Blog Archives

Why the West rules for now — Ian Morris at the Long Now

Geography shapes history, history shapes geography.

Geography determines which societies will do well, yet culture determines what aspects of geography are relevant. Shifts in what is relevant make the fortunes of cultures.

Agriculture started where it was easy. But the development of irrigation allowed river societies to take off. Rivers then become trade routes.

Then the Med, then ocean going ships conquered the Atlantic, etc.

Talk is here.

Supported by Niall Ferguson (The Ascent of Money) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel).


Five Ways to Use History Well — Frank Gavin

Gavin is the Director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law and the first Tom Slick Professor of International Affairs at Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

Frank Gavin gives us five ways that a historical perspective can improve policy decisions:

  1. Vertical history. How events unfold over time.
  2. Horizontal history. How events unfold over space.
  3. Chronological proportionality. What news items today will be important in 20 years?
  4. Unintended consequences.
  5. Policy insignificance. Have the courage to do nothing.

As an example of #5, he claims the world of today was born in the late 1970s. The US was mired in what seemed like permanent decline and things were otherwise going to hell in a handbasket. He picks three events from that time which presaged the great thirty year boom which started near the end of that decade: Apple computer (personal computing), the Star Wars movie, and the Judgement of Paris (when Napa Valley beat France).

He suggests humility, as predicting the future is impossible. He is especially wary of hedgehogs, those who have one model of how the world works and think it can predict 10 years out. He also notes that these are the people who get media attention, because they can deliver certainty.

Paul Hawken — The Long Green (History of the eco movement)

Great talk by Paul Hawkin given at the Long Now.

Paul Hawken coined the term restoration economy, and popularized the ideas of ecosystem services and natural capital. His current thinking (courtesy of wikipedia)

It is axiomatic that we are at a threshold in human existence, a fundamental change in understanding about our relationship to nature and each other. We are moving from a world created by privilege to a world created by community. The current thrust of history is too supple to be labeled, but global themes are emerging in response to cascading ecological crises and human suffering. These ideas include the need for radical social change, the reinvention of market-based economics, the empowerment of women, activism on all levels, and the need for localized economic control. There are insistent calls for autonomy, appeals for a new resource ethic based on the tradition of the commons, demands for the reinstatement of cultural primacy over corporate hegemony, and a rising demand for radical transparency in politics and corporate decision making. It has been said that environmentalism failed as a movement, or worse yet, died. It is the other way around. Everyone on earth will be an environmentalist in the not too distant future, driven there by necessity and experience

Sound fades out at 41 minute mark. Some great historical nuggets and deep insights.

We live in a time when the dominant myth is end-times. True both for Islam and Christianity. Also Hindu signs of the end times.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, it was creation. It was also creationism, as in spontaneous generation or God made the world in its current form. Some of the same stuff Darwin fought agaist.

He has the Thoreau quote

I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed in there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.

This is from late in Thoreau’s life.

The myth is important, since (in politics, over at least the last two centuries) theology trumps science.

History of computers link

Sent to me by Kaustubh Patil. Nice timeline of computer science, with popup facts.