Saturday, December 16, 2006

Decorating with Books

It's a sad indictment of our culture when people are more interested in decorating with books than actually reading them. Thoreau once called books the fit inheritance of man, although I doubt he had their use as a decoration in mind. "Books by the foot" have become all the rage, and are a major source of income for used booksellers. While a certain set of fashionistas adorn their dwellings with books, educators similarly decorate their classrooms with books that students never read in order to gain points on researchers' checklists. I don't know if people actually believe that ideas are passed through osmosis, but as any college student who has fallen asleep with their head on a textbook can attest--ideas are not transmitted in such an easy way. Gaining knowledge requires work. To become intelligent about the contents of a book requires actually reading it. There is no "royal road" to learning.

It is interesting to consider that people who are true lovers of books often attempt to hide the "paper mess" that books create, embarrassed by their wealth of knowledge, while those who care least for books show them off.

In this milieu, books serve as a poor indicant of knowledge. I read the other day, however, that vegetarians have an IQ an average of 5 points higher than non-vegetarians. Perhaps diet--requiring a certain action/in-action on the part of an individual--serves a better indicant of an individual's intelligence. (Of course, this would not serve as a perfect indicant in India, since vegetarianism is tied to religion and tradition rather than being motivated by individual thoughtfulness; nevertheless, vegetarianism might serve as a fair indicant in the US).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Wikis for Democracy

I'm impressed by the new idea that wikis can be used to allow citizens to directly write and revise legislation. Since I, myself, enjoy editing wikipedia articles and correcting factual or grammatical errors, I am sure that wiki legislation writing would find a following. It is interesting to think that although we thought the ancient polis was dead, all citizens can potentially participate directly in governance once again, thanks to technology.

The entire wiki phenomenon impresses me, in that it serves as a means to create (or rather recreate) the collective voice. Ancient epics such as the _Mahabharata_, _Sundiata_, and the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ were collectively told and the beautiful stories that result are an accretion of the wisdom of multiple storytellers. Who knows what beautiful works of art, of science, and of culture that we will create by collaborating? We will just have to wait and see...