Resources

Many colleagues and students ask me what books or authors I would recommend. So, I’ve decided to start an archive of the best tools on the web, and the most impactful books I know of for social and personal evolution.

(this is a work in progress, that I will be iteratively updating)

Internet Legends

Mind Mapping Learning Fundamentals

Critical Thinking

Social Comics Stuart McMillen

Game Theory and Feedback Loops explained + Game of Trust Nicky Case

2019 books I’ve enjoyed reading

Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future  by Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry (Oxford 2019)

Preston C, The Synthetic Age: Outdesigning Evolution, Resurrecting Species, and Reengineering Our World. (MIT Press 2019)

Bohland JR, Davoudi S and Lawrence JL (eds), The Resilience Machine (Routledge 2019)

Zuboff S, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (1 edition, PublicAffairs 2019)

Kamola IA, Making the World Global: U.S. Universities and the Production of the Global Imaginary (Duke University Press 2019)

Bennett K, Making Things Up (Oxford University Press 2019)

Books that Changed my Life

The King’s Two BodiesErnst H. Kantorowicz

The Spell of the SensuousDavid Abram

Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of ReasonVal Plumwood

(as well as Plumwood’s incredible essay “Being Prey“)

San Francisco BART’s Unpleasant Design

Introducing: The inverted guillotine

Having lived for the better part of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have put in my time on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. From it’s loud, overcrowded, clunky, and infrequent trains, to the spate of BART police shootings of young men of color, this privatized (militarized?) operation has a monopoly on public transport, and unashamedly has its will with the region with little grace.

The latest offense is the instillation of “skull crusher” “inverted guillotine” pop-up spring-loaded barriers, that could hurt or maim (it’s just a lawsuit waiting to happen).

Instead of pouring money into education, or helping the homeless, the Bay Area has now apparently prioritized metal spikes shooting up from their BART turnstiles. Way to go, gentrification!

The fact that “fare jumping” is solved by violence is telling. Instead of maybe just making the BART – a public service – into a public company, free for all riders, payed by a corporate property tax (or some other public funding in the insanely overpriced Bay), as many other localities such as Tallinn in Estonia have done, doubling down on menacing design elements further marginalizes the marginalized. BART really doesn’t lose much money at all on fare jumpers. Their financial mismanagement is sui generis. Yet, like all administrative classes, the propensity to pay themselves more to harm the poor is too tempting; it exculpates their responsibility for mismanagement (and points to the need for the region to re-buy the service to run it correctly), and instead finger-wags at “scofflaws” for being bad people, when all they really are doing is what is necessary to get around their own town when they haven’t benefited from the Silicon Valley boom.

The book Unpleasant Design discusses the epidemic of public infrastructure that makes being in public an injurious experience for those worst off. From bus benches in shelters that slope so you can’t sleep on them (you’d fall off), to “anti-homeless spikes,” sonic warfare (projecting odious or repetitive noises, like that corporately-engineered “hit” “Baby Shark“), ordinances against “sitting” or lying in public spaces for too long — rich countries, especially English-speaking ones, have declared war on public space.

London, UK. 10th June 2014. Anti-Homeless Spikes Protest outside Stock Photo: 70030582 - Alamy
Anti-homeless spikes

Unpleasant design takes what little of the commons are left – the nooks and the crannies – and puts money into destroying them to keep out “undesirables.” This racist and classiest action is often the result of gentrification; justified to keep the zoos of the rich free of those who can’t pay their entry fee.

These artists are tackling London's anti-homeless spikes head on
Activists in London combat the painful anti-homeless spikes

The psychological warfare of guillotine turnstiles makes the entire experience of public transportation less comfortable for everyone. Instead of dealing with the 80-20 principle that 80% or 90% of riders will pay no problem, and that there will always be a remainder of the population that for what ever (often very legitimate) reason cannot or will not pay, BART has chosen to harm the public, pushing more people into their polluting cars.

I’m sure before long, people will be defacing these violent turnstiles. And it is likely that the accumulated rage against BART will reduce paying ridership (despite their monopoly), actually bringing them less money than they had before–the exact opposite result than they profess to so-desperately and so-forcefully want.

