September 13, 2017

These days, I don’t understand.

As I’ve grown older, the world seems a lot more perplexing to me.

Things that seem so evident, so obvious to me are often seen in the completely opposite way by others. Issues around human decency, equity, and the fundamental belief in humanity seem to be controversial these days, and for the life of me, I just don’t understand how that can be.

I don’t understand how spending over a million dollars of personal money to fund organizations focused on supporting the homeless and lobbying for immigration rights and supporting young baseball players and ending child incarceration can be thought of as un-American or even mildly controversial.

I don’t understand how calling truth to power can be met with reprimands from your employer when you’re one of the most thoughtful, insightful, and impressive people in your industry.

I don’t understand how trying to fight against the cause of such horrific weather events that leave people dead, hurt, homeless, and in despair can be considered politically divisive.

I don’t understand how building a wall to keep people out is better than helping people build better lives.

I don’t understand why the tech industry is so convinced that getting rid of community spaces, places to gather and congregate and create cohesion, is the best course of action, all in the interest of efficiency and less human interaction.

I don’t understand how trying to make the world better for everyone, how acknowledging and relishing in our shared humanity, can be seen as a bad thing. Perhaps I don’t want to understand.

A few things to read:

Colin Kaepernick Has A Job, Rembert Browne:

The truth hurts white people. Colin Kaepernick has hurt white people, and that is why it’s convenient to banish him, because he holds America’s worst nightmare: the mirror. And while the genuine apologies from the most Black-Lives-Matter-sign-in-the-front-yard white person are endless, there is a real difference between guilt and understanding—understanding that nothing will change unless you and people like you fix the mess that you unfairly inherited, from which you so unfairly still benefit, right now. […]

Yes, Colin will have masses of followers, because bravery inspires those who want, who can’t and who might. And yes, Colin will be iconicized to a degree, from hashtags to outspoken celebrities such as Chance the Rapper and Dave Chappelle donning shirts of his defiant act, his afro doubling as a black fist of power. But ultimately, so far, Colin’s most defiant act of leadership has been educating himself—and offering a mirror into his consciousness. He may be unemployed, but being Colin Kaepernick, the leader, is very much a job. Full-time.

Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN, Bryan Curtis:

Years later, trolls of a certain political bent would imply that Hill had fallen into the SportsCenter job. Hill saw her rise more glumly, as if she had triumphed within a system that in many ways was stacked against her. As she put it to me, I won the war of attrition.” […]

There’s a certain crop of people who’s not trying to see ESPN get more ethnic, more gender-balanced …” Hill said. As a discredit to all of us, they use words like too liberal’ or too politically correct.’ As if there’s ever been this widespread movement in television to just give black people and women shows. No, it’s been the exact opposite.”

She continued: That term is funny: social justice warriors.’ What are they talking about? … Whenever I hear that, I’m like, I know what you really want to call me.”

Why we’re all everyday climate change deniers, Alice Bell:

You probably agree climate change is happening, have maybe even bothered to cut down on how much meat you eat or bunged Greenpeace a quid or two when Russia locked up those Arctic activists. But most of the time you avoid looking global warming in the eye.

In many ways this everyday denial is understandable. Climate change is abstract. We only know about it through vast, complex, global and multi-generational networks of interdisciplinary, highly advanced science. It’s easy for it to drop out of our minds, even if we believe in it.

It’s also very scary. A friend who, once upon a time, was the greenest person I knew, hugs her infant son tight and tells me softly, slowly: I just can’t think about climate change since I had him.” This feels entirely rational to me.

But it’s this rather prosaic climate denial that lets the Trumps of the world get away with their more extreme forms. It also lets less extreme politicians and businesses off the hook, helping keep climate change as a low-priority topic. At best it puts the issue to one side, and allows us to imagine that Chinese solar businesses, Elon Musk, Ivanka Trump or some other ethereal hero will save us. At worst, it skips the issue entirely.

The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells:

The present tense of climate change — the destruction we’ve already baked into our future — is horrifying enough. Most people talk as if Miami and Bangladesh still have a chance of surviving; most of the scientists I spoke with assume we’ll lose them within the century, even if we stop burning fossil fuel in the next decade. Two degrees of warming used to be considered the threshold of catastrophe: tens of millions of climate refugees unleashed upon an unprepared world. Now two degrees is our goal, per the Paris climate accords, and experts give us only slim odds of hitting it. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues serial reports, often called the gold standard” of climate research; the most recent one projects us to hit four degrees of warming by the beginning of the next century, should we stay the present course. But that’s just a median projection. The upper end of the probability curve runs as high as eight degrees — and the authors still haven’t figured out how to deal with that permafrost melt. The IPCC reports also don’t fully account for the albedo effect (less ice means less reflected and more absorbed sunlight, hence more warming); more cloud cover (which traps heat); or the dieback of forests and other flora (which extract carbon from the atmosphere). Each of these promises to accelerate warming, and the history of the planet shows that temperature can shift as much as five degrees Celsius within thirteen years. The last time the planet was even four degrees warmer, Peter Brannen points out in The Ends of the World, his new history of the planet’s major extinction events, the oceans were hundreds of feet higher.

