The plaintive adumbrations of utopian poesy, not unmixed with a stern if implicit adjuration to reform (especially by rejecting the Christian Science metaphysics of the Drug War, which, last time I checked, God himself said that his creation was good as regards both flora AND fauna, thank you very much)

May 2021

Thoughts about Cultural Geography, dawg

My office secretary (the admittedly somewhat comely Mimi Pipkins -- as in bow-freakin-wow) has been pestering me to publish my unsolicited professorial feedback in the form of articles on my homepage.

"Oh, fie, Mimi," I usually cry, "Surely, no one give's a rat's ass about such philosophical fiddle-faddle!"

This is when Mimi Pipkins generally slaps me in the face and tells me in good set terms: "Wake up, dawg! God didn't make no trash!"

To which nonsequitur I generally respond, "No, but that does not mean that he signs off on my philosophical fiddle-faddle." (Let's see her parry THAT thrust!)

"Stop calling it fiddle-faddle!" she typically replies. "I'm telling you you're going to publish your philosophical thoughts and there's an end on it!"

By now I'm flustered. I'm usually like: "Huh, what--"

"Don't huh-what me!" she generally cries. "For starters, why don't you publish those thoughts that you recently compiled for nice old Professor Paul Rollins, Dean of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin!"

"First of all he's not old," I usually remind her, "and it's Professor ROBBINS, not Professor Rollins."

"Whatever. You'd better publish or perish, dawg," she now likes to quip, "since I'm gonna have to belt ya one if you don't!" (Can you imagine such a woman? Fie on her. Absolute fie. And of course by now she's sitting on my lap while she's lecturing me. I'm like, "Oh, of course, please! Just help yourself!" Of all the abject impertinence!)

At which point, I usually have no choice but to cut and paste the following... (admittedly "thoughty" stuff, yes, but Lord, does anyone wanna read it? I don't very much think so).

At which point, the apparently mind-reading trollop typically comes up with the following gem, straight out of left field: "I heard that mental aside, Brian! Now shut up and paste!"

At which point, what can one do, after all? The tyrant is still probably on one's lap, a living monument to snide opprobrium. One can do little else but... paste?


Hi, Paul.

Just FYI: I know you're very busy and I am not expecting you to respond to any of these comments of mine. You've already gone far beyond the call of duty of a Great Courses professor by inviting me to share my thoughts. Still, I can't help "taking you up" on that invitation, since I am attracted by the eclectic reach of cultural geography, and like any subject, I tend to learn more about it when I write on the topic, even for an audience of one, videlicit myself.

Thanks again for the knowledge that I continue to gain, and feel free to automatically archive my comments out of sight should they become too frequent or distracting for you. ( What I don't know won't hurt me! :)

Best wishes,

Just a few thoughts that came to mind in viewing the latest lectures in "Cultural Geography":

Re: the influence of education in limiting population growth: I would only add that the philosophical basis of the education curriculum might also play some role. The implicit thrust, so to speak, of Western education seems to be the enlightenment and self-actualization of the individual, whereas we could imagine a more "Eastern education" that places an emphasis (albeit subtly through its selection of required reading, etc.) on social goals, which could conceivably emphasize the value of large families or small, perhaps implying that such goals trump the desires of any one individual. (Which is not to say that I agree with such views, of course, merely that they could inform a given curriculum.) So we might say that educational philosophy, rather than education itself, has an effect on population growth.

Re: the influence of language: Fascinated by the questions you raise about the future of languages, especially how humans could conceivably end up speaking one single language thanks to global mobility and the social interaction that it brings. This reminds me of the viewpoint of a shop teacher I had in sixth grade. He told us that racial problems would eventually disappear, as everyone in the world would eventually end up with the same skin color: namely cafe au lait. I think, though, maybe he's too sanguine about the human ability to pick quarrels. The Rwanda genocide was basically a face-off between people of two different skin tones which might appear largely identical to outside observers. Of course, this is far from a perfect analogy to the language situation, but it did come to mind as another situation in which the sociability of globalization might lead to a one-size-fits-all world, where differences are ironed out and disappear in the practical interests of a worldwide market economy.

