April 26, 2011

Everything we do is a problem.

Excerpts from The Fine and Excruciating Construction of the World: An interview with Ed Burtynsky by Robert Enright published in Border Crossings, Issue No. 117, March 2011:

... We're constantly being reminded that our patterns of consumption are consequential and that we are reaching limits, limits of what the oceans can provide, of how much deforestation the earth can take before it stops sequestering carbon, of how much water can we take before it goes bone dry? Why would anyone think there aren't significant consequences in having our cities and our cars and our jets and our fuel, especially if there are seven billion of us? Look at the wasteland we create in the taking. It is a direct consequence of our search for a middle-class existence. We almost have to live in a constant state of guilt and remorse for everything we do. It's a conundrum, and that's where the contradictory set of emotions comes from. If you think humanity is a cancerous growth on the planet, and everything we touch is a disaster, then it should be photographed horrifically. While there are moments when I get frustrated with the unimpressive response to global conditions that are becoming untenable, I have a fairly optimistic view of humanity. Humans are the most interesting things in the universe, and the fact that we are on the cusp of understanding the origins of the universe is the culmination of a million years of evolution. We're a bit of a rogue species right now, and our populations are running amok, but we're also at the pinnacle of that evolutionary process.

. . . . . . . . 

We've evolved as a species that has been able to control and shape many things to our vision. It was fine until there were too many of us. No previous generation has had to consider that the path they set themselves on, and that most people accepted, was flawed. Everything we do is a problem. We live in a world where consumerism is seen as a negative thing. As I said, it's difficult for people to have to live in a world of contradictions. To me this whole psychological state of cognitive dissonance is interesting. A lot of people don't want to buy into global warming - that's larger-than-life scale cognitive dissonance. At that point, it is no longer rational. When I was born, the world's population was two and a half billion; now there are seven billion people in the world. That's what has changed, and the whole thing doesn't work anymore. Supply and demand is out of proportion. If India and China and Indonesia and South America achieve our standard of living, we can't expect there to be fish or iron ore or copper or any oil left. The earth doesn't have it to provide, so we're on a very real trajectory. Scientists have shown that for all those countries to achieve our standard of living, we're short three earths.

April 25, 2011

Colonel Sanders, the Bud Man, and the Marlboro Man

Excerpts from Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China by Peter Hessler, published 2007 by Harper Perennial:

The Foreign Journalists met at the Shangri-La Hotel, where the government provided special buses to take us to Tsinghua. I found a seat behind two members of the State Department press corps. Like most of the Washington reporters, they were white men with short hair and dark suits. They talked constantly about politics and journalism. Eavesdropping was easy because they ignored anybody who was not a member of the State Department press corps.

"Powell's a smart guy."

"I always think of him as the adult supervision of the administration."

"I don't think he has a Kissingerian sense of the big picture, though."

It was 8:25 in the morning and the bus idled out in front of the Shangri-La. We had been scheduled to leave a eight.

"Bush's view comes from Marvel comics. Evil one, evil leader. But Powell looks at the whole thing holistically."

"Bush wants to make sure that everybody is --- like us, basically."

"If you look at who's actually killing people, I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. I'm worried about Colonel Sanders, the Bud Man, and the Marlboro Man." ...

. . . . . . . . 

... At exactly 8:38 the bus pulled away from the Shangri-La.

"I think journalists underrate Mr. Bush because they value minds like their own."

"I covered Gore for a year --- you could diagram his sentences and teach English from them.  But I could never understand what he was saying. Once they asked a question about domed stadiums. Gore said a paragraph: the Astrodome was the first dome, the Kingdome is the largest enclosed space --- all this kind of stuff. Then Bush said, 'I like to watch baseball outdoors.' Who's smarter?" ...

April 18, 2011

A Bandit Society

It's Our Pleasure To Serve You (Coffee Cup)
Photograph courtesy Pak So and Anna Tan

Following is an excerpt from Episode 1 of the 2006 PBS series China from the Inside. And if you think what the professor describes only happens in China, well ... you're delusional

Professor Kang Xiaoguang, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences:  So many problems and what's the reason? It's that against the background of the market economy there's an alliance between authoritarian politics and the elites. It's maintained China's stability and prosperity but also created a string of problems. And amongst these, we can see a dangerous trend. It's that power, money and knowledge are colluding to serve a bandit society - this gang of elites who are robbing the masses.

. . . . . . . . 

From a conversation in the documentary film 180º South (2010, Woodshed Films):

Jeff Johnson: ... In these far corners of the world, I'm seeing the effects of encroaching progress. And most of this has to do with over-consumption elsewhere. It's easy for us to blindly consume when we don't see the effect it has on other places. 

Yvon Chouinard:  The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life. It's so easy to make it complex. What's important is leading an examined life because most of the damage caused by humans is caused unintentionally I think.

Doug Tompkins:  In response to people saying "you can't go back," I say well what happens if you get to the cliff and you take one step forward or you do a 180º turn and take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which is progress?

Yvon Chouinard: The solution may be for a lot of the world's problems is to turn around and take a forward step. You can't just keep trying to make a flawed system work.

April 11, 2011

That's Right, Glory!

Excerpts from The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima, first published in 1963:

"At twenty, he had been passionately certain: there's just one thing I'm destined for and that's glory; that's right, glory! He had no idea what kind of glory he wanted or what kind he was suited for. He knew only that in the depths of the world's darkness was a point of light which had been provided for him alone and would draw near someday to irradiate him and no other."

. . . . . . . . 

"Still immersed in his dream, he drank down the tepid tea. It tasted bitter. Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff."