Club of Amsterdam Journal, March 2023, Issue 252

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CONTENT

Lead Article

What are postbiotics and how can they improve our gut health?
by Deep Jyoti Bhuyan, Research Fellow in Healthy Ageing, Western Sydney University

Article 01

Regenerative Agriculture
by Regenerative Farmers of America

The Future Now Show

About the Microbiome and Digestive Health
with Michael Smith & Miss Metaverse

Article 02

Healthy guts are swarming with bugs, so what do they do?
by Robert Moore, RMIT University

News about the Future

> Dufttunnel
> NSK Havfarm

Article 03

How Flip-Flop Art Helps Clean Kenya's Beaches | World Wide Waste
by Insider Business

Recommended Book

Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well
by Tim Spector

Article 04

On Violence
by Fred Phillips

Climate Change Success Story

Soil

TrapBag®
Soil Research Institute, Ghana
Kiss the Ground
EU Science Hub: Soil
'4 per 1,000' initiative
Antarctica and Sub-Antarctic Permafrost, Soils and Periglacial Environments Group (ANTPAS)
‘Biomes of Australian Soil Environments’ (BASE)
Initiative 20x20 Latin America & the Caribbean

Futurist Portrait

Ben Crowther
Farming Futurist


Tags:
Aeroponics, Aquaculture, Arts, Australia, Consciousness, Digestive Health,
Fish, Homicide, Japan, Kenya, Latin America, Microbiome, Microbiota,
Organic Farming, Postbiotics, Regenerative Agriculture, Salmon, Social Change,
The Caribbean, Violence, War, Waste















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Tim Spector: "As a scientist, I focus all my energies in researching the microbiome, the large community of microbes that live in our gut, skin and body.”

 

Fred Phillips: "Have confidence in the multi-century trend toward less violent societies. We need not feel that our efforts are wasted, or that the quest for peace is a hopeless one. Persons of conscience may advocate for peace, become peaceful role models, and support peace-oriented organizations, having confidence that further evolution of human sentiment is possible."





Lead Article:

What are postbiotics and how can they improve our gut health?
by Deep Jyoti Bhuyan, Research Fellow in Healthy Ageing, Western Sydney University

 

Deep Jyoti Bhuyan

 

Many of us are familiar with probiotics, such as certain yogurts and fermented foods, full of "good" bacteria that can keep the gut healthy.

You might even have heard of prebiotics, foods rich in complex carbohydrates (dietary fibre) that help foster good bacteria in the large intestine. Popular prebiotic foods include oats, nuts and legumes.

But what about postbiotics? What are they and how do they affect our gut health?

A colourful display of fruits and vegetables.

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits increases the levels of prebiotics in your body.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay, CC BY

What is a postbiotic?

Postbiotics are essentially the by-products of our gut microbiota. In other words, your body produces postbiotics after digesting prebiotic and probiotic foods.

Examples of postbiotics include the short-chain fatty acids butyric acid (or butyrate), acetic acid (or acetate) and propionic acid (or propionate).

These molecules are produced when good probiotic bacteria break down dietary fibre from foods such as fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes.

These postbiotic molecules are important for your gut microbiota. Healthy probiotic bacteria thrive on these short-chain fatty acids in our gut.

And some postbiotics can help suppress "bad" bacteria. For example, probiotic bacteria (such as Lactococcus lactis) produce special chemicals called bacteriocins which can prevent the colonisation of pathogens like E. coli in the gut. This process is known as "colonisation resistance".

Microbial fermentation is where microbes in the gut break down complex carbohydrates. Microbial fermentation of plant-based diets (which are rich in polyphenols), in particular, leads to the production of the postbiotic phenylacetic acid. This postbiotic can reduce the growth of harmful pathogens in the body.

A customers holds a shopping bag while looking at vegetables.

A plant-rich diet is good for postbiotic production.
Photo by Michael Burrows/Pexels, CC BY

Not all postbiotics are good

Not all postbiotics are heroes, though.

One type of postbiotic is bile acids, which are produced when we eat too many high-fat foods.

Bile acids have been linked to inflammation and colon cancer.

