Mary Catherine Bateson is a cultural anthropologist now 71, the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson.
Her famed 1989 book “Composing a Life” showed how women were learning to treat their necessarily fragmented careers as a coherent improvisational art form. Her new book is titled “Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom“.
We’re not just living longer, we’re thriving longer, Bateson says, but so far we seem to be thinking shorter. Aging societies the world over can benefit from increased longevity because human lives have added a new stage, what Bateson calls “Adulthood II: the age of active wisdom”. People of grandparent age, finding themselves with more energy and health than obsolete stereotypes had led them to expect, are seeing their lives whole and the world whole and taking on radically new activities in light of that perspective. These older adults have the potential to bring a longer perspective to decision-making that affects the future.
Mary Catherine Bateson is a writer and cultural anthropologist who divides her time between New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She has written and co-authored many books and articles, and lectures across the US and abroad and has taught at Harvard, Northeastern University, Amherst College, Spelman College and abroad in the Philippines and in Iran. In 2004, she retired from her position as Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University, and is now Professor Emerita. Her books in print include “Composing a Life”, “Our Own Metaphor” and “Peripheral Visions”, as well as a memoir, “With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson”.
Stewart Brand is an American writer, best known as editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue. He founded a number of organizations including The WELL, the Global Business Network, and the Long Now Foundation. He is the author of several books, most recently “Whole Earth Discipline: An Eco-Pragmatist Manifesto”.
Length: 88 minutes 31 seconds
It’s bad, yet interesting.
The experiment itself keeps being reviewed and reinterpreted as Milgram’s obedience studies – not about obedience after all?” target=”_blank”>a recent article shows.
For yet more information on the experiment also check out some of the related AHP links.
Watch it below via a 13-part YouTube playlist:
Update 20110824: 50th Anniversary of Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiments
A 6-part documentary series from the UK’s Channel Four in which Niall Ferguson asks why it was that Western civilization, from inauspicious roots in the 15th century, came to dominate the rest of the world; and if the West is about to be overtaken by the rest. It accompanies his book Civilization: The West and the Rest.
Ferguson reveals the killer apps of the West’s success – competition, science, the property owning democracy, modern medicine, the consumer society and the Protestant work ethic – the real explanation of how, for five centuries, a clear minority of mankind managed to secure the lion’s share of the earth’s resources.
Competition: The first programme in the series begins in 1420 when Ming China had a credible claim to be the most advanced civilization in the world: ‘All Under Heaven’. England on the eve of the Wars of the Roses would have seemed quite primitive by contrast.
Science: In 1683 the Ottoman army laid siege to Vienna, the capital of Europe’s most powerful empire. Domination of West by East was an alarmingly plausible scenario. But Islam was defeated: not so much by firepower as by science.
Property: Professor Ferguson asks why North America succeeded while South America for so many centuries lagged behind. The two had much in common (not least the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the use of slavery by European immigrants), but they differed profoundly on individual property rights, the rule of law and representative government.
Medicine: The French Empire consciously set out to civilize West Africa by improving public health as well as building a modern infrastructure. Yet in other European empires – notably Germany’s in southwest Africa – colonial rule led to genocide. What was the link from medical science to racial pseudo-science?
Consumerism: Today the world is becoming more homogenous and, with increasingly few exceptions, big-name brands dominate main streets, high streets and shopping malls all over the globe.
Work: The sixth element that enabled the West to dominate the rest was the work ethic. Max Weber famously linked it to Protestantism, but the reality is that any culture, regardless of religion, is capable of embracing the spirit of capitalism by working hard, saving, and accumulating capital.
You can also watch his lecture Empires on the Edge of Chaos on fora.tv (from ABC’s Big Ideas) or The Ascent of money: An evolutionary approach to financial history from Gresham College.
Another thematically related lecture: Ian Morris: Why the West Rules – For Now
Update: Does Islam Stand Against Science? (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Consider Facebook — it’s human contact, only easier to engage with and easier to avoid. Developing technology promises closeness. Sometimes it delivers, but much of our modern life leaves us less connected with people and more connected to simulations of them.
In “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other“, MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle explores the power of our new tools and toys to dramatically alter our social lives. It’s a nuanced exploration of what we are looking for—and sacrificing—in a world of electronic companions and social networking tools, and an argument that, despite the hand-waving of today’s self-described prophets of the future, it will be the next generation who will chart the path between isolation and connectivity.
Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT. She is frequently interviewed in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, on NBC News, and more. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Update 20110707: A similar talk for the RSA:
If you’d like more, MIT World has a two hour video of a conversation with Turkle in which she describes her evolving appraisal of the impact of digital technology:
A worthwhile episode of PBS Frontline from 2004 (video at the end):
In “The Persuaders,” Frontline explores how the cultures of marketing and advertising have come to influence not only what Americans buy, but also how they view themselves and the world around them. The 90-minute documentary draws on a range of experts and observers of the advertising/marketing world, to examine how, in the words of one on-camera commentator, “the principal of democracy yields to the practice of demography,” as highly customized messages are delivered to a smaller segment of the market.
