August 18, 2016

Apocalypse Now?, Part 3: So Far, So Good?

You can hear the first part of our summer series, “Apocalypse Now?” here, and Part 2 here. We’ve come to the end of the end: our third and final apocalyptic investigation (for now!). In the ...

apox-series-art

You can hear the first part of our summer series, “Apocalypse Now?” here, and Part 2 here.

We’ve come to the end of the end: our third and final apocalyptic investigation (for now!).

In the first two episodes we faced a future of superintelligent machines and a nearer-term genetic revolution—all (still) a little sci-fi. But we’re closing with the apocalyptic anxieties of Right Now, and the beginnings of a reorientation.

That story begins with the 20th century, which our leadoff guest, Amb. Chas Freeman, learned his trade as a diplomat and advisor. It was a period of enormous development, in spite of the twin Armageddons of the world wars, with America rising to the top of the heap. And it set our species moving at a turbocharged clip—after 250,000 years of relative tranquility. We live pretty high up the hockey-stick inflection in every kind of graph measuring human growth and progress: consumption, carbon emissions, productivity, population growth, economic expansion, and computer processing power.

A few numbers for context. In 1900, there were 1.4 billion humans. Today, there are 7.3 billion. The “gross world product”—a roundup of all human-produced value—grew from about one trillion dollars to more than 77 trillion dollars over that same period.

When you dwell long enough on all the turbulence of the last century, it becomes kind of a miracle that we made it to this one. And yet, when it comes to carbon pollution, we seem to be stepping over our first threshold. Finally, planetary consequences. It’s a caution: can we count on the spaceship Earth to keep cruising at its incredible clip?

King-World-News-Legendary-Jeremy-Grantham-Warns-Nothing-Like-This-Has-Ever-Been-Experienced-Before

Our guest, the great investor Jeremy Grantham, reminds us if the population of ancient Egypt had grown at even 1 percent a year across 3,000 years, it would have increased by a factor of 9 trillion. (Instead it doubled.)

And yet our population is still growing at that rate, year after year. Economists tell us to expect even greater growth in GDP: 2 or 3 percent, year over year. Grantham warns us that what goes up must come down:

The people who [dismiss the possible end of growth] are really like the people falling out a very tall, burning building: “so far, so good, so far, so good.” Of course, the “so far, so good” argument can always be used, but anyone with a slight math tendency can see that compound growth is unsustainable.

Grantham calls this period “the race of our lives”—the last-ditch, hundred-year effort to step up technological development in order to convert our civilization into something sustainable, harmonious, equal and fair. He gives us a 50-50 shot of making it!

mag-20Collapsitarians-t_CA0-master1050

The activist-turned-novelist Paul Kingsnorth would put it a slightly different way. After a career of advocacy, he’s restarted life with his family, farming and writing in the Irish countryside. Where Grantham preaches collective effort on technological fixes, Kingsnorth preaches repair, if not quite retreat: working land, baking bread, unlearning dependencies and relearning skills.

The solution to the problem of apocalyptic risk in our society lives somewhere in the middle—between the technological crusade and the moral revolution.

A final production note!

We heard that the doomy tone of the past few shows was getting to some of our younger listeners—born at the end of the last century but determined to do some good in this one. So Christopher Lydon concluded the series with a reminder from the eternal optimist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote that “the World Spirit is a good swimmer.” From his first book, Nature:

All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobler’s trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar’s garret. Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world.

In other words: onward—ever onward!

 

By the Way • April 17, 2014

Coincidence? Megan Marshall wins Pulitzer for Margaret Fuller Biography

A big Open Source shout-out to Megan Marshall, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for her biography of Margaret Fuller. Megan was on our recent show, The Transcendentalists Are Coming, drawing out the profile of this interesting woman among the more famous men of Concord.


A big Open Source shout-out to Megan Marshall, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize this week for her biography of Margaret Fuller. Megan was on our recent show, The Transcendentalists Are Coming, drawing out the profile of this interesting woman among the more famous men of Concord: a radical thinker, a proto-feminist. As a writer and journalist, Fuller anticipated Simone de Beauvoir and the struggles of the womens’ movement. She was leaning in on the ideas of self reliance and environmentalism before even Emerson and Thoreau, and then she left the manse, took leave of  the Great Men and hit the road, traveling to Italy and covering the revolution there, and then falling in love, having a child out of wedlock, and becoming a working mother. She’s a model for the ages.

 

 

 

March 27, 2014

The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in a tangled infographic above.   

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in a tangled infographic above.

 

 

 

March 26, 2014

Harold Bloom: “Emerson Speaks to Me”

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s immortality in American poetry and prose has never been in doubt. In his philosophy of self reliance, the “American Plato,” it is said, invented the American mind, and maybe the American religion ...

harold bloomRalph Waldo Emerson’s immortality in American poetry and prose has never been in doubt. In his philosophy of self reliance, the “American Plato,” it is said, invented the American mind, and maybe the American religion in this nation of sturdy believers. The keeper of the literary canon, Harold Bloom, calls Emerson a “living presence in our lives today.”

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

 

March 26, 2014

Cornel West on Emerson’s Enduring Importance

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of ...

