Author: Matthew Hoffman

Darwin’s Adaptation

It is funny how some things just catch fire in terms of the way in which they are perceived. At the turn of the 19th century, Charles Darwin was born and though he was not the first to conceive of the ideas surrounding evolution, it certainly stuck with him as his legacy. However, the basics of the theories of evolution, that the strong survive and those best suited to survival will out-live the weak. According to social Darwinism, those with strength flourish and those without are destined for extinction. It is important to note that Darwin did not extend his theories to a social or economic level, nor are any credible evolutionists subscribing to the theories of Social Darwinism. However, according to evolutionary theory, nature is a “kill or be killed” system. Those that cannot keep up are either left behind or cut off. If evolution, through chance, is solely responsible for life as we now know it, why should that process be countered? If “survival of the fittest” or “kill or be killed” cannot apply in what we define as “decent society,” then, which is wrong, society or evolution? If neither, then how do we explain morality, charity, and compassion? These are questions we have to ask ourselves when we look to government, who represent our interests. I feel as though on some level, individuals who believe in smaller governments believe in the idea of social Darwinism. Their thought process might be along the lines of we should not bail out businesses that fail, the good ones will succeed and the bad ones will not and that should be the natural course of capitalism. However, they still could believe that there should be government services to provide safety services and emergency services for people. There then would be the next level, where individuals believe that they people should be able to fend for themselves, meaning that they do not need police officers to protect the public, nor firemen or emergency response teams to provide support in the event of a crisis. To them, individuals who cannot accomplish this will be selected out.
David Allen once said “All men are created equal, it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.” In thinking about how we perceive each other, we have to think of how the objectively different we are. The answer is not much. Though everyone comes from different backgrounds, it is our experiences and education that sets us apart, which does not really apply to the theory of evolution. The first thousand days, as some developmental economists suspect, are the most important in determining outcomes for childhood through adulthood. If some of us were innately better than others, then this empirically proven theory would not hold true, because it would be determined prior to birth. While it is true that some people are born with certain physical attributes, and possibly greater intellectual capabilities than others, it is proven that under the right circumstances that even those born with disabilities can outperform those who have better genetics. In thinking about this, in nature, this would not be the truth, which is why it is hard to think of why social darwinism as an applicable theory.

Revolution of Revolutions

I think that Professor Jeremy Tompkins lecture was really interesting in that it added to the discussions of other lectures that we have had in the class cycle already. In thinking about the way in which knowledge is reproduced, it is often done from the perspective or lens of the dominant party, often of an oppressing party. We read in our textbooks often of great American victories and humanitarian efforts but very little or very infrequently do we hear of the ways in which we have screwed up as country, we are taught that we have succeeded in our role as a global citizen. I am not criticizing the Unite States so much as I am criticizing the way in which we are taught to think about the terms of international politics and of the central idea of globalization and colonialism. At the core of globalization is the economic them of capitalism, of which there are usually definitive winners and losers. I bring this up to exemplify just how powerful of a mechanism the global economy is not just in its ability to be far reaching and immense, but in its power to alter the production of knowledge.
The talk focused not so much on the Haitian revolution, but on the idea that we were studying the independence of a people that previously we were not taught about. Even if we were, we were taught about the revolution from the perspective of the French, not from the perspective of conquered people who were a previous colony. In putting the perspective of the Haitians on the same plane of power as other nations, we have indeed revolutionized the idea of what history is supposed to be, from the perspective of the few to the perspectives of the many. In thinking about this idea, it is a movement that some are very uncomfortable with. The idea that those who have previously been silenced and exposed to censure would finally have a platform which allowed them a voice on history is something that we currently grapple with and will continue to struggle with so long as there are knowledgeable alternative perspectives that have yet to be heard.
One of the things that I think about when I hear about the revolution of the Haitian Revolution being taught is ideas around race in the United States. Children who grow up being taught that a group is worse than another group based on a history have no choice but to think about their experiences in that lens. Take something like the confederate flag. Children who grow up thinking about what it represents in the South might be taught that it is a proud memorial for those who lost their lives defending their homes and way of life, ignorant of the fact that their way of life oppressed and enslaved an entire group of people. For this reason it is important that those children learn the perspectives of those who are endangered and have been attacked by the representations of their histories.

