Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Men in Suits: Fine and Dandy by Paul Sweeten

In civilisation, history, society on August 31, 2012 at 03:57


From: Men in Suits: Fine and Dandy by Paul Sweeten, The Oxonian Review,

According to Baudelaire, the Dandy “must live and sleep before a mirror”. The Dandy must always be alert, attentive and fussing over his look because to be a Dandy, as Albert Camus noted, is to be “always in opposition” (a pursuit far more demanding than to be always conforming). In challenging the herd mentality of fashionistas, Dandies were required to be stubbornly unfashionable. Here we find a familiar paradox shared by many “alternative” subgroups. From Dandies to punks, the discord between the libertarian and mimetic compulsions of a group’s members has drawn its associated clothing as both uniforms as well as an antidote to uniformity. The suit has always straddled this divide, and though it remains occasionally daring, it has suffered the transition from innovative style to requisite dresscode in the three centuries of its evolution.

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Reposted with permission from: The Oxonian Review


Meeting Martha Nussbaum with Alan Saunders

In audio, humanities, interview, philosophy on August 31, 2012 at 03:52


From: Meeting Martha Nussbaum with Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National,

Alan Saunders: I’m interested that you talk about the relationship between ritual and the moral life. This is not an obvious connection, I think, that many people would make. They’d think that ritual is just doing one damn thing after the other every day and it is unconnected with morality which involves thought and consideration of what you’re doing.

Martha Nussbaum: Well, you know, I’ve always said and written that emotions are central to the moral life and that if we really reflect about what we are deeply attached to, that’s quite an important part of getting our moral life in order, because we all have deep and passionate attachments to people and things outside of ourselves that we don’t control. And so for me ritual is a time of stepping aside from the busy life with all its distractions. And that I think is a big part of it; it’s just getting into a space of contemplation. But then meditating on the deeper emotional attachments that human life contains: grief and loss and aspiration and joy. And I think ritual sticks around because like a great piece of music – and of course it includes music for me very prominently – it just has that capacity to touch us with the deeper connections and attachments that we have, and I think the shear repetition could, of course, be just rote, but it can also bring back memories. I mean, when you go to a Passover seder I think you think about freedom in a new way because you are remembering your childhood and you are remembering your connections to loved people you have lost. The very fact that you’re back there one year later in the same place with many but not all of the same people helps you think about what you care about.

Listen to the interview & read the transcript

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

“Be Honest About the History of Our Country” by Amy Goodman

In ethics, government, history, humanities, North America, politics, society, video, writers on August 28, 2012 at 22:02


From: “Be Honest About the History of Our Country”: Remembering the People’s Historian Howard Zinn at 90 by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!,

Howard Zinn was a frequent guest on Democracy Now! We spoke to him in May of 2009 when he was in New York to launch a new edition of A Young People’s History of the United States, and I asked him to respond to a question he had frequently been asked about the book: Is it right to be so critical of the government’s policies, of the traditional heroes of the country?

HOWARD ZINN: It is true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?

And I think the answer is: we should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.

Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain—well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.

We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.

Listen & read the full transcript

Reposted with permission from: Democracy Now!

Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie? by by R. Ford Denison

In biology, ecology, nature, research, science on August 28, 2012 at 21:56


From: Where Does Nature’s Wisdom Lie? by by R. Ford Denison, Berfrois,

My recent book, Darwinian Agriculture: How Understanding Evolution Can Improve Agriculture, asks where nature’s wisdom is to be found, but also whether nature can “lie” to us. In particular, can we mislead ourselves, when we try to apply ideas from nature to agriculture? I conclude, tentatively, that the overall organization of natural forests has not been improved as consistently, by any natural process, as the individual adaptations of wild species have been improved by natural selection. Therefore, it is probably safer to copy trees than forests. The available data aren’t entirely conclusive, however. Furthermore, natural communities and landscapes provide essential context for understanding the sophisticated adaptations of wild species. To predict whether something that works well in a forest will also work well in an orchard, we need a deeper understanding of both forests and orchards.

As well, biotechnology’s many promises will not be fulfilled anytime soon. Most of the “improvements” proposed by biotechnology have already been tested by natural selection, and rejected. For example, increasing the expression of a gene for “drought tolerance”? Tried and tested, but plants were less competitive under non-drought conditions. Turning chemical defenses against insect pests on all the time, even when pests are scarce? Tried also, but it scared away pollinators. The list continues.