Each year, legions of ad people, copywriters, market researchers, pollsters, consultants, and even linguists—most of whom work for one of six giant companies—spend billions of dollars and millions of man-hours trying to determine how to persuade consumers what to buy, whom to trust, and what to think. Increasingly, these techniques are migrating to the high-stakes arena of politics, shaping policy and influencing how Americans choose their leaders.
Take the 2004 presidential sweepstakes for example. Both the Republicans and the Democrats were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to custom craft their messages. “What politicians do is tailor their message to each demographic group,” says Peter Swire, professor of law at Ohio State University and an expert on Internet policy. “That means Americans will live in different virtual universes. What’s wrong with living in different universes? You never confront the other side. You don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable facts that go against your worldview… It hardens the partisanship that’s been such a feature of recent American politics.” The program analyzes the 2004 campaign where, for the first time, the latest techniques in narrowcasting were put into effect. The antithesis of traditional broadcasting, narrowcasting involves crafting and delivering tailored messages to individual voters based on their demographic profiles.
Political marketers are just now discovering new ways to use the techniques that have long been employed by the private sector. Frontline visits Acxiom, the largest data mining company in the world, where vast farms of computers hold detailed information about nearly every adult in America. Data mining, a practice that predicts likely behavior based on factors such as age, income, and shopping habits, has been the gold standard of commercial advertisers. Acxiom promises its clients a better way to target their messages to individual consumers.
“There is an age-old anxiety among advertisers that they are wasting their money, that they cannot know whom they are reaching and with what impact,” says Douglas Rushkoff, who collaborated with Dretzin and Goodman on Frontline’s “The Merchants of Cool,” which examined the process by which corporate conglomerates have co-opted teen culture in order to capture the multibillion-dollar adolescent market. But Rushkoff predicts, “Anxiety is giving way to a confidence that they will soon have access to the core emotional needs of nearly every American shopper and voter.”
There is, however, a paradox. While the techniques of the persuaders have become more sophisticated, consumers have never been more resistant to marketing messages. Yet today, advertisements fill up nearly every available inch of the landscape.
“You cannot walk down the street without being bombarded,” advertising writer Bob Garfield says. “You go to fill your gas tank and you look at the pump and you’re seeing news headlines in advertising. You go into the bathroom and you look in the urinal and you’re staring at an ad. You look up at the sky and there’s skywriting.” This clutter creates a dilemma for advertisers, Garfield observes. “The advertisers know they need to have more and more advertising to get an ever narrower slice of your attention,” he says. “And that means we are going to be ever more inundated. And then of course ever more resistant, requiring ever more advertising, making us ever more resistant and so on.”
But clever marketers have found ways of overcoming the clutter conundrum. As television viewers have found ways of avoiding ads by using personal video recorders like Tivo, advertisers have responded by becoming a part of the program through sophisticated product placement. The documentary follows this new trend in advertising known as “branded entertainment.” Rather than marketing products around a TV show or other entertainment vehicle, industry insiders predict the future will bring a seamless blend of marketing and entertainment. Producers are already moving in that direction.
Some industry leaders claim that such tactics have evolved in response to consumer preference. But others worry that as advertising becomes more deeply integrated into television, movies, and music, those cultural forms will become ever more homogenous. “The worry is not so much that the actual ads themselves will become ubiquitous,” says media critic Mark Crispin Miller. “Rather, it’s that advertising desires for itself a background that will not contradict it… The aim here is not so much to find a show that people like and then get your ads on it. The aim here is for the advertisers to create a show that is itself an extended ad.”
As consumers grow more cynical toward marketing claims, the persuasion industries are developing and refining techniques to reinforce an emotional attachment between Americans and the brands they buy. “What consumers want now is an emotional connection—they want to be able to connect with what’s behind the brand, what’s behind the promise,” says Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising. “The brands that can move to that emotional level, that can create loyalty beyond reason, are going to be the brands where premium profits lie.”
Douglas Atkin, a partner at advertising agency Merkley + Partners, goes even further, comparing the brand loyalty that companies are trying to create to the passionate zeal once enjoyed only by cultists and religious fanatics. “I’ve interviewed people who are brand loyalists of Saturn Car Company,” Atkin says, “and they will use the same vocabulary as someone who is a cult member of Hare Krishna. They will say that other car users need to be `saved,’ or that they are part of the `Saturn family’ with no hint of irony. [They] absolutely and completely believe it.”
Although some brands have been more successful than others in making the magic connection to consumers, the techniques the marketers are developing are startling and include the hiring of anthropologists, ethnographers, linguists, and brain researchers to plumb our unconscious desires and urges so as to better influence our decision making.
But there is reason to wonder if these emotional connections are real. Says author Naomi Klein, “When you listen to brand managers talk, you can get quite carried away in this idea that they actually are fulfilling these needs that we have for community and narrative and transcendence. But in the end it is…a laptop and a pair of running shoes. And they might be great, but they’re not actually going to fulfill those needs.”