Data and Decision Making

Despite my apprehension about going to any talk surrounding the topic of the discussion of what I percieve to be numbers in raw form, I really enjoyed the conversation of the idea of data. Professor Aaron Henlon made some truly interesting points in his discussion about fact and truth, about the origins of the word data as the word of God, and of the evolution of the use of data. In thinking about how I use data, and how I will use data, it will not be as fact or as truth, but as the building blocks of cases for a point in thesis, investment ideas, and marketing pitches. Data is not fact, rather it is the first point in thinking about how to forumulate ideas and opinions. Data is something that can be manipulated, in that it is something that can be interpreted. Just as important as the numbers that are included are the numbers or series of numbers that are not included. In thinking about data as fact, the point is missed that facts are proven while numbers are not.
I really liked the historical discussion surrouding data, and the trends surrounding the ideas of fact and truth. I think that data does come in all sizes, and can be both quantititative and more troublingly qualitative. I think that it qualitative data is the epitomy of the arugement that data is interpretive, even in number form. Qualitative data is something that is no objective.
Somethings that I really have thought about have been the methods of gathering data, and how revolutionary the idea of data mining and gathering have been over the last five to ten years. Recently, Google’s or Alphabets PokemonGO has become a sensation that captured the imaginations of many who have been kids between 1980 through the present. The data that they are able to collect is truly unbelievable. Using your smartphones camera as a guide, they are not only able to advertise through the application, as one might expect, but they are able to collect data on where you are walking, how far you walk, what stores you go into, what food you eat, the clothing you look at, what you are wearing at any given time, whether or not you exercise and how often, and even access your emails all due to an argeement you sign when you open up the application. In thinking about how this can be extracted, we can see how all sorts of data from this alone does not tell any given individual any singular truth. However in aggregate, the collection of these numbers actually tell us alot about behaviors, which again is something that is to be interpreted. I really liked the way Professor Hanlon ended the lecture with his four points about data. I think that BIG DATA truly has been revolutionary in the way he pointed out, how we deal with the globalization of the world and the sheer mass of number and points that are thrown at us help emphasize a point that I made in an earlier post: we are revolutionary in finding new ways to deal with new problems and issues.

Never Revolution?

In thinking about how we perceive revolution, it is important to note that there are many definitions of revolution that we have discussed. There are social revolutions, those of government, as well as the literal revolutions of the earth and systems. Of course in the context of the course, we are discussinh the former two kinds of revolutions, and though I understand the point of Professor Keith Petersons lecture and his thesis I tend to disagree. I feel as though standard measurements of growth and productivity are increasingly becoming obsolute in the light of the kind of innovation, discovery, and truly revolutionary ideas that mankind originates each day. In thinking about the potential for growth moving forward, we can think about how much of the world has been explored already. Much of the world is covered in ocean. The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms. Throughout history, the ocean has been a vital source of sustenance, transport, commerce, growth, and inspiration. Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes. It is simply this fact that proves how much room there is for innovation and potential for new sources of ideas and revolution still in today’s society.
In thinking about whether or not we have ever been modern, again let us point to the scale of innovation. Where as previous innovation such as electricity, improvements in communication and forms of travel such as the aeroplane and personal vehicles were seen as being revolutionary or modern in that they completely changed life styles, have we now reached a point where lives are no longer changed by new inventions? I would disagree. I think that as technology has become more mobile, more nimble personal and powerful, we have moved right to the edge of another revolution. We are starting to see technology being able to respond to human needs faster and faster, to become closer to a companion than ever before. We are starting to create virtual reality, seperate worlds in which people can actually live without having to interact with other real human beings, as well as cars that can self drive. Can you imagine what the world will look like when no longer have to transport themselves in vehicles to work, when the world can be free of the use of the fossill fuels in terms of powering their inventions? I think that in summary, we are revolutionizing the way in which we deal with the creation of new problems as well as being revolutionary in terms of dealign with issues of old. In thinking about diseases which are developing new immunities to antibitiotics, we must think of ways to deal with issues surrounding waste. In thinking about ways to stop global warming, we have to revolutionize the way in which we think about regulation, on both sides of the political isle. It is important that we continue to innovate, to continue to revolutionize.

