Aeon carries a fascinating article on #epigenetics (“Plastic People”) by Julie Guthman and Becky Mansfield. It highlights the way in which our physical and social environment can shape human bodies and minds across generations. The authors also stress the futility of “seeking biographical solutions to systemic contradictions” (as Ulrich Beck once put it), and call for a shift of focus toward related public policies. In the conclusion, they also suggest researchers and popularizers may be drawing the wrong lesson from epigenetic studies: “at the least, they argue, we ought to be more alike and ever more vigilant about our lifestyles to maintain that normality. More: we ought to strive to be even better – with biomedicine promising to eradicate some of the differences that frighten us.” And the worst case scenario? “A biomedical future in which the perfect human is engineered: thin, smart, outgoing, heterosexual, gender-conforming, lacking physical disabilities, able to sit still and work hard, and (given widespread preference for light skin) white.”
Monday, February 23, 2015
#GaryShteyngart, the celebrated author of #SuperSadLoveStory, recounts on the NYT site the lessons he learned from a week of binging on Russian TV (“Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth”). One of the highlights in his acerbic account is the way in which Russian programs portray the West as culturally and morally degenerate – which ostensibly leaves #Russia as the only true bastion of spirituality and civilization. No surprise there – but this leaves me mulling the role of some Western cultural skeptics in the new theater of ideological warfare. People like "TheodoreDalrymple, #J.G.Ballard, #ChristopherLash, etc. – who have long decried the alleged social and cultural decadence, cult of personal disinhibition-cum-liberty, and casual non-judgmentalism engulfing their own societies. Or some feminists critical of seemingly pornographic or disempowering scoops on the mass culture market (like the #50shades franchise). Come to think of it, such cultural hedgehogs could similarly be seen as providing ideological fodder not just for Putin’s propaganda machine. They could also be censured as unwitting contributors to the recruitment campaigns of ISIS, al Qaeda, and their smaller siblings and offshoots. Why does everything have to be so super complicated, really?
Friday, February 20, 2015
Monday, February 9, 2015
Law professor William Ian Miller describes oh so beautifully the beauty of living without hope (“May You Have My Luck”). Reading his piece reminded me of a frequently evoked Bulgarian proverb: “Mnogo dobro ne e na dobro.” Which translates loosely as: “Too much good fortune doesn’t bode well.” And which conveys better than a thousand books and articles Bulgaria’s status as, according to #TheEconomist, the unhappiest place on Earth as proportionate to GDP (“The Rich, the Poor and #Bulgaria”).
Half a year ago, #MariaKonnikova published some tips on “Being a Better Reader” – citing much authoritative research/opinion to illustrate the depth of the problem. Her takeaway? “Maybe the decline of deep reading isn’t due to reading skill atrophy but to the need to develop a very different sort of skill, that of teaching yourself to focus your attention.” Perhaps, but there may be a slight problem with heeding this advice. According to research done by #neuroscientists like Anthony Jack and Matthew Lieberman, the relentless focus needed for non-casual online reading could interfere with the dreamy, “trance-like state of mind” associated with #deepreading (and evoked by #NicholasCarr in “The Dreams of Readers”).