The public outrage on Twitter is already loud and clear against BART’s weaponization of its service. Such aggrandizement activities miss the point of their charge: they are in the business in providing a public service, and some people can pay more, some less, and not at all. Perhaps peg BART tickets to income. Then the rich might pay $100 per ride, the poor the normal $3.40 trip, and the very poor nothing. That would be a fair approach. Our society is far from that enlightened thinking, sadly, even in that hotbed of *potential* San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and environs.

But let’s not deceive ourselves. There’s a reason why you can’t take the BART to Marin County: racism. Back in the 1950’s there was a plan in place to extend the San Francisco BART to Marin (North Bay), but because of vocal refusal by residents, it failed. And now, no easy public transportation (besides the ferries) go to Marin. The Bay Area is disconnected by design, an open gated community in a natural and cultural paradise predicated on class, race, and exclusion.

Have we not evolved as a city in 70 years? Are we still just as violent towards those less fortunate than us. San Francisco is a mess because of its wealth. But at least on this case of BART structural violence, the people are having their day of reckoning.

Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Vape

About a decade ago, the “American Vaping Association” railed against RJReynolds (later RAI, now part of British American Tobacco (BAT)) for attempting to persuade the FDA to “ban the sale of open-system e-cigarettes, including all component parts.” Now that pretty much all of the e-cigarette companies are tobacco companies, from Altria’s 35% stake in JUUL to RAI’s Vuse being #2 in the US, the question is moot. Big Tobacco won. Open systems are on the fringe, for people like Leonardo di Caprio.

Reynolds’ play to racism and prejudice by equating Chinese manufacture with poor quality is telling. Their own products are manufactured in China. But in order to try to dissuade the FDA from allowing open tank vape systems, it plays the China card. We need to educate people to stop doing this, as 99% of the time they are being hypocritical anyways (their own products are being made in China); and also, American manufacture now is mainly robot-run anyhow. Few quality American manufacturing jobs exist, compared to the 1970’s, for example.

What remains to be seen in the indefinite postponement of the E-cigarette regulations by the FDA is whether Big Tobacco got their way; or if public health will see their day.

Rearranging Glaciers in the Anthropocene

The Rhone Glacier has been wrapped in blankets for the past 8 years by the Swiss (source: Quartz)

For the last 8 summers, Switzerland has been wrapping glaciers in blankets to stop them melting. These desperate strategies are increasingly becoming more common as our ecosystems unravel, ecotourism becomes threatened, and local people’s semiotic world falls apart. The Estonian philosopher Ivar Puura has coined the term “semiocide” to describe what happens to our familiar environmental scaffolding falls away. The violence of climate change is precisely that of diaspora, it is a destruction of continuity, of community, of memory, of what James Gibson calls our “affordances.”

Realism in climate change has always taken a back seat to sustaining the unsustainable, as Ingolfür Bluhdorn has pointed out. We have neglected taking action because we have failed to realize how delicately and intimately our fundamental humanness is tied up with this fluke of stable predictable climate and biodiversity. The industrialized western mind too quickly found it plausible to remain human while dehumanizing our historical environments. The pipe dream of infinite fungibility, attempting to conquer the irreversible arrow of time, has left us with no more capital in our pockets. We have converted life into digital bits, and our digital bits can never buy back life.

The modelling of exchange has dominated our miscalculations. Discounting has reigned as the controlling paradigm, when the few metrics ill-fitted for values beyond exchange monetary value have even entered the accounting process.

Thus, we find ourselves covering glaciers with blankets instead of simplifying life. The quixotic act serves only to further burlesque the limpness of international governance of runaway corporate fossil fuels industries.

There is not enough blankets in the world to cover the glaciers that will need covering. We now engage in these ridiculous fake-care situations, that are feel good, not efficacious. If those same Swiss citizens engaged in direct action to stop flying and driving, and returned Switzerland to a local, pre-fossil fuels economy, they would be much more effective in saving their charismatic glaciers than by these overdramatized overtures of love and dedication.

While covering glaciers may make for good Extinction Rebellion entertainment, the energy used to pop the popcorn to watch such a spectacle is not even worth the future warming to even enjoy anymore the stale popcorn.

We need to wake up to the elephants in the room – and stop immediately oil, coal, and gas drilling, for the rest of eternity.

