Brain Pickings

Author Archive

23 JUNE, 2011

Renata Salecl: How Limitless Choice Limits Social Change

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Why having more options makes us more critical of ourselves and more politically passive.

I love the work of RSA Animate. (Previously: Sir Ken Robinson on changing educational paradigms; Steven Johnson on where good ideas come from; capitalism explained five ways.) Last year, I recommended 5 essential books on the psychology of choice, and the latest RSA animation tackles the same subject through the work of professor Renata Salecl, who explores the paralysis, anxiety and dissatisfaction that come with limitless choice — a curious existential question about freedom and its flipside.

Having grown up in Eastern Europe, I can attest to this. As socioculturally toxic as communism was, before its fall, when we had to queue up for bananas once a year because that’s how rare this “exotic” fruit imported from the West was, people seemed somehow more content, more peaceful, even if that peace was really a trance state. After the initial exhilaration about democracy and capitalism in the early 90s, however, the marketplace exploded and this radical shift from extreme deprivation to extreme abundance made people ultimately more unhappy, unleashing a rapid rise in everything from crime to obesity to corruption — all expressions of the ceaselessly wanting self. Is contentment based on illusion worse than discontentment based on reality? I have no answer.

The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic [and] it actually prevents social change.” ~ Renata Salecl

The problem is actually that today’s ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.” ~ Renata Salecl

Salecl is the author of Choice, a concise yet deeply insightful new read on the complexity of the human capacity to choose, drawing on everything from philosophy to pop culture to psychology to online dating.

via Open Culture

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23 JUNE, 2011

The Open Day Book: Perpetual Calendar by 365 Leading Artists

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How to fill your days with art and your art with days.

This week’s summer solstice offered an invitation to revisit our civilization’s cult of the calendar. Stepping outside its conventions, The Open Daybook by LA-based writer and artist David P. Earle offers an interactive perpetual calendar with artwork by 365 of today’s most exciting visual artists, one for each day of the year. Each dated page allows you to fill in your schedule or jot down a creative response to the artwork, turning it into a weird and wonderful hybrid of datebook, sketchbook and daily art journal. (And we know sketchbooks hold a special place in the Brain Pickings heart.)

Featured in the book are favorite artists like Chuck Jones, Miranda July, Dallas Clayton (), Stefanie Posavec ( ), and Christoph Niemann ( ).

Christoph Niemann

Dallas Clayton

Miranda July

Chuck Jones

Chris Scarborough

Deb Sokolow

Starlee Kine

Mark Alan Stamaty

Stefanie Posavec

Luke Ramsey

The Open Daybook comes from Mark Batty Publisher, who also brought us Shapes for sounds, Notations 21, Cultural Connectives, Drawing Autism and many more gems.

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22 JUNE, 2011

Hume at 300: Timeless Philosophy for Timely Thinking

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Why imagination is at the root of the mind, or how to become a bestselling historian.

To mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of iconic philosopher David Hume, the fine folks at The RSA put together a panel of leading scholars, who reveal how Hume’s philosophy deeply resonates with contemporary culture and modern thinking on everything from creativity to education to politics to the future of publishing.

[Hume] concluded the dynamic power, which drives the workings of what we think of as the mind, is in fact the imagination. The organizing principle of what we like to think of as the mind is, in fact, custom, habit, convention — the sort of experience, the cognitive experience, the moral experience we acquire from everyday life in the society, in which we move.” ~ Nicholas Phillipson

For more on Hume, you won’t go wrong with Phillipson’s David Hume: The Philosopher as Historian.

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22 JUNE, 2011

The Beekepers: Artful Documentary about Colony Collapse Disorder

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What Aristotle’s hobby has to do with the future of agriculture and our best defense against disaster.

I love bees. My grandmother, who essentially raised me, is a beekeeper and instilled in me a deep respect for these gentle and amazing creatures, so it breaks my heart every time I hear of new evidence for colony collapse disorder and the vanishing of the honeybee.

The Beekepers is a fascinating experimental documentary by filmmaker Richard Robinson, exploring the cultural history of beekeeping, from Aristotle to medieval monasteries to Darwin to the U.S. Army, and looking for answers to the CCD crisis through a near-expressionist blend of black-and-white archival footage and voice over narration. Equal parts artful and thoughtful, the film is a genre-bender with an uncommon creative angle, offering an illuminating glimpse of the intricate mechanisms driving a complex and all-permeating ecosystem.

Now that the environment is changing, the beekeeper has taken on another role: that of the environmental monitor. It turns out that bees are better at telling us what’s going on in the environment than just about anything else. They’re better than NASA’s satellites at tracking global warming and they’re the most efficient way we know of testing toxic waste sites. The government has even studied them as a way to alert us to environmental disasters. So when colony collapse disorder started killing bees mysteriously, it wasn’t just the food supply that concerned scinetists — it was the environment itself.”

For more on colony collapse disorder and what it means for the future of our civilization, I highly recommend Rowan Jacobsen’s Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.

via @Jake_Barton; image via Wikimedia Commons

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