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Reposted with permission from: Berfrois

Are you bored at work? by

In civilisation, history, society, sociology, technology on August 27, 2012 at 20:32


From: Are you bored at work?,

Workplace boredom arrived hand in hand with the inventions of the office and the production line; it was in fact their psychological equivalent. An enormous intellectual and practical effort was made to rationalise both the production of goods and the processing of the information that controlled production and distribution of these goods. Early last century, so-called ‘time and motion studies’ examined the work of factory and office workers in rigorous detail. The results were interpreted and used to eliminate unnecessary effort or individual technique from the workplace. People were idealised as components in industrial machines. Little thought was given to what was going on inside their heads. This was the age of behaviourism – people and animals were understood to be black boxes with inputs and outputs (“So, how was it for me?” the behavioural scientist asked his lover): output and efficiency were the priority. Work became boring and repetitive by design, but profits soared.

A recent edition of the New Scientist magazine featured an article on evidence for boredom in animals kept in inadequate conditions. For example, the confines of a zoo’s enclosure have virtually nothing in common with a polar bear’s natural environment. Before long, the forlorn beasts begin to exhibit repetitive behaviour. They pace up and down the concrete, tracing exactly the same steps, swooping their heads from side to side. They look very disturbed, they are portraits of frustration. Examination of captive animal brains has revealed that when certain neural pathways are damaged, stereotypical behaviour can develop. These findings have brought into question a huge body of research using live animals – it was presumed that they had no capacity for boredom and it played no part in their behaviour. Lab rats, it seems, are bored out of their tiny rodent skulls.

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Reposted with permission from:

Eccentric Characters by BibliOdyssey

In art, books, history, society on August 27, 2012 at 18:04


From: Eccentric Characters by BibliOdyssey,

Illustration plates (lithographs) from ‘The Book of Wonderful Characters: Memoirs and Anecdotes of Remarkable and Eccentric Persons in all Ages and Countries, Chiefly from the Text of Henry Wilson and James Caulfield’, 1869

Francis Trovillou – The Horned Man

“In the year 1598 a horned man was exhibited for a show, at Paris, two months successively, and from thence carried to Orleans, where he died soon after. His name was Francis Trovillous, of whom Fabritius, in his Chiurgical Observations, gives the following description:- ‘He was of middle stature, a full body, bald, except in the hinder part o’ the head, which had a few hairs upon it; his temper was morose, and his demeanour was altogether rustic’.

He was born in a little village called Mezieres, and bred up In the woods amongst the charcoal men. About the seventh year of his age he began to have a swelling in his forehead, so that in the course of about ten years he had a horn there as big as a man’s finger-end, which afterwards did admit of that growth and increase, that when he came to be thirty-five years old this horn had both the bigness and resemblance of a ram’s horn.”

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Reposted with permission from: BibliOdyssey

A rear view of Alfred Hitchcock by Alan Saunders

In culture, film, interview, philosophy, visual arts on August 21, 2012 at 21:39


From: A rear view of Alfred Hitchcock by Alan Saunders, The Philosopher’s Zone, ABC Radio National,

Alan Saunders: Now the action of the movie occurs naturally, given the single-take effect; it occurs more or less in real time, which means that the murder is committed by daylight, and as the time goes on, is discovered at night after a party attended by the parents of the boy they’d murdered. What does this move from daylight to night, what does this have to tell us about the moral world of the movie?

William A. Drumin: The meaning that Hitchcock, as the director, seeks to ascribe to a film, philosophic or otherwise, is how he films it. Now my view is that see these two young killers want to cut themselves off from society, they regard themselves as above society, and that apartment, that closed-in compartment that’s kind of a separate world, as if it said they are the gods of this world you see, disposing of things by their superior intellects, and that kind of thing. So by filming continuously, I feel that Hitchcock is acting to break, to oppose the attempt of those killers. To say, No, you are wrong, society will re-assert its authority. You cannot arbitrarily cut yourself off from the social relationships you see.

You remember at the end of the film how Jimmy Stewart opens the window and fires the three gunshots out of the window? And then you hear the noises from the street filtering up, and the sound of the police siren and so on. That’s a liberating act, because this closed apartment has kind of been a vision of hell, where God and morality has been shut out, and now continuity has been re-established. So I think that in filming continuously, he establishes his stance towards the action of the film.

Listen to the broadcast / read the transcript

Reposted with permission from: ABC Radio National

Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”

In civilisation, ecology, economics, nature, North America, society on August 21, 2012 at 21:28


From: Overfished: LuLing Osofsky on “Chop City”, Orion Magazine,

The Alaska you write about in this piece isn’t the Alaska you and I and other non-Alaskans might expect to see upon arriving there. Instead of evergreen trees and grizzly bears, you found fish heads and a sixteen-hour workday. What did you imagine Alaska to be before you got there?

