Posts about society

Elite potato guards

December 13th, 2006

Persuading people to change their habits or attitudes is one of the hardest but most important things that any leaders can do. Advertisers clearly must be skilled at this or they wouldn’t exist, but usually their job is helped by the fact that people want the goods they’re selling them anyway, and often their role is merely to promote one brand over another. The media have a frightening degree of influence, but this is often used merely to sell more papers or airtime, and their standard strategy is commonly just to upgrade interest or concern about an issue to hysteria. It is the Government that is elected to lead, whose job it is to steer necessary changes in society, and it is they that seem to have the weakest grasp on how to change our hearts and minds.

200 years ago, at least a couple of people in power took a more imaginative approach…

Antoine-Augustine Parmentier 1737-1813The potato had been in Europe for a well over a hundred years, but in 1785 the French were still suspicious of the things. Potatoes were fine as hog feed but thought to cause Leprosy in humans. Antoine-Augustine Parmentier knew different as he had been imprisoned by the Prussians and forced to live on a spud-based diet whilst incarcerated. Now, you’d have thought that anyone who’s survived on a single vegetable of dubious repute when in jail would be heartily sick of the damn things, but Parmentier was a scientist, a pharmacist who was impressed by their nutritional value. When back in France, he extolled their virtues in scientific papers and embarked on a series of publicity stunts to promote them for the important purpose of reducing famine. One, in particular, was a stroke of pure genius. Read more »

Diminutive Willis

December 2nd, 2006

View Amarya Sen's Identity and Violence at
Whenever the World is facing catastrophe, whenever civilisation is in peril, Hollywood knows exactly what to do: send in Bruce Willis. He’ll blow up the asteroid, defuse the bomb, take out the terrorists one by one and save the planet. Single-handedly, while injured, despite his shirt being shredded and his face covered in motor oil.

Well, the World is facing some pretty shaky times and we need to look for saviours to take on the Willis role. So whom should we pick? After reading Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny I’m proposing Amartya Sen. OK, he might cut a diminutive figure next to Willis, and he won’t handle weapons with quite the same panache, but if anyone paid attention to his careful, patient, prose we would be a darn sight closer to saving civilisation. Read more »