SOUNDTRACK: tUnE-yArDs-Tiny Desk Concert #179 (December 1, 2011).
tUnE-yArDs perform three songs in this Tiny Desk concert. Merrill Garbus doesn’t chat a lot between songs, but she’s clearly having a good time (witness them all jumping at the end of “You, Yes You” and how much she smiles at the end of the set. This is a wonderful opportunity to see and hear her live sampling technique in a small setting (with close up cameras!).
Her voice sounds great–she pulls off all of those voices that she conjures on the record. And her ability to sample herself and make it work is wonderful to witness (I never imagined that some of those “sirens” and “keyboards” are actually her voice).
The live band is also really hot. The bassist really hold everything together and the horns sound great–duplicating the sound of the record with just enough flare to keep it original.
And to think she’s making all of that guitar noise with a ukulele! It’s pretty groovy.
Watch it here.
[READ: January 21, 2012] The End of War
This is a non-fiction book in which Horgan believes that in the not too distant future (his lifetime I believe), we will see the end of war. Not the end of violence, nor anger nor aggression–he’s not crazy–but military campaigns against another country could be ended if we reversed our fatalism about war’s inevitability.
Horgan is a writer for Scientific American and in this book he uses the scientific method to show that ending war is utterly possible. Now, although Horgan is himself kind of a pacifist (he’s not entirely one, this interview explains), his family is not–his father and grandfather are both veterans and his son is looking to enlist in the army. Nevertheless, Horgan feels that war is not a viable way to solve problems and that the cost of human life is never worth it.
His research shows him that war should be thought of as a solvable, scientific problem—like curing cancer. The difference is that cancer is outside of our control, while war is not. But like cancer, war can infect any society–there is no “reason” for it, but it is like a virus–it infects all cultures, even peaceful ones. If one culture is aggressive the peaceful neighbors need to prepare for war or move away.
Horgan anticipates skepticism, indeed, many of the sources he quotes are skeptics, and he deals with all of their arguments accordingly. He looks at those who say that war is genetically part of humanity (as many people believe) or that the best way to prepare for peace is to prepare for war (as just about everyone seems to believe). He looks at those who say that scarcity causes war (not necessarily true), to those who say that as long as there are guns there will be war (he disagrees). He has a reasonable, believable argument for all of these doubts. He even shows that the whole “alpha male, XXY chromosome” argument has been disproven and while men are more prone to violence, they are not more prone to wage war.
He also shows scientific evidence that war has not been around as long as people (or even apes) have existed. Indeed, the first evidence for “war” (as opposed to violence) is 10,000 years ago (not much in humanity’s timeline).
He culls data from previous wars to show that the causes of wars can never be narrowed down to one thing. And yet, rather than seeing this as a negative–that so many things cause war, he sees it as a positive–that causes of war are not monolithic and impervious to breakdown.
I was skeptical of this book when I started reading it. I was willing to accept the various scientific answers that he showed (that war is not innate, for example) but my skepticism came because of what I guess you call the military industrial complex–that our military budget is huge and is not going to go down any time soon. Just see how much protest is garnered by the miniscule amount that President Obama wants to reduce it. [Everybody knows this truth but it’s worth seeing in print–our military budget is more than almost every other country combined. China, who spends the next largest amount on their military has a budget that is 1/6 the size of ours. That is shocking and depressing and a horrific waste of money].
But his point is that like with so many other things that we have outlawed or abolished over the years: slavery, apartheid, monarchy (as opposed to democracy), acceptance of torture; if we have enough consensus we can also abolish war. He gives examples that it’s actually not as hard as we might think. Germany and Japan become pacifist virtually overnight (it was forced on them, but they have taken to it with no problem) and even better, Sweden and Switzerland are pacifist voluntarily.
He also points out that war is already on the wane–although the United States was in two wars very recently, the warlike nature of the world is much less than it was even as recently as the first half of the 20th century. The number of casualties from war has dropped dramatically compared to World War I. We simply need to find ways to solve crises that do not involve killing people.
All of the chapters were interesting in this book (the book is more or less set up to deal with an issue per chapter). Some of the chapters were a little long but at 186 pages (plus a bunch of citation pages) this book is short overall. I appreciate all of his scientific rigor and his ability to show the arguments and then knock them down.
For me, the most interesting and satisfying chapter was the one that found that preparing for war, despite claims that it is necessary, actually does not keep a people safe. That the allocation of resources towards war removes resources from things that actually make people’s lives better: art, culture, medicine, health. Preparing for war doesn’t keep us safe, it actually harms us.
Similarly, he shows that competition for resources is not necessarily a cause for war. To the contrary they have found that in some cultures scarcity brings out altruism.
In short, he says that the only thing that prevents us from abolishing wars is our fatalism that war is inevitable. The more fatalistic we are about war the more we accept hawkish ideas which perpetuates more war. Once we stop believing that and we try to work towards the end, he believes that we war can end very quickly.
Horgan doesn’t really calm my fears about the military industrial complex–but who knows with enough popular opinion, maybe voters can change things. It’s a wonderful thought. And here’s hoping that this post can spread the good word.
And here’s an interview with Horgan that addresses a lot of these questions.
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