Wednesday Round Up #27

Apocalypse Then and Now

Pine Ridge sits on plains that are typically arid, so these extreme weather events were unusual—a result of shifting jet streams and increasing ocean evaporation driven by climate change. They were also catastrophic. Roads became impassable, cutting families off from medicine, food, and outside assistance. Water lines across the reservation broke, depriving eight thousand people of drinking water. At least four deaths were reported.

Amid the flooding, I drove all over the reservation to survey the damage, eventually arriving at Wounded Knee, site of the infamous 1890 massacre and 1973 American Indian Movement occupation. I parked and trudged up a small hill, the mud pulling at the heels of my boots. At the top was a mass grave of one hundred forty-six Lakota. Feeling the weight of this solemn place, I was compelled to offer a prayer. Lingering awhile at the peak, I watched residents of a nearby housing development walk along the highway to the closest post office to collect rations from the National Guard.

I checked Twitter and learned that Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, had driven onto the reservation with a convoy of military vehicles carrying potable water. She was not welcome. Just two weeks earlier, Noem had passed a bill that held protesters opposing projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline liable for what the state called “riot boosting.” (The Oglala were among the tribes opposed to the pipeline and the bill.) Here before me, in one scene, were the interlocking forces of genocide, ecological apocalypse, resistance, and repression—the imperial roots of the climate crisis and their colonial fallout.

Racism literally ages Black Americans faster, according to our 25-year study

I’m part of a research team that has been following more than 800 Black American families for almost 25 years. We found that people who had reported experiencing high levels of racial discrimination when they were young teenagers had significantly higher levels of depression in their 20s than those who hadn’t. This elevated depression, in turn, showed up in their blood samples, which revealed accelerated ageing on a cellular level.

Our research is not the first to show Black Americans live sicker lives and die younger than other racial or ethnic groups. The experience of constant and accumulating stress due to racism throughout an individual’s lifetime can wear and tear down the body – literally “getting under the skin” to affect health.

Acedia: The Lost Name for the Emotion We’re All Feeling Right Now

We get distracted by social media, yet have a pile of books unread. We keep meaning to go outside but somehow never find the time. We’re bored, listless, afraid and uncertain.

What is this feeling?

John Cassian, a monk and theologian wrote in the early 5th century about an ancient Greek emotion called acedia. A mind “seized” by this emotion is “horrified at where he is, disgusted with his room … It does not allow him to stay still in his cell or to devote any effort to reading”. He feels:

such bodily listlessness and yawning hunger as though he were worn by a long journey or a prolonged fast … Next he glances about and sighs that no one is coming to see him. Constantly in and out of his cell, he looks at the sun as if it were too slow in setting.

This sounds eerily familiar. Yet, the name that so aptly describes our current state was lost to time and translation.

Publishers are not obliged to give bigots like Jordan Peterson a platform

Believing that a prestigious publisher should not give such a person a contract is not the same as believing that they should be punished for speaking, or that they should not have access to the internet, a printer, or the marketplace. It’s important to make this distinction clear, because many conservative claims about being “censored” actually just amount to demands that their opinions be elevated far beyond their worth – that evidence-free, bigoted speech be given any prestigious platform it demands, with criticism seen as proof that the critics are intolerant. (Andrew Sullivan, for instance, resigned from New York magazine in a huff after his colleagues expressed discomfort about his flirtations with white supremacism and race science. They didn’t demand the magazine stop publishing him, but just being criticized was enough for him to bolt, claiming a hostile environment.)

Emmanuel Acho: ‘White people don’t understand the jurisdiction of black things’

That book, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man, debuts in the UK this week after a bestselling run in the United States. And it builds on his viral YouTube series of the same name, which is less about what’s being talked about than who’s doing the talking: the skier Lindsey Vonn, the actor Matthew McConaughey, a police department in California. The book, on the other hand, not only adds the missing context of 400 years’ worth of enslavement, subjugation and disenfranchisement as context, but sums it all up with a breezy succinctness that is careful not to lay any blame at the feet of its intended audience. Where Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me stokes white guilt by relating the hollow pain of his all too familiar black experience, Uncomfortable reads more like an FAQ page writ long. Struggling to wrap your head around the idea of reverse racism? Turn to page 83.

Many Minds Podcast: Episode – From Where We Stand

Welcome back folks! Today’s episode is a conversation about the nature of knowledge. I talked with Dr. Briana Toole, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College. Briana specializes in epistemology—the branch of philosophy that grapples with all things knowledge-related. In her work she is helping develop a new framework called “standpoint epistemology.” The basic idea is that what we know depends in part on our social position—on our gender, our race, and other factors. We flesh out this idea by walking through a bunch of examples that show how where we stand shapes the facts we attend to, believe, accept, and resist. We also talk about our moment present, polarized and fractured as it is. As we discuss, standpoint epistemology might offer tools to help us make sense of what’s happening, understand where others are coming from, and maybe even bridge some of the chasms that divide us. Enjoy!

The Radio Auteur: Joe Frank, Ira Glass, and Narrative Radio

Frank’s style earned him no more than a modest cult following. But his legacy lives on, in a very different form, in the work of Ira Glass (whose first job in public radio was as Frank’s production assistant) and in Glass’s own outsize influence on radio and now podcasting, where many of the best shows don’t aim to break news or provide trenchant analysis. Instead, they prize, above all, narrative tension and surprise, lending them an absorbing, binge-worthy quality that helps to build an emotional connection between the hosts and their listeners.

The Slippery Math of Causation

The search for a clear and comprehensive theory of causality may well be a philosophical chimera. However, as Insights readers know, our philosophy is that all subjects, however complicated, can be explored through puzzles. So let’s explore multifactorial causation using some simplified mathematical models, restricting ourselves to just three causative factors and omitting interactions between causative factors over time.

Consider a scenario where there are three causative factors, a, b and c, which are real variables that take values between 0 and 2. The three factors interact together to determine the value of a hidden factor, d. If the value of d is within a certain window, then a particular event occurs (Y). If not, the event fails to occur (N).

For the solution, and more discussion, see here

Why are public thinkers flocking to Substack?

Substack is a pragmatic response to one issue plaguing an industry in crisis – a collapsing ad-based revenue model. Rather than propose more voodoo innovation, it addresses the issue head on with the straightforward transaction of a subscription, a shift that industry leaders such as the New York Times have also pursued to great effect. A new micropayments platform for newsletters won’t magically liberate public intellectuals from commercial pressures; it won’t solve the tensions between free speech and safety; and I highly doubt it will make having a career as a writer any easier. But it will create space for writing not tailored to the trending on Twitter section, encourage writers to develop a deeper relationship with their audience, and promote the sort of writing (both longform and short) that doesn’t fit neatly into the categories of legacy media.

The coming war on the hidden algorithms that trap people in poverty

Credit-scoring algorithms are not the only ones that affect people’s economic well-being and access to basic services. Algorithms now decide which children enter foster care, which patients receive medical care, which families get access to stable housing. Those of us with means can pass our lives unaware of any of this. But for low-income individuals, the rapid growth and adoption of automated decision-making systems has created a hidden web of interlocking traps.

Fortunately, a growing group of civil lawyers are beginning to organize around this issue. Borrowing a playbook from the criminal defense world’s pushback against risk-assessment algorithms, they’re seeking to educate themselves on these systems, build a community, and develop litigation strategies.

How modern mathematics emerged from a lost Islamic library

“Centuries ago, a prestigious Islamic library brought Arabic numerals to the world. Though the library long since disappeared, its mathematical revolution changed our world.”

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