The surprises began in the Anchorage airport. As I waited for my tiny plane headed to Naknek, Alaska, I looked around the small waiting area at the designated gate. There was a teenage girl with dyed blonde hair, heavy lipstick, ankles crossed, speaking urgently in Russian on her cell phone. There was a disheveled man at the complimentary coffee station tearing open packets of Sweet’N Low and chugging them down. A man with sores on his face was lying on the floor.

One of the things that’s striking about this story is the way nature—in the form of fish—is objectified, commoditized, and treated mechanically, and the way that treatment extends to the mental and physical lives of you and the other line workers. Was that something you tried to reflect in the style and arc of this piece?

Yes! Definitely. The fish could’ve been anything, they ceased to be “fish.” You know when you stare at any one word for too long, and it no longer makes sense? The word looks strange, right? That’s how I began to see fish, not as these things that once swam in the sea and yielded a delicious meat, but these strange objects that needed to have certain parts chopped off, skinned, hollowed out, sorted, shipped.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Please read: An update

In Announcements on August 21, 2012 at 19:01

Hello readers,

I wanted to let you know about the progress of the project.

To date we have sent out about 200 e-mails asking for permissions. Quite a few recipients answered already, some positively, some negatively. We will be sending more e-mails over the next few months. You will notice some of the older posts disappearing in the process, as we are taking them down according to the responses we received.
We were asked about why we requested permissions to quote articles if recent court rulings already stated that quoting a few paragraphs was permissible. In response, we believe it will help to define the website, and also give more space for magazines and websites that need and want exposure.

I hope you are enjoying the waning summer days. Enjoy the posts.


Your e-Reading Habits are “Public” by David Brin

In books, ethics, government, information science, media, politics, privacy, technology on August 20, 2012 at 05:31


From:  Your e-Reading Habits are “Public”- Kindles, iPads and Nooks are Tracking You  by David Brin, IEET,

The major players in e-book publishing—Amazon, Apple and Google—can easily track how far readers are getting into novels and nonfiction, how long they spend and which search terms they use to find books. Book apps for tablets like the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook record how many times readers open the app and how much time they spend reading. Retailers and some publishers are beginning to sift through the data, gaining unprecedented insight into how people engage with books.

“We think of it as the collective intelligence of all the people reading on Kindle,” says Amazon spokeswoman. But how will all this data be used? Who can access it? The Electronic Frontier Foundation has pushed for legislation to prevent information about consumer’s reading habits from being turned over to law enforcement agencies without a court’s approval.

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Reposted with permission from: The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

Forest loss in Latin America by Rhett A. Butler

In ecology, nature, research, South America on August 20, 2012 at 05:17


From: Forest loss in Latin America by Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay,

     Latin America lost nearly 260,000 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of forest — an area larger than the state of Oregon — between 2001 and 2010, finds a new study that is the first to assess both net forest loss and regrowth across the Caribbean, Central and South America.

The study, published in the journal Biotropica by researchers from the University of Puerto Rico and other institutions, analyzes change in vegetation cover across several biomes, including forests (dry, temperate, moist, mangroves and coniferous), grasslands (pampas, shrublands, montane grasslands, savanna, desert/xeric shrublands), and wetlands (pantanal). It finds that the bulk of vegetation change occurred in forest areas, mostly tropical rainforests and lesser-known dry forests. The largest gains in woody vegetation area occurred in desert vegetation and shrublands.

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Reposted with permission from: Mongabay

Reinventing education by Leonardo Boff

In civilisation, economics, education, Europe, North America, politics, South America, universities on August 18, 2012 at 15:08


From: Reinventing education by Leonardo Boff, America Latina en movimiento,

Muniz Sodre, titular professor of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is a well learned person. But what is different about him is that he, as few others, thinks about what he knows. The fruit of his thinking is a just released, very notable, book: Reinventing education: diversity, decolonization and networks, (Reinventando la educación: diversidad, descolonización y redes, Vozes, 2012).
In that book, he tries to confront the challenges to pedagogy and education that derive from the different types of knowledge, from the new technologies and transformations advanced by capitalism. All of this begins with our social place: the Southern hemisphere, once colonized, that is undergoing an interesting process of neo-decolonization, and a confrontation with the weakened neo-Eurocentrism, now devastated by the crisis of the Euro.
Muniz Sodre analyzes different currents of pedagogy and education, from the Greek paideia to the world market of education, that represent a crass conception of utilitarian education, transforming education into an enterprise and a market, at the service of world domination.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en movimiento

