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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Featured Book

The Ragged Edge of the World
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endangered animals
rapid climate change
global deforestation
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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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 the ragged edge of the worldThe Ragged Edge of the World

 
A species nearing extinction, a tribe losing the last traces of an accumulation of centuries of knowledge,  a tract of forest virtually untouched since prehistoric times facing the first incursions of humansóhow can we begin to assess the cost of the increasing disappearance of so much of our natural and cultural legacy? While these losses occasionally garner headlines, the pressures on earthís remaining wildlands and tribal peoples are unremitting and mounting.
 
For forty years Eugene Linden has explored environmental issues in a series of critically acclaimed books and in articles for publications ranging from National Geographic and Time to Foreign Affairs. His diverse assignments have frequently taken him to the very sites where tradition, wildlands and the various forces of modernity collide. In The Ragged Edge of the World, he recounts his adventures at this volatile frontier, where he has witnessed the dramatic transformations that follow in the wake of money, development and ideas as they make their way into the worldís last wild places.
 
Linden tells this story through encounters at this movable frontier. He takes us from Vietnam where exciting new species are being discovered near the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail to New Guinea and Borneo; from pygmy forests to Machu Picchu; from the Antarctic, where the entire ecosystem is changing, to the Ndoki, long celebrated as the most pristine rainforest in the Congo, which, even though it now has protection, suffers impacts from the outside world as dust, a portent of an ominous drying, blows in from the north. Even in the face of so much harm, however, many efforts at preservation have succeeded, and Linden charts the pioneering projects the protection of Midway Atollís vast albatross colony and Cubaís vigilant guardianship of its spectacularly beautiful landscape.
 
An elegy for what has been lost and a celebration of those cultures resilient enough to maintain their vibrancy and integrity, The Ragged Edge of the World captures the world at a turning point with a compelling immediacy that brings alive the people, animals and landscapes on the front lines, as change continues its remorseless march.

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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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