Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The worse angels of our nature

We are different from the Nazis and the Soviets not because we have more self-control -- we don't. We are different largely because postwar improvements in agricultural technology have provided the West with reliable supplies of food, our massive consumption of which says much about our limited self-control. But what if food were to become scarcer and more expensive, as seems now to be the trend? What if unfavorable climate change were to outrun our technical capacities? Or what if melting glaciers leave societies such as China without fresh water? Pinker claims, unpersuasively, that global warming poses little threat to modern ways of life. But it hardly matters whether he is right: states are already taking action to minimize its consequences. China, for example, is buying up land in Africa and Ukraine in order to compensate for its own shortage of arable soil. The fresh water of Siberia must beckon. If scientists continue to issue credible warnings about the consequences of climate change, it would be surprising if leaders did not conjure up new reasons for preemptive violent action, positioning their states for a new age of want.
-- from War No More, Timothy Snyder's review of Steven Pinker's Better Angels of Our Nature.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Trails and stories

The nomads who still inhabit the Kalahari Desert are said to tell one another stories on their daylong wanderings, during which they search for edible roots and animals to hunt. Often they have more than one story going at the same time. Sometimes they have three or four stories running in parallel. But before they return to the spot where they will spend the night, they manage either to intertwine the stories or split them apart for good, giving each its own ending.
-- Henning Mankell

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Durban and Kellogg-Briand

Last week, looking over various comments (including this) on COP 17, the following came to mind: 
I wonder sometimes if Durban and the COP process generally is a little like the negotiations that led up to the Kellogg-Briand pact outlawing war.  Lots of good intentions, but the real action was elsewhere.   This is not to say that trying to negotiate treaties on war and violence is totally pointless; they did, for example, lead to the Geneva conventions.