Social Sciences


I wanted the mind of a scholar, but it seemed that Dr. Kerry saw in me the mind of a roofer. The other students belonged in a library; I belonged in a crane.

The first week passed in a blur of lectures. In the second week, every student was assigned a supervisor to guide their research. My supervisor, I learned, was the eminent Professor Jonathan Steinberg, a former vice-master of Cambridge College, who was much celebrated for his writings on the Holocaust.

My first meeting with Professor Steinberg took place a few days later. I waited at the porter's lodge until a thin man appeared and, producing a set of heavy keys, unlocked a wooden door set into the stone. I followed him up a spiral staircase and into the clock tower itself, where there was a well-lit room with simple furnishings: two chairs and a wooden table.

I could hear the blood pounding behind my ears as I sat down. Professor Steinberg was in his seventies but I would not have described him as an old man. He was lithe, and his eyes moved about the room with probing energy. his speech was measured and fluid.

"I am Professor Steinberg," he said. "What would you like to read?"

I mumbled something about historiography. I had decided to study not history, but historians. I suppose my interest came from the sense of groundlessness I'd felt since learning about the Holocaust and the civil rights movement -- since realizing that what a person knows about the past is limited, and will always be limited, to what they are told by others. I knew what it was to have a misconception corrected -- a misconception of such magnitude that shifting it shifted the world. Now I needed to understand how the great gatekeepers of history had come to terms with their own ignorance and partiality. I thought if I could accept that what they had written was not absolute but was the result of a biased process of conversation and revision, maybe I could reconcile myself with the fact that the history most people agreed upon was not the history I had been taught. Dad could be wrong, and the great historians Carlyle and Macaulay and Trevelyan could be wrong, but from the ashes of their dispute I could construct a world to live in. In knowing the ground was not ground at all, I hoped I could stand on it.

I doubt I managed to communicate any of this. When I finished talking, Professor Steinberg eyed me for a moment, then said, "Tell me about your education. Where did you attend school?"

The air was immediately sucked out of the room.

"I grew up in Idaho," I said.

"And you attended school there?"

It occurs to me in retrospect that someone might have told Professor Steinberg about me, perhaps Dr. Kerry. Or perhaps he perceived that I was avoiding his question, and that made him curious. Whatever the reason, he wasn't satisfied until I admitted that I'd never been to school.

"How marvelous," he said, smiling. It's as if I've stepped into Shaw's Pygmalion."

-- Tara Westover, Educated: A Memoir (New York: Random House, 2018).

Some People at UC-Berkeley

Charisma Acey

Christopher Alexander

Michael Burawoy

Manuel Castells

Karen Chapple

Bradford DeLong

David Harding

Martin Sanchez-Jankowski

Michel Laguerre

Clare Cooper Marcus

Carolyn Merchant

John Powell

Robert Reich

Carolina Reid

Harley Shaiken

Neil Smelser

Sandra Susan Smith

Laura D'Andrea Tyson

Kim Voss

Loïc Waquant

Margaret Weir

The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Marx Madness

Marx Madness

Marx Madness is the ultimate war of all against all. We start with 64 Marxists competing one-on-one in 32 match-ups. These elimination rounds continue every week throughout March until only one thinker is left. Voting opens now, and closes Friday, March 13. From then on, voting will open every Monday morning, and close the following Friday at midnight.


Norman Borlaug on Population

The green revolution has won a temporary success in man's war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only.

Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the "Population Monster". In the beginning there were but two, Adam and Eve. When they appeared on this earth is still questionable. By the time of Christ, world population had probably reached 250 million. But between then and now, population has grown to 3.5 billion. Growth has been especially fast since the advent of modern medicine. If it continues to increase at the estimated present rate of two percent a year, the world population will reach 6.5 billion by the year 2000. Currently, with each second, or tick of the clock, about 2.2 additional people are added to the world population. The rhythm of increase will accelerate to 2.7, 3.3, and 4.0 for each tick of the clock by 1980, 1990, and 2000, respectively, unless man becomes more realistic and preoccupied about this impending doom. The ticktock of the clock will continually grow louder and more menacing each decade. Where will it all end?

Malthus signaled the danger a century and a half ago. But he emphasized principally the danger that population would increase faster than food supplies. In his time he could not foresee the tremendous increase in man's food production potential. Nor could he have foreseen the disturbing and destructive physical and mental consequences of the grotesque concentration of human beings into the poisoned and clangorous environment of pathologically hypertrophied megalopoles. Can human beings endure the strain? Abnormal stresses and strains tend to accentuate man's animal instincts and provoke irrational and socially disruptive behavior among the less stable individuals in the maddening crowd.

We must recognize the fact that adequate food is only the first requisite for life. For a decent and humane life we must also provide an opportunity for good education, remunerative employment, comfortable housing, good clothing, and effective and compassionate medical care. Unless we can do this, man may degenerate sooner from environmental diseases than from hunger.

And yet, I am optimistic for the future of mankind, for in all biological populations there are innate devices to adjust population growth to the carrying capacity of the environment. Undoubtedly, some such device exists in man, presumably Homo sapiens, but so far it has not asserted itself to bring into balance population growth and the carrying capacity of the environment on a worldwide scale. It would be disastrous for the species to continue to increase our human numbers madly until such innate devices take over. It is a test of the validity of sapiens as a species epithet.

