Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cleaning up ocean trash

Everyday we read and see how the oceans are being overrun by trash and plastics. Animals are dying, people are surfing through garbage, and our coastlines are becoming waste dumps. Everybody gripes about plastics in the ocean, but does anybody do anything?

If Boyan Slat, a 22-year old college drop out, gets his way we will soon see a fleet of floating ocean trash collectors. "'We let the plastic come to us,' he says. The group hopes to eventually finance the operation by recycling the plastic and selling it as a branded product or raw material." Once the plastic arrives at the drifting garbage tank, it is funneled towards a central tank and then picked up monthly by ships.

But his critics believe that it is a waste of effort and too much money for something that in "10 to 20 years" will disappear.
They also list "technical limitations and concerns such as harm to marine life. 'It’s not the best solution,' says Marcus Eriksen of the ocean nonprofit The 5 Gyres Institute, based in Los Angeles, California. 'In fact, it’s a distraction from the work going on upstream.' Most environmental groups working on ocean pollution focus on reducing the amount of plastic that enters the ocean, and, ultimately, what Eriksen calls 'the heavy lift of ending the one-time, throwaway culture.'
But what about all that plastic floating around out there? I mean there's supposed to be a continent of plastic out there somewhere. It seems like a long shot to think that we are just going to stop using plastics, considering they are in everything we use. How do we reduce the plastic going into the ocean when the world seems like it can't agree on anything. Can't we collect and dispose of the trash at the same time that we look at reducing our use of plastic? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Criticizing with kindness

Can you be kind to your critics? You betcha...and it is especially important if you want them to listen to you, and if you want your readers to take you seriously.

If  you write counterarguments that are weak or insubstantial, all the better to dismiss them and lose ethos to boot. This is especially true if your readers are passionate about your subject.

Somewhere along the way you have to take on, and tackle, the strongest counterargument you can think of - and that can be difficult.

Daniel Dennett, one of today's best modern philosophers, asks "Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”

Here's his answer, word-for-word:
"How to compose a successful critical commentary: 
"1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, 'Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.' 
"2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement). 
"3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target. 
"4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism."
This strategy builds ethos, pathos, and logos when formulating counterarguments. Ethos by being able to re-express your opponents position plainly (you are fair). In addition, when you can show that there are points of agreement you are building ethos (again, you are fair), but this also expresses pathos since we all want to get along somehow.

You can accomplish logos by expressing the logical outcome you gained from your opponent's position (what you learned). That sometimes seems to be the sticking point for new college writer's, how can I validate the claim I am supposed to be arguing against? You don't have to validate all of it, just some of it. At times, you may not be able to validate any of it, but if you look like you can reach some kind of common ground that makes you look reasonable (again, more ethos).

So thinking of your own counterargument, how can you adopt this formula?

Didn't the ancients have any feelings?

If you've ever read Roman, Old English, Medieval, or Renaissance lit, you may have noticed how devoid of feeling it is? Many of the ancient sagas from Homer to Iceland are filled with action, especially violent war-type action. But didn't any of these societies have any feelings? Of course, they must've by why don't they ever write about it? Is it because we expect everyone to reveal their every feeling on the page? Is this desire something that makes us modern?

I mean pick up a novel, open it to any page and read. Feelings are spread before us in almost every paragraph with gallons of ink. There are so many feelings that it sometimes takes the characters forever to DO anything.
"Literature certainly reflects the preoccupations of its time, but there is evidence that it may also reshape the minds of readers in unexpected ways. Stories that vault readers outside of their own lives and into characters’ inner experiences may sharpen readers’ general abilities to imagine the minds of others. If that’s the case, the historical shift in literature from just-the-facts narration to the tracing of mental peregrinations may have had an unintended side effect: helping to train precisely the skills that people needed to function in societies that were becoming more socially complex and ambiguous."
At least that is what one researcher thinks. Our tendency to reflect, read, and write about feelings helps us to navigate society today. We evolved those skills over time, and, if you think about it, in a relatively short period of time...5,000 years or so.

Not to say that there wasn't emotions in early texts, but it was more "hand wringing and tearing of hair," and relatively little of the more subtle emotional cues we read in our novels today.

When did this change? Between 1500 and 1700 and who was writing about emotions then? You guessed it, Shakespeare. Specifically "when it became common for characters to pause in the middle of the action, launching into monologues as they struggled with conflicting desires, contemplated the motives of others, or lost themselves in fantasy—as is familiar to anyone who’s studied the psychologically rich soliloquies of Shakespeare’s plays."

So that leads this researcher to ask:
"If mentalizing skills can be burnished by language that draws attention to mental states, has literature’s increasing use of such language improved readers’ social intelligence over the centuries?"
What do you think? Are we socially more intelligent than our ancestors?