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12.9.03

Five questions

I've signed on to play Dave Pollard's "five questions" game.

1. What one thing do you most hope to be remembered for after you die?
I don't much mind if my name is remembered by anyone who didn't know me personally. For those who did, I would hope that it's something in the quality of my character, such as resourcefulness or insightfulness. I hope to leave a mark on the larger world, hopefully a practically successful shift in how society interacts with its environment. This needn't be some grand new environmental ethic -- I'd be happy with a concrete contribution to one element of the human-nature problem, such as a better way to think about and do fire management. I'd like to be someone who can reach a broad audience, not just an academic or managerial circle. If I make such a contribution, it's probable that I'd be remembered as the originator of it, but being remembered is a side-effect, rather than a goal in itself.

2. What do you think is the single greatest threat to the survival of the world today, and what do you think is the greatest hope?
This depends on what we mean by "survival of the world." Short of an all-out nuclear war (which I don't see as terribly likely) or one of those asteroids that we keep hearing about, I can't imagine the human race being totally wiped out. Civilization as we know it may be brought down in a destructive and sudden way by ecological degradation. But what I worry most about is the fact that so many of the world's problems don't threaten its survival. When problems iminently threaten the survival of the world (or a part of it), people are kicked into action. But many injustices don't, allowing us to limp along, pretending things are ok. We'll be battling many of the same root problems -- ignorance, greed, etc. -- forever, because they're never catastrophically bad enough for natural selection to weed them out of our genomes and cultures. All that being said, I think the greatest problem we face at the moment is learning how to live within our environmental means.

The greatest hope I think lies in the free flow of information. This means more than just a naive sort of "if only people knew the truth" sort of thing. Access to information is empowering for those who are actively working to change things.

3. What single life lesson do you think is most important for young people to learn?
I think one of the most important skills is the ability to be a critical participant in various aspects of life. It's too easy to accept the status quo, either because you haven't examined it closely or because you're fatalistic about it. Certainly, though, some elements of the status quo are all right, and fatalism can be a useful defense mechanism to avoid being swamped by despair. The other direction is problematic as well -- the temptation to stand outside of something and decry it. I think being able to find a balance between solidarity and rejectionism is crucial. I wrote about this sort of thing with respect to my own position as a pro-gay Boy Scout. Another great concrete sign of hope for me is when I see people doing just this -- for example, using capitalism's own tools to evolve it in a more just direction.

4. Of all the people alive today, who do you think would make the best President of the US? Why?
Probably someone I've never heard of -- even just sticking to politicians, there are thousands of people out there whose positions and character I've never reviewed. I'd be hesitant to go for someone who hasn't had at least a little political experience, since politics involves a lot of skills that can't always be shown in a non-political situation (though I wouldn't hesitate to nominate someone like Kevin Drum as a policy advisor to someone with more proven campaign charisma). Limiting myself to people I'm familiar with, it's still difficult to say. Policy-wise, I think Al Gore was more or less right on the money, though he's damaged goods after the 2000 debacle. About the best I can do is to say that, of the people actually trying to become president next year, I'm cautiously supportive of Howard Dean.

5. If you had a million dollars, what would you spend it on?
I'd start with the obvious -- my college loans (which are not all that big -- Colgate was very generous to me), and my brother's. I'm not sure how I could do that for my two siblings who haven't started college yet, but I'd seek financial advice and work something out. I'm tempted to say I'd put some toward my dissertation research expenses, but on the other hand I think the grant-writing process would be good practice, since next time I need money for research I won't have a bonus million dollars or the mentoring of experienced faculty. I'd splurge on some computer stuff, like a better monitor, a zip drive, and Photoshop. And whatever's left (no idea how much that would be, since I don't know what kind of loans my siblings have), I'd give to charity. What charity, I'm not sure -- maybe The Maroon-News, maybe the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, maybe the ACLU, maybe something else. I have enough trouble thinking up things as suggestions for birthday and Christmas presents, so I can't imagine trying to spend a million dollars. Most of the stuff I really want is pretty hard to buy (though I suppose I could set aside a little for, say, piano lessons).

If any of you would like to participate, here are the rules:
1. Leave me an email, saying you want to be interviewed.
2. I will respond; I’ll ask you five questions (I'll try to make them different from Dave's questions to me, but since those questions were so broad [presumably a function of him not knowing me very well], feel free to offer your answers to those as well).
3. You’ll update your website with my five questions, and your five answers.
4. You’ll include this explanation, and acknowledge me as the interviewer.
5. You’ll ask other people five questions when they want to be interviewed.

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