Talk: Berkeley-Tartu biosemiotic summer seminar July 11 2019

After a successful 2019 Biosemiotics Gathering in Moscow, I’m happy to be sharing a deeper look at my project at the University of Tartu, in Estonia, giving a talk on Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont.

This is as part of the Berkeley-Tartu biosemiotic summer seminar in Tartu.

Part I: June 26, with Jeremy Sherman

Part II, July 11, with Yogi Hendlin

Part III: July 15, with Terrence Deacon.

Here is information about the part II.

On Thursday, July 11, at 14.15, Jakobi 2–336, Yogi H. Hendlin (University of California and Erasmus University of Rotterdam) will give a talk

Multi-level semiosis – and the impact of supernormal stimuli in the human superorganism and holobiont

Abstract. This talk draws on classic ethology and insights for humans as superorganisms living in artificial environments. It first describes the case for seeing the human body, and not just cultures, as itself a superorganism, but through the unconventional form of defining superorganism not as cells or individuals only of one species, but as inherently an interspecies phenomenon. Second, I describe how the holobiont view of the human organism helps make sense of this definition of the superorganism as interspecies. Finally, I’ll look at both classical and cognitive ethology to examine how even individuated human cells or other endosemiotic symbionts can also become affected by unfamiliar stimuli stronger than those their evolutionarily-geared heuristics are geared for. This overflow or flood of response to certain stimuli I see as a relevant form of supernormal stimuli, as Niko Tinbergen described this condition, even as I extend it to endosymbionts, beyond Tinbergen’s use of the concept specifically on the individual animal.

After a break, the meeting will continue at 6 p.m. at Vikerkaare 7–8. 

We also expect to discuss some new ideas from the recent Gathering in Biosemiotics that took place in Moscow.

Everybody very welcome! 

A semiotic analysis of WSJ article on Bayer’s glyphosate problems

The original article, published here, takes a rather pro-industry “we’ll engineer our way out of this” approach. Rather than observing a fundamental problem in putting artificial inputs unsustainably into agriculture, the article plays to the upbeat agribusiness narrative of getting over “minor” problems, and that the “health” of a business or industry should and does outweigh the health and well-being of life on earth. A bit quixotic, sure, but such are the narratives of industrial epidemics.

In this blog post, I will take this WSJ article on Bayer’s glyphosate as a paradigmatic example of what George Orwell called “Newspeak,” and what Harry Frankfurt calls “Bullshit”–the use of words and framing to sophisticly make the weaker argument the stronger and the stronger the weaker. In other words, we’re dealing here with the oh-so-common muscular relativism which subordinates truth to power.

Bayer AG BAYRY -0.67% plans to invest €5 billion ($5.64 billion) on developing new ways to combat weeds over the next decade, as the German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant seeks to win back trust in its business in the wake of thousands of lawsuits alleging its Roundup herbicide causes cancer.

Exhibit A of not taking responsibility: call for more “Research” when plenty has been done, and most says that we need to go to organic regional farming with reduced or no inputs.

A big legal fight over the blockbuster weedkiller—inherited with its takeover of Monsanto Co. last year—has plunged Bayer into one of the worst crises in its 155-year history. The company has lost the first three jury trials to plaintiffs claiming Roundup gave them non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with the highest award topping $2 billion. In response, its shares have almost halved over the past year.

Both Bayer and Monsanto had their origins in poison manufacture, so it makes sense that Bayer would be interested in buying Monsanto. It was a huge mistake, but then again, if you are Bayer, and see Monsanto as a profitable buy, then you know the sort of company you keep. If you’re a shareholder in Bayer, you can only say mea culpa.

It’s not like Bayer’s stock price is going to go up either, any time soon, if ever.

While Bayer is appealing the jury verdicts and continues to vigorously defend the safety of Roundup and the active ingredient glyphosate, its announcement Friday shows how the company is being forced to change tack under pressure from its legal woes. Bayer said glyphosate would retain an important role in its portfolio but that it was also “committed to offering more choice for growers.”

Bayer is not changing tack, it is taking the tried and untrue denialist path of most resistance against accountability, responsibility, sustainability, and science. We don’t need “growers” to be yoked to Bayer, Monsanto, or any other agribusiness. We need them to be free, supported by each other and society, and not in debt to a chemical manufacturer for its survival.

