Eugene Linden
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Latest Musing

Imagining a Post Pandemic World

How might a post-pandemic world look and feel? Let’s imagine a creative team at a New York City advertising agency pitching a campaign in 2050 for a new perfume (more than most products, perfumes are sold by attaching to the dreams and aspirations of their times).  The Big Apple, ...

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Latest Book

Deep Past
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Articles by Category
endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
fragging

Books

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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bio

             I’ve spent my entire writing career exploring various aspects of one question: Why is it that after hundreds of thousands of years one relatively small subset of our species has reached a point where its fears, appetites, and spending habits control the destiny of every culture, every major ecosystem, and virtually every creature on earth?  What happened that enabled us to seize control in a blink of an eye?

         I began scratching at this question in my first book, Apes, Men and Language, published nearly 40 years ago. In that book I explored the implications of some experiments from the 1960s  that showed that chimpanzees could use sign language in ways similar to the way we use words – to express opinions and feelings, to make specific requests, and to comment on the events of their day.  Since the moral basis of our rights to use nature as so much raw material is deeply entangled with the belief that we are the lone sentient beings on the planet, I wondered what it would mean if it turned out that other animals possessed higher mental abilities and consciousness? I never expected that the scientific establishment and society would say “oops, sorry,” but I also never imagined that the issue would turn out to be as fraught and contentious as it has.

         That first book was the result of a curious turn of events. My first major journalistic assignment was an investigation of fragging (attacks by enlisted men on their officers) in Vietnam. That article, “The Demoralization of an Army: Fragging and Other Withdrawal Symptoms,” was published as a cover story in Saturday Review in 1971. It got a good deal of attention, and a few publishers contacted me about possibly writing a book. I was eager to do that, but a few publishers lost interest when they learned that I wanted to write about experiments teaching sign language to apes and not Vietnam. Dutton gamely stayed on, however, and "Apes" is still in print in some parts of the world.

         Since that first book, I’ve revisited and explored animal thinking in several books and many articles. In Silent Partners: The Legacy of the Ape Language Experiments, I looked at what happened to the animals themselves in the aftermath of the experiments as the chimps were whipsawed by a society that shifted back and forth between treating them as personalities and commodities. I wrote articles for National Geographic, TIME, and Parade, among other publications about animal intelligence as the debate progressed at its glacial pace.

Then, in the 1990s, I had an epiphany of sorts. I’d heard a story about an orangutan that got hold of a piece of wire and used it to pick the lock on his cage, all the while hiding his efforts from the zookeepers. Here seemed to be a panoply of higher mental abilities on display, unprompted by any rewards from humans, and it occurred to me that, if animals could think, maybe they did their best thinking when it served their purposes, and not some human in a lab coat. Out of this flash came two more books, The Parrot's Lament: Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity, and, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, as well as a few more articles for TIME, Parade, and Oprah among other publications. I’ve found this approach to thinking about animal intelligence both liberating and fun, and I intend to explore this a good deal more.

 

         The question of what makes us different than other creatures was but one aspect of my career-long efforts to understand how we have come to rule the planet. At the same time that I was exploring the question of higher mental abilities in animals I also began to think about how our notions our notions of our own specialness related to the consumer society. If intelligence, language and consciousness gave us dominion, it was the consumer society that gave us the tools to exploit nature for our own benefit. I’ve developed my thoughts on the nature and origins of consumer societies in four books, Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies (1979), The Alms Race: The Impact of American Voluntary Aid Abroad (1976), The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Chaos (1998), and, most recently, The Ragged Edge of the World: Encounters at the Frontier Where Modernity, Wildlands and Indigenous Peoples Meet (2011), which tries to tell the story of the inexorable expansion of the consumer society through vignettes and stories.

 

         And then, of course, there are the consequences of our tendency to treat the planet as a cookie jar. This has been the dominant subject of my environmental journalism, which began as soon as I returned from Vietnam in 1971. Over the years, I have covered nearly every major environmental issue in publications ranging from Foreign Affairs to large circulation publications such as TIME and Parade. Sadly, journalistic effort of myself and many others have done little to slow the accelerating destruction of earth’s life support systems. Still, I’m proud that my TIME cover story on threats to the Ndoki, an ecological eden in the Congo, helped rally support for its protection, and that another TIME cover on the threatened extinction of the tiger in the wild proved useful in bringing pressure on China to reduce its role in the out of control poaching that supplied the traditional medicine market. Perhaps, I’m most proud of an article for Foreign Affairs, which I co-authored with Thomas Lovejoy and Daniel Phillips, which offered a blueprint for how to mobilize conservation efforts on a continental scale – something that urgently needed if vast ecosystems such as the Amazon and Congo rainforests are to be saved. My pride, however, has been tempered by the failure of this idea to gain any traction.