Staying on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet for the long term often means people don't eat enough fibre, which is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer.

This may be due to the production of hazardous postbiotics like bile acids.

What's the link between postbiotics and cancer?

Our recent review (led by my colleague Kayla Jaye at Western Sydney University) found short-chain fatty acids - particularly butyrate - have shown promising results against breast and colorectal cancer cells in previous laboratory studies.

One clinical study showed colorectal cancer patients produced significantly lower levels of short-chain fatty acids in their gut than healthy participants.

Another study found the numbers of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids were low in premenopausal breast cancer patients.

Some cellular and animal studies have also reported that the postbiotic butyrate can help chemotherapy work better against breast cancer and regulate the immune system.

As reported in epidemiological studies, a fibre-rich diet, particularly whole grains, can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. This is mainly because fibre-rich diets lead to the production of short-chain fatty acids in the colon.

Two bags of legumes sit on a kitchen bench.

The best way to improve the levels of good postbiotics is to consume more vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska/Pexels, CC BY

OK great, so what do I eat to get more postbiotics in my gut?

Dietary fibre is the key.

Women and men should consume at least 25 and 30 grams of fibre, respectively, every day. But few Australians meet this recommendation.

The best way to improve the levels of good postbiotics is to consume more vegetables, fruits, legumes, wholegrain bread, nuts and seeds.

Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, leek and asparagus are fantastic prebiotic vegetables.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables increases the levels of postbiotics like short-chain fatty acids in the gut. It also helps reduce bile acids.

Gut health is all about diversity, which means eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains to support healthy gut microbiota.

You can also include fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi in your diet. These fermented foods have both prebiotic fibre and live probiotic bacteria, which can help produce healthy postbiotics in the gut.

Of course, further research is needed. But to ensure good gut health, you should include plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes in your diet. The Conversation

Deep Jyoti Bhuyan, Research Fellow in Healthy Ageing, Western Sydney University

 

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.




CONTENT

Article 01

Regenerative Agriculture
by Regenerative Farmers of America

 

Did you know Regenerative Agriculture can sequester carbon into the soil and help fight climate change?

Regenerative Agriculture describes farming practices that increase soil organic matter, increase biodiversity, improve water retention, improve nutrition, and many other benefits.

Regenerative Farmers of America

 

 

 


 

CONTENT

The Future Now Show

About the Microbiome and Digestive Health

with Michael Smith & Miss Metaverse



Michael Smith introduces the microbiome, how you can improve it, what it means for your digestive system, your autoimmune conditions and other health issues. Microbiome innovations drive sustainable food production and human health. We are only at the beginning of a profound change.

 



 

 


 


Moderator



 

Credits

Michael Smith
Naturopathic practitioner and Nutritionist specializing in Functional Medicine
Wurdong Heights, Australia
Planet Naturopath
www.planetnaturopath.com

Thank you Chris Edwards.



Moderator

Katie (Miss Metaverse™) King
Futurist and Content Creator
Cary, North Carolina, USA

futuristmm.com


Felix B Bopp
Producer of The Future Now Show

clubofamsterdam.com


The Future Now Show

clubofamsterdam.com/the-future-now-show



You can find The Future Now Show also at

LinkedIn: The Future Now Show Group
YouTube: The Future Now Show Channel




CONTENT

Article 02

Healthy guts are swarming with bugs, so what do they do?

by Robert Moore, RMIT University

 

Robert Moore



The exact composition of each personís microbiota is as unique as their finger prints. The Conversation, CC BY-ND
Robert Moore, RMIT University

Our gut does more than help us digest food; the bacteria that call our intestines home have been implicated in everything from our mental health and sleep, to weight gain and cravings for certain foods.

 

 

The healthy human body is swarming with microorganisms. They inhabit every nook and cranny on the surfaces of our body. But by far the largest collection of microorganisms reside in our gastrointestinal tract Ė our gut.


What is the human microbiome?

These tiny organisms, which can only be seen with the aid of a microscope, make up our microbiota. The combination of microbiota, the products it makes, and the environment it lives within, is called the microbiome.


