Posts tagged ‘Italian Renaissance’

Intellectual Network Effects

John Scalzi writes:

I do get occasionally amused at being a poster child for Science Fiction's Digital Future when I live in a rural town of 1,800 people with agricultural fields directly to my east, south and west, and Amish buggies clopping down the road on a daily basis. It's, like, three cheers for cognitive dissonance.

I responded in the comments:

I would have had exactly the opposite reaction, that your situation is entirely representative.  For 500 years,  from the Italian Renaissance through the 20th century, intellectual thought moved forward mainly hand in hand with urbanization.  I am not really an expert in describing the ins and outs of this, but there is clearly a density and network effect to intellectual advancement, and given past communication approaches, this required physical proximity.  The promise of modern IT technology is that it may allow us to achieve this density without physical proximity.

Wealth and the Olympics

One of Megan McArdle's readers wonders why India, which in population is larger than any other country save China, has so few Olympic medalists.  I think the answer is fairly easy:  wealth.

It's a situation very parallel to the Italian Renaissance.  Then, the issue was the proliferation of so many great artists rather than athletes, but the fundamentals were fairly similar.  For a society to be able to give up its strongest and most talented youth to non-productive (meaning they don't contribute to food, clothing, or shelter) occupations like painting or competitive swimming requires a lot of wealth and leisure time.  Subsistence farmers can't give up a strong back from the fields, much less pay any kind of specialized training costs.  The explosion of artists in the Italian Renaissance was made possible
by an explosion of wealth in the great Italian city-states of Florence
and Venice and the like.   Further, wealth also means better neo-natal care and better childhood nutrition which leads to bigger and stronger adults. 

As with Renaissance painters, modern Olympic athletes need either a family that is wealthy enough to give up their labor and support him or her; or, they need a wealthy patron; or, they need support of the government.  US Olympic athletes generally have some of all three, though the role of the government is smaller than in other nations thanks to corporate patrons and the relative wealth of the American middle class.  China, and before it Russia, were successful because, lacking the first two, they had the government shoulder the entire burden.  India has chosen not to go the government route, which is fine.  It will have its successes in time, as the exploding middle class will raise kids who have the time and money to pursue excellence in various sports.

Savonarola Is At NASA Now

Cross-Posted From Climate Skeptic. 

1497, Savonarola tried to end the Italian Renaissance in a massive pyre
of books and artwork (the Bonfire of the Vanities).  The Renaissance
was about inquiry and optimism, neither of which had much appeal to
Savonarola, who thought he had all the answers he needed in his
apocalyptic vision of man.  For him, how the world worked, and
particularly the coming apocalypse, was "settled science" and any
questioning of his world view was not only superfluous, it was evil.

Fortunately, while the enlightenment was perhaps delayed (as much by
the French King and the Holy Roman Emperor as by Savonarola), it mans
questing nature was not to be denied.

But now, the spirit of Savonarola has returned, in the guise of
James Hansen, a man who incredibly calls himself a scientist.  Mr.
Hansen has decided that he is the secular Savonarola, complete with apocalyptic predictions and a righteousness that allows no dissent:

Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call
for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on
trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of
actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that
tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his
groundbreaking speech to the US Congress - in which he was among the
first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming - to argue
that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the "perfect storm"
of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive
officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being
fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are

It will be interesting to see
if any champions of free speech on the left can work up the energy to
criticize Hansen here.  What we have is a government official
threatening prosecution and jail time for Americans who exercise their
free speech rights.  GWB, rightly, would never get a pass on this.  Why
does Hansen?