Wednesday Round Up #1

I’m starting the Wednesday round up back up. I didn’t post yesterday because of #shutdownstem. For more information on that, see shutdownstem.com.

In the wake of the most recent murders of Black people in the US, it is clear that white and other non-Black people have to step up and do the work to eradicate anti-Black racism. As members of the global academic and STEM communities, we have an enormous ethical obligation to stop doing “business as usual.” No matter where we physically live, we impact and are impacted by this moment in history.

Our responsibility starts with our role in society. In academia, our thoughts and words turn into new ways of knowing. Our research papers turn into media releases, books and legislation that reinforce anti-Black narratives. In STEM, we create technologies that affect every part of our society and are routinely weaponized against Black people.

Black academic and Black STEM professionals are hurting because they exist in and are attacked by institutional and systemic racism. Black people have been tirelessly working for change, alongside their Indigenous and People of Color allies. For Black academics and STEM professionals, #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM is a time to prioritize their needs— whether that is to rest, reflect, or to act— without incurring additional cumulative disadvantage.

I encourage people to watch this short video with Ibram X. Kendi. “I’m not racist” is not good enough. We have to strive to actively become anti-racist.

Kendi’s longer talk here is well worth it. He provides more context and depth to his basic framing, and explains the history with keen insight.

I was also struck by this piece from footballer Liam Rosenior: This is just the beginning, I promise you: an open letter to Donald Trump.

Thank you for shining a spotlight to people around the world who have been sadly unaware of your country and the state it has been in for hundreds of years, and for outing the racist, hateful, bigoted and violent people who not only voted for you but have held the cultural key to an unjust, corrupt and fundamentally prejudiced society and system from the conception of the USA, built on the genocide of Native Americans and the slavery and incarceration of millions of black people.

Thank you for giving us a tangible, symbolic enemy (yourself and your Make America Great Again minions) against which people now have fuel to organise, strategise and mobilise a long-lasting movement and process to change our planet for good.

Ezra Klein interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates.

“I can’t believe I’m gonna say this,” he replied, “but I see hope. I see progress right now” …

There’s one particular thread of this conversation that I haven’t been able to put down: There is now, as there always is amid protests, a loud call for the protesters to follow the principles of nonviolence. And that call, as Coates says, comes from people who neither practice nor heed nonviolence in their own lives. But what if we turned that conversation around? What would it mean to build the state around principles of nonviolence, rather than reserving that exacting standard for those harmed by the state?

And one final piece related to current events: The Story Has Gotten Away from Us.

In recent days, many journalists—and those following the news—have used the word overwhelming to describe this moment. Yet it’s important to acknowledge that the situation did not arise suddenly. To properly contextualize our reporting, we must look at how we got here, turning back at least as far as the beginning of the calendar year.

Turning to more straight science and anthropology, David Sloan Wilson at the Evolution Institute has a new series exploring the “third way,” or how positive social change involves mechanisms of evolution that are neither laissez faire nor centrally planned. Neither of those work well for humans. He’s exploring these ideas across a range of disciplines and endeavors. I’ve highlighted here the piece on pragmatism. You can either read or listen to a podcast with Trygve Throntveit.

The world around you is in flux? You’re anxious to control your destiny but yearn for the aid, comforts, and genuine recognition of a community? You wonder at the marvels of modern science but tremble at its implications of a world without God, or indeed any moral character or ideal purpose? James and Dewey sought to reconcile—or rather, hold in fruitful tension—the notions of unity and pluralism, change and continuity, free will and determinism, science and religion, self and society, real and ideal, and to show other people how their lives would be better if they learned to do the same.

Next there is How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution:

Many who study the microbiome suspect that we are experiencing an extinction spasm within that parallels the extinction crisis gripping the planet. Numerous factors are implicated in these disappearances. Antibiotics, available after World War II, can work like napalm, indiscriminately flattening our internal ecosystems. Modern sanitary amenities, which began in the late 19th century, may limit sharing of disease- and health-promoting microbes alike. Today’s houses in today’s cities seal us away from many of the soil, plant, and animal microbes that rained down on us during our evolution, possibly limiting an important source of novelty.

But what the Sonnenburgs’ experiment suggests is that by failing to adequately nourish key microbes, the Western diet may also be starving them out of existence. They call this idea “starving the microbial self.”

Finally, Sapiens gives us the fascinating Can an “Invasive Species” Earn the Right to Stay?

The most poignant example of empathy came from a local woman who had assisted a trapper in removing macaques and selling them to medical research labs. Nervous about reprisals, she agreed to meet Kirksey late one night at a bar if he did not reveal her name.

The trapper, she told him, used a dart gun and drug-laced candy to sedate the monkeys, then stuffed them into burlap bags. Though at first she asserted that macaques recover quickly after losing a family member, she later acknowledged, almost despite herself, “I don’t think that they ever get over mourning, to tell you the truth.”

She recalled an incident that seemed to haunt her: A baby macaque whimpered and clung to the outside of the trap that held its mother, refusing to leave. Eventually, a hawk carried off the infant and ate it as the rest of the troop voiced their rage.

Much as the trapper’s assistant wanted to distance emotionally from the monkeys, she couldn’t. To Kirksey, moments of connection that transcend species barriers are meaningful. “Anthropomorphism can help us empathize with other forms of life,” he says. “It helps us appreciate the full implications of our actions.”

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