Saturday, March 24, 2007

The world as it is, and could be

Psychology by GleitmanThe stunning End of Poverty prompted me to compile a list of the five books that I think best explain the world as it is and could be:

  • Information Feudalism by Peter Drahos and John Braithwaite: an extraordinary account of how a small cabal of multinational patent and copyright holders strongarmed the world into the TRIPS agreement.

  • Collapse by Jared Diamond: will our societies continue to rape the planet, or change in time to save themselves from extinction?

  • The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Zhisui Li: the most jaw-dropping demonstration imaginable that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • Psychology by Henry Gleitman: a comprehensive introduction to the science essential for understanding human beings that is almost unknown outside universities and hospitals.

  • The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs: a comprehensive explanation of how and why we should end extreme poverty by 2025.

Any other suggestions?

1 comment:

Myron said...

Following Diamond’s wisdom may be ignoring the real evidence and going down the wrong path.

Diamond did not "dig" very deep to find a society that would match his already formed conclusions. When I first started reading about Greenland, six years ago, I swiftly learned most of the themes that Diamond wrote about in his book Collapse.

Now, after six years of research I have just read the TRUE history left by the Norse in Greenland, entitled the "Maalan Aarum" (Walam Olum) meaning "Engraved years." [Google to Frozen Trail to Merica and click on decipherment.]

The Norse felt the hunger caused by over grazing their pasture lands. Many of them left to "the other side" (of Davis Strait--America).

Those who stayed lived mostly on food from the sea. When the Little Ice age closed the options of those remaining, they too walked on the ice to "the other side."

The Norse in Greenland faced two great ecological challenges. In both cases they decided, as a group. and left while they still had options. As a society they were successful, as Algonquin speaking tribes in North America and not as Norse in Greenland.

Where in the world of the 1300s, dominated by Popes, Kings, Khans, and other dictators, were there groups of people who could decide their own reaction to changing ecological conditions? Probably only in Iceland and Greenland, where the democratic “Althing” was the governing body.

The Vikings (Old Norse) succeeded against over whelming odds. They occupied 1/3 of North America when their cousins the English and the French landed on their shores. Diamond wrote in his previous book how germs, guns, and steel could destroy civilizations. He was perceptive in that book, but in Collapse he apparently rushed to print without doing his homework.

One of the rare civilizations in the 1300s with democratic government overcame two major ecological disasters by taking the best option available—moving. That survival of a democratic group under great stress is the story Diamond should have written about. That story offers a glimmer of hope for democratic societies.