Culture Making is now archived. Enjoy five years of reflections on culture worth celebrating.
For more about the book and Andy Crouch, please visit andy-crouch.com.

Andy:
from "Trout, the Dow and our Bottom Lines," by Makoto Fujimura, Refractions, 7 December 2008 :: first posted here 8 December 2008

[If Paul] is right [in 1 Corinthians 13], then all things or systems that work against the principle of love will fail eventually. Sacrificial love, in other words, is the only sustainable operating force in the universe. We can complain that we simply cannot accept the assumptions proposed here; but Christians should not be able to operate, if we do indeed believe these principles, in some halfway land, on one hand claiming to believe the ordinances, but also functionally accepting the worldly systems at work as the only reality.

The medium of beauty in a business world is the workers that make the businesses run. It’s not the stock options or profit. They comprise far more capacity, and far deeper longing and invigorated promise for future generations than the system gives them credit for. So the question is not whether they are paid enough, or given enough work: the question is, does the workplace enlarge humanity, or endanger humanity.

Thus, we need to see the market not just as a tool to make money, but a complex labyrinth with a generative creative order. In such an ecosystem, we need to consider investments as a form of stewardship. Conversely, we may redefine investments as a way to create and sustain beauty, rather than gain power for ourselves. And true beauty, at her truest aim, is a humble stream that flows through the heart of a city, re-humanizing its inhabitants, and allowing them to breathe in what would otherwise be unbearable air.

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from "What Will Save the Suburbs?," by Allison Arieff, By Design - NYTimes.com, 11 January 2009 :: first posted here 12 January 2009
Andy:
repost They also ran
Nate:
a lens culture photography weblog post, 12 December 2008 :: first posted here 6 March 2009

image

In 2nd: The Face of Defeat, Canadian photographer Sandy Nicholson documents the competitors who are forgotten about and under-celebrated — the second-place finishers.

Nicholson visited a range of fierce competitions, including the Air Guitar Finals, the Dance Sport Championships, rodeos, a spelling bee, a hamburger-eating contest and The Pillow Fight League. Just after the competitions end, he photographs the near-winners. The results are at times heartbreaking and hilarious. . .

See more photos, and read the book review in Lens Culture.

Andy:

How do these themes connect with Americans, who mostly live in either suburban or urban environments?

Harris: That's one distinction between a Christian take on creation and a secular romanticism about wilderness. Think about Psalm 104. In that psalm, which echoes Genesis, you don't just have "the sea and everything in it"; you have ships on it, working. You don't just have the land; you have people, working. There is a radical environmentalism that wishes people were not on the planet. That's not the biblical view at all. A Rocha in the United Kingdom actually works in the most polluted, urban borough of the country, because creation isn't absent just because people are there. The challenge is how to restore a right way of life, rather than escaping to some wilderness paradise. Fifty percent of the planet now lives in cities. That is where we live out our relationship with creation.

As Christian conservationists, do you see urbanization as a good thing, a bad thing, or something neutral?

Harris: My biblical theology means I cannot see it as a bad thing. The ultimate biblical vision is the heavenly city. Our challenge is the redemption of the urban, not the consecration of wilderness.

Peterson: I agree, and I don't think we realize how much of our view of wilderness comes to us through the Romantic movement. Romantic literature was written at the height of the industrial city, with its exploitation, poverty, and child labor. In reaction to all that, they gave us the concept of nature as romantic. But it's not romantic.

Harris: It may not even be natural. Sir Ghillean Prance, who has studied the Amazon rainforest for decades, believes that the very diversity of the rainforest is a result of gardening. The human beings who lived there selectively used it and tended it, and that is the best way to account for its extraordinary botanical diversity.

Even biologically, the idea of a pristine, teeming world without human beings probably isn't accurate. Britain is certainly a case in point. The original British form of vegetation was a pretty monocultural oak forest. It was only as farming came and we had a diversity of habitats that we had the biodiversity that we cherish on the British Isles today.

So we should understand the human presence on the planet in God's purposes as a blessing.

Andy:
from "The Case for Working With Your Hands," by Matthew B. Crawford, NYTimes.com, 24 May 2009 :: via more than 95 theses :: first posted here 23 May 2009

Seeing a motorcycle about to leave my shop under its own power, several days after arriving in the back of a pickup truck, I don’t feel tired even though I’ve been standing on a concrete floor all day. Peering into the portal of his helmet, I think I can make out the edges of a grin on the face of a guy who hasn’t ridden his bike in a while. I give him a wave. With one of his hands on the throttle and the other on the clutch, I know he can’t wave back. But I can hear his salute in the exuberant “bwaaAAAAP!” of a crisp throttle, gratuitously revved. That sound pleases me, as I know it does him. It’s a ventriloquist conversation in one mechanical voice, and the gist of it is “Yeah!”