I would just add that the English language to me seems a different case than other languages, given its willingness to adopt words from other languages. But perhaps this topic merits a course in itself, studying such philosophical questions as: Is the English language's word adoption a good thing, indicating a free-thinking anti-racist mindset, or is it an "appropriating" language that cheapens locally created well-nuanced words by turning them into blunt generic concepts for the practical-minded and money-driven Western world? Perhaps the point is moot, however, because English would seem to be the inevitable language for a border-free world, selecting words, as it does, merely based on their on-the-ground utility. In any case, I would bet on the English language if I had to guess which language might become a universal language, since its method of border-blind word adoption makes it the perfect candidate for that role. One might argue that English is becoming the world language even as we speak, as borders relax, at least when it comes to "free trade." (Does a Spanish word contain concepts that English can't compass? No problem. We'll just invite that word to join the English language!)

Re: the advisability of living in cities: Of course, your lectures were given prior to the COVID crisis, but in the wake of that shutdown, a city skeptic like myself might argue that cities are perfect targets for viruses given the convenient proximity of available hosts. Besides, cities provide perfect targets for terrorists that a dispersed population could not offer. I wonder, in fact, if humankind can survive a combination of Big Cities and Worldwide Mobility. I think that maybe we can survive either one of them, but not both, at least when it comes to viruses and terrorism. Moreover, as a fan of snowy weather, I dislike the "heat island" effect thanks to which big cities today are often a full 10 degrees warmer than outlying regions during the winter. Of course, this latter downside could be combatted with rooftop gardens and solar power, etc. But I would think that the truly long-term solution to utility problems (like energy and plumbing, etc.) is to have all power production be "on-site," through new technologies that harness solar, geothermal and rain water and treat human waste with a chemical process that renders the final product non-toxic and perhaps even suitable as fertilizer.

A dispersed power system like that would not be prey to terrorism or mass power outages of any kind and would restore a degree of self-sufficiency to human beings that they have not experienced since they first started going to the local store for the foods that they used to grow in their own gardens and raise on their own land. Although this El Dorado may seem distant, we must distinguish between the true technological difficulty of achieving the task and those political difficulties introduced by Big Business to keep such change from coming about. After all, the first diesel cars were designed to run on peanut and vegetable oil. We've only taken a giant step backwards in the eco-friendliness of our automobile fuel over the years thanks to business interests and not to the inability of technology to accommodate a different and more sustainable fuel. So before we despair of the long-term goal of making homes self-sufficient, we should ensure that the hurdles we envision for that task are truly technological in nature and not simply a result of political pressures to maintain a profitable status quo for Big Business.

Finally, while watching your lectures, I have been thinking of one additional kind of pollution that I have not heard mentioned yet, and that is noise pollution. About 20 years ago, I traveled to the Dismal Swamp with my sister and niece, with the lyrics of Thomas Moore's poem running through my mind: "A Ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp." I was naively expecting to see a poetically gloomy, forested and swamp-bound refuge for those seeking freedom from the clamorous and hateful world outside.

Instead, the closer we hiked to Lake Drummond on the Dismal Swamp Canal Trail, the louder was the sound of nearby aircraft, perhaps taking off from Hampton Roads Executive Airport, whose runway is just three miles to the north and pointed directly at the lake. I was embarrassed for modernity as my biracial 7-year-old niece was confronted with the racket of technological America in the middle of what I had liked to think of as a mysterious oasis from the often-evil outside world of modern man.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect of this situation is that no one seems to have complained about it. At least I saw no activist sites pop up when I searched Google for "Dismal Swamp Noise Pollution" this morning. Either we had arrived on a day where there was an unprecedented flurry of landings and take-offs at some nearby airfield (for the noises were continuous and lasted for the entire hour that we spent in the vicinity), or humans have become so used to certain background noises that they simply do not register in the human mind. This reminds me of how we often see dreadfully faded horizons behind a modern city, but fail to "clock them" as pollution -- whereas had America suddenly switched overnight from the blue skies of 1700 to the bland grey skies of modern-day America, we would be dumbstruck by the pall of pollution that we saw hanging over the metropolis.

Happy now, Mimi? Happy now?

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