Over the years, it’s become clear that the threat of climate change trumps every conservation issue. The Ndoki has been saved from loggers, but the drying of northern Africa threatens to nullify this protection. Similarly, polar bears have been saved from the threat of uncontrolled hunting, but now have to cope with a warming arctic, which robs them of the sea ice from which they hunt ringed seals. I’ve written several articles and op-eds about various aspects of this existential threat as well as one book,The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations, in which I tried to convey the scale of the threat by revisiting the role natural climate change has played in human evolution and the history of civilization.

 

In recent years, apart from my writing, I’ve pursued an active career in the world of finance, serving as chief investment strategist for Bennett Management, a family of funds that invests in distressed companies. I've also served on several corporate boards.

 

A selective list of my publications is available on this site under the title, “Publications,” and I append to this narrative a more traditional bio, which organizes my writings and activities by topic.

 

                                  EUGENE LINDEN 

 

WRITING:


         Fiction:

         Deep Past.  Hardcover: Rosetta, May 2019. Audio: Blackstone. Kindle
 

         Social Criticism and Current Affairs:

         Books:

         The Ragged Edge of the World: Encounters at the Frontier Where Modernity, Wildlands and Indigenous Peoples Meet. Viking, April 2011. Plume, April 2012. The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Chaos.  Simon & Schuster, August 1998. Reissued, Plume, Jan. 2002. Affluence and Discontent: The Anatomy of Consumer Societies. Viking/Seaver Books; Nov. 1979. The Alms Race: The Impact of American Voluntary Aid Abroad. Random House; May 1976.

         - Articles and essays for TIME, and for journals ranging from Foreign Affairs to the Wall Street Journal.  Cover story on the demoralization of American forces in Vietnam for Saturday Review in Dec. 1971.

 

           Environment:

         - The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations. Simon & Schuster, Feb. 2006. “Seeing the Forest: Conservation on a Continental Scale,” Foreign Affairs; July/August 2004. Numerous cover stories and essays for TIME. Helped conceive TIME's celebrated, 1989 Planet-of-the-Year, special issue on ``Endangered Earth,'' TIME International's special issue," Our Precious Planet," and wrote major articles for both issues. Wrote main article for TIME's first global special issue in 2000, "How to Save the Earth." WroteSmithsonian’s May 2003 cover story, “The Nature of Cuba.”

 

         Animal Intelligence and Language

         Books:

         - The Octopus and the Orangutan: More Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity. E.P. Dutton, Aug. 2002.  The Parrot's Lament: Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence and Ingenuity. E.P. Dutton, Oct. 1999. Silent Partners: The Legacy of the Ape Language Experiments. TIMES Books; April 1986. Apes, Men, and Language. Saturday Review Press/Dutton; Jan. 1975. Soft: Penguin, Feb. 1976, revised edition, 1981.

          Major Articles:

         "Can Animals Think" (cover story for TIME), and "Apes and Humans" (cover story forNational Geographic)

 

        

         Business and the Economy:

         Books:

         The Mind of Wall Street, Leon Levy with Eugene Linden. Public Affairs, Oct. 2002.

         -  Articles on the emergence of the distressed securities industry for TIME and FORTUNE.  Essays on the perils of the integrated global market for TIME and MSNBC.  Major article on the makings of the Asian meltdown as part of cover package forTIME InternationalSeveral articles on entrepreneurial thinking while a senior writer at INC. in 1984, including the centerpiece article of INC.'s fifth anniversary special edition.

 

 

         Awards and Citations:

         2007: Grantham Prize Special Award of Merit.  2001: Poynter Fellow in Journalism, Yale University. 1997: finalist, John Oakes Award. 1996: Overseas Press Club Citation for Excellence; Lowell Thomas Award. 1995: Genesis Award; honorable mention, National Press Club Robert Kozick Award. 1994: Genesis Award; Harry Chapin Media Award; Population Institute Global Media Award. 1991: Finalist, National Magazine Award; Walter Sullivan Award.

 

          Selected List of Keynotes and Major Speeches:

         The Library of Congress, Woodrow Wilson Institute, Carnegie Council, U.S. State Department, Senior Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute, Saint John the Divine, the CIA Transnational Issues Group, LeNS International Conference on Law Enforcement and National Security (keynote), the 2001 Democratic Senatorial Retreat, 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment (keynote), Cooper Union

 

 

BOARDS

  • RARE Center for Tropical Conservation, 1997 to 2002
  • World Wildlife Fund, National Council 2003 – 2009
  • Wildlife Conservation Society, Education Committee, 2000- 2007
  • The Green Guide, 2000 - 2008

         -    Golden Books Family Entertainment. Inc., August, 1999 -2001  

  • PGI Inc. 2003 – 2008
  • Evercom Inc. 2003-2005
  • Cibus, 2004 – Present
  • Syratech, 2005 – 2009
  • Insight Health Services, 2007 – 2010
  • Haights Cross, 2010-Present