Heavy Breeding by Michael Wang

In biology, Europe, government, history, politics, research, science, war on August 18, 2012 at 05:47


From: Heavy Breeding by Michael Wang, Cabinet Magazine,

In 1920, the brothers Lutz and Heinz Heck, directors of the Berlin and Munich zoos, respectively, began a two-decade breeding experiment. Working with domestic cattle sought out for their “primitive” characteristics, they attempted to recreate “in appearance and behavior” the living likeness of the animals’ extinct wild ancestor: the aurochs. “Once found everywhere in Germany,” according to Lutz Heck, by the end of the Middle Ages the aurochs had largely succumbed to climate change, overhunting, and competition from domestic breeds.1

The last aurochs herds died out in the Polish-Lithuanian Union, where a documented population persisted under royal protection in Mazovia until the middle of the seventeenth century. Historical descriptions of these animals identified the aurochs as similar to domestic oxen, but entirely black, with a whitish stripe running down the back.2 More distant accounts emphasized their ferocity and imposing size. Julius Caesar described the aurochs of Germania as an elephantine creature prone to unprovoked attack.3

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Reposted with permission from: Cabinet Magazine

The ideal of community: belief without proof (Arendt, 1929) by Philippe Theophanidis

In community, philosophy, sociology on August 18, 2012 at 05:37


From: The ideal of community: belief without proof (Arendt, 1929) by Philippe Theophanidis, aphelis,

Though this equality is only implicit in the earthly city it permits us to understand interdependence, which essentially defines social life in the worldly community. This interdependence shows in the mutual give and take in which people live together.12 The attitude of individuals toward each other is characterized here by belief (crederer), as distinguished from all real or potential knowledge.13 We comprehend all history, that is, all human and temporal acts by believing―which means by trusting, but never by understanding (intelligere). This belief in the other is the belief that he will prove himself in our common future. Every earthly city depends upon this proof. Yet this belief that arises from our mutual interdependence precedes any possible proof.14 The continued existence of humankind does not rest on the proof. Rather, it rests on necessary belief, without which social life become impossible.15

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Gustavo Díaz: The Art of Questioning by Rose Mary Salum

In art, interview, philosophy, science on August 16, 2012 at 05:40


From: Gustavo Díaz: The Art of Questioning by Rose Mary Salum, Literal Magazine,

Rose Mary Salum: It strikes me how fascinated you seem to be with the concept of complexity. I’d like to know if this has to do with mental or artistic complexity, or if it relates to science?

Gustavo Díaz: Complexity is all that exists in the universe. On micro and macro scales, every process is complex, from breathing to walking. We assimilate the most basic, habitual processes as natural to us, but they actually come about as the result of macro or micro complexes. I am quite passionate on this subject at any scale. When you zoom in on your own gaze or concepts and see the small details of things, they possess formal, functional, and operative complexities. The same thing happens when we observe on a macro scale.

I feel this is an important matter. It’s a very timely subject, given that the world is gaining complexity on all levels. The growth of cit- ies and transportation systems, for example, display high entropy, transformation that leads to disorder. All these are ideas that can be considered in the context of physics, but also of sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc. One can consider complexity from within different disciplines, because it is present in everyday life.

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Reposted with permission from: Literal Magazine

Setback for Armenia’s Lake Sevan by Arpi Harutyunyan

In Asia, community, ecology, news on August 16, 2012 at 05:33


From: Setback for Armenia’s Lake Sevan by Arpi Harutyunyan, IWPR,

Lake Sevan fell by a metre a year from 1949, when schemes to channel off water started operating, and the pace increased after Armenia became independent in 1991. After 2002, however, the trend was reversed thanks to a World Bank-backed programme, and water levels have risen by more than four metres since then. The plan is to achieve an annual rise of 20 centimetres until the ideal level is reached within 30 years.

However, official estimates suggest the rising waters will flood roads running alongside the lake, and dozens of lakeside homes – many of them owned by senior members of Armenia’s political and business elite.

That, say some environmentalists, is the real reason for draining off water – the drought is just a pretext to prevent rising waters inundating top officials’ holiday homes.

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Reposted with permission from: IWPR

The White Correspondent’s Burden by Jina Moore

In Africa, culture, ethics, media, politics, society on August 14, 2012 at 02:04


From: The White Correspondent’s Burden by Jina Moore, Boston Review,

Journalists in Africa talk often about misrepresentations of the continent we cover. But this isn’t an easy conversation: we’re all far from home, working for pennies, because we care about what we do. Broad criticism of our profession can feel personal. Often, even though we’re ostensibly in charge of the story, we feel disempowered. The best journalism takes time and money, and often, we complain, we have neither. Travel budgets have shrunk, and the Internet demands ever more content.

