Saturday, September 8, 2012

Lynn Margulis and the Pursuit of Knowledge

Rebel with a Cause

by Dorion Sagan

Photo: Victoria Reay

Although my father, Carl Edward Sagan (1934-1996), is still far more famous for being a scientist and popularizing it, I believe that future historians will gauge my mother, Lynn Petra Alexander Margulis (1938-2011) to have made the greater contribution to human knowledge.

Lynn Margulis
Photo: Roshi Joan Halifax

When your parents are famous and they die it must, I think, be different than if they're not. Perhaps it is that way for everybody: instead of expiring, vanishing into the shadows never to return again, they become bigger, their presences enlarge. Living matter, which I take to be a complex open thermodynamic system at Earth's surface, one whose intelligence not only dwarfs but contains humankind, has been saving aspects of its information, memorizing itself as it were, for 3.8 billion years. Indeed, this is part of what my mother studied—she studied the “earliest stages of evolution” because, she said, “in this way I can lay low and not be ‘name-called’ . . . [for example] ‘denialist’ . . . because I ask hard questions and require solid evidence before I embrace a particular causal hypothesis. Indeed, is not my attitude of inquiry exactly what science is about?”

Here she was talking about the AIDS-HIV connection, which she had investigated and she found was full of holes and unanswered questions. It also didn’t pass the smell test: If the science was there, and good, why the ad hominem attacks, the obfuscation, the pillorying of those who would ask questions.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Equality Beyond Tax and Spend

Photo by David Jones
By Gar Alperovitz
*This article is Chapter 1 in Gar Alperovitz's America Beyond Capitalism, 2nd Edition, (Democracy Collaborative, 2011). Reprinted with the permission of the publisher and author.

For two decades economists concerned with inequality have debated the precise role global competition, changing technologies, sectoral balances, and other strictly economic factors have played in generating the worsening trends. Whatever the final resolution of the technical debate over how much weight to assign different forces, the important truth, as Barry Bluestone points out in an article called “The Inequality Express,” is that none shows “the least sign of weakening.”

Accordingly, what is of truly fundamental concern for those who care about equality has been the collapse of the political-economic strategies it once was hoped might counter the deepening trends.

And the central question is whether there are any other ways forward, even in theory.

The evolving progressive reassessment begins with a cold appraisal of the reasons traditional approaches no longer work. There is very little doubt about what has happened to undermine liberal redistributive strategies.