Monday, April 4, 2016

Ten Books that Modified My Thinking

Members of my book group listed the ten books that had modified their thinking.  Here’s my list:

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 1884. An outcast understood the contradictions of slavery, showing individual conscience can be more discerning than the prevailing mores.
The Phenomenon of Man by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 1959.  Darwinian evolution is compatible with Catholic theology and symbolism. Important to me because I was a practicing Catholic when I read it in 1961.
Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor 1984.  Dogs and other animals can be taught without force or violence. Applies to people, too.
Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos 1988.   Innumeracy (lack of facility with numbers and probability) is both widespread and has serious consequences.  Do the math and do it right!
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond 1997.  Differences in technological advancement among cultures are not because of differences of ability among races.   Before I read this book I thought history was factoids about dead people, but history written by scientists reveals interesting patterns.
Non-Zero by Robert Wright 2001.   Win-win prevails over zero-sum.  IMHO, the Force that drives the Universe and human history.
Authentic Happiness by Martin EP Seligman 2002.  Optimists thrive, building on their strengths.
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley 2010.  Although pessimists are considered wise, they’ve almost always been wrong.
The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker 2011.  Masses of data demonstrate that humans have become ever less violent over the ten thousand years of our history.
Merchants of Despair by Robert Zubrin 2012.  Anti-humanist Malthusians, wrong so far, have hijacked environmentalist movements.

I see  all the titles confirm my bias toward bottom-up evolution leading to peace and prosperity for all.  The moral arc is long but it bends towards justice.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Who Has Enough?

Mother used to tell me, “Finish your vegetables because of all those starving children in China and Africa.”  But how were my veggies supposed to get to the Chinese or African children?  Like Jeffrey Lockwood in UU World Spring 2016, I’d had enough.
        Lockwood says, “[we need to] worry about a species that can’t say enough.”  However, he is concerned that, “In a warming world, we’ll run out of [there won’t be enough] ice caps, arable soil, coral reefs, fresh water, coastal cities, livable land, sea walls, and air conditioners.”
Lockwood says planet and life will be OK because it’s survived high CO2 levels before.   However, he says we should stop emitting CO2 so the planet will return to its “original” temperature.  Which original? The original of the Ice Ages when most of Europe and North America was covered by glaciers? Or of the Little Ice Age when the Thames froze over?  If those originals are too cold, what about the Eocene 55 million years ago when Earth was 10° C warmer?
It’s true that some of us have more than we need, but that doesn’t mean we all have more than we need. Nearly half of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.  One quarter of all humans live without electricity — approximately 1.6 billion people.  80% of the world population lives on less than $10 a day.
Mother could have sent the veggie money overseas to buy food for the poor children. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion annually to end extreme global poverty--that's less than one fourth the income of the top 100 richest billionaires.    However, redistribution of wealth, generally frowned upon by those who already have it, would be only a partial solution. Also, those that already have barely enough wouldn’t accept the redistribution solution.  Would there be enough for everyone to have enough or will everyone be poor after redistribution?
But what if we can produce enough for everyone to have enough? We’ve done it with food.  Despite Malthus’ and Ehrlich’s dire predictions, there’s enough food for everyone on the planet to have an adequate diet.  Let’s continue the work of the Green Revolution (including GMOs) that has already saved hundreds of millions of lives.  Let’s harness energy from the sun, the wind, the water, the nukes, and yes, fossil fuels to free human beings from backbreaking labor and poverty.
Lockwood claims a better legacy would be a world where we learned to say “enough.”
I disagree.  I say there’s not enough until every human being on our planet has enough.