I come from a tradition of Western culture in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West.
But today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become “pancake people”—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.
Will this produce a new kind of enlightenment or “super-consciousness”? Sometimes I am seduced by those proclaiming so—and sometimes I shrink back in horror at a world that seems to have lost the thick and multi-textured density of deeply evolved personality.
This time last year (December 31st, 2011):
Aboard the M/V Ushuaia, eagerly anticipating our first sight of Antarctic land the following morning. Photo courtesy of Mike Beedell/Students on Ice.
Tonight: happily spending the evening with my family, reflecting. Many, many people and places have shaped who I am over the past twelve months, but right now, as we loop back around the sun, I’m thinking about the ideas that shook me. I have always been a reader, but this year I read more nonfiction - both paper books and articles/essays/blog posts online - than ever. This is a list of the best ones I read in 2012, excluding books. I love these pieces. They’re all on this list because I have returned to them over and over on countless lazy Sunday mornings and stressful Monday ones and continue to do so; because I’ve probably copied, by hand, thousands of words worth of quotes from these into notebooks; because they help me live better. I really think they’re worth your time. I wish everyone would read these - and if you do, there is always an open invitation on my end to talk about any of them. In no particular order:
Loving Children: A Design Problem, by David Orr: What would it mean to make a society that did in fact love all of its children? This is the central question of the essay, and I think it could be a guiding light for nearly anyone in any profession aspiring to give back to the world somehow, to make the world better somehow. This is one of the principles that most human beings would probably agree with: creating a world that is safe and nurturing for children. And yet our actions are sometimes shockingly and sadly misaligned.
This is Water, by David Foster Wallace: This is DFW’s commencement address to the 2005 class of Kenyon College. It’s my favourite commencement speech I’ve come across. DFW is concerned with the most basic question we face: how shall we live? This is about empathy, what education is for, what to worship and respect, caring about people, self-awareness, and awareness, period. It’s difficult but important to break out of the “default setting.” I’m always coming back to check myself against this piece; I have read it at least a dozen times and with each reading the speech becomes richer and richer.
The Busy Trap, Tim Kreider: I got scared when I first read Kreider’s piece, which did the rounds on Twitter and Facebook over the summer. It was this line: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” Ouch. Guilty. My stomach twisted when I absorbed that line; did yours? I have stopped being proud of being busy since reading this.
Busyness ≠ Importance, by Christine Boyle: This was a newsletter issue from the amazing organization Spirited Social Change based in Vancouver, and it’s geared towards anyone who justifies their busyness with the belief that the work that is making them busy is important for the world. And also if you’re like me and your heart aches at broken things and you want to do everything you possibly can to fix them. This piece is not about “work-life balance.” It’s about taking care of yourself (partly in order to better serve the world). See also: A Love Letter to the Overcommitted.
The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, by William Deresiewicz: For the university-bound, especially. I have no better words than the author’s: “[M]ost of [the students] have seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul. These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions.” Emphasis mine.
A Weakened World Cannot Forgive Us, An Interview with Kathleen Dean Moore, by Derrick Jensen: There is far too much wisdom in here to condense into a line or two. And not just ecological wisdom, but gems spanning philosophy, leading a moral life, connection to place and home, community, love, living deeply, and grace. My introduction to KDM; after reading this, I hunted down much more of her work. If you find yourself hungry for more afterwards, I highly recommend her talk at SFU last March which had me in tears and then this interview with her on the moral urgency of climate change in the Sun Magazine.
I think I might have to do a second post with a few more. For now, from me to you: best wishes for a peaceful, joyful, and inspiring 2013 and a year that is rich and full. Go chasing adventures but be gentle with yourself.
I am stunned.
Whirling across the paper, the sinuous patterns of lines and arrows—some of which may overlap—mark relentless change as well as convey the potential for chaos and ecstasy that resides within any system. Classification and pandemonium are inseparable. It is on the porous border of this vast abyss—what is called “infinity”—that Voigt investigates the caesuras between perception and knowledge, form and dissolution. One of the guiding principles behind the drawings is the application of rigorous procedures: algorithms to decide the direction of a line or the Fibonacci sequence to determine the number of lines branching off the initial one. Chance and persistence are essential. The turbulent networks of lines transform the paper into both the artist’s imaginative space and a visual map of the movements of various elements in time.
John Yau on artist Jorinde Voight, in Into the Crucible of Meaning
Open Maps and LocalWiki teamed up to map Antarctica. The maps were crowd sourced by volunteers around the world. Palmer Station is among their first maps. Check it out, here.
Palmer Station is a scientific research station located on Anvers Island off the western coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, operated by the US Antarctic Program.
The majority of the science research conducted at Palmer Station revolves around marine biology. The station also houses year-round monitoring equipment for global seismic, atmospheric, and UV-monitoring networks, as well as a site for the study of heliophysics. Palmer also hosts a radio receiver that studies lightning over the Western Hemisphere.
Other research is conducted from the research vessel (R/V) Laurence M. Gould. Science cruises cover physical oceanography, marine geology, and marine biology. The ship also carries field parties to sites around the Antarctic Peninsula to study glaciology, geology, and paleontology. Palmer Station also hosts an IRLP (Internet Radio Linking Project) Amateur Radio node #8838 for ham radio communications.”- Wiki
The operating area around Palmer Station includes several prominent islands, each classified under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (Madrid Protocol). Examples include the minimally regulated Torgersen Island and the highly restricted Litchfield Island.
It’s really a problem, this thing about hope. Cause it’s true…it’s true that our options are limited and that our cities are disgracefully designed when it comes to using fuel and that destructive ways of living are very skilfully linked to tangles of profit and power in the world and we don’t have very much time. Even the most conscientious person, the most hopeful person, is going to have trouble making significant change.
And Gus Speth, the former dean of Yale Law School, says, “All we have to do destroy the planet’s climate ecosystem and leave a ruined world for our children and grandchildren is to keep doing exactly what we are doing today.”
This is a problem. And here’s the problem - well, there’s lots of problems. The one I want to talk about in particular is this: that we are utilitarians. That is to say, we judge the rightness or wrongness of our acts by their consequences. When we think we cannot have good consequences to our acts, we completely abandon morality. So, we have a situation where on the one hand, you could be hopeful. But if you lose hope, you fall into this abyss which is despair, which is the abdication of moral responsibility.
What I want to point out to you is that that also is a fallacy - that’s a fallacy of false dichotomy. Because between hope and despair is this very broad landscape, and we call it integrity. Integrity. Acting in the way you believe in. Doing what’s right because you believe it’s right. Finding a way that your actions and your values integrate. And that’s, I think, what we’re called to do in these very dangerous times
…What does it mean for particulars?… We can choose to refuse to allow ourselves to allow ourselves to be used as instruments of destruction. I am not going to allow you to use me to wreck the world. I refuse to do what I don’t believe in.”
—Kathleen Dean Moore at SFU on our moral obligation to the future and to children to expend extraordinary effort reducing or reversing the harms of climate change.