But this doesn’t explain why journalism from Africa looks and sounds as it does. For this, we blame our editors, who (we like to say) oversimplify our copy and cut out context. They also introduce clichéd shorthand, such as “Arab north versus Christian and animist south” (Sudan), or boilerplate background, such as “the 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed” (Rwanda). Virtually any story can be sold more easily if set in a “war-torn country.”

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Reposted with permission from: Boston Review

PLEASE READ: Important changes and updates to the blog

In Announcements on August 13, 2012 at 16:37


Thank you for all the support, comments and positive feedback this blog received. There are changes coming soon.

At the beginning we followed the guidelines for the fair share / fair use dealing, and quoted the articles according to the rules. At this point a decision has to be made: what is the future of this blog. There are some ideas floating around, and we are looking into them.

The blog will hopefully move to the website sometime next year. At this point we made a decision to contact some of the websites and ask for official permissions to quote and link to them. We hope that at least some of the editors and authors will respond positively and we can resume posting soon. We are also looking into starting reviewing the films and books ourselves, in the hope of providing more content to the blog.

So stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed. And for now please check the archives, there are enough links and articles for a few weeks of quality reading time.

Please send us comments as well, we welcome new ideas and feedback.

Thank you!


Dan Rodgers’ Age of Fracture : A Different Country Now

In government, history, North America, politics, society on August 13, 2012 at 14:02

From: Dan Rodgers’ Age of Fracture : A Different Country Now, Radio Open Source.

It’s too simple to say: we fell apart. But “disaggregation” is the recurring word for the remapping of our minds. The progress has been from grand to granular; from macro to micro not only in economics, from Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman, but in literary theory and our sense of who has “agency”, from coalitions to individuals. Our flag waves over a social landscape shrunken in every dimension, as Rodgers writes: “diminished, thinner, smaller, more fragmented, more voluntary, fractured, easier to exit, more guarded from others.” It feels in this 2012 campaign like a society desperate for a larger sense of itself.

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The death of the Russian village by Matilda Moreton

In community, economics, Europe, government, history, society on August 8, 2012 at 20:19


From: The death of the Russian village by Matilda Moreton, openDemocracy,

In so many places in the Russian North, village life has all but disappeared. It seems that farming is no longer a sustainable way of life and the young have left to find a living elsewhere. The land, once busy with cows and tractors, is now uncultivated, overgrown, reclaimed by bog and forest. Former ‘millionaires’ (prize-winning) collective farms stand empty, their vast granaries and cow sheds rotting away in the same state of neglect as the villages themselves – now ghostly, almost totally empty – beautiful houses, schools and exquisite churches all collapsed or collapsing.

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The Role of Authority by Scott Hershovitz

In philosophy, society, sociology on August 6, 2012 at 20:54


From: The Role of Authority by Scott Hershovitz, Philosophers’ Imprint,

The most influential account of authority – Joseph Raz’s service conception – is an account of the role of authority. Most philosophers hold that authority (of the practical sort) consists in a right to rule, such that subjects are obligated to obey. But they disagree over what it takes for a person to qualify as an authority in that sense.

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Elements of Dostoevsky in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut by Donald M. Fiene

In books, history, literature, writers on August 5, 2012 at 22:23


From: Elements of Dostoevsky in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut by Donald M. Fiene, Dostoevsky Studies,

… In any case, Vonnegut acknowledges having read the major Russian writers, Dostoevsky and Gogol among them, at a critical time in his life. His sense of having been directly influenced by them, however, is by no means certain. What the earlier portion of the above quotation means to me is that Vonnegut finds convincing my discovery of Russian elements in his fiction, although he was not in fact conscious of the origin of these elements while writing; hence, he has the mystical sense of having been served by creative powers seemingly outside himself – and he is humbled by that.

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Canada’s Spiritual Quest by John Ralston Saul

In ecology, government, nature, North America, politics, society on August 5, 2012 at 22:14


From: Canada’s Spiritual Quest by John Ralston Saul, Adbusters Magazine,

Our reality is that several generations have refused to imagine themselves as making changes. Instead, in the role of the angry outsiders, they have called for the people they do not respect to make the changes on their behalf. This is the traditional role of writers, including of course journalists, not of the engaged population as a whole. You could call this a strategic error with enormous political consequences.

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