 

AFFILIATIONS

 

         -    The Century Association

  • PEN
  • The  Katoomba Group
  • Associate Fellow, Timothy Dwight College, Yale University

 

PRESENT EMPLOYMENT:

Chief Investment Strategist, Bennett Management (a family of investment funds specializing in distress and bankruptcies)

 

PREVIOUS EMPLOYMENT:

         Contributor TIME, 1995-2001; Senior writer at TIME, 1987-1995; senior writer at INC., 1984; executive editor at Technology Illustrated, 1983

        

         Education: Yale University, BA

 

                 

 

 

 

                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Short Take

A Slippery Slope?

I’ve had some back and forth with some friends on the insurrection last week and the subsequent media bans. Some see a slippery slope towards censorship; I see a unique set of circumstances. 

With regard to the invasion of the Capitol, it speaks to the sheer lunacy of the moment I would be quoting a  Wall Street Journal editorial, but they put it best: The head of the executive branch incited an attack on the legislative branch with the hope of overturning a lawful election. Zip-tie carrying paramilitary troops thinking that they were aiding Trump’s cause, came within minutes of kidnapping members of Congress. They were actively seeking Pelosi and knew where they were going. Trump had urged them to come to DC, and then urged the march on Congress, using the word “fight” 20 times in his speech, and saying he would be with them.

Even before the insurrectionists were driven from the Capitol, violent fringe elements had begun planning major events for Jan. 17, and also to disrupt the inauguration.

This is a unique set of circumstances.

The uniqueness comes from the relatively new element of social media, particularly Twitter, and the instantaneous reach and enormous scale of the internet.  These factors turbocharged the volatility of this already combustible situation. Never before in our history have people been able to instantaneously recruit like-minded people. Given the explosion of human numbers, this means that truly dangerous psychotics have a lot of company. 

They no longer have to seethe alone and can join with others who share their delusions. And they have guns.

Truly dangerous psychotics are rare. I don’t know what the numbers are, but probably upwards of one in a thousand. Even that low guess would amount to 330,000 people in the U.S., and the number is probably far larger. 

The point is that if a meme gets out there – e.g. that Democrats are led by blood-drinking pedophiles who stole the election – it might gain casual traction with large numbers of people due to a long-standing susceptibility to conspiracies in the U.S.  (I’ve been thinking about this susceptibility since I first investigated fragging in Vietnam).  Much more dangerous: the meme will also gain recruits among that tiny, really violent, really delusional, fringe. And if there’s a goal or an event, even though that cohort represents a tiny percentage of the population, they can be rallied and brought together to become a significant force. And again, they have guns.

We saw this last week. Yes, there were a lot of people who sincerely bought Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, and came to DC thinking there was still a chance to pressure Pence and others to overturn the election.

But, we also saw a Who’s Who of nut groups leading the charge -- neo-Nazi’s, Proud Boys, Confederate flags wavers, holocaust deniers, holocaust embracers (!), militia members, and God knows who else. Most of these were feckless blowhards, but the invaders also included  the zip tie guys, and others who were blood brothers to the fanatics who wanted to kidnap and lynch Gretchen Whitmer.

The execs of Twitter, Facebook, etc. saw what happened and recognized that their platforms were being used, either directly or through Parler, to organize similar, violent events in the run-up to the inauguration. They also saw that the fomenters were using Trump’s tweets to bless their crusades with a patina of legitimacy, even nobility. 

At Twitter the staff was in near open rebellion, and I’m sure that execs at the other companies wondered about liability, culpability, ad boycotts, and Elizabeth Warren campaigning to break them up if another violent event resulted from their passivity. (Apparently, a potential ad boycott was one reason why the head of content at Cumulus radio threatened to fire Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino if they didn’t STFU about the election being stolen.)

So, the tech and social media giants acted, and in doing so, dramatically underscored their awesome power. This show of force is going to provoke a lot of discussion about how these companies exercise discretion about content, about whether they should be broken up, regulated, or otherwise held responsible for their content and their decisions about content (which would dramatically shrink them). 

I don’t think they are going to come out of this unscathed. 

One other thought. IMO, the biggest disruption of the internet can be summed up in one word: disintermedition. The internet has given people direct access to data, markets, people, information, and endowed everyone with the ability to be a pundit, reporter, influencer, or brand. 

The disappearing intermediaries are the editors, producers, fact checkers, brokers, market makers, etc., who previously, maintained standards, buffered markets, and in myriad ways provided some friction that in the case of mainstream media, prevented complete fabrications from gaining traction with the broader public, and, in the case of markets, modulated price movements and reduced the probability of panics. We’re going to miss them.

 



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