Emerson is called the founder of the American religion, sometimes the American God, and surely he’s the voice of American individualism in “Self Reliance.” A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within,” Emerson wrote, “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Cornel West, like Emerson, is a preacher with a national audience, and without a church. Emerson is his number one American writer, a soulful modern and a model public philosopher.

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

March 26, 2014

A Walk in the Woods with Robert Richardson

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006. We all half-know Emerson by the other writers he gathered around him in the American renaissance ...
A Repl

A replica of Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson created in 2006.

We all half-know Emerson by the other writers he gathered around him in the American renaissance of the 1840s and 1850s – Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Walt Whitman, and most especially Henry David Thoreau, who wrote his masterpiece as Emerson’s tenant on Walden Pond.

To get the feel of Emerson, who can be elusive on paper, I went out to Concord on a brilliant October afternoon with the great biographer Robert Richardson, in the wind-blown woods where Emerson took his walks with Thoreau. I asked Richardson to connect the dots –  nature, divinity, spirit, the very wind over our heads, and the voice of Emerson today.

March 26, 2014

Robert Richardson on Emerson’s Apostasy

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson from 2006.Ralph Waldo Emerson followed his father’s footsteps into the Unitarian ministry after college, then broke out in ...

emersonhall_side (1)

This podcast is a short excerpt from Emerson Redux, a full hour show on Ralph Waldo Emerson from 2006.

Ralph Waldo Emerson followed his father’s footsteps into the Unitarian ministry after college, then broke out in his mid-thirties to become a lay-preacher for the rest of his life. He was a sort of performance artist on the talk circuit, a “diamond dealer,” somebody said, “in moral ideas.” The moment of transition was this speech to young ministers in July, 1838, in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

 

In this refulgent summer, it has been a luxury to draw the breath of life. The grass grows, the buds burst, the meadow is spotted with fire and gold in the tint of flowers. The air is full of birds, and sweet with the breath of the pine, the balm-of-Gilead, and the new hay. Night brings no gloom to the heart with its welcome shade. Through the transparent darkness the stars pour their almost spiritual rays. Man under them seems a young child, and his huge globe a toy. The cool night bathes the world as with a river, and prepares his eyes again for the crimson dawn.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838

 

 

March 18, 2014

The Transcendentalists Are Coming!, Again

This week on Open Source, revisiting the birthplace of the American mind. Five houses on three streets within a period of five years in Concord, Massachusetts launched American literature and poetry, the environmental movement, progressive politics, feminism, and new ideas about religion and education. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, and their friends and neighbors. Where is the center of the rebellious mind today and what is it saying?
Robert Richardson on Emerson's Apostasy
Harold Bloom: "Emerson Speaks to Me"
A Walk in the Woods with Robert Richardson
Cornel West on Emerson's Enduring Importance
The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

This week on Open Source, we’re taking advantage of a sick-leave rerun to revisit the birthplace of the American mind a year after we first broadcast this show. The story of the Transcendentalists starts in five houses on three streets within a period of five years in Concord, Massachusetts. And it launched American literature and poetry, the environmental movement, progressive politics, feminism, and new ideas about religion and education. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller, the Alcotts, and their friends and neighbors. The Transcendentalists are coming. What is the legacy of this American renaissance? What do these thinkers mean to you?

The Transcendentalist Ripple Effect

Check out a growing timeline of the Transcendentalist lives and legacies of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott, in the tangled graphic below (click here for full-size). Transcendentalists Big Bang-01

By the Way • November 18, 2013

Good news for dear friends!

We’re putting the band back together, in a new world. With the peerless producer Mary McGrath, we’re bringing Open Source back to our first radio home, WBUR in Boston. Drawing on our roots in New ...
Thanks to Barry Blitt and The Atlantic

Thanks to Barry Blitt and The Atlantic

We’re putting the band back together, in a new world. With the peerless producer Mary McGrath, we’re bringing Open Source back to our first radio home, WBUR in Boston. Drawing on our roots in New England and our interest in the wider world, we’ll be doing a weekly evening program (Thursday nights at 9, rebroadcast on the weekends), re-launching radio and online conversation as challenging, as engaging, as various, as irresistible as we can make it. 

Strange thing: all of us have changed in this mobile, digitized, smartphone and twitter world. Stranger still is what hasn’t changed:  New England as an American capital of ideas, teaching, learning and research – of thinking! – as it has been since Emerson’s heyday in the 1830’s. The Hub today is a hive of hives – in the brain sciences, health care delivery, every kind of tech and biotech, also music, poetry, security studies, economics, in all the great branches of human exploration. President Obama had it right in his speech after the Marathon: we live in an iconic American city, and our creative and intellectual diaspora excels in every field of human endeavor all over the world. Boston’s late mayor, Kevin White called it a “small town of international significance.” Our goal, drawing on the almighty human voice and the many extensions of modern media, is to make radio talk as bracing and smart as this Global City we’re living in. 

