The Four Cultures of Star Wars

Star Wars - Original ScriptAs I write this on the train home, my neighbour  is watching Star Wars: A New Hope on his portable DVD player. The bleeps and moans of R2D2 and Chewbacca come through clearly on his earphones. Thirty two years after its release, the movie and its myth-making are evidently still going strong. But what is it that gives this particular story its staying power?

I think it works partly because it recognises the existence of the Four Cultures and the endless conflicts and settlements between them.

Here’s how it works:

Continue reading “The Four Cultures of Star Wars”

Advertisements

The Four Cultures of Marketing Ethics

smoking-santaMarketing, whether of a product or an idea, can be overt or it can be covert.

In the former everyone can see what’s happening and can willingly consent to it. The latter, though  can become out and out manipulation. Mostly, there’s a big grey area in between. Continue reading “The Four Cultures of Marketing Ethics”

The Four Cultures of Science Fiction

As a genre, sci-fi is par excellence concerned with culture. What would it be like to visit an alien world? How would its inhabitants operate, and how would they differ from us?

In a way it’s a kind of theoretical anthropology. Think of Ursula Le Guin’s inquiry into a culture of hermaphrodites in The Left Hand of Darkness, or of Iain M. Banks’s series of novels in which he explores the political permutations of a culture that has abolished scarcity – a culture provocatively named ‘the Culture’. Continue reading “The Four Cultures of Science Fiction”

The Dam Bursts

credit: mandj98Imagine a village nestled in a valley below a large dam.

One morning the villagers look up from their houses to see very clearly that the dam has suddenly burst and a huge quantity of flood water is incontrovertibly rushing down the valley towards the defenceless settlement.

It has all happened so fast there is no way of stopping it. And no-one is doubting the reality of the predicament: the village is about to be entirely consumed by the raging flood.

So far, so certain. The facts are there to be seen by all. So, given this, why doesn’t everyone do the same thing? Surely the best course of action is obvious.

The theory of Four Cultures suggests that even when the facts are clearly known, there are four main ways people interpret their environment. Continue reading “The Dam Bursts”

The Dark Side of Cultural Theory

Nick Naylor: Right there, looking into Joey’s eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless, protecting the disenfranchised corporations that have been abandoned by their very own consumers: the logger, the sweatshop foreman, the oil driller, the land mine developer, the baby seal poacher…
Polly Bailey: Baby seal poacher?
Bobby Jay Bliss:
Even *I* think that’s kind of cruel.

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Grid-group cultural theory proposes that there’s a constant and endless argument going on about ‘the facts of the matter’. We look at the evidence that suits our cultural biases – moreover we create the evidence to fit our take on the world. Continue reading “The Dark Side of Cultural Theory”

Energy Efficiency: Running to stand still?

Pickering Traction Engine Rally, P. StevensonIs energy efficiency a key factor in reducing greenhouse emissions?

Matthew Taylor of the RSA thinks home energy efficiency should take priority, and Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute is also very keen on large scale efficiency gains.

The Jevons Paradox is the idea formulated in 1865 that making coal-burning more efficient will lead inexorably to the burning of yet more coal. Newcomen’s steam engine dramatically increased the use of coal in England and William Jevons’ (1835-1882) book The Coal Question noted this. but Jevons  also saw that James Watt’s more efficient version was what made coal-burning really take off, truly inaugurating the ‘age of steam’. He wrote: Continue reading “Energy Efficiency: Running to stand still?”

Redundancy and Resilience

Redundancy is a marvellous buffer against shocks to the system. When the primary system breaks down, we need only switch to the backup with no great harm done – provided of course there is a backup. In this way, redundancy can be seen as a kind of insurance policy.

The big problem for us is that we’ve just spent more than sixty years systematically destroying the backup systems in the name of efficiency. Just think of the connotations of the very term: in contemporary speech, redundancy sounds by definition to be something you need to get rid of as soon as possible.

Resilience theory (see the Resilience Alliance website) observes that in social-ecological systems the moment of greatest efficiency is also the moment of greatest brittleness. Continue reading “Redundancy and Resilience”

Climate Disruption as policy: wisdom or folly?

by Rarbol2004Could it be in China’s interests to ignore climate chance?

According to the Danish ‘skeptical environmentalist’ Bjorn Lomborg:

Climate models show that for at least the rest of this century, China will actually benefit from global warming. Warmer temperatures will boost agricultural production and improve health. The number of lives lost in heatwaves will increase, but the number of deaths saved in winter will grow much more rapidly: warming will have a more dramatic effect on minimum temperatures in winter than on maximum temperatures in summer.
There are few arguments for China and India to commit to carbon caps – and compelling reasons for them to resist pressure to do so.”

Now to say that Lomborg has been accused of playing fast and loose with statistics would be an understatement, so there is no special reason to trust his unreferenced ‘climate models’. However, commentators at the Ecologist Magazine, hardly Lomborg’s best friends, have said more or less the same thing, and added Canada as a potential beneficiary of climate change. So let’s just suppose Chinese, Indian and possibly Russian officials and politicians are indeed thinking along these lines. After all, disruption and change always create opportunities for someone, somewhere. Would it be possible to develop policy on the basis that climate change will substantially alter the balance of environmental blessings between the world’s nations? In other words, could rising temperatures shift competitive advantage to certain nations? Of course it would be possible to develop policy on this basis. But would it be wise? Continue reading “Climate Disruption as policy: wisdom or folly?”

Certainty: I’m fairly sure we don’t need it

Have you noticed many people tend to be pretty certain that Peak Oil either is or isn’t happening, global warming either is or isn’t happening, and so on. Guns, abortion, nanotechnology, Genetic Modification of crops, controlled burning of the Australian bush – it can be quite polarised.

The preferred strategy seems to be to get hold of all the evidence then make a decision that you can be more or less sure about. We seem to like certainty and it seems to be an aid to decision-making. Conversely, it’s hard to take F. Scott Fizgerald’s advice that

“The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

So Robert A. Burton’s book, On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not is very helpful and provocative. Basically, the story we tell ourselves about certainty and how we reach it is completely wrong. Continue reading “Certainty: I’m fairly sure we don’t need it”