The gastrointestinal tract.
Christos Georghiou/Shutterstock

Great advances in DNA sequencing technologies have enabled us to study the gut microbiota in intricate detail. We can now take a census of all the microorganisms that are in the microbiota to help us understand what they are doing.

Typically, our gut microbiota consists of several thousand different types of bacteria, as well as other microbes such as viruses and yeasts. Some types will be in abundance, while other types will be rare.

The exact composition of each personís microbiota is as unique as their finger prints. But unlike finger prints, the microbiota is constantly changing.

Microbes start to colonise our gut and skin the moment we are born. The mode of birth, either natural or by caesarean, determines the sort of microbes a baby first contacts. This can have a profound effect on the early development of the microbial populations that contribute to the microbiota.


Tiny organisms begin to colonise the gut as soon as weíre born.
zlikovec/Shutterstock

The structure of the microbiota Ė that is, what microbes are present and the relative numbers of each type Ė undergoes significant change from its establishment at birth until it matures in early adolescence.

In healthy adults, changes over time are likely to be small. But major shifts in composition can occur when we radically change our diet or take antibiotics, which are, of course, designed to kill bacteria.

Itís also been found that, like our own body, the composition of our microbiota changes in old age, including a loss of diversity.

Our microbiota is not an accidental, free-loading passenger living in our gut and stealing the nutrients from our food. Over the millennia we have evolved with our microbiota. We now know it can affect many aspects of our biology, from our digestive system to our brain function.

How our bodies develop and function is dictated by our genes. We have approximately 20,000 genes encoded in our genetic material.

The different microbes that make up our microbiota have their own genes. As a rough estimate, the 2,000 different types of microbes may, on average, each carry 3,000 genes. That means the microbiota carries six million genes. Although many will have similar functions, it still indicates the microbiota has a much more complex =genetic complement= than we ourselves have.

This genetic complement of the microbiota means it can do things other parts of the body cannot. Our microbiota provides digestive enzymes to allow us to use food that otherwise we could not digest. It provides essential vitamins we cannot make ourselves. And it interacts with our hormonal and neural systems to help shape our physiology.

Perhaps most important of all, it helps to develop our immune system to fight off bugs. The body must be able to distinguish between the beneficial members of the healthy microbiota and invading pathogenic microorganisms that can cause disease. The immune system has to learn to live with and nurture the microbiota while fighting off pathogens.


Microbiota help develop our immune system.
kikovic/Shutterstock

Disruption of the correct interaction between microbiota and the immune system may be one of the causes of the massive increase over the past few decades in immune-related diseases, such as diabetes, food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Many of these diseases seem to be diseases of affluence, probably influenced by poor diets and excessive cleanliness, affecting the early establishment of an appropriate microbiota.

The intimate connection between host and microbiota and the rich contribution that each brings to the partnership has resulted in the concept of a metaorganism. This recognises that as humans, we are really the product of the mutual cooperation between our own bodies and our microbiota.

Indeed, our microbiota is so important and has such specific functions that itís reasonable to view it as another organ of our body. Itís just as important as our liver or kidneys.

 

Robert Moore, Research Professor of Biotechnology, Head of Host-Microbe Interactions Laboratory, RMIT University

 

 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

 

CONTENT

News about the Future

> Dufttunnel
> NSK Havfarm


Dufttunnel
Every spring something utterly magical happens in the Autostadt park in Wolfsburg, Germany: Olafur Eliasson’s spectacular contemporary art work, the Scent Tunnel, is reconstructed. And every month, until the onset of autumn, the tunnel is brought back to life with a variety of plants.

Forming a bridge across the little waterway between the Audi and Lamborghini Pavilions, the tunnel is both space and sculpture, a metaphor for mobility and immobility, for movement and a rootedness within the park. In spring and summer the scent of flowering plants invites visitors to be part of a unique combination of art, nature and technology as the gently-rotating tube revolves slowly on its longitudinal axis. At the beginning of the season 2160 densely planted flower pots filled with wallflowers revolve around the visitor enfolding them in their scent. Then come tufted violets, vanilla and lavender.

