Does idle chat and unhappiness go together? Eight years ago, a study was published (Mehl et al. 2010) suggesting that they do. The authors reported that “Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations”, triggering many alarming headlines.
Now, however, the same researchers have carried out a much larger study and have failed to confirm the chat-unhappiness association. The new paper is published in Psychological Science, the same journal where the original appeared. What I like about this new article is that it’s a good example of researchers revisiting their own work and openly changing their minds. - More Here
I think vegetarianism is, in fact, one of those cases where the ancient road is not the best one, and we need to revise it. Full disclosure here: I am not a complete vegetarian, though I heavily lean that way. My eating habits can best be described as vegetarianism with the addition of occasional wild caught fish thrown into the mix (paying attention to whether the species in question is being overfished). I have never considered veganism seriously, even though the ethical argument there is at least as strong as the one for vegetarianism (though it’s not easy to be a healthy vegan, an issue I don’t want to get into here because it would distract from the main point). You could accuse me of hypocrisy, and I will respond that I’m trying to do my best, and that at any rate I’m doing more than a lot of other people. Never claimed to be a sage, never will.
Just to give you an idea, these are the USDA statistics of slaughtered animals for the year 2008, obviously limited to the USA only:
I strongly suggest these numbers ought to disturb you, especially if you know anything about how all of this is actually done. And that’s without bringing into consideration additional factors that the ancient Stoics were not concerned with, like labor practices (generally speaking, horrible) and environmental impact (not at all good, to put it very mildly).
Given all this, I strongly suggest that modern Stoics should lean heavily toward vegetarianism, or at the very least endorse only humane practices of raising and killing animals, as it is done in a number of small, independently owned farms. The problem is that that model simply does not scale up to feeding billions of human beings, which means that, for practical purposes, Stoics should indeed be vegetarian.
But what about the idea – which the ancient Stoics surely did have – that animals and plants are here to satisfy human needs? That idea stemmed from the Stoic concept of a providential universe, understood as a living organism itself, endowed with the Logos, the capacity for rationality.
The problem is that modern science very clearly tells us that that’s not the kind of universe we exist in. Plants and other animals are the product of billions of years of evolution, just like ourselves, and so in no rational way can they be said to be here “for” us. Seneca, above, said that the truth lies open to all; it has not yet been taken over, as much is left for those yet to come. Well, two thousand years later we are still searching for a lot of truths, but we have found out a few more than in Seneca’s time. It is our ethical duty, therefore, to update our practices accordingly. Remember that one of the pillars of Stoic philosophy is precisely that the “physics” (i.e., all of natural science) should inform our ethics, so better knowledge of biology in particular should redirect the way we think about what is right and what is wrong when it comes to eating habits. - More Here
So Gaia has nothing to do with any New Age idea of the Earth in a millennial balance, but rather emerges, as Lenton emphasizes over dinner, from a very specific industrial and technological situation: a violent technological rupture, blending the conquest of space, plus the nuclear and cold wars, that we were later to summarize under the label of the “Anthropocene” and that is accompanied by a cultural rupture symbolized by California in the 1960s. Drugs, sex, cybernetics, the conquest of space, the Vietnam War, computers, and the nuclear threat: this is the matrix from which Gaia was born, in violence, artifice, and war.
But Dutreuil is keen to point out that the most surprising aspect of this hypothesis is that it depends on the coupling of two diametrically opposed analyses. Lovelock’s analysis imagines the Earth seen from Mars as a cybernetic system, while that of Lynn Margulis looks at the planet through the other end of the binoculars, starting with the smallest and oldest living organisms. At the time, in the 1970s, Margulis was a typical example of a maverick, a dissident stirring up the neo-Darwinians who were in full flight at the time. In their minds, evolution presupposed the existence of organisms sufficiently separable from the others so that one could say that they had a modicum of superior or inferior fitness.
But Margulis challenged the very existence of separate individuals: one cell, one bacterium, one human, for the very good and simple reason that they are “all interlinked,” as the title of a recent book by Eric Bapteste indicates, Tous entrelacés or All Interlaced (2018). A cell is independent entities superimposed on each other, in the same way that our organism depends not only on our genes, but on those of the infinitely more numerous critters that are in residence in our gut or crawling over our skin. Evolution certainly exists, but which direction is it coming from, and which interlinked participants are going to profit from it? That is what is not calculable. Genes may well be “selfish,” as Richard Dawkins said at one point, the problem is that they don’t know the exact limits of their self! It is interesting to note that as time goes by, Margulis’s discoveries are gaining in importance, to the point where today they seem to be orthodox, thanks to the holobiont concept catching on with lightning speed. In that one concept, we get the whole idea of the superimposition of living beings folded into each other.
Now I understand the mistakes made in the interpretation of Gaia both by those who rejected it too quickly, and those who embraced it too enthusiastically. Both were working with an image of the Earth, the globe, nature, the natural order, without taking into account the fact that they were dealing with a unique object requiring a general revision of scientific conceptions.
Ah! So I was right after all to make the comparison with Galileo. As I was stuck under my duvet waiting for it to rain enough for the English to dare to venture out of doors, I understood this striking sentence in Lovelock: “The Gaia hypothesis implies that the stable state of our planet includes man as a part of, or partner in, a very democratic entity.” I had never understood this allusion to democracy in an author who was not particularly defensive of it. That was because he wasn’t talking about democracy among humans, but was overturning our perspectives in a hugely consequential way.
Before Gaia, the inhabitants of modern industrial societies saw nature as a domain of necessity, and when they looked toward their own society they saw it as the domain of freedom, as philosophers might say. But after Gaia these two distinct domains literally don’t exist anymore. There is no living or animated thing that obeys an order superior to itself, and that dominates it, or that it just has to adapt itself to, and this is true for bacteria as much as lions or human societies. This doesn’t mean that all living things are free in the rather simple sense of being individuals, since they are interlinked, folded, and entangled in each other. This means that the issue of freedom and dependence is equally valid for humans as it is for the partners of the above natural world.
Galileo invented a world of objects placed beside each other, without affecting each other, and entirely obeying the laws of physics. Lovelock and Margulis sketched a world of agents constantly interacting with each other. When I came back from this amazing day in Dorset, I said to myself that taking on board such a world had nothing to do with ecology, but quite simply with a politics of living things. And as I was going down the coast, I had the thought that another Brecht was needed to write a “Life of Lovelock.” - Bruno Latour Tracks Down Gaia
I have seen many storms in my life. Most storms have caught me by surprise, so I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature. - Paulo Coelho