Monumental Mistakes

During my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa I was constantly hearing about the protests centered around “Rhodes Must Fall.” At the University of Cape Town’s central campus, there was a statue of the former prime minister, Cecil Rhodes, who is a historical figure to South Africa for both terrible reasons in most eyes and good in the reasons to the minority. Frequently the statue was defaced, spray painted, and used as a centerpiece in student led protests surrounding ideas of institutionalized racism and theft due to the terrible system of apartheid. Protests would become violent, so violent that there were times where it was unsafe to go to campus and classes would be cancelled. One of the later lectures focused on the rationale behind revolution, why some people would be willing to risk their lives and their futures and educations for the sake of a protest centered on change.

In thinking about Rhodes, a not as well known figure to most the West as much of South African history is not well taught in the textbooks that I read growing up, it might be easier to give an example for comparisons sake. It would be like if today, if Germany was somehow majority Jewish, and at a university if young people everyday had to walk by a statue of Hitler heiling. That is basically what the statue of Rhodes, who was an extremely outspoken white supremacist, represents for the many students of the University of Cape Town and what they have to walk by every single day on their way to classes. it is the university and governments way of reminding there students of the history of the country, which is not something that they should have to experience especially given the brutal nature of apartheid. While one of the arguments I repeatedly heard was that there is truly non biased historical value in the statue given its age and that in destroying the monument you are destroying history and culture, I feel as though similarly to the confederate flag, there are histories which are so painful in their nature and in what they represent that they should not be openly celebrated.

Some monuments of course can be used to immortalize sacrifice, to represent the effort and lives that were spent in providing freedoms and liberties to people. They can be used to give respects for the tragic accidents of individuals, from highway gravestones to something like the 9/11 memorial, which is now going to be surrounded by freedom tower as a reminder of one of the greatest tragedies in American and world history. In most cases however, monuments are representative of the social values of the time, which in our society that in my opinion should value progress, can be very tricky. At what point does the interpretation of the monument become subjective rather than objective, and who are we silencing or oppressing by representing a certain history? That to me is one of if not the most important question in thinking about what it means to memorialize a moment in history or person.

Progression or Regression?

More and more during the political cycle, erroneous typological statements were made by both candidates. Donald Trump has many examples of this line of thinking, which he has been highly criticized for. His questionable categorization of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, ideas around Muslims entering the country, and ideas surrounding trade with other countries in the respect to equality of trade agreements all could be categorized as typological. Possibly of the greatest concern, was the assessment that a judge, an American with Mexican heritage, would be unable to competently do his job in regards to Trump legal matters because of his background. When the assumption that someone is incapable, or capable of something because of their blood or ethnicity, it fringes upon creating structural ideas about what everyone is capable of without actually knowing any of their capabilities are, which is close to what Hitler did in Germany. Not only is this dangerous, but from an economic point of view, totally inefficient.

It would not be fair just to criticize one candidate. Hillary Clinton herself made one of the most egregious insults to the American people when she called a basket of Donald Trump supporters deplorable, which I personally think might have cost her the election, though that may be me and the media underestimating the draw of the Trump campaign. The idea that because someone is uneducated that there is something wrong with them, or that they can not think for themselves is something that is constantly perpetuated by the liberal media, politicians, and supporters. More and more the Democratic party has become the party of the educated elite, and not the party of those who would stand for and benefit from social programs and progressive change. The idea that if you have certain beliefs that you are racist or apathetic or stupid is something that we have to confront as a political party and as a nation if we are to make genuine progress.

I agree with our Professor Judy Stone in that too often ideas around science and evolution become the basis from which stupid and erroneous judgements can be drawn. In thinking about how this happens, it seems that too often science fits in with political agendas, rather than the findings of experiments being used for what they are actually meant for. It is difficult for me and for others however to separate ideas of genetics from how we can be improved, and whether or not there is an ideal type. I recognize that everyone has a unique genetic makeup, but that given the chance to change something about myself, to alter a personal insecurity, I probably would. This plays into the idea that there is a singular idea of what is supposed to be attractive, that there is a genetic makeup that is superior to others, which is exactly the idea that supporters of eugenics would argue. There is something both inherently wrong and very dangerous about that idea, however it is an idea that has been allowed to persist for far too long.