Correspondent Rushkoff observes: “We Americans value our freedom of choice—choice in the marketplace of goods, and choice in what has become a marketplace of ideas. When the same persuasion industry is engaged to influence these very different kinds of decision-making, it’s easy for our roles as consumers and our roles as citizens to get blurred. By revealing some of the most effective practices of the persuasion business, we may better understand our choices and perhaps make wiser ones.”
The video below streams from archive.org. Another way to watch is via the PBS link at the start.
Update: Superbrands’ success fuelled by sex, religion and gossip (BBC News)
RSA: Fusing sociology, psychoanalysis and philosophy, Professor Renata Salecl explores the paralysing anxiety and dissatisfaction surrounding limitless choice, and shows that individual choice is rarely based on a simple rational decision with a predictable outcome. Does the freedom to be the architects of our own lives actually hinder rather than help us? Does our preoccupation with choosing and consuming actually obstruct social change?
As an animation (the full talk below the fold):
This series of films investigates how people have been colonised by the machines they have built.
Although they may not realise it, the way many people see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers. Not just politics and the economy — but also in the way bodies, minds, and even the whole of the natural world are perceived.
The underlying argument is that people have given up a dynamic political model of the world — the dream of changing things for the better — for a static machine ideology that says everyone is a component in a system, and that the aim is to manage these systems and keep them stable.
From the utopian visions of the worldwide web to the idea of an interconnected global economic system, to the dream of balanced ecosystems, all these ideas share an underlying machine vision of organisation and order.
The films tell an extraordinary range of stories: from novelist Ayn Rand and her tragic love affairs to the dreams and the frightening reality of the hippie communes; from the brutal politics of the Belgian Congo to the doomsday computer model behind the rise of modern environmentalism; from the lonely suicide in a London squat of the mathematical genius who invented the selfish gene theory to Alan Greenspan and his faith in a new kind of global economic system. And there’s also the computer model of the eating habits of the Pronghorn antelope.
The series argues that by embracing this new machine ideology something very precious has been given up: the idea of progress and political struggle to change the world for the better.
Some of the people included in this story: Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden, Larry Ellison, John McCaskey, Kevin O’Connor, Loren Carpenter, Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Alvin Toffler, Keniche Ohmae, Peter Schwartz, Bill Clinton, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan, Joan Mitchell, Stephen Roach, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Rubin, Carmen Hermosillo, Monica Lewinsky, Suharto, Mahatir Mohamad, Arthur Tansley, Sigmund Freud, Peder Anker, Jay Wright Forrester, Norbert Wiener, Fred Turner, Howard Odum, Eugene Odum, Peter J Taylor, Daniel Botkin, Buckminster Fuller, Randall Gibson, Molly Hollenbach, Richard Brautigan, Alexander King, Jan Smuts, Tord Björk, Steward Pickett, George Van Dyne, Al Gore, (W.D.) Bill Hamilton, Patrice Lumumba, Mobutu Sese Seko, Michael Ruse, George R. Price, Kathleen Price, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, James Schwartz, Diane Fossey, Richard Dawkins.
The episodes are titled: Love and Power, The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts, and The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. The three parts, each lasting ~55 minutes, in a YouTube playlist:
Curtis in the The Guardian: How the ‘ecosystem’ myth has been used for sinister means
When, in the 1920s, a botanist and a field marshal dreamed up rival theories of nature and society, no one could have guessed their ideas would influence the worldview of 70s hippies and 21st-century protest movements. But their faith in self-regulating systems has a sinister history
Also check out Curtis’ blog over at the BBC. The post of the trailer to this series has a bunch of interesting comments, including some that gather most of the music used. It includes the following tracks:
Angelo Badalamenti – Best Friends
Burial – Forgive
Pino Donaggio – Carrie Theme
Clint Mansell – I Am Sam Bell / Welcome To Lunar Industries (Moon OST)
Nine Inch Nails – Right Where It Belongs
Nine Inch Nails – Corona Radiata
Roy Orbison – In Dreams
Pizzicato Five – Baby Love Child
Jean Sablon – Le Fiacre
Stereo Total – Aua
The Kills – Monkey 23
Update20110715: Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops (Wired)
Psywar (from Psychological Warfare) is an interesting documentary about propaganda by Scott Noble (via Metanoia). It touches on historical elements with regards to PR, Edward Bernays, media, war, politics and democracy, as similarly presented in Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self or Manufacturing Consent with Noam Chomsky.
Speakers that are featured include Chomsky, Howard Zinn (historian), Sharon Smith (historian), John Stauber (PR Watch), Peter Phillips (Project Censored), Richard Conniff (A Natural History of the Rich), Graeme MacQueen (Center for Peace Studies), Christopher Simpson (The Science of Coercion), Morris Berman (Dark Ages America), Michael Parenti (historian), William I. Robinson (Critical Globalization Studies), John Manley (historian), Peter Linebaugh (historian), Stephen M. Sachs (Remembering the Circle), and Sut Jhally (Media Education Foundation).
Vimeo has a trailer video to offer an impression.
For a more recent use of propaganda see an article by Rolling Stone: Another Runaway General: Army Deploys Psy-Ops on U.S. Senators.