The Scent Tunnel is a holistic sensory experience: from smell and sight to the experience of the moving space. We are faced with a new view of the world and consequently the way we perceive things is questioned. In the artist’s words: “if contrary to everything we are used to we have to enter a rotating object to experience it fully, we become that artwork’s co-producer”.

 


NSK Havfarm

“In order to move aquaculture out of the fjords to more exposed locations, we need new technology both able to withstand even tougher weather conditions, and at the same time able to keep the fish and people safe.”

            • Offshore production of farmed Atlantic salmon
  • Biomass capacity of 10,000 tonnessalmon (25 kg/m3).

      • Very high reliability.

  • Game-changer in salmon fishing industry.

 



CONTENT

 

Article 03

How Flip-Flop Art Helps Clean Kenya's Beaches | World Wide Waste
by Insider Business

 

Flip-flops are one of the oldest styles of shoes in the world, and today they are the most popular. We make over 1 billion of them every year, and one company in Kenya turns these old sandals into colorful works of art.

Along the coasts and the waterways of Kenya, flip-flops can be found littering the beaches. Yet one company is taking those flip-flops and using them to make hippos, giraffes, and whales. Volunteers bring in about 1 ton of flip-flops per week in large white bags and are reimbursed.

Inspired by the toys children were making out of the flip-flop debris, Julie Church, the Ocean Sole Founder, encouraged their mothers to collect, wash, and cut the discarded flip-flops into colorful products to sell at local Kenyan Markets as another means of income for their families.

 




CONTENT

Recommended Book


Food for Life: The New Science of Eating Well
by Tim Spector


From the bestselling author of Spoon-Fed and The Diet Myth, a comprehensive guide to the new science of nutrition, drawing on Tim Spector's cutting-edge research.

Food for health
Food for your microbes
Food as medicine
Food for mental health
Food for immunity
Food for the planet
Food for life

Food is our greatest ally for good health, but the question of what to eat has never seemed so complicated. Tim Spector has pioneered a science-based approach to nutrition, encouraging us to forget misleading notions of calorie counts or nutritional breakdowns. In Food for Life he draws on over a decade of cutting-edge scientific research, along with his own personal insights, to deliver a new and comprehensive guide to what we should all know about food today. Taking a wide-angle lens on everything from environmental impact and food fraud to allergies and deceptive labelling, Spector also shows us the many wondrous and surprising properties of everyday foods, which scientists are only just beginning to understand.

Empowering, practical, wide-ranging and filled with intriguing insights, Food for Life is nothing less than a new approach to how to eat - for our health and the health of the planet.

 

Prof. Dr. Tim Spector
Professor of Genetic Epidemiology
Head of Department, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology.

Tim Spector is Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College, London and Director of the TwinsUK Registry, which is one of the worlds richest data collections on 11,000 twins. He trained as a physician with a career in research, which since 1992 has demonstrated the genetic basis of a wide range of common diseases, previously thought to be mainly due to ageing and environment. Most recently his group have found over 400 novel genes in over 30 diseases, such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, melanoma, baldness, and longevity. He has published over 600 research articles in prestigious journals including Science and Nature. He coordinates many worldwide genetic consortia and is currently at the forefront of research with a highly competitive European Research Council Senior Investigator award to study Epigenetics – a new exciting research area into how genes can be altered. He is the author of several books for the scientific and public communities and presents regularly in the media.

 

Doctor Tim Spector: The Shocking New Truth About Weight Loss, Calories & Diets
by The Diary Of A CEO

 

 




The personalized nutrition program from the world's largest nutrition-science study

ZOE was born three years ago when Tim joined forces with Jonathan and George, whose backgrounds are in artificial intelligence and consumer apps, together with nutrition researchers from leading academic institutions including Massachusetts General Hospital, King’s College London, Stanford Medicine, & Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

ZOE was designed to be something new. Our bet was that new technologies could enable scientific research at an unprecedented scale, allowing us to understand individual responses in the real world. Our approach combines large-scale human studies with machine learning technology, microbiome sequencing and collaboration with leading scientists around the world - and our results continuously improve as our scientific studies expand. We have already published multiple peer reviewed papers in some of the most important scientific journals such as Nature Medicine.