The company said the €5 billion earmarked for herbicide development over the next 10 years would largely fit into the annual spending of €2.4 billion that it had previously estimated for agriculture R&D in coming years. Herbicide research will represent about one-fifth of Bayer’s overall agriculture research investment, and the commitment announced Friday will include chemical research and regulatory expenses as well as new computer-driven farm-management services.

So, the WSJ’s “news” turns out to be no news at all. Instead WSJ is touting industry lies packaged as news in order to attempt to give a “convincing” face-saving “strategy” that Bayer is actually attempting to do something different. Something different is not going to make Bayer more money. If people spray less, they use less chemical, and thus make less money. They’re simply, as a transnational company hell-bent on profit above all (including god?), never going to opt for less. I guess technologization could be an excuse to demand more debt from farmers, but is that even necessary?

The company also said it would cut its “environmental impact” by 30% by 2030 through new technologies and making weedkiller use more precise, and that it would also be more transparent about the safety of its products. These measures, it said, would address health and environmental concerns Bayer has faced since buying Monsanto. Bayer also took out newspaper advertisements to promote its message.

To have a chemical and poison manufacturer say they are going to “cut” their “environmental impact” through “precision” is like death drones say they’re going to cut their kill-counts through “smart bombs.” It simply doesn’t happen and doesn’t exist. Any anybody who buys that rhetoric is doing so full well that they are swallowing some pretty grotesque bullshit. Bayer being more transparent about safety, too would be easy: publish all of your unpublished studies online. We have public documents now showing that Monsanto knew in the early 1980s about the carcinogenic properties of glyphosate. Why did we have to wait more than 30 years for IARC to come to the same conclusions? How are we going to incentivize transparency for a company that would lose even more stock price if they were honest. Again, the words belie the actual situation. Managing transparency – lying about and pretending to be transparent – is not the same thing as independent 3rd-party oversight, real transparency. The icing on the Pinocchio cake is that Bayer is more interested in advertising how it wants to reform than it actually is in reforming (maybe dissolve the company and pay reparations to farmers harmed by its chemicals?).

The company’s leadership has faced intense criticism over its decision to buy Monsanto. At a heated shareholder meeting in late April, some 55% of shareholders refused to endorse management’s actions in the past year.

A vote of no-confidence like this means that the company should come under new leadership at the least, get rid of their toxic Monsanto asset, and trigger public oversight of the company.

Bayer and other agricultural companies are already marketing new herbicides, as glyphosate’s widespread use on U.S. farms has contributed to weeds like palmer amaranth and waterhemp developing resistance to the world’s most widely used weedkiller.

The last thing we need is the next glyphosate. “Now More Deadly than Ever!” Instead, shifting away from the stranglehold of the chemical industry on agriculture is the only way humans and the rest of the planet are going to survive this thing.

Bayer said Friday that with glyphosate’s global success came “widespread use, weed resistance, and in some instances unintended misapplication.”

We call this chess move “responsibilization,” the offloading of corporate responsibility onto consumers. Its CSR in reverse, while making it seem as if the consumers have been “bad.” Really great to blame the victims of the producers’ poisons.

Monsanto in recent years launched a new herbicide based on the chemical dicamba, along with soybean and cotton seeds genetically engineered to withstand the spray.

When all else fails, repackage poison in a new name and pretend people don’t notice.

Some farmers have said the more-powerful weedkiller drifted onto neighboring fields and damaged nonmodified crops. Agricultural researchers estimate that millions of acres of crops have been damaged by drifting dicamba. Bayer has attributed the crop damage mainly to farmers misapplying the spray. In 2018 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said farmers could continue to use dicamba under tighter restrictions.

Because Monsanto’s hat trick was to create GMOs resistant to their poisons, if their poisons get on plants that aren’t engineered to soak up unlimited amounts of highly toxic poisons they die. But guess what? Nothing in this universe stays in “its place.” That’s a pipedream of old white men, viz. Descartes and his gang that thought that you could abstract something, manipulate it, and then reintroduce it into the world as if that abstraction really existed. In critical theory, they call this “reification.” Drift happens. How could it now? If you pee in your own swimming hole, that pee is going to go everywhere, including on you, and those ducks, and your friends. Not cool. Quit pissing out poisons.

