Archive for the ‘community’ Category

Larger than life with a small ‘l’ – ant colonies and the big mind

Friday, March 19, 2010

I don’t know how this can be explained purely by the neo-Darwinian idea that the purpose of life is to propagate one’s genes. (Could such architecture be programmed within the genes of a single ant???)  And I don’t know how this can be explained without some notion of supra-organism intelligence or mind. Watch and wonder at our world -

- and consider the supra-human mind of which we must be a part. Might there be a dimension to Life with a capital ‘L’ that we forget in our ‘own’, individual lives?

Monbiot on the anti-poor, pro-Heathrow crowd

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From the Guardian -

“Cheap flights,” O’Neill claims, “has become code for lowlife scum, an issue through which you can attack the ‘underclass’, the working class and the nouveau riche with impunity.”

The connection seems obvious, doesn’t it? More cheap flights must be of greatest benefit to the poor. A campaign against airport expansion must therefore be an attack on working-class aspirations. It might be obvious, but it’s wrong.

The Sustainable Development Commission collated the figures on passengers using airports in the United Kingdom between 1987 and 2004. During this period, total passenger numbers more than doubled and the price of flights collapsed. The number of people in the lowest two socio-economic categories (D and E) who flew rose, but their proportion fell, from 10% of passengers in 1987 to 8% in 2004. By 2004, there were over five times as many passengers in classes A and B than in classes D and E.

Today, the Civil Aviation Authority’s surveys show, the average gross household income of leisure passengers using Heathrow is £59,000 (the national average is £34,660); the average individual income of the airport’s business passengers (36% of its traffic) is £83,000. The wealthiest 18% of the population buy 54% of all tickets, the poorest 18% buy 5%.

O’Neill champions Ryanair, Britain’s biggest low-cost carrier, as the hero of the working classes. So where would you expect this airline to place most of its advertising? I have the estimated figures for its spending on newspaper ads in 2007. They show that it placed nothing in the Sun, the News of the World, the Mirror, the Star or the Express, but 52% of its press spending went to the Daily Telegraph. Ryanair knows who its main customers are: second-home owners and people who take foreign holidays several times a year.

Who, in the age of the one-penny ticket, is being prevented from flying? It’s not because they can’t afford the flights that the poor fly less than the rich; it’s because they can’t afford the second homes in Tuscany, the skiing holidays at Klosters or the scuba diving in the Bahamas. British people already fly twice as much as citizens of the United States, and one fifth of the world’s flights use the UK’s airports. If people here don’t travel, it’s not because of a shortage of runways.

At the core of the campaign against a third Heathrow runway are the blue-collar workers and working-class mums of the village of Sipson, whose homes are due to be flattened so that the rich can fly more. If wealthy people don’t like living under a flight path, they can move; the poor just have to lump it. Through climate breakdown, the richest people on earth trash the lives of the poorest.

Stimulating behavioural change: thumbs up

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bread by Carlito_Brigante_.Bread‘ by Carlito Brigante, uploaded to flickr

Fascinating and sensible article about facilitating behavioural change via effective communication published yesterday. Too often, the ‘boomerang effect’ means that undesirable behaviours are reinforced  -

[...] the problem with appeals based on social norms is that they often contain a hidden message.

So, for example, an environmental campaign that focuses on the fact that too many people drive cars with large engines contains two messages — that driving cars with large engines is bad for the environment, and that lots of people are driving cars with large engines. This second message makes it unlikely that the campaign will work. Worse, it might even make it counterproductive: by conveying how common the undesirable behaviour is, it can give those who do not currently engage in that behaviour a perverse incentive to do so. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

The nub of the matter?  Castigating undesirable behaviour needs to be connected with praise for those who are doing the right thing.

Fortunately, there is a way of harnessing the power of social norms, so that the dreaded “boomerang effect” doesn’t occur.

In a recent experiment, psychologists examined the influence of social norms on the household energy consumption of residents of California. The researchers, led by Wesley Schultz, picked houses at random and then divided them into groups depending on whether their energy consumption was higher or lower than the average for that area. Some low-energy-use households received only information about average energy usage — thereby setting the social norm.

A second group of low-energy households had a positive “emoticon” (happy face) positioned next to their personal energy figure, conveying approval of their energy footprint. A third group of over-consuming households were shown their energy usage coupled with a negative emoticon (sad face), intended to convey disapproval of their higher-than-average footprint.

The researchers then measured energy consumption in the following months. As one might expect, the over-consuming households used the social norm as a motivation to reduce their energy use, but under-consuming households that had received only the social norm information increased their energy use.

Crucially, though, the under-consuming households that had received positive feedback did not show this boomerang effect: the addition of a smiley face next to their energy usage made all the difference. Despite the simplicity of the feedback, households that felt their under-consumption was socially approved (rather than a reason to relax), maintained their small energy footprint. This suggests that using social norms can be effective — but only if they are used in the right way.

Castigating the “majority” of people for driving cars with large engines, without simultaneously praising those who have chosen smaller models could spectacularly backfire. Environmental campaigns using social norms will have to be supplemented with information targeted at specific groups about the desirability of their particular behaviours. If people are doing something positive, they need to know about it.

‘When the leader sets the example, the others follow’

Monday, November 10, 2008

The most noticeable thing about this debrief, below, of the Obama Campaign Inner Circle is how calm they all are – despite one or two hours earlier having just pulled off a spectacular and world-changing win. Their conversation communicates to me a shared sense of wonder at how their campaign glided over the rocky terrain of the last twenty-one months – and how Obama knew where he was going, and how he would pitch and conduct his campaign, from the beginning.