All three of us - Tim, George and Jonathan - have made significant changes to the way we eat, as a result of our research. We are excited to be able to make this cutting edge research available publicly to anyone who wants to join ZOE on this journey.



Tim Spector, George Hadjigeorgiou and Jonathan Wolf



ZOE analyses your unique gut, blood fat, and blood sugar responses. So you can improve your long-term health and reach a healthy weight.

We take a holistic approach to understand how your body works.

Each of us has a unique biology.

We use the most advanced tests and cutting-edge science available to help you understand how your body works so you can reduce dietary inflammation and improve your gut health naturally.

Based on the tests used in PREDICT, our at-home test kit can provide comprehensive insights into your biology, covering the gut microbiome and your blood sugar and blood fat responses.

 



CONTENT

Article 04


On Violence 
by Fred Phillips

 

Fred Phillips


Abstract

This article summarizes the evidence and arguments for an increasing prospect of a peaceful world, and for the purported causes of a trend toward peace. The approach is integrative and multiple-perspective, drawing on the work of several writers, and introducing original considerations. Evidence for changes in humans' attitudes toward war and peace is convincing. Evidence for a long-term reduction in violent deaths per capita appears strong but may not be predictive; Intertwined problems of climate change, migration, and pandemics make further armed conflicts almost inevitable. One hopes to minimize these. A 'tool kit' for doing so is offered.

Keywords
violence; war; homicide; consciousness; social change

 

Introduction: War, violence, and tradition

Though it is small comfort to the many who are caught in today's violent conflicts, there is evidence that violence has been in secular decline, worldwide. This essay mines the writings of several thoughtful authors, finding much agreement among them concerning the reasons for the long-term trend toward peace and away from violence. These reasons involve newer forms of social organization, and apparent shifts in human consciousness.

The term 'violent conflicts' finesses the fact that deaths due to 'war,' defined as extended violence between 'recognized' governments, can be difficult to distinguish from fatalities resulting from non-state terrorism, or from brigandage masquerading as liberation movements. At what level of escalation do intra-country skirmishes become seen as civil wars? These uncertainties make statistical measurement harder. Likewise, the relation between a warlike national culture and violent domestic crime is not well understood. Subject to these cautions, this essay remarks on all the above mentioned types of lethal violence.

Today's cultures remain influenced by their earliest religious and philosophical heritages. Much of what we regard as pre-scientific knowledge in the last two thousand years was closely linked to religion. This essay is not a religious screed, but it must make reference to formative religious writings. Though it makes occasional reference to Eastern traditions, and deals with worldwide statistics on violence, its arguments focus primarily on Western influences and concerns.

Thus we first consider a "pre-scientific view," built largely on writer Michael Tusa's intriguing reinterpretation of the Old Testament. A modern scientific view follows, resting on Steven Pinker's massive and masterful explanation of why violence has declined over the centuries. An ensuing section looks at one of the hiccups in this long-term trend, namely, the Vietnam War years. It mentions the unusual number of individuals who arose to prominence as peacemakers at about that time.

We then examine the recent (2001-present) uptick in violence, which followed two decades of a post-Vietnam resumption of the secular trend toward peace, and place the uptick within the context of that long-term trend. We consider contrary views from across the social sciences. Finally, the essay offers a "what we can do about it" action list/toolkit.

A pre-scientific view


Tusa's (2016) fictional character presents this somewhat Nietzschean interpretation of the Old Testament:

Adam and Eve, before consuming the forbidden fruit, are primitive, one-dimensional characters…. no emotion, no consciousness…. stick-man characters a grade school child could have drawn. Noah was the same way… no conscience at all, though he does at least get drunk.

But once we get to Abraham, and then to Jacob, all that changes. Abraham negotiates with God. Abraham and Jacob display reason, personality, and thought…. And then Moses gets [God] to feel remorse and change his mind - 'Then the Lord relented [regarding] the disaster he had threatened.' [Later,] Joseph is a fully developed self-conscious human.


