Scenes from New York during the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Steven Pinker takes on a big challenge as he attempts to explain the history of violence in his 800+ page best-selling book Better Angels of Our Nature. To do this Pinker breaks down human history into five parts:
- The Pacification Process – going from hunter gatherers into settled civilizations
- the Civilizing Process — consolidation of small kingdoms into large kingdoms with centralized authority and commerce
- The Humanitarian Revolution—emergence of Enlightenment philosophy that puts substantial value on human’s capacity to be logical, creative, and non-violent
- The Long & New Peace—a time supported by political hegemony and the trend of wars becoming more infrequent and less violent
- The Rights Revolution—the incremental distribution of rights to once-suppressed groups (women, animals, gay rights, etc.)
- Pinker attributes the trend of decreasing violence throughout history to the genetic evolution of the humans , an increase in global commerce, the feminization of cultural norms, growth in information and communication networks, and reliance on science and reason (as opposed to religious doctrine).
- In order to prove that things have gotten better he has to prove that things were much worse. Notably he emphasizes the savage nature of tribes and, as Stephen Corry notes, Pinker “promotes a fictitious, colonialist image of a backward ‘Brutal Savage’, which pushes the debate on tribal peoples’ rights back over a century”.
- In order to slickly prove his point, that violence has definitely decreased over time, Pinker also asks the reader to accept the following truths:
- That capitalism has been an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the world, since “violence has declined since its advent”…minus a few inconvenient statistical peaks of violent wars and genocides.
- That we should ignore the violent the dealings of Colonialism. As the New Yorker says, this is a serious omission because “of the scale of the slaughter and because of the way it troubles the distinction between savage and civilized.” (New Yorker)
- That we should ignore small modern wars because they are essentially statistical flukes, these wars include: “The Korean war, the Chinese invasion of Tibet, British counter-insurgency warfare in Malaya and Kenya, the abortive Franco-British invasion of Suez, the Angolan civil war, decades of civil war in the Congo and Guatemala, the Six Day War, the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Iran-Iraq war and the Soviet-Afghan war” (New Yorker)
- Here is my favorite –> That using a graph he provides, we are asked to draw conclusions of the “rate of battle deaths in state-based armed conflicts between 1900 and 2005” (Figure 6-1) while being instructed to ignore the figures for the first and second world wars. The New Yorker says it best here: “Though he hesitates to label the Second World War an out-and-out fluke, he is reduced to claiming that, as far as his thesis is concerned, it doesn’t really count. Accidents happen, and the Nazis’ rise to power was one of them”(New Yorker)
- Ultimately , though Pinker is “most likely correct that prehistoric life was more violent than life in agrarian civilizations and modern states…the way he pitches the evidence raises suspicions from the very beginning…The sources Pinker cites for the numbers of dead are themselves just aggregates of other estimates, the vast majority of which, if one follows the thread of sources to the end, turn out to be more or less informed guesses.” (Foreign Affairs)
I found the conclusions the author made to be poorly argued and statistically undisciplined. As a renowned academic it is no surprise Pinker can throw around academic jargon, but this does not make up for his habit of misinterpreting the scope of his data to convince himself and others of what seemed to be his pre-existing beliefs.
Varying from large and imposing to small and fragile, we are surrounded by many types of trees on virtually every street in New York City. Though often ignored these plants play a critical role in enchanting us and making the city charming,or sometimes making it just livable.
To better appreciate these trees I figured it might be worth researching the most common trees found in NYC according to the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation – and here is what they know from the latest tree census:
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Landmark: Elizabeth Street Gallery
Date opened: 1991
History: The 20,000-square-foot Elizabeth Street Garden sits on a portion of the site of a former school. When the school was demolished in the late 1970s the lot lay vacant and undeveloped until 1991 when the Elizabeth Street Gallery leased the site and installed an antique sculpture garden. The Gallery houses a collection of extraordinary pieces including second-century Greek and Roman carved-stone vessels.
Fun note: This garden is one of the last remaining green spaces that exist in lower manhattan. Since the start of 2013 the garden has become increasingly used as a space to host community events, display mural art, and launch city-wide festivals (like The New York Festival of Light tonight!). It is a gorgeous parcel of land we hope stays undeveloped. To visit, check out the garden hours at http://elizabethstreetgarden.org/
Nolita derives its name as the abbreviation of ‘North of Little Italy’. This name follows the portmanteau pattern started by SoHo (South of Houston Street), and TriBeCa (Triangle Below Canal Street).
The neighborhood was long regarded as part of Little Italy, but has lost much of its recognizable Italian character in recent decades because of the migration of Italian-Americans out of Manhattan
Today, the Feast of San Gennaro, dedicated to Saint Januarius (“pope of Naples”), is still held in the neighborhood every year following Labor Day, on Mulberry Street between Houston and Grand Streets. The feast, as recreated on Elizabeth Street between Prince and Houston, was featured in the film The Godfather Part III.
The Basilica at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral. Opened in 1815 and rebuilt in 1868 after a fire. The cornerstone was laid on June 8, 1809. This building served as New York City’s Roman Catholic cathedral until the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral was opened on Fifth Avenue in Midtown in 1879.
The Puck Building. An ornate structure built in 1885 on the corner of Houston and Lafayette Streets, which originally housed the headquarters of the now-defunct Puck Magazine (Puck was America’s first successful humor magazine of colorful cartoons, caricatures and political satire of the issues of the day. Puck was the first magazine to carry illustrated advertising and the first to successfully adopt full-color lithography printing for a weekly publication).