After five months at the think tank, I’d saved enough money to buy some tools I needed, and I quit and went into business fixing bikes. . . . The business goes up and down; when it is down I have supplemented it with writing. The work is sometimes frustrating, but it is never irrational.

And it frequently requires complex thinking. In fixing motorcycles you come up with several imagined trains of cause and effect for manifest symptoms, and you judge their likelihood before tearing anything down. This imagining relies on a mental library that you develop. An internal combustion engine can work in any number of ways, and different manufacturers have tried different approaches. Each has its own proclivities for failure. You also develop a library of sounds and smells and feels. For example, the backfire of a too-lean fuel mixture is subtly different from an ignition backfire.

As in any learned profession, you just have to know a lot. If the motorcycle is 30 years old, from an obscure maker that went out of business 20 years ago, its tendencies are known mostly through lore. It would probably be impossible to do such work in isolation, without access to a collective historical memory; you have to be embedded in a community of mechanic-antiquarians.

Nate:
from "Diary of a Social Venture Start-up: Early Mistakes," by Joe Ippolito, GOOD, 17 August 2009 :: first posted here 18 August 2009

Don’t be humble, either. This was one of my early mistakes. I was well aware that I was going to be subjected to this sort of skepticism. As a result, my initial projections were extremely conservative. Bad idea. In my first few meetings, I got the same reaction: People loved the concept, but were surprised at how little money we were going to generate. Despite the fact that our idea had potential, I’d attempted to temper expectations. Turns out, I’d tried so hard to avoid looking unrealistic that I ended up looking unimpressive. There was a middle ground I was missing. Don’t go overboard, but don’t sell yourself short.

In fact, this is the reason many people advocate integrating a situational analysis into your projections. Take three scenarios—not great, good, awesome—and show how they affect your profits and the amount of good your company can do. Make it as easy as possible to understand. “If we get this many customers, here’s what happens.” It takes a bit more research and a bit more time, but it’ll show that you’re planning ahead for contingencies—something any potential investor will appreciate.

"Come On Up To The House," by Tom Waits, directed by Anders Lövgren :: first posted here 20 November 2009
Christy:
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from "Why are carrots orange? It is political," by Koert van Mensvoort, Next Nature, 16 August 2009 :: image via Wikipedia, unattributed :: first posted here 4 January 2010
Nate:
Nate:
from "The Americanization of Mental Illness," by Ethan Watters, The New York Times Magazine, 10 January 2010 :: via 3quarksdaily :: first posted here 15 January 2010

No one would suggest that we withhold our medical advances from other countries, but it’s perhaps past time to admit that even our most remarkable scientific leaps in understanding the brain haven’t yet created the sorts of cultural stories from which humans take comfort and meaning. When these scientific advances are translated into popular belief and cultural stories, they are often stripped of the complexity of the science and become comically insubstantial narratives. Take for instance this Web site text advertising the antidepressant Paxil: “Just as a cake recipe requires you to use flour, sugar and baking powder in the right amounts, your brain needs a fine chemical balance in order to perform at its best.” The Western mind, endlessly analyzed by generations of theorists and researchers, has now been reduced to a batter of chemicals we carry around in the mixing bowl of our skulls.

All cultures struggle with intractable mental illnesses with varying degrees of compassion and cruelty, equanimity and fear. Looking at ourselves through the eyes of those living in places where madness and psychological trauma are still embedded in complex religious and cultural narratives, however, we get a glimpse of ourselves as an increasingly insecure and fearful people. Some philosophers and psychiatrists have suggested that we are investing our great wealth in researching and treating mental illness — medicalizing ever larger swaths of human experience — because we have rather suddenly lost older belief systems that once gave meaning and context to mental suffering.

Amsterdam was, in Descartes’ view, a sort of ‘inventory of the possible.’

Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism. But did Descartes actually say it?