What we are seeing is the pre-scientific biblical writers struggling to explain the evolution of human self-consciousness…. The eating of the apple is also the beginning of human morality, which cannot exist without self-knowledge. (Emphasis added)

Abraham is the revered book's first character to exhibit a sense of compassion, as he negotiates with God for the survival of Sodom. King David was able to judge his own actions. Solomon displayed a theory of consciousness (Dennett 1993) in the story of the two women claiming the same child. The later story of Jesus evinces a newer and still higher level of consciousness.

Pinker (2012) complained that though the institution of Christianity swept the world, Jesus' message of love and forgiveness did not. We know, though, that ideas spread according to an epidemic curve, slowly at first, then more quickly, but with certain factions opposing the idea's (or epidemic's) spread (Rogers 2003; Phillips 2007). At the time of the Exodus, for example, evolved consciousness had spread only partially and was backsliding - modern researchers would call this a hype cycle - necessitating Moses' intervention, and the resulting Ten Commandments.


What form does the opposition take - aside from the obvious, like Romans feeding Christians to lions, and the crucifixion itself? Tusa (2016) cites the anti-intellectualizing of the Eden story, in which modern preachers "denigrate reason," declaiming that those who eat from the tree of knowledge, having become thralls of an evil talking snake, will be banned from paradise. This interpretation denies that Eve and Adam became more human by eating the apple, gaining the ability to plan the future, an ability that stems from awareness of one's own eventual death.

Opposition continues to this day, as fundamentalists of many stripes commit violence "in God's name," discourage coreligionists from acquiring secular knowledge, and deny education to women - blaming the fairer sex for Eve's "transgression," even as those with different dispositions consider that it was a pretty good move on Eve's part.

A scientific view

The scientific argument for the long-term, historic decline in violence (and concomitant changes in consciousness) draws on statistical analysis and modern ideas of sociology and psychology. Yet its conclusions largely parallel the "pre-scientific" notions presented above.

In the 1830s the poet Tennyson, exposed to the new science of embodied psychology, wrote of the evolution of consciousness (Tate 2009). Nearly 200 years later, the primary repository of evidence for a scientific view emerged, in the 800 pages of Steven Pinker's (2012) The Better Angels of Our Nature. First establishing that the pre-industrial past was far more violent than we may think (in terms of violent deaths per capita), Pinker documents dramatic and more or less steady declines over the past 500 years in the frequency, duration, and lethality of wars ("lethality" indicating number of deaths, either raw or as a percent of world population at the time), as well as in murders among civilians.

The same trend holds for small regional and cross-border conflicts that do not qualify, in historians' terms, as wars. Indeed though Pinker tries to analyze war and murder separately, he acknowledges "warlords [who] dress up their brigandage in the language of political liberation movements, making it hard to draw a line between casualties in a civil war and homicides from organized crime."

Pinker attributes the overall decline in violence to a pacification process, and a civilizing process. The rise of cities caused people living in closer proximity to improve their getting-along skills (pacification), and the appearance of kingdoms and centralized authority helped rulers understand their interest in suppressing internal squabbles (i.e., in civilizing) in order to redirect martial impulses toward external threats.

A third process, Pinker explains, was the rise of humanitarian sentiment that led to the cessation of witch-burning and various other atrocities and, more recently, to the legal abolition of slavery and death penalties. Humanitarian movements had precedents in ancient Greece, he says, and in the Renaissance, but showed increased momentum in 17th and 18th century Europe, and in the 20th, with 1948's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and with new NGOs oriented to peace.

Like consciousness, then, societies also evolved. Social custom in early times led to bloodshed, as Pinker noted: "Human life held no value in comparison with unthinking obedience to custom and authority." Later, custom had the opposite effect, as suits, ties, and courtesy took over as dominant norms. The change in customs was key to what Pinker calls the civilizing process.

The Vietnam Era

Thus Pinker's portrayal of the 1960s and '70s as an interval of "decivilization" in the United States is mistaken. Street crime did increase alarmingly in those decades. Try as Pinker might to separate war from civilian homicide, who's to say that an increase in crime at home was not a fair price to pay for ending institutional violence abroad, the kind reflected in the phrase "We had to destroy the [Vietnamese] village in order to save it"?