Since man is potentially a rational being, however, I am confident that within the next two decades he will recognize the self-destructive course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth and will adjust the growth rate to levels which will permit a decent standard of living for all mankind. If man is wise enough to make this decision and if all nations abandon their idolatry of Ares, Mars, and Thor, then Mankind itself should be the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize which is "to be awarded to the person who has done most to promote brotherhood among the nations".

-- Norman Borlaug, "The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity," Nobel Peace Prize lecture, 1970.

Of Interest to Geographers

And what is of interest to geographers? Mountains high and cool and covered with blue-black pine forests and the endless sheets of baked cracked-earth yellow deserts and a shopping center filled with people loaded down with brown paper bags and children; the empty streets of an old ghost town filled with nothing but tired climate and the pearly dew that covers the grass on a cool clean summer morning and the changing shapes of big red barns filled with hay by sweaty men and the cows that eat the hay and the roads that carry the trucks with the milk and the bright shiny rails of cold hard steel and the trains that ride them even as the wind with their whistles blowing deep, deep into night; the Mexican peasant burning over the sere yellow stubble of his corn fields and the way a city can push its lonely streets out into the country where at night the yellow lights of houses glow every now and then warmly beckoning; and why in one place you pay $200 for the same room that somewhere else goes for $2 and why the sky is blue and the height of the mountains and the size of the cities and the skidrow streets with ancient men of two-day beards that once saw the sheen and gloss of pace and fashion; the changing of the weather day by day, from the arcing heat of a summer noon to the bone-deep chill of a winter night and the wide valleys with their supple sighs and swarming rivers and the unending groan of the great unloaders dipping and and lifting their tons of ore against the growl of the furnaces turning out the rivers of molten steel that ride bumper to bumper tail-lights glowing on the great highways of the world. These things, and more, are of interest to geographers. Geographers want to know where the rivers come from and where they go and why they twist and turn and why some go fast and others slow and why some are clear, so clear and others turgid black. They want to know why you can cross a line nobody can see and be arrested for different things than on the other side and what a country is and means and why some grow and others shrink. They want to know why some people are comfortable a foot apart chatting over an evening cocktail and yet others not unless twice that distance and why a classroom fills with students the way it does and even if it fills a special way. Geographers want to know the shape of the earth and the depths of the oceans and the width of the rivers and the size of the cities and where the rain goes and what happened to the cotton mills in New England. Geographers want to know the middle of the Gobi Desert and walk the road to Timbuktu and take the cog railway to Dawson and ride down the Amazon in a wood canoe and climb Mount Everest and shake hands with the last stone-age man and take a peek at the Shangri-La in your mind and maybe some day have a hand in building a Shangri-La right here on earth where all men will know good things. These things are of interest to geographers.

- Denis Wood, "I Don't Want to, but I Will: The Genesis of Geographic Knowledge: A Real-Time Developmental Study of Adolescent Images of Novel Environments" (Ph.D. dissertation, geography, Clark University, 1973), pp.18-19.

You Are an Event

Einstein was a physicist, but the things he discovered about matter were so fundamental that no scientist or philosopher has been able to think the same way since. Einstein said that there was no matter at all. No time. No space. There were only events. Let me try to explain this to you. Think of a meeting. A meeting is when people get together to decide something. When two people meet on the street. An automobile crash is also a meeting.

Now what is a meeting? It is something that happens in time and space. Just think about that. A meeting is always some time. And it is always some place. And it is always some thing. But you can't lift up a meeting. You can't burn a meeting. Obviously a meeting is an event, an event in time-space. To see how similar these two ideas, a meeting, and an event in time-space are, think about this. Someone asks where you're going. You say, "To a meeting of the Sub-Committee." And that's a perfectly good answer. Now ask me where I'm going. "I'm going to Room 303 of the Greshim Building at 2:00 this afternoon." And that's a perfectly good answer too. It may be an even better answer because it imparts more information. In this case, the word "meeting" is equivalent to "Room 303 of the Greshim Building at 2:00 this afternoon." Not an hour earlier. Then Room 303 was a study hall. Not the next room down, because that's an office. Every single meeting in the world is just as precisely and definitively and uniquely defined by its location in time-space.

The trouble is, all things are events just like meetings. Think about a piece of land and the air above it. What is it? Last year it was an empty field. This year it's a hundred-bed nursing home. Fifty years from now it will be an old crumbly building, a ghost house. A hundred years from now it may be an empty field again. To say what that "space" is, without saying what "time" it is, is meaningless. Of course, most of the time we know where we are and don't have to say that. But if you're traveling and someone asks you where you live, you have to know when he means. "Now I live at the Excelsior; but my real home is in Oshkosh." Where you live is an event in time-space too. Since most of the time we know where and when we are, we aren't used to thinking of things as time-space events. When I now say that you are an event, you're startled and jump back and stare at me like I'm crazy. But I'm not. You are an event.

One of the simple ways to understand this is to try to take away "time" or "space" and see if you're still there. If you are a real thing, independent of "space" and "time," you should be able to take away "space" and still exist, or you should be able to take away "time" and still exist. Try it.

It's an interesting mental exercise, but with no solution. No matter how hard you think, you are still taking up "time" and occupying "space." In fact, all you really are is a particular location in time-space. A unique location in time-space to be sure, but no less an event for all your uniqueness.

-- Denis Wood, "I Don't Want to, but I Will: The Genesis of Geographic Knowledge: A Real-Time Developmental Study of Adolescent Images of Novel Environments" (Ph.D. dissertation, geography, Clark University, 1973), pp.13-14.