Rival Corteva Inc. is marketing a competing crop seed and herbicide combination, based around the herbicide 2,4-D.

As if the solution to the chemical anthropocene were just more herbicides. Again, this “engineering approach” to digging ourselves deeper into the problems we created with profit-driven synthetic chemical thinking is parasitic on actual alternative that would free us from such chemical slavery.

The legal battle over Roundup could take years to resolve as Bayer has said it would appeal decisions and wait for the outcome of a few more cases before considering a settlement.

Bayer will not win 13,400 lawsuits. Not in the US, or elsewhere. The classic technique of buying time and delay tactics mean that every day they refuse to pay up and settle or admit wrongdoing (which our handy documents here show daily that there is more and more malfeasance), is another day that they can still make a buck off of selling glyphosate products.

Investors say Bayer’s stock is likely to struggle until there is more clarity over how much the litigation will end up costing the company. Analysts’ estimates range from €5 billion to €25 billion.

These are conservative estimates based on class-action. The tobacco MSA cost about $300 billion. Let’s see worldwide what happens to Bayer when lawsuits in other parts of the world start kicking in.

Bayer is appealing all jury verdicts so far and has vigorously defended the safety of Roundup.

Vigorously defending the safety of a product or chemical has nothing to do with whether that product is safe or not. Merely, it is part of a process that has been set up so that if a company were to admit guilt, they would lose everything, so instead, they are incentivized to lie and fight as if the company depended on it, because it does. This “too big to fail” approach which does not allow for the admission of guilt and corrective measures without imploding companies doesn’t work. We need to have civil society involved much earlier on, so that the hazards of these products never get to their world-historical proportions which they do today. We need to change our laws to incentivize humility, epistemological and ethical, instead of creating rabid denialists. In a strange way, denialism is a product of a risk regulatory framework that doesn’t allow for people to admit mistakes, pay the consequences, and move on.

In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization unit, classified glyphosate as likely having the potential to cause cancer in humans. That classification triggered the wave of lawsuits. Bayer argues hundreds of studies and regulatory decisions around the world show Roundup and glyphosate are safe when used as directed.

“Safe when used as directed” is another industry-standard phrase. I guess guns are safe when used as directed as well, but nothing in existence is ever used as directed. Unless you pressure test every product for all of its uses, you’re negligent, and should be held accountable so. Monsanto would have lost billions of dollars if they had ever encouraged glyphosate to be used “as directed.”

In the U.S., where Roundup has become integral to farming, Costco Wholesale Corp. recently pulled Roundup herbicides from its stores. Certain cities in California, Florida, Minnesota and elsewhere have also forbidden use of glyphosate weedkillers on municipal property while other farm-state lawmakers have defended the herbicides.

“Integral” is an interesting choice of words. Monsanto for 50 years worked to force American agriculture into its pocket, through path dependent forced coupling of seed and herbicide.

Several European countries, including France and Austria, are considering phasing out glyphosate. Early this year, a French court banned a Roundup product with the ingredient, even though it still has a European Union seal of approval. A senior executive of German public rail operator Deutsche Bahn AG told a German weekly Friday that the company together with the German environment ministry would research alternatives for combating weeds along its 33,000 kilometers of tracks.

After the German Minister of Agriculture went against Merkel and the German government’s directives to not support renewal of glyphosate in the EU, the rest of the German government decided they needed to not wait another 5 years to attend to the problems glyphosate pose to human health. The majority of their citizenry do not wish to be enslaved to a cancer-causing chemical, and no longer wish to be subjected to it. Hence, the Ministry of the Environment is taking steps throughout German society to do what failed at the EU level: protect its citizens from the harms of the next generation of poisons.

The company said it would invite scientists, journalists and representatives from nonprofits to participate in its efforts to secure re-registration of glyphosate in the EU—a review likely to trigger debate about safety. The process is expected to kick off later this year, with a vote in late 2022.

(By Ruth Bender and Jacob Bunge Updated June 14, 2019 3:02 p.m. ET)

The largess of the company to invite (and pay) scientists and others sympathetic to its cause to seduce people with good names to foul them and ruin their professional reputations for the sake of short-term financial gain is overstated. Bayer is saying that it will do everything in its power to extend its network as merchants of doubt to derail science and popular sovereignty over land and food in EU countries.