"Obedience to custom and authority" and austerity had saved the Allied nations in World War II, but the greatest generation was stuck in that mode, post-war. Their progeny, the baby boomers, understood a rich society could afford to let its members tune in, turn on, and drop out, at least temporarily. What had their parents fought for, if not for the freedom to lead an enjoyable life while not having to kill foreigners?

As a draft-age youth, I gave much thought to why the U.S. would wage a cruel and senseless war in Vietnam. Over drinks with a colleague, I floated a demographic argument: Too many male baby boomers could not be absorbed into the civilian workforce, so the government was occupying them by sending them off to a war. "Ridiculous," my colleague retorted. Yet according to John Roman of the University of Chicago, "The recipe for violence in any city in the world is dense clusters of young men with nothing to do" (Economist 2021). Rather than diminishing violence during the war years, we simply exported it.

There were of course many more influences at work at the time. Minorities hoping to forge respected places for themselves in American society were ipso facto breaking one of the country's customs. Logic implied that the only way to bring needed action and attention to their cause was to break still more customs, sometimes illegally. No need here to detail the other social trends of those decades; Pinker himself stated that nothing happens for a single reason. The Woodstock era was not decivilizing. Rather, as Bob Dylan sang, the times were a-changing, and other artists explicitly proclaimed a shift in consciousness - the "dawning of the Age of Aquarius."

Technology

"Humanitarianism can be the mother of invention," says Pinker. The prominent technologies involved in reducing violence were those like the Green Revolution, which eased the Malthusian threat. These were technologies that made water, energy, food, and communication channels more widely available, and more cheaply available, so that people felt less need to take them away from someone else.

And weapons. Whether new and deadlier weapons make peace more likely or less,is an unanswered question. Yet we may note that atomic weapons, and the new game theory-based strategies that accompanied them, did keep the Cold War cold.

Ferguson and Smith (2021) looked at 92 countries and concluded that per capita gun ownership was not an indicator of homicide and suicide cross-nationally. (Nor was video game behavior.) Rather, the indicators were economic factors and income inequality. Their current, cross-sectional study adds to but does not contradict Pinker's (2012) long-baseline conclusions.

Peacemakers

Pinker did not address the impact of highly visible peacemakers, perhaps because the etiologies of leadership and change agency are so difficult to analyze scientifically. Such leaders, however, have accelerated the trend toward peace.

Mohandas Gandhi's doctrine of nonviolent protest was instrumental in helping 75 thousand fellow Indians win their civil rights in South Africa, and later in helping India end British colonial rule. "Mankind has to get out of violence only through nonviolence," Gandhi wrote in 1946 (Borman 1986, 170). This principle of nonviolence gained Gandhi thousands of followers who revere him as Mahatma ("Great Soul"), inspiring many other activists to use his method to fight for peace.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is one of the world's most admired peacemakers. In his 80s now, he travels the world to deliver lessons on non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He exchanges thoughts with world-renowned scientists, to find different vocabularies for disseminating the Buddhist ideal peace of mind, and to reduce the conflict between science and religion. The 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, remarking in his laureate address that "Because violence can only breed more violence and suffering, [Tibetans'] struggle must remain non-violent and free of hatred. We are trying to end the suffering of our people, not to inflict suffering upon others."1, 2

Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired by Gandhi, in turn inspired other peacemakers and other social movements. King introduced the philosophy of nonviolence into the US civil rights movement, believing that "nonviolence was an active rejection of the cruelty and tyranny of an opposing class, not just the avoidance of repercussions." King's words and actions made possible the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.3

King codified the philosophy of nonviolence in six principles (King 1958).4

U.S. President Barak Obama remarked that King "finally inspired a nation to transform itself."5


1. https://www.dalailama.com/the-dalai-lama/biography-and-daily-life/brief-biography
2. https://www.dalailama.com/messages/acceptance-speeches/nobel-peace-prize/nobel-peace-prize
3. https://biography.yourdictionary.com/articles/martin-luther-kings-vision-change-world.html
4.

