Sunday, July 16, 2006

Easter Sunday 1940

The one thing about Sea of Cortes is that sometimes Steinbeck is quite self-indulgent and he writes and writes about philosophical discussions in great depth. There is a brilliant example of this on Easter Sunday. The crew land on a hot beach, they cook fish, drink beer and talk about teleological issues. It must have been an amazing day but I am not entirely sure if I have understood the ten pages on philosophy.

It is interesting to note that Steinbeck didn't actually write a diary when he was on the expedition, two logs were kept but he didn't write one. He had to go back afterwards and write all this from their thoughts.

I think the essence of what he is saying is that we need to take an unteleogical approach to life. Instead of looking for a cause and effect and looking for direct relations we should look at the whole environment, and try not to find answers that are too simplistic. I think this would be valuable in terms of politics, everyone is looking for a quick 'fact-based' fix and sometimes problems don't have one direct cause. Sometimes the obvious remedy is not the correct remedy and we need to think and investigate the problem deeper.

I heard of a possible modern answer a few weeks ago in a programme on inner city urban design. In Newcastle (England) they had a problem in the large decorative plazas with teenagers hanging about and skateboarding. The council looked at the issue and decided to build a skate park, outside the city. They thought this would remove the problem and the skate park was a success but they didn't realise that a lot of the teenagers didn't skate and they remained hanging around for social reasons to meet their friends.

Steinbeck uses the interesting example of the Norwegian Willow Grouse. This endangered species was on the decline and they immediately decided that the answer was to cull their main predator - a falcon. After they reduced the numbers of falcons the Willow Grouse numbers reduced even more rapidly. It was discovered after investigation that a parasite had infected the grouse and that the falcon killed the infected birds quickly. When the falcons were removed the infected birds lived longer and infected more willow grouse thus exacerbating the situation.

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