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Nat Case

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Nat Case is is a cartographer living and working in Minneapolis, who blogs at maphead.blogspot.com

Written by Nat Case



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The crisis of expertise

Nat Case

The article reminds me of Leo Szilard, as described in Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb, convinced that the world needed to be led by the smart people—like him—who could rationally tell the world the facts they needed to be governed by. And yet, here we are. There’s something about putting “the smartest men in the room” all in one room, in charge, that tends to end badly. Hubris? May be part of it. But there’s also something missing in our attreibution of success to conscious choice and knowledge. It provides an edge, it is true, but our own will and desire tend to be so strong that we end up using our insights to feed our desires, not the other way around. One of the key ins...

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Treat people as citizens

Nat Case

A piece that keeps getting missed in discussing democracy is scale. 23 grand jurors is, in terms of human group psychology, an entirely different animal than a million voters. Part of what makes democracy work is that one can hear views from people one understands to have a personal stake in the outcome, and one can’t do this where the in-person humanity of speakers isn’t clear. Actors can create the illusion of that humanity, and that personal stake, and to a great extent, politics in a mass society is acting. Knowing that means we really can’t trust in democracy in the same way we trust the process of working in person with a small group we can watch all the non-verbal and verbal cues w...

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Spoiling for a fight

Nat Case

Thanks for the intriguing essay. We Quakers hear a lot about the moral roots of violence, and I wonder if (particularly in incidents like the one in Surrey you discuss) there is a component of that here with roots in the growing sense of personal responsibility for moral (meaning Godly in this context) behavior—the Protestant idea of the centrality of individual behavior as sin. Quakerism is centrally about the idea that God speaks to each of us, separately and corporately, and one of the fruits of that idea is an emphasis on peace and peaceful behavior, and our individual responsibility towards that. Which is the chicken and which is the egg? How much was this religious focus just follow...

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People are intensely loyal to groups that abuse newcomers. Why?

Nat Case

Hazing strikes me as a manufactured version of the kind of stress that tends to help form cohesive, strong-identity groups. Combat veterans, for example, are not hazed, but often understand something innate about each other that the rest of us cannot. It could be argued that the absurd hours medical residents have to go through are a kind of hazing, and one of the net results is a simple respect for other doctors, and a sense from other medical professionals that they have run a particular gauntlet, a sense doctors would probably in general like to maintain. Those kinds of inside-outside distinctions, even when manufactured, reinforce the specialness, the uniqueness, of any group.

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The last hollow laugh

Nat Case

The very idea of history tend to put humans outside the paradigms we assign to other species. History as a subject is a human construct, a way of recording explaining how large-scale human societies have operated on a mass basis over time. As such, it tends to be inflected more by our ideas of morality, and by our notions of how we might harness the innate human desire to outdo one another, than by an examination of how species thrive over time in regards to unity and fragmentation, variety within groups and across the species, and self-regulation over resource use. There have been attempts to look at history through this lens, certainly (Guns, Germs and Steel being probably the most famo...

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The empty brain

Nat Case

As a cartographer, I was thinking about how well I could draw from memory a map that I’ve drawn hundreds of times before. Like the one of downtown Minneapolis I’m workign on right now. Lots more details are embedded in my brain, and while my drawing would have a lot of “Oh yeah, right, that bit goes over there” to it, it would be very complex. Someone who worked on dollar bills (at the Mint for example) could come up with something pretty close to the dollar bill #2. I see this in my singing world. I organize a pub sing in town, and there are experienced song-learners who know songs down pat, and people who have never really tried to lead a song in public. It’s not just a matter of “I’ve ...

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Whitey on Mars

Nat Case

There’s a basic conceptual piece missing here, which sounds like it ties into Musk’s sense of isoliation or alienation or whatever you want to call it. We as a species will not survive through individual effort. Species survive because of resilience. Genetic resilience happens when the genetic pool contains material that allows us to adapt by using previously underused parts of the pool. Is there an equivalent for knowledge and culture? The cultural mode of winning through and because of singular leadership is seductive, and it may be an accurate description for small groups, but (a) that leadership singularilty tends to change over time (and often shifts to different people), and (b) it ...

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