their doing.
That turns into a global game of Steal The Bacon, where everyone sort of eyes everyone else and says, "You go first." Problems like this that affect everyone demand leadership that everyone will listen to. After all, how many decades have scientists warned Americans...hell, the world, about the dangers of cigarette smoking? Yet it wasn't until the governments of the world rolled up their collective sleeves and started imposing regulations and laws that we saw smoking decline.
"Libertarians" would say that it's an individual decision to smoke or pollute his environment, and I'd say, "Great! If that person can stand living in a bubble completely cut off from the rest of us, fine. He or she can smoke and pollute and litter to his heart's content."
But it's a societal problem that has consequences far beyond the little bubble that person lives in. This is the point "libertarians" don't get. You pay for someone else's mess. This is akin to asking you to wipe someone else's ass.
In this study published in Nature Climate Change, shows that naturally recurring events can only account for about ten percent of global oceanic temperature rise.
Meaning humanity scored an "A" in fucking the planet up!
Global climate change can't be traced to a single people...although the US would have to be at the top of any list of culprits...but it can be attributed to the cumulative effects of arrogance and greed of individuals, coupled with a lack of internal censors and individual responsibilities.
As we've seen, people pretty much suck, full stop, but they suck in particular about problems that are not their immediate concern. Even when you show them the consequences of their actions-- if you're old enough, you remember the pollution commercial from the Seventies where an actor portraying a First Nationer weeps at the damage done to his land-- many choose to ignore those consequences or come to some bizarre Kubler-Ross level of mourning that they get trapped in: usually denial, often anger.
It's going to take that level of presentation, an abrupt disaster broadcast 24/7 across the world that cannot possibly be denied as global oceanic warming or sea level rise, for Americans to come to grips with it. I figure if maybe Pensacola, Florida, or Biloxi, Mississippi were suddenly swallowed up by the sea, never to return, that might do it.
But then I thought that before Katrina hit.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Seems like teens have gotten the memo that cigarettes are bad for you; however, the same isn’t true for marijuana, according to a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.Released late last week, the government study revealed that in a nationwide study of 15,000 high school students, pot is now more popular among teens than cigarettes, CBS reports. Eighteen percent of surveyed students in 2011 reported smoking a cigarette in the past month, while 23% reported smoking marijuana in the last 30 days.
Perhaps thanks to the anti-smoking campaigns in ads and in schools, or to the personal experiences teens may have with family members or relatives with lung cancer, cigarette use has been on the decline over the past few years.
Let me extend this a bit for you and leap to a logical if distant conclusion-- pot will be legalized and it will be legalized within our lifetimes.
If, for the first time in history, more teens are smoking joints and bongs than butts, this means pot is more acceptable in that age group. While cigarette consumption is slowing among teens, marijuana use is increasing.
Eventually, these kids will grow up and eventually, they're going to wonder why they can't toke but they can smoke. And they'll seek to change that.
The war on drugs is a lynchpin of much of conservative policy in America, from crime fighting to homeland security to immigration policy to even foreign policy-- you don't really think Jamaica wants pot to be illegal, do you?
By taking away that weapon, much good will come to society and in some unexpected ways. True progress will be made, as people realize how badly they have been lied to by people looking to instill fear of rabid potheads rampaging up and down neighborhoods looking for money to support their addiction.
Hey, you and I both know that heads are about the most mellow people you'll ever meet...maddeningly so, sometimes...and that this whole "gateway drug" nonsense is just an attempt to portray "hippies" as criminals.
And if conservatives could lie about stuff like that about as innocuous a substance as marijuana, what else will they lie about?
No one should draw from this report the conclusion that in due time we'll be living in a Nirvana, a progressive utopia that will see all men and women unite in brotherhood and sing "Kumbaya" around a campfire and bong.
No. We're still humans and we're still fucking idiots.
We'll just have to find a new form of idiocy.
In the meantime, don't Bogart, man!