Elizabeth Street Gallery/Garden. Located in a renovated 1850s firehouse with an adjacent sculpture garden of nearly one acre. The Gallery houses a collection of extraordinary pieces including second-century Greek and Roman carved-stone vessels.
Lombardi’s. Gennaro Lombardi started the business in 1897 as a grocery store and began selling tomato pies wrapped in paper and tied with a string at lunchtime to workers area’s factories. In 1905 Lombardi received a business license to operate a pizzeria restaurant, and so it became the first pizzeria in the United States.
Urban Compass Nolita Pics:
David Hume argues that there is a difference between what we believe to be “reason” versus what we think is “moral”. Ultimately he proposes that “reason” is based on science–a matter that is factual and not swayed by bias or feeling (2+2=4). Alternatively, what we consider to be “moral” is based on the feelings evoked in response to a subject or occasion (murder feels bad, so it must be bad).
1. Morals cannot be derived from reason. Reason has no consequence, it stands only as fact. Morality has a consequence, it produces actions that reflect moral values.
“Since morals, therefore, have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be deriv’d from reason…Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason. . . .”
2. In examining why morality is derived from feelings, not reason, we find that morals occur when we are faced with a situation that makes us feel good or bad–and these sentiments guide our perception of whether such action is moral or immoral. Here we find that murder is bad because it feels wrong.
“Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice . In whichever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind”
3. “This is” versus “this ought to be”. Hume recommends that readers take note of how authors propose arguments about “what is” and “what ought to be”. “What is” denotes facts, science, and reason. “What ought to be” denotes opinion and morality. There is a bridge that separates these two which requires explanation to bridge the two.
” In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remark’d, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surpriz’d to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not , I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought , or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this ought , or ought not , expresses some new relation or affirmation…”
4. What is good? What is bad? We know the answer to this given by understanding whether an action makes us feel good or bad. If murder makes us feel bad, then it is bad. Feeling is what bridges reason with morality.
“…we are brought back to our first position, that virtue is distinguished by the pleasure, and vice by the pain… any action or sentiment upon the general view or survey gives a certain satisfaction or uneasiness in order to shew the origin of its moral rectitude or depravity, without looking for any incomprehensible relations and qualities, which never did exist in nature, nor even in our imagination, by any clear and distinct conception.”
This post was inspired by the Edx Course “Ideas of the 20th Century”
Claudia Chan created S.H.E. Summit Week, as an opportunity to highlight women during a “women’s week” full of events organized by female-led brands and designed to inspire women personally and professionally. At Claudia’s #SHEsummit the company overture filmed women speaking about what empowers them–and here is mine to share!
Find out more about the summit here: shesummit.claudiachan.com
“…we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point – and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic”
“…As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency..”
“…Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion-and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.”
1. Luck exists: sometimes you’re at the right place at the right time and everything works out perfectly. (this doesn’t always happen)
2. College is as informative and useful as you make it, and a GPA is not necessarily a reflection of that.
3. It’s critically important to accept failure and to stay humble.
4. Networking is a *highly* valuable skill, not a bad word. Approach networking as an opportunity to leverage your curiosity to meet cool people you wouldn’t meet otherwise.
5. Using time effectively matters so much. It is the one resource that is constantly depleting.
6. Just be nice. Being respectful and kind to everyone makes you a better person and the world a nicer place.
7. Getting involved in extracurriculars that are not work or school related will likely make you happier and more fulfilled.
8. Forming healthy habits early on matters The sooner you establish them the faster you can reap the benefits of being well.
9. Social media is here to stay, using it to your advantage (to stay informed and add to meaningful conversations) can add positive value to your days if used properly.
10. Thinking about how much work you have is worse than actually doing the work. Sitting down, putting headphones on, and getting it done feels a million times better than ignoring it.
11. It’s true that you are (and become) what you think–fill your mind with great thoughts.
12. Understanding art history (the evolution of humans’ representations of themselves and the world as they see it), astronomy (the astounding laws and forces the shape the universe), and computers (what’s the ROM again?) is a great way to appreciate your surroundings and the intricacies of the tools you interact with every day.
13. It’s never a bad time to step back and put stuff in perspective.
14. Traveling (even as a student) is not as expensive or difficult to plan as people make it out to be. If you really want to travel you can do it.
15. Make no excuses for your behavior. Always make the right choice.
16. Being around great people makes all the difference. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
17. Be grateful for the love you receive.
18. It’s better to focus on the things you have control over rather than dwelling on matters that are out of your hands.
19. Being practical and down to earth goes a long way.
20. Upon meeting someone who challenges your core values, hold on to your beliefs.
21. “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”. Don’t wait until you reach the finish line to realize that you were competing against yourself the whole time.
Bite Sized Summary: Story of man’s desire for perennial youth at the cost of his soul. The novel is an exposé of humanity’s odious tendencies when unchecked by nature.
Thoughts: Overrated, but worth a quick read. I was interested by the parallel between Dorian’s character in the book as a reflection of Oscar Wilde’s reflections on his own life. This quote from Oscar Wilde, I thought, embodied Dorian’s character pretty tightly–while also touching on the characters of Basil and Henry.
I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a flaneur, a dandy; a man of fashion. . . . Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others, I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has someday to cry aloud on the house-tops. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. -Oscar Wilde
Questions: Does the ending of the book mean that Wilde was not a fan of aestheticism? Could it mean that he disapproves of the way he led his own life? I read the revised (popular version) of the book, does it differ much from the first print Wilde intended to be published?