Only in America? Europe, not so much

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Keith Richburg, writing in today’s Observer, reflects on why America is leading Europe in terms of race relations based on his experiences as a journalist throughout the world -

[...] it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a Barack Obama emerging in Europe soon.

One reason is that Europeans for the most part do not talk about race and race relations as openly as we do. In America, we wallow in it. We self-analyse and form committees, workshops and seminars to talk about it. There are countless organisations and associations dedicated to racial issues. Bookshops stack shelves talking about our racial history and problems. We take measurements of pretty much everything, from black student school test scores to minority living standards.

France, to take one example, is on the other extreme. For a story on the state of minorities in France, I once asked for the statistics on how many blacks were on each political party list and it was like dragging a dead cat into the room and tossing it on the table. Race is simply not openly discussed.

What’s more, many Europeans can’t even bring themselves to call their minority residents what they are – citizens. They are still often referred to as ‘immigrants’ or ‘outsiders’, even if they were born in the country, speak no other language, know no other home.

A European Obama seems unlikely to emerge soon because of the parliamentary systems in place, in which a newcomer to politics has first to find his way on to a party list and work his or her way up through the ranks. In Obama’s case, this newcomer leapfrogged far more experienced and better-known candidates – think Hillary Clinton – to take his case directly to voters in primary states.

A year ago, no one here would have predicted that a black candidate would become the nominee of a major party and have a more than realistic chance of winning the White House on 4 November. And it’s a testament to Obama’s considerable skill that he has largely managed to make his race an afterthought. America is on the verge of something historic and it almost seems anticlimactic.

But black Americans are still pinching themselves, still not quite able to believe what has been achieved. And all Americans should pause from the heated political rhetoric and reflect on the sense of accomplishment, win or lose, that his candidacy represents – an affirmation of that American ideal.

I think back to my father, who suffered terrible racism in the south, still believing for his son: ‘You can be anything you want to be.’ That means any little boy can even dream of being President. And that really is only in America.

The parliamentary systems in Europe, with the party vetting of potential candidates that that implies, mean that there is more room for calculations based on entrenched perspectives, and less room for surprises. There are benefits of this – in terms of stability and the conservation of ‘useful’ and ‘good’ traditions – but the downside, in terms of flexibility, and responsiveness and openess to change, should now be more obvious.

Why he’s winning: leadership, judgement, and stonking oratory

Saturday, October 25, 2008

For some, including for Time magazine’s Joe Klein, Obama’s rise and campaign management has been bewildering.  Klein’s recent article captures beautifully the personal qualities and decisions made that have generated such momentum for the Obama campaign.  For example, Obama’s policy of ‘no dramatics’ within his campaign team paid off in the primaries against Clinton.  And his instinctive judgement calls as to when leadership could most effectively be deployed enabled him to reflect on the issue of race in America, and neutralise Jeremiah Wright, in a speech followed by a press conference; and, it enabled him to keep his cool during the banking bail-out fiasco.

Here’s how Klein finishes up -

If an Apollo project to create a new alternative-energy economy is his highest priority, as he told me, why hasn’t he given a major speech about it during the fall campaign? Why hasn’t he begun to mobilize the nation for this next big mission? In part, I suppose, because campaigns are about firefighting — and this campaign in particular has been about “the fierce urgency of now,” to use one of Obama’s favorite phrases by Martin Luther King Jr., because of the fears raised by the financial crisis and because of the desperate, ferocious attacks launched by his opponent.

If he wins, however, there will be a different challenge. He will have to return, full force, to the inspiration business. The public will have to be mobilized to face the fearsome new economic realities. He will also have to deliver bad news, to transform crises into “teachable moments.” He will have to effect a major change in our political life: to get the public and the media to think about long-term solutions rather than short-term balms. Obama has given some strong indications that he will be able to do this, having remained levelheaded through a season of political insanity. His has been a remarkable campaign, as smoothly run as any I’ve seen in nine presidential cycles. Even more remarkable, Obama has made race — that perennial, gaping American wound — an afterthought. He has done this by introducing a quality to American politics that we haven’t seen in quite some time: maturity. He is undoubtedly as ego-driven as everyone else seeking the highest office — perhaps more so, given his race, his name and his lack of experience. But he has not been childishly egomaniacal, in contrast to our recent baby-boomer Presidents — or petulant, in contrast to his opponent. He does not seem needy. He seems a grown-up, in a nation that badly needs some adult supervision.

Bingo.

Consuming for the economy or the future?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Alastair McIntosh was contributing BBC Radio 4′s Thought for the Day yesterday.  Here’s an excerpt -

Our conundrum is that we need more consumption to save the economy, but less to save the planet.

Spending our way out of a recession is therefore only a stop-gap measure. It’s methadone for our planetary heroin addiction.

We simply feed the habit if we think that today’s problems can be tackled at conventional political, technical or economic levels. If we’re redefining our “central mission”, we must press further.

Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this: to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.

The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world – an expansion of consciousness. And that’s an opportunity that we neglect at our peril, for as I once heard an old Quaker woman say, “It is perilous, to neglect one’s spiritual life.

A beautiful political campaign video

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There’s no question this is a defining moment in American history: more of the same, but worse vs. change for the better.

Net neutrality – the internet’s future at stake

Friday, August 8, 2008

Watch the video, featuring Tim Berners-Lee, Lawrence Lessig and others, here. Via Memex 1.1.


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