Ls&Cs: Cancel Culture; Leaf Blowers; a Smaller Population

Today’s thought: It occurs to me that “cancel culture” exists on both the left and right. The left is more apt to target individuals (Jerry Coyne responds to an attempt by the Imperial College London to rename anything named after Thomas H. Huxley, and others), the right vast swaths of history they find uncomfortable (“critical race theory,” which the conservative critics do not actually understand). The problem with this, aside from the immediate ethical issues, is that eventually it will happen to all of us. Future generations, with different cultural and ethical standards, might well decide all of our lives are irrelevant and are not fit to be remembered.

And I suppose in history, and certainly in some science fictional scenarios, there are cultures who try to do this: erase the past, live only for the moment, know only what the current authorities tell you to believe. The past is irrelevant.

This doesn’t work, because human nature doesn’t change. It is still given to superstition, authoritarian impulses, and much more that would tear down any number of idealized utopias. But also to curiosity and inquiry, which tend to challenge authoritarian regimes. Have any works of SF dealt with these issues? Of course; this is one of its enduring themes.


NYT guest essay by Margaret Renki (writing from Nashville), 25 Oct 21: The First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Leaf Blowers.

They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.

Nearly everything about how Americans “care” for their lawns is deadly. Pesticides prevent wildflower seeds from germinating and poison the insects that feed songbirds and other wildlife. Lawn mower blades, set too low, chop into bits the snakes and turtles and baby rabbits that can’t get away in time. Mulch, piled too deep, smothers ground-nesting bees, and often the very plants that mulch is supposed to protect, as well.

I’ve always been annoyed by these too, but if you hire a gardener, what can you? Order them to use brooms? They would decline to accept your job.

Fortunately our house here in the Oakland Hills as such a limited yard — no grass at all, just some shrubs, succulents, and potted plants — that we’ve not needed to hire a regular gardener, and so have avoided the problem. OTOH, I had our gutters cleaned a week or so ago, and yes, they use leaf blowers to send the debris down onto the street and sidewalk. But that’s a once every two years event.

–On the idea of lawns. Americans carried the idea of green grassy lawns over from Europe, especially England. Harari’s Sapiens makes a point of this. And I long ago realized this at my family’s second Apple Valley house, on an acre out in the middle of a valley in the Mojave Desert, had this big lawn alongside the house, which of course required regular watering, was an imposition of Midwestern values into an environment that was unsuitable for them.

Fortunately, this is being realized. Example:

This month, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed a new law making his the first state with plans to ban gas-powered lawn equipment along with other machines, like generators and pressure washers, that use gasoline-powered engines.

In the Big Picture, this is not just a local annoyance. It’s about humanity learning to live on our planet long-term. Which it can’t do given current policies.


More broadly, Valerie Tarico, from May 2021: A Dozen Ways a Smaller, Older Population Might be Awesome

In the late 1960s writer Paul Ehrlich published a book called The Population Bomb, which predicted mass famine in the coming decades due to overpopulation. It didn’t happen; food production expanded to feed the expanding population; and so Ehrlich’s prediction were dismissed or forgotten.

But the arithmetic hasn’t changed; the world’s population is still expanding and, to apply an elementary heuristic — consider how a trend would work taken to its extreme — the world’s continually expanding population can’t go on forever.

Yet the values of countries like ours promotes expansion, always expansion — the GDP, the Stock Market, the continual building of new suburban developments.

How long can this continue? This is a Big Picture, 30,000 foot view, question.

Tarico lays out 12 ways in which a smaller population might be “awesome.”

1. Better educated young people
2. Higher wages
3. Lower prices of goods
4. Longer productive lives
5. More intergenerational caretaking within families
6. Retirees building community
7. More inheritance per capita
8. Bigger per-person shares of the common
9. More bountiful, beautiful housing
10. Shorter commutes
11. Breathing room
12. More and better leisure time

My take: these are the ways thinking people might plan for the future. But, as recent elections have revealed, this is very unlikely to happen.

Our current trends can’t go on forever. We’ve been warning you.

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