Our website, radioopensource.org, is central to our new project. We will be expanding Open Source’s online platform of podcast conversations on the widest range of solid stuff, local and global, that people talk about: books old and new, music of all kinds, culture in general, and, of course, politics. We will be sharing our podcasts with WBUR, and at the same time we’ll be counting on a growing radioopensource community, as we always have, to help shape our discussions, sharpen the questions and make connections where others haven’t even noticed the dots.

Mary, Zadie & Chris

Mary, Zadie & Chris

Will you join us in this conversation? Will you help sustain it? We’re installing our first PayPal donate button on the site. In the new media landscape it takes a community as well as a public radio station to kickstart and support a mission like this one. Please give that donate button a try! And while you’re at it, sign up for our newsletter. 
 
The sweetest discovery in the twenty years Mary and I have been working together has been that we could actually build a living chain of listeners — a pulsing coral reef of conversation on the radio and the Web. And all of us could sustain a sensibility of open-minded hunger and enthusiasm around strong call-in talk with a tuba soloist and the Tulip Lady, as well as with Eddie Palmieri and Toni Morrison. The best thing we’ve done is build that far-flung network of loyal enthusiasts. We are hugely grateful to you, and proud to have done it together. At the start of a renewed adventure, we’ll be cheered more than ever by your support and encouragement. 

Podcast • August 26, 2013

Paul Harding, Transcendentalist, From Tinkers to Enon

Short form: Tinkers was no fluke — the little gem of a novel that caught a word-of-mouth wave and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010; it’s the snowy paperback still stacked like bait around the ...

Short form: Tinkers was no fluke — the little gem of a novel that caught a word-of-mouth wave and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2010; it’s the snowy paperback still stacked like bait around the cash register of every bookstore I go into. Enon is Paul Harding’s spooky, Hawthorny and thoroughly worthy sequel three years later. The story lurches into sudden death and a year of dissolute darkness among descendants of that Crosby family of peddlers and mechanics out of the Maine backwoods. Enon is set in the semi-rural suburbs of Boston; it’s a present-day ghost story, a sad one at that. But there’s a strong continuity in the quirky traditions of the Crosby clan, as well as in the uncommonly thoughtful craft of the author. In my reading, Enon cements Paul Harding’s place as a true prince of New England letters, spiritual heir to Emerson and Thoreau, close student of Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. As Tinkers revealed, Harding is a Transcendentalist for our time, in Emerson’s definition of the type: “He believes in miracle, in the perpepetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy.” In Enon, the 30-something protagonist Charlie Crosby, unhinged at the loss of his 13-year-old daughter, could remind you of Emerson himself in the essay “Experience,” recounting his soul’s disarray after the death of his boy Waldo, of scarlet fever, in 1842. In an uncannily Emersonian summing up at the end of Enon, Charlie Crosby says: “I am a connoisseur of the day. Sometimes I sit in tears. Sometimes I sit in a wordless, inexplicable kind of brokenhearted joy.” Listening to Paul Harding read, I keep hearing another great teacher, the immortal jazz drummer Elvin Jones of the classic Coltrane quartet. Paul Harding was a touring rock drummer in his time, and an Elvin worshipper. In our first conversation four years ago, Paul observed that the differences between drumming and writing are superficial. “Having been a drummer, I write by ear. I write by rhythm, you know,” he said. So the reader keeps listening for Elvin in Enon, and I hear lots of him — when, for example, Charlie remembers his boyhood rounds learning clock-repair from his grandfather.

I inserted the key into the keyhole and opened the door. The old air fell out of the clock, dry, held in the cubic shape of the case for who knows how many years until I opened the door and it collapsed out into the contemporary atmosphere, distinct and nearly colonial for a moment… I lifted the lead weight and unhooked it from its pulley wheel. It felt like removing the heavy heart of the clock. I laid the weight on a rug at the foot of the stairs. It thudded onto the wool like an object from another, outsized planet with twice the gravity of our own. A heavy leaded heart, I thought. That has to do, too, with the burning ember in the center of the house.

Charlie Crosby, on his apprenticeship with George Washington Crosby, his grandfather in Enon, Chapter 2.

Isn’t he still writing rhythms, I asked.

Absolutely. I think, going back to Emerson, of fully inhabiting the moment and the idea of improvisation: when you’re a musician or a writer or a painter or a dancer, you translate the experience of that moment into your medium at a high level of improvisation. If you’re Elvin Jones, and you’re trying to make art that will engage the complexity of the human mind, you’re using all four limbs and all sorts of different tempos and textures and juxtapositions to make this elegant whole. That’s what I think of trying to do with writing, and what better medium than language – the medium that has the capacity to hold in itself all the complexity to satisfy an engaged and amenable reader? I’m thinking lyrically, trying to find the time signature, the meter of description. It’s a kind of advance and retreat, maybe it’s in free verse or free time, maybe a little bit more like Ornette Coleman, again it’s the tentativeness, the improvisation. When I read that out loud, sometimes I don’t know where the beats are going to land, because rereading them is just like the process of writing them, and when I wrote them I didn’t know where I was going to land either…

Paul Harding, in conversation with Chris Lydon in Essex, Massachusetts, August 2013.

This is the way a modern Transcendentalist writes. There are hearts in his clocks, and souls in his characters, both living and dead.