Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What do you know? How do you know it?

I'm reading a book that has me reeling. The book is Whole Earth Discipline, by Stewart Brand. I heartily recommend it to anyone willing to have their world turned upside down.

It all started with an NPR interview I heard on Science Friday. I just heard the last few minutes of the segment, but it was enough to pique my interest. First of all, Stewart Brand was talking about our concept of time, and a project to build a 10,000 year clock. Cool. Then Brand, an aging green leftist, chided aging green leftists for their failure to embrace all we might be learning from younger generations of technologically savvy, less dogmatic environmentalists. In light of some challenging discussions and arguments I've had with the kids, I thought I might benefit from learning more.

Though The Clock of the Long Now was interesting, it didn't set me back on my haunches. Whole Earth Discipline did. I haven't completed it yet, but it's already dominating my thoughts.
Just to give you an inkling, Brand writes of the simple observation that those who know the most about climate change are the most worried about it, while those who know the most about nuclear energy are the least worried about it's use. From that point Brand argues that, with growing awareness of climate change, all of our preconceptions about energy, technology and the future should be reevaluated. Compelling stuff.

Taking a step back, I'm thinking about how I have come to the particular set of beliefs about life and the world that I possess. Not doing the research myself, I trusted the insights of others. Once convinced, I allowed their convictions to become my dogma. All further investigations were then gauged against what I already had come to believe. I'm like a little FOX News viewer in reverse. Eeewwww!

Stewart Brand confronts a number of my prejudices, including those about urbanization, population growth, nuclear power, and genetically modified foods. I'm not absolutely sure I agree with him, but it's clear to me that his arguments should be considered, rather than being rejected out of hand because they conflict with what I have come to believe.

Back in the day it was said, "Only Nixon could go to China." Only a Republican, and a bona fide anti-communist at that, could have promoted the idea of normalizing relations with China without a huge backlash from the right. The same dynamic applies to Stewart Brand. He's about as green as they get, a student of population biologist Paul Ehrlich and the founder and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. It takes someone with his credentials to effectively puncture our liberal balloons. If you're secure enough to have your preconceptions challenged, you might give him a read.

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