Eugene Linden
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Lastest Musing
Time Warp on Climate Change

 

In yesterday's New York Times, there were two articles on climate change. The first was a front page piece about how President Obama will try to end-run Congressional paralysis on dealing with climate change by seeking to update the existing Kyoto treaty in ways that comm...
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The Ragged Edge of the World
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endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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The Parrot's Lament
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Silent Partners
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Affluence and Discontent
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The Alms Race
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Apes, Men, & Language
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TheOctopusandtheOrangutan

Buy The Octopus and the Orangutan at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE OCTOPUS AND THE ORANGUTAN From the publisher's press release: Award-winning writer Eugene Linden returns to the animal kingdom in this eagerly-awaited follow-up to The Parrot's Lament. In The Octopus and the Orangutan, Eugene Linden takes readers on another unforgettable journey into the minds and hearts of animals. The Parrot's Lament, his acclaimed previous book, explored the animal intelligence revealed as different creatures negotiated with, fooled, and teased zookeepers, trainers, and each other. Now, in a wide-ranging collection of real-life anecdotes that offer further compelling evidence of animals' higher mental capabilities and their awareness of the needs and feelings of others, Linden goes beyond these everyday encounters and takes us deeper into their minds through this new window on intelligence. The Octopus and the Orangutan finds intelligent behavior in surprising new places, ranging from the octopus' garden to the crow's nest. Amazing feats of stealth, deception, and larceny are balanced with unexpected acts of kindness and friendship. Animals show they are cagey bargainers and tough negotiators both with their human keepers and with one another. And, for the first time, we observe an astonishing new behavior previously thought to be exclusively human. The animals themselves are our guides in this fresh look at the question of animal intelligence. From the beloved pets we think we know to the remarkable creatures in the wild, Eugene Linden once again shares his wonder and joy at the infinite variety of animal behavior that continues to inform, amaze, and touch us all. The author will donate a portion of his royalties to the Humane Society of the United States and to Traffic, a branch of the World Wildlife Fund dedicated to stopping the trade in endangered species. Eugene Linden is an award-winning journalist and the author of The Parrot's Lament, The Future in Plain Sight, Silent Partners, and other books on animals and the environment. He has consulted for the U.S. State Department, the UN Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. He lives in Nyack, New York. Buy The Octopus and the Orangutan at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

 

In this op-ed, published in today’s New York Times, I explored an enduring meme in American life. Our consumer society has banished religion and tradtions to the sidelines, leaving only one’s place in the meritocracy as a prop for identity. And since that tends to be defined by material success, most people are left with a gnawing sense that they have failed in life. This anxiety has been exploited by sales pitches for generations.

 

There is limited space in an oped; too limited, for instance, to delve deeply into the issues raised by anxiety about identity in a consumer society.  Dig deeply, however, and we can see that this anxiety provides nothing less than the motive energy of the consumer society.  The genius of a consumer society is that it exploits the very anxieties it produces.

 

Insecurity about identity in a world that worships material success is, of course, a well-trodden meme of American literature and theater, mostly as it plays out in personal terms. Think Willie Loman.  But then there is discontent’s role in the consumer society as a system. What does a purchase accomplish? What do millions of purchases accomplish?  They mobilize capitalism and markets. So, we are encouraged to define ourselves in material terms, creating discontent, which can then be then it mined to spur further purchases, and each purchase further fuels the consumer society. This catalyst for purchases is inexhaustible because material acquisitions cannot satisfy a non-material need.

 

And what are these non-material needs that cannot be satisfied by purchases?  At their core, those needs – the powerful urge to be a part of something noble and larger – are religious. Think about the consumer society in an historical context. From the dawn of Western civilization, reason -- in the form of the hand of enterprise -- has expanded its foothold on behavior. As Arnold Toynbee wrote many decades ago, the ancient Greeks moved the gods out of the trees and up onto Mount Olympus, and then monotheism took that one further and bundled the gods into one supreme being and, in effect, exiled “him” to the heavens. The Reformation made it OK to feel good about doing well, and then, sometime in the middle of the last century, the consumer society brilliantly drove religion to the margins of daily life, while co-opting the needs that drive religious fervor for commercial ends. So here we are, with “Black Friday” recruiting more passionate devotees than any church. Neat trick, and who can argue against the convenience and security the consumer society has delivered. There are some costs, however…  



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