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photo from wikipedia :: via Next Nature
Nate:
Andy:

Shelves and shelves of self-help books are stocked in America with the canon of the quick fix. The 10,000-hour concept, though, is based on academic research into the idea that success is a choice — made, not born. At first glance, it feels like a very American idea — you can be anything you want to be — but it is an unsentimental view of the world. It helps to be tall in basketball, and it helps to start violin lessons at a young age, but what separates the few truly great from the many merely good is not talent or magic or luck. It's dedication and discipline.

The secret to success isn't a secret. It's work.

Dan played competitive tennis as a boy, and was good at it, and then quit. He ran one year of cross country in high school, and was good at it, and then quit. He wanted to run on his own. He followed his brother to Boston University for a year and was a physics and math major, and then quit. Instead, he traveled, alone. He graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in photojournalism and was a photographer for a newspaper in Chattanooga, Tenn., for a year, and then quit.

He has started five novels.

He took one piano lesson. . . .

Steve McLaughlin also didn't think his son would take this as far as he has. Neither did his mother. Neither did his brother or his sister or his girlfriend.

"Dan's always been an ideas guy," his brother, Matthew McLaughlin, said. "The fact that he would think of such a thing isn't surprising. But ideas are one thing. Execution is another. He would get frustrated and quit."

At this point, though, more than 1,000 hours and nearly a year into the plan, they're more than surprised. They're impressed.

Andy:
from "Cities and the Census," by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox, City Journal, 6 April 2011

For years, academics, the media, and big-city developers have been suggesting that suburbs were dying and that people were flocking back to the cities that they had fled in the 1970s. The Obama administration has taken this as gospel. “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development,” Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan opined in 2010. “People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.” Yet of the 51 metropolitan areas that have more than 1 million residents, only three—Boston, Providence, and Oklahoma City—saw their core cities grow faster than their suburbs. (And both Boston and Providence grew slowly; their suburbs just grew more slowly. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, built suburban residences on the plentiful undeveloped land within city limits.)

All this suburbanization means that the best unit for comparison may be, not the core city, but the metropolitan area; and the census shows clearly which metropolitan areas are growing and which are not. The top ten population gainers—growing by 20 percent, twice the national average or more—are the metropolitan areas surrounding Las Vegas, Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Riverside–San Bernardino, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, and Atlanta. These areas are largely suburban. None developed the large, dense core cities that dominated America before the post–World War II suburban boom began. By contrast, many of the metropolitan areas that grew at rates half the national average or less—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, New York—have core areas that are the old, dense variety. Planners and pundits may like density, but people, for the most part, continue to prefer more space.

Andy:
from "Success, and Farming vs. Mining," by Wil Shipley, Call Me Fishmeal, 2 April 2011

The people who really change the world are farmers. Steve Jobs works constantly on his products, every waking minute of every day. He lives and sleeps and breathes them. He's obsessive and crazy and kind of scary — but he's trying to build something. He didn't just say, "Here's my idea: smart phone! BAM! Go make it happen. Ima jump in the sauna." That simply doesn't work. God is in the details. In the implementation.

The most amazing thing about getting to go to TED was discovering that all the people I admire are farmers. The doctors and DNA-researchers and dancers and chocolate-makers and oceanographers and cosmologists and investors all have one thing in common: they are total nerds. They work on the thing they love literally all the time. You can't talk to them without talking about their passion.

The secret of success turns out to be so incredibly simple: Work your ass off. Really care about what you're creating, not the fame or fortune you'll get. You'll succeed.

Nate:
from "The IKEA Effect," by Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business Review, February 2009 :: via more than 95 theses :: first posted here 9 September 2009

When instant cake mixes were introduced, in the 1950s, housewives were initially resistant: The mixes were too easy, suggesting that their labor was undervalued. When manufacturers changed the recipe to require the addition of an egg, adoption rose dramatically. Ironically, increasing the labor involved – making the task more arduous – led to greater liking….

When people construct products themselves, from bookshelves to Build-a-Bears, they come to overvalue their (often poorly made) creations. We call this phenomenon the IKEA effect, in honor of the wildly successful Swedish manufacturer whose products typically arrive with some assembly required.

In one of our studies we asked people to fold origami and then to bid on their own creations along with other people’s. They were consistently willing to pay more for their own origami. In fact, they were so enamored of their amateurish creations that they valued them as highly as origami made by experts.

We also investigated the limits of the IKEA effect, showing that labor leads to higher valuation only when the labor is fruitful…

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[Culture Making] was smart, challenging, and most of all very humane. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking about it long after I finished reading.
?Tara, educator living
in Cambridge, Mass.
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