Our Generation

This semester has taught us to question much about our current ideas of the world, including what it means for an idea or event to be revolutionary. We have talked about some of these ideas in the abstract, on technicalities as much as actual ideas surrounding change and progress. Revolution does not necessarily means progress, but often in the case of much of the subject material, but increasingly in the context of todays issues, I feel as though it does. Following the outcome of this cycle, I feel as though there will be change, the kind of which is finely on the brink of revolution, either a proactive one or reactive one depending on the point of view of the individual, or the establishment. I recently read that close to 80% of the American public thinks that our current president elect will bring about significant change, though they are quite evenly split as to what kind of change that this will be.
This lecture was particularly relevant in the context of todays events, because though historically there is nothing new about a president elect on the precipice of change, we live in an era where everything new, every single piece of information is instantly accessible to everyone. Because of this, we can begin to question our individual roles in participating in what could become a revolution in inspiring progress and change.

I liked how the lecture was broken down into three parts, and there is particular relevance in the first two in the current context. Individual agency is something that we constantly question, how much of an influence one single person can have on the outcome of any event. As I alluded to before, in thinking about the current political climate, there is the opportunity for the individual to be a stronger proponent of revolution than ever before, as the ability for information to spread is unprecedentedly quick. One share of a video can be viewed by millions even billions of people, an individual can now reach globally with the power of the internet and social media. Because of this, like never before there is a responsibility of individuals involved with events of question, or moments which can be documented or reported for the purposes of the improvement of the society or a cause. Though I am not politically impartial, I believe that both sides of any argument have the responsibility to tell the truth, and thus to report the truth, especially in the case of today where each individual has particularly powerful agency.

In terms of the rationale of revolution, where it makes sense, we have to look internally to determine what exactly matters to each of us. Today we have seen activists risk their lives to defend the protesters at the Dakota Access Pipeline, though they may not care that much about the actual issue of what is going on there. The struggle may be over the pipeline, but the idea over individual freedoms, cultural freedoms, and the pursuit of a way of life unimpeded by the government or corporations, may be worth fighting for.

Courage Power and Publishing

This was easily my favorite discussion so far because not only was it extremely applicable to the present, not just because the material was so applicable to the present and the global importance of the material as well as its nature, but because the Q and A was so lively and interactive. I felt the Kahlil was great in that was firm in this responses, if there was a question that had a hint of ignorance or privilege he would certainly address that, but he did it in such a way that it was educating ignorance rather than attacking the individual for not understanding or knowing something factual or fundamental about a subject.

Social media and the ability to express opinions is such an important forum in that it gives people wide reaching capabilities. It is important to note that people includes everyone, meaning that those with less resources have at least somewhere close to those with greater means to access the air waves or the social media atmosphere to publish their ideas. In countries where media and news is restricted, flows can slip through the cracks of security, areas such as North Korea for instance, and become the bedrock of what could become macro revolution. The time in which this information can be shared is instantaneous, meaning that within minutes or even seconds, media can reach hundreds of thousands of people, which in turn can share the information through their own networks. One of the reasons why people feel as though race-relations in our country is so bad is because the constant monitoring of social media for news and current events. From the perspective of many, race relations have always been bad, and often times the consensus is that they have been worse. It is the amount of attention and coverage of the evidence of police brutality and systematic racism that has brought this issue back to the forefront of our national discussion.

I think in beginning to understand Khalil Ali’s background, I asked myself a couple of questions: Could I do what he has done? What responsibility do I have to myself, my family, and my country, and how does one begin to fathom weighing the value of your own life? Khalil laughed when he told the story about how he was detained at the airport, but the terror must have been there, and I do not know if there is any better sense of the level of nationalism in a positive sense than what he is doing. In thinking about his perspective, not only is he an incredibly talented artist in that he provokes thought in a way that is focused and both subjective and objective, his art represents courage in a way that art does not usual represent. It is literal courage, not existential courage, that Mr. Ali’s art represents. I have such an unbelievable amount of respect for what he does all the time, as well as the courage of his family and friends who support him, because there are far stronger men than me that would not be doing what he is doing.