The Earth has experienced five mass extinctions before the one we are living through now, each so complete a slate-wiping of the evolutionary record it functioned as a resetting of the planetary clock, and many climate scientists will tell you they are the best analog for the ecological future we are diving headlong into. Unless you are a teenager, you probably read in your high-school textbooks that these extinctions were the result of asteroids. In fact, all but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change produced by greenhouse gas. The most notorious was 252 million years ago; it began when carbon warmed the planet by five degrees, accelerated when that warming triggered the release of methane in the Arctic, and ended with 97 percent of all life on Earth dead. We are currently adding carbon to the atmosphere at a considerably faster rate; by most estimates, at least ten times faster. The rate is accelerating. This is what Stephen Hawking had in mind when he said, this spring, that the species needs to colonize other planets in the next century to survive, and what drove Elon Musk, last month, to unveil his plans to build a Mars habitat in 40 to 100 years. These are nonspecialists, of course, and probably as inclined to irrational panic as you or I. But the many sober-minded scientists I interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.

Twitter thread by @karnythia:

I really want to know where in this all white all rich people future tech seems to want they expect to find people to actually run cities”

Twitter thread by @daibydai:

Bodegas aren’t just convenience stores, they are ways for people to find home, to find family, to help centre themselves and see themselves

Jagmeet Singh Countered Racist Heckling With Love And Courage,’ But Why Should He Have To?, Rachel Giese:

There’s an unfair burden placed on people who experience oppression and discrimination to rise above it, or turn the other cheek. Those targeted on social media are told not to feed the trolls.” Victims who forgive people who’ve caused them unspeakable harm and trauma are celebrated for their generosity. I’m in no way criticizing these reactions — they’re personal, and they can be sanity and soul preservers. But they aren’t the only appropriate, commendable or worthy responses to hate and violence.

French artist JR just unveiled a new work in progress at the US/Mexico border:

French artist JR just unveiled a new work in progress at the US/Mexico border

The Sucker, the Sucker!, Amia Srinivasan:

What does it feel like to be an octopus? Does it feel like anything at all? Or are octopuses, as Godfrey-Smith puts it, just biochemical machines for which all is dark inside’? This form of question — ‘what is it like to be a bat?’ Thomas Nagel asked in a hugely influential paper in 1974 — is philosophical shorthand for asking whether a creature is conscious. Many philosophers think consciousness is an all or nothing phenomenon: you either have it or you don’t. Humans have it, as do perhaps chimps and dolphins. Mice, ants and amoebas presumably do not. Part of the motivation for the all or nothing view is that it is difficult to imagine consciousness being possessed in degrees. Other cognitive attributes — like memory, linguistic capacity and problem-solving ability — are the sorts of thing that can and do vary in degree from creature to creature, and species to species. But it is harder to see how consciousness can vary in that way. As Godfrey-Smith puts it, how can an animal be halfway to having it feel like something to be that animal?’ Yet, if consciousness is a natural thing, something that evolved over time, it seems unlikely that it just popped up at some point in evolutionary history, fully formed.

Vice and Airbnb’s gross foray into colonialist tourism, Ann-Derrick Gaillot:

What experiential and transformative travel experiences like the ones marketed by Vice and Airbnb promise is the chance to travel without feeling like an outsider. But I’d argue that feeling like an outsider is one of the only authentic” experiences travel and tourism have to offer, and it’s a feeling that can keep travellers from figuratively bulldozing over the places and cultures they seek to visit. Traveling is a rightly lauded privilege that can very well change a person’s life and, like most privileges, it is something only the wealthier classes have access to. But part of the transformational power of travel lies in knowing your place as a visitor, understanding that you can never really buy access to and center yourself in local communities, but endeavoring to learn about them anyways without prioritizing the space you take up. One of the bravest things any traveler can do today is admit they are coming from a position of unknowing that they cannot easily or quickly shake.

Back to the Cave, Frank Chimero:

I make things for the same reasons babies put things in their mouths: to better understand the world, to sooth ourselves, and learn what to say. […]

It’s fitting that art would be born in a mysterious and hidden place like a cave, because creativity and caves force you to navigate in the dark. You go by feel with unsteady footing. You run your fingers along whatever is within reach and take it one slow step at a time. It’s only after you’re out of the dark that the choices seem inevitable.

And a few more: