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Posts tagged changing the world

Andy:
from "The Declaration: History has a sense of humor," by William Easterly, Aid Watch, 4 July 2010

The man who wrote it owned other human beings. The rich Anglo-Saxon males who signed it believed themselves superior to women, Catholics, Jews, other Europeans, Native Americans, blacks, Asians, and poor white males. It contained no development strategy, no announced intention for poverty reduction, and no nation-building Power Point presentation. For many decades afterward, anyone who took it literally would have been seen as crazy.

Yet the principles the Declaration gave in two sentences have done more than anything else for both liberty and development in the 234 years since that day.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Happy birthday, Declaration, and thank you.

excerpt Ask the Poles
Andy:
from "The Glory of Poland," by Roger Cohen, NYTimes.com, 12 April 2010

Poland should shame every nation that believes peace and reconciliation are impossible, every state that believes the sacrifice of new generations is needed to avenge the grievances of history. The thing about competitive victimhood, a favorite Middle Eastern pastime, is that it condemns the children of today to join the long list of the dead.

For scarcely any nation has suffered since 1939 as Poland, carved up by the Hitler-Stalin nonaggression pact, transformed by the Nazis into the epicenter of their program to annihilate European Jewry, land of Auschwitz and Majdanek, killing field for millions of Christian Poles and millions of Polish Jews, brave home to the Warsaw Uprising, Soviet pawn, lonely Solidarity-led leader of post-Yalta Europe’s fight for freedom, a place where, as one of its great poets, Wislawa Szymborska, wrote, “History counts its skeletons in round numbers” — 20,000 of them at Katyn.

It is this Poland that is now at peace with its neighbors and stable. It is this Poland that has joined Germany in the European Union. It is this Poland that has just seen the very symbols of its tumultuous history (including the Gdansk dock worker Anna Walentynowicz and former president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski) go down in a Soviet-made jet and responded with dignity, according to the rule of law.

So do not tell me that cruel history cannot be overcome. Do not tell me that Israelis and Palestinians can never make peace. Do not tell me that the people in the streets of Bangkok and Bishkek and Tehran dream in vain of freedom and democracy. Do not tell me that lies can stand forever.

Ask the Poles. They know.

excerpt Look at the one
Andy:
from "How to Save the World," by Nicholas Kristof, Outside Magazine, December 2009

A classic experiment involved asking people to donate to help hungry children in West Africa. One group was asked to help a seven-year-old girl named Rokia, in the country of Mali. A second was asked to donate to help millions of hungry children. A third was asked to help Rokia but was provided with statistical information that gave them a larger context for her hunger. Not surprisingly, people donated more than twice as much to help Rokia as to help millions of children. But it turned out that even providing background information on African hunger diminished empathy, so people were much less willing to help Rokia when she represented a broader problem. Donors didn't want to help ease a crisis personi fied by a child; they just wanted to help one person—and to hell with the crisis.

As we all vaguely know, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. As Mother Teresa said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." Professor Slovic calls the first reaction "psychic numbing." But Slovic wanted to know at what point the number of victims triggers psychic numbing. He set out to find out, and his findings were deeply depressing.

In one of Slovic's experiments, people were asked to donate to Rokia or, in other cases, to a similar hungry boy, Moussa. In each case, research subjects were quite willing to help and donated generously either to Rokia or to Moussa. But when people were asked to donate to Rokia and Moussa together, with their photographs side by side, donations decreased. Slovic found that our empathy begins to fade when the number of victims reaches just two. As he puts it: "The more who die, the less we care."

A practical application of these concepts came during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The white government there had imprisoned many brave activists, and there was a global campaign focusing on freeing these political prisoners. It never gained traction, however, until the organizers had the idea of refocusing it on an individual and came up with the slogan "Free Mandela!" Once there was a face on the movement, it resonated far more widely—and, ultimately, helped topple apartheid.

Andy:

n Kiva’s defense, its behavior is emblematic of fund-raising in microfinance and charity generally, and is ultimately traceable to human foibles. People donate in part because it makes them feel good. Giving the beneficiary a face and constructing a story for her in which the donor helps write the next chapter opens purses.

Our sensitivity to stories and faces distorts how we give, thus what charities do and how they sell themselves. What if the best way to help in some places is to support communities rather than individuals? To make roads rather than make loans? To contribute to a disaster preparedness fund rather than just respond to the latest earthquake? And how far should nonprofits go in misrepresenting what they do in order to fund it? It is not an easy question: what if honesty reduces funding?

The big lesson is that the charities we observe, the ones whose pitches reach our retinas, are survivors of a Darwinian selection process driven by our own minds. An actual eBay venture called MicroPlace competes with Kiva; but MicroPlace is more up-front about the real deal. Its page for sample borrower Filadelfo Sotelo invites you to “invest in the organization that helped Filadelfo Sotelo: Fondo de Desarrollo Local” (FDL). This honesty is probably one reason MicroPlace has badly lagged Kiva. Who wants to click on the FDL icon when you can click on a human face?

Andy:
from "Trapped in cubicles," by Julie Schlosser, FORTUNE, 22 March 2006 :: via The .Plan - A Quasi-Blog

Another critical factor in the cubicle's rapid ascent was Uncle Sam. During the 1960s, to stimulate business spending, the Treasury created new rules for depreciating assets. The changes specified clearer ranges for depreciation and established a shorter life for furniture and equipment, vs. longer ranges assigned to buildings or leasehold improvements. (Today companies can depreciate office furniture in seven years, whereas permanent structures--that is, offices with walls--are assigned a 39.5-year rate.)

The upshot: A company could recover its costs quicker if it purchased cubes. When clients told Herman Miller of that unexpected benefit, it became a new selling point for the Action Office. After only two years on the market, sales soared. Competitors took notice.

That's when Propst's original vision began to fade. "They kept shrinking the Action Office until it became a cubicle," says Schwartz, now 80. As Steelcase, Knoll, and Haworth brought their versions to market, they figured out that what businesses wanted wasn't to give employees a holistic experience. The customers wanted a cheap way to pack workers in.

Propst's workstations were designed to be flexible, but in practice they were seldom altered or moved at all. Lined up in identical rows, they became the dystopian world that three academics described as "bright satanic offices" in a 1998 book, Workplaces of the Future.

Designer Douglas Ball, for instance, remembers the first installation of cubicles he created for a Canadian company in 1972. "I thought I'd be excited, but I came out depressed," says Ball, now 70. "It was Dilbertville. I'd failed to visualize what it would look like when there were so many of them."

image
from "Manhattan 1609 vs. 2009: Natural Wonder to Urban Jungle," by Markley Boyer, The Mannahatta Project, 2009 :: via National Geographic
Christy:
Andy:

As I sat in our all-day meeting at Duke Divinity, talking about the future of a theology and arts institute, it struck me that a lot of our comments revolved around programs and activities. . . . People were offering great suggestion--suggestions I want in on. But a light bulb went off in my head at one point. It's gone off before.

It's a light bulb that made it into the Introduction of my book. If we really want to experience the kind of environmental conditions in which the arts will flourish in a Protestant setting--in the same way that the fruit and flora of God's creation flourish, both in kind and degree--then we don't need programs. The best program money could buy would still not accomplish what we yearn to see. What we need is a different theological and practical ecology. We need a different tradition.

I'm talking about a massive overhaul of a culture. In such a culture every bit of labor, every bit of a program matters. But what a culture has that a program the size of Jupiter doesn't have is positive inertia. That's what we need. We need for the current to be constantly and positively running in the direction of artistic flourishment, not fighting against us half the time.

Andy:
from "Student Leaders Reflect, 20 Years After Tiananmen," by Louisa Lim, NPR, 3 June 2009

Zhang, the former journalist who brought the students to the square, has taken a different path. Once, he preached for democracy; now he preaches for Jesus. Formerly No. 17 on Beijing's most-wanted list, Zhang today is a pastor at a Chinese church in Fairfax, Va.

After the clampdown, Zhang spent two years in hiding, much of it in a remote mountain cabin near the frozen Russian border, where he lived off wildlife that he caught. He also spent a month in a Russian prison. It was at that time that he found God.

"I read the Bible and began to know God," Zhang remembers. "I gained sustenance from it. People really needed God then. They needed a future. I couldn't see the future with my bare eyes."

Zhang finally escaped China through Hong Kong and sought asylum in the United States. These days, he throws himself into ministering his flock. He is planning to build a 16,000-square-foot church for his congregation, which currently numbers about 300.

Coercion seems a simpler, less time-consuming method of creating order than any other; yet it is just as time-consuming and tedious and far more expensive than personal encounter, persuasion, listening, and participating in bringing a group into harmony. None of this is unknown, unfamiliar, unperceived. Yet so strong is the mythology of power that we continue to believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that it is substantial, that if we possessed enough of it we could be happy, that if some “great man” possessed enough of it, he could make the world come right.

Marilyn French (1929–2009), Beyond Power

Andy:
from "The Value of Music," by Karl Paulnack, director of the music division of the Boston Conservatory, as found at the Web site of the Mankato Symphony Orchestra :: thanks, Gwen Griffith!

One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.

He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.

Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”

Andy:

In the mid-1990s, firms like Sputnik, the Zandl Group, Teenage Research Unlimited, and Lambesis were getting hired by companies such as Reebok, Burlington, and PepsiCo to enlist and study allegedly trendsetting teens. “We did no research,” Irma Zandl, who has been in the trend business since 1986, once told Time magazine of her early days as a professional Magic Person. “I just had a golden gut.” By the early 2000s, her company claimed a network of three thousand carefully selected young people whose take on the zeitgeist was funneled into a newsletter sold to the likes of GM, Coke, and Disney, for $15,000 a year. Some key people from Lambesis formed Look-Look, which claimed a network of twenty thousand. The results of these businesses have been mixed. Aprons for men was one legendary trend-spotting gaffe that emerged from the mining of Magic People thoughts. In the mid-1990s, Sputnik predicted such trends as “guys in vinyl skirts,” “see-through track shoes,” and “suspenders with African-print shirts.”

Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of “changing the world” usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.

Culture Making, p.201

excerpt Rice husk power
Nate:
from "Rice Power to the People With Husk Power Systems," by Robert Katz, WorldChanging, 28 October 2008

NextBillion.net: Tell me about rice husk – what is it, how much is there, where do you find them?  What do farmers do with them now?

Chip Ransler: Rice husk is the outside of a rice kernel.  When you harvest rice, husk represents about 30 percent of the gross weight.  As a result, husks are removed and discarded before transport.  In a typical village, about 1500 tons of rice are harvested every season, yielding 500 tons of husk and 1000 tons of edible product.  The farmers either burn the husk or allow it to rot in the fields.

Rice husk is cellulosic, which means it can be heated up and released for energy – the gas released is similar to methane.  It also contains silica, which is released as a waste product when burned.

So, why is this interesting?  If you took a map of the world’s energy poor areas and compare it to a map of rice producing areas, these two maps would look nearly identical.  So we use husk to make electricity.  The gas we make out of the husk is filtered, then run through a diesel-like engine to generate power.

Like I said, farmers throw away or burn rice husk – releasing methane into the atmosphere.  This is an opportunity too.  We’re working with the Indian government on getting our Clean Development Mechanism certification to sell carbon credits associated with our plants.  And the silica – which is the other waste product – is sold to concrete manufacturers.  So we take agricultural waste and turn it into electricity, minerals and carbon credits.

Nate:

Medicine | A medical journal says a vast amount of cancer research is never published, perhaps because clinical trials show the drugs or treatments didn’t work. That deprives other researchers of valuable knowledge. Why this happens: scientists, medical journals and drug firms all have an interest in touting breakthroughs and not failure. [Business Week, Oncologist]

Nate:

The proportion of viewers who were aware that, with the proper treatment, there is more than a 90% chance of an HIV-positive woman having a healthy baby increased by 46 percentage points after the episode aired (from 15% to 61%). This includes 17% of respondents in the post-show survey who volunteered the specific response that the woman has a 98% chance of having a healthy baby—the statistic that was repeated several times on the show.

Six weeks after the episode aired, the proportion who gave the correct response had dropped to 45%, but was still substantially higher (by 30 percentage points) than it had been prior to the show. This time around, however, only 3% volunteered the specific fact that the woman would have a 98% chance of having a healthy baby.

Nate:

Creative ideas are not always solo strokes of genius, argues Ed Catmull, the computer-scientist president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review. Frequently, he says, the best ideas emerge when talented people from different disciplines work together.

This week, Nature begins a series of six Essays that illustrate Catmull’s case. Each recalls a conference in which a creative outcome emerged from scientists pooling ideas, expertise and time with others — especially policy-makers, non-governmental organizations and the media. Each is written by someone who was there, usually an organizer or the meeting chair. Because the conferences were chosen for their societal consequences, we’ve called our series ‘Meetings that Changed the World’.

This week, François de Rose relives the drama of the December 1951 conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris that led to the creation of CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory based near Geneva (see page 174). De Rose, then France’s representative to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, chaired the meeting. He had got caught up in the process after becoming friends with Robert Oppenheimer, one of CERN’s earliest proponents. De Rose said in a separate interview with Nature that CERN was the result of the capacity of scientists such as Oppenheimer to propose grand ideas, and worry about obstacles later.

Although this approach does not always work, the next few weeks will show that it really has changed the world. In the ensuing half-century, CERN has revolutionized our understanding of the subatomic world; with the switching-on this week of the Large Hadron Collider (see page 156) it promises to scale new heights.

Nate:
from "The Whole Earth Effect," by Stephen Kotler, Plenty Magazine, October/November 2008 :: via Boing Boing

John Perry Barlow: Before the WEC came out, business was big and ugly. It was a kingdom of acronyms like IBM and GE. But Stewart saw sustainable small business as a virtue.

Lloyd Kahn: This wasn’t business as usual. Backyard tool inventors are a real subculture, usually very apart from the mainstream. For these tool guys, the WEC wasn’t just their Bible; it was great advertising. I think we kept a lot of people in business over the years.

Kevin Kelly: The WEC helped rid us of our allergy to commerce. Brand believed in capitalism, just not by traditional methods. He was the first person to embrace true financial transparency. His decision to disclose WEC’s finances in the pages of the catalog had a profound ripple effect. A lot of those hippies who dropped out and tried to live off the land decided to come back and start small companies because of it. And out of that came the Googles of the world.

Fred Turner: The WEC set the stage for all of today’s social networks. This kind of collaborative communication and the emphasis on small-scale technology really hit home in early Silicon Valley. You have to remember that the first Xerox PARC [the Palo Alto Research Center, a division of Xerox credited with inventing laser printing and the Ethernet, among other things] library consisted of books selected from the WEC by computer guru Alan Kay.

excerpt Indiana piano
Nate:
from "Vodka in South Bend: The life and music of a Soviet defector," by Joseph Horowitz, Humanities, September/October 2008 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

In 1990, he married an American girl, a fledgling pianist from Florida. In 1991, he accepted a piano professorship at Indiana University at South Bend—a place best-known for Notre Dame’s football team. Transplanted to northern Indiana, he proceeded to recreate the intense mentoring environment he had known in Moscow, as well as the communal social life he had known in Tblisi. To date, he has recruited more than seventy gifted young pianists, mainly from Russia and Georgia. They bond as a family, with Lexo the stern or soft surrogate father. They make music and party with indistinguishable relish. Lexo’s big house, on a suburban street without sidewalks, is their headquarters. Since separating from his wife in 1999, he has densely decorated the downstairs rooms with an assortment of American, Russian, and Georgian books and embellishments; the upstairs walls remain blank. The basement comprises a Ping-Pong room, a table-hockey room, and a Finnish sauna. The swimming pool outside is used in winter for furious ice baths in alternation with languorous sauna sittings.

South Bend is welcoming, comforting, and incongruous. As new Americans, the members of the Toradze community eat pizza, play basketball, and barbecue salmon in the backyard. They are addicted to such gadgets and amenities as giant TVs and state-of-the-art audio systems. They shop for steak and vodka in the early hours of the morning in vast twenty-four-hour food marts. Their social rituals are Russian or Georgian. So is their informed enthusiasm for jazz, which preceded their arrival. Though they do not attend the football games, Lexo’s excitement was boundless when he discovered that the forward pass was a South Bend invention.

When we say, “The Christian vision can transform our world,” something similar is happening. Is it really true that simply perceiving the radical comprehensiveness of the Christian worldview would “transform the world”? Or is there a middle step that is being skipped over all too lightly?

Culture Making, p.62

Andy:
from "Palin & The Power of the Small Ones," by Dick Staub, Staublog, 4 September 2008 (slightly copyedited)

Here are some of the themes I see at work in what is happening with Palin (and Obama for that matter).

1) Every human being is created in God’s image and is responsible for developing their unique capabilities in ways that glorify God.

2) True power resides in these God-imaged individuals whose power is released and becomes evident when they express their uniqueness.

3) Because humans are geographically distributed, this power can be found wherever humans are found. Bloom where you are planted!

These truths were taken by our founding fathers to be self-evident and are also evident in every page of biblical revelation.

In today’s fallen world we have forgotten these truths. We believe power resides in places and the people in those places. The media, politicians and the wealthy are the powerful, we are led to believe, and they reside in specific places: New York, LA, Chicago, Wall Street, and Hollywood, to name a few.

Today’s evangelical world has fallen into this trap and regularly develops strategies aimed at the powerful in powerful places. I remember a few years ago, George Barna identified the centers of cultural influence, concluding that the church did not rate very high. He shared a plan to work with large churches (also believed to be the center of power) in strategic cities (coinciding with the “world’s list” of strategic places) to recruit the brightest and the best next-generation evangelical leadership prospects to mentor them and help them enter the most powerful educational institutions (Harvard, Stanford, Yale) so they could enter the most powerful positions in the most powerful companies in the most powerful cities in the world.

I remember telling George that of the National Book Award winners I had interviewed, most were from small, out-of-the way places, and most hadn’t attended the best schools. They came out of nowhere, riding on the strength of their talent, internal sense of calling, and desire to express who they were in their work, starting where they were in some small farming community tucked away in some unknown village in the Midwest.

Regardless of your politics, this is surely the most important lesson from Sarah Palin’s debut as a national and global presence.