Tambora and Selective History

As much of the theme of this cycle focuses on revolutions, one of the most powerful takeaways for me was the prejudice and the influence of colonialism and power structures on the ability to produce history, as well as the implications of that.
The 1815 eruption of Tambora was quite possibly one of the most powerful and devastating natural disasters in modern history. The surrounding discussion over the publishing of the history of the event is fairly non-existent for the magnitude of the event that completely and totally affected much of the world. It is a particularly pertinent thought in the light of this insane election cycle, where the republican candidate has often criticized the democratic candidates for referring to climate change as a great threat to global security. One of the reasons that I have chosen Syria as the region whose weather I would like to study is because of the greater macro effects of weather on the region, including starvation, insecurity, and the rise of terrorist groups and the possible link between those and positive sentiment for these groups. This was evident in the way in which the climate change dramatically affected the poor population in the discussion of the journals of Mary Shelley. Here we say the dire consequences of extreme climate change, the type of which I very much hope will not become evident in the next several lifetimes. The fear and xenophobia shown by populations of people is evident in today’s Syria, which has a large population of suffering sick and starving people due in part to the climate of Syria which limits agriculture.
I think that in making light of the history that has been written, a certain Donald Trump has mobilized a strategy that is eerily similar to this time period. While the publishing of information and the continued disuse of the facts are severely different, the are also interconnected in they both are able to manipulate the way in which people view the current and the future. There is a mode of thinking to influence this outcome, to agency to edit, prohibit, or change the lenses through which people view history. There is a significant discussion in history classes around which people view history, and who gets to produce it. We read textbooks, which are supposed to give us an objective and factual scope of histories, but those are pre-determined to be relevant and factual by those who control what should be decided to be so.
On a more practical note, I wonder what would happen if a Tambora like event happened today, where a natural disaster so drastically affect more than one Western region. I make this distinction because it would influence those with money and power, but with limited geographical resources. How would established nations cooperate, if they did cooperate, to save lives and ration resources? It is important to think about how Globalization, which I classify 100% to be a revolution, and its related inconnectuivity, would dramatically change if nations had to compete within non financial markets to survive.

The Origins of Revolution

In attending our first evening lecture in the Revolutions cycle I was surprised by a number of things. First was the complexity of the argument. I certainly was not expecting to have to have learned about the different philosophers and their theories beforehand, nor was I expecting the conversation to get to heated and open and the end of the lecture. I was also not so much surprised, but interested and excited by the nature of the discussion. In school, most of the time you are not taught to question history, it is something you learn, memorize, and at times interpret, but never question the validity of. In listening to Dan question whether or not the ideas of many of these esteemed philosophers were actually revolutionary, it reminded me of a quote I heard in the movie, “The Big Short.” The quote goes something like “It is not what you do not know what hurts you. It is was you know for sure that just a’int so.” I find this quote to be applicable to Dan’s discussion. You can always learn what you do not know, but it is hard to both unlearn what one perceives to be fact, which is less difficult still than unlearning a way of thinking and framing learning.
To me the next and possibly most important point was the discussion on what it means to be be revolutionary, and whether or not the Scientific Revolution should be categorized as such. I think that revolutions can be both big and small, macro and micro, in both a personal and worldly sense. Two definitions of revolution, “an overthrow of or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed” or “a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, especially one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence” both seem to me to be extremely macro in the sense that both government and social structure apply to a large population of people. On a personal note, I believe that a liberal arts education can revolutionize the way in which a student can think about learning, as well as the skills a student believes that he or she is capable of developing, and finally how those skills are valued. We are constantly told that a liberal arts educations “teaches you how to think.” This is revolutionary, at least to me, in that it totally changes your previous framework on how you perceive problems and issues, but how one might view themselves as well. It is not a matter of self-confidence or gravitas, it is an issue of totally changing values an inputs. In circling back to whether or not the Scientific Revolution was actually revolutionary, it may have not been revolutionary in the sense that other people around the world had previously come up with these ideas, but it was revolutionary and original in that it totally changed how an extremely influential region of the world thought about thinking.