"1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation.
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims.
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences to its acts.
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. Nonviolence resists violence to the spirit as well as the body. Nonviolence love is active, not passive. Nonviolence love does not sink to the level of the hater. Love restores community and resists injustice. Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win."

5. http://mlksociology.weebly.com/impact-in-society.html

Modern secular and spiritual views

Julian Jaynes (1976) claimed that Homer's Odyssey revealed a world in which the voices in a man's head were presumed to be the gods sending directions. Characters in the later Iliad, Jaynes continued, understood internal voices to be their own, talking to themselves. In other words, according to Jaynes, Homeric times brought about a shift in human consciousness.

Zen priest Virginia Whitelaw wrote (2020), "Our sense of self, which has been evolving through our entire life, becomes larger and more inclusive as we mature. This expansion has been characterized… as moving from egocentric, to ethnocentric, worldcentric and finally 'kosmocentric' (i.e., embracing the entire subjective and objective universe)."

Kevin Kelly (2010) felt similarly: "There is a natural progression of increased connectivity among humans. Groups of people start off simply sharing ideas, tools, creations, and then progress to cooperation, collaboration, and finally collectivism. At each step the amount of coordination increases."

Set in Pakistan's mountain regions, Greg Mortenson's 2006 bestseller Three Cups of Tea put forth that early education, especially for girls, is key to overcoming poverty and to transforming a society into one that may effectively oppose terrorist regimes.

When ideas of transformed consciousness come from such disparate sources - the psychologist Jaynes, the spiritual teacher Whitelaw, technology guru Kelly, and mountaineer Mortenson - one must suspect there is something to them.

What's newest


Sadly, there are many indications that the incidence of inter- and intra-national violence will get worse before it again gets better.

Rosen's (2016) charts show an uptick in the number of lethal intra-country conflicts in the years following Pinker's (2012) tome. Note that Rosen's remark predated the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The number of ongoing conflicts each year has risen. This increase however only relates to civil conflicts within states. Conflicts related to the expansion or defence of colonial empires ended with decolonisation. Conflicts between states have almost ceased to exist. The increase in the number of wars is predominantly an increase of smaller and smaller conflicts (Rosen, 2016).

The year 2020 brought us America's "biggest rise in homicides in decades"

(Economist 2021), including a resurgence of mass shootings. Gun sales soared 64% over the norm in that year. The Economist (2021) calls gun sales a "common precursor to violence," though they are also a common response to violence.

Excluding the Ukraine conflict, wars in the past five years have cost 13% of the world's GDP (Autesserre 2021). NGO and inter-governmental peacekeeping agencies have been horribly inept, according to Autesserre, as their personnel deliberately avoid violent neighborhoods and fail to understand local cultures and economies. She recommends that peacekeepers spend more time listening to and earning the trust of beleaguered communities. Her advice, if heeded, might have prevented 2021's massacre in Burkina Faso, which occurred under the noses of French and UN peacekeeping forces (Mednick 2021; Though UN Peacekeepers have been involved in highly visible foul-ups, Walter, Howard, and Fortna (2021) assert this UN function has been markedly successful overall.)

As trust in the polity declines, public and community participation (and voting) does also (Boeckmann and Tyler 2002). Without belief and participation in a social order, inhibitions against crime decrease. The year since a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd birthed a movement to reform American policing. Yet this movement is stymied at the ballot boxes, due to citizens' concerns about rising crime. Witte and Weigel (2021) offer examples from elections in New York, New Mexico, and Philadelphia, and write, "With shootings spiking in cities nationwide during the pandemic, there are growing signs that the thirst for change is being blunted by fears of runaway crime."

As climate change accelerates and pandemics proliferate, we may expect violent attempts to capture resources, to settle blame for economic and public health woes uponforeigners and migrants, and to shore up a nation's self-image and its imagined 'heritage.' Russia's current aggression can be attributed to the third of these. (Russia will in many ways benefit from a warming climate. The emigration of Russia's anti-war intelligentsia to Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgizstan, etc., however, will create a vicious cycle as it leaves Russia populated by a greater proportion of people who are susceptible to internal propaganda.)

This apparent reversal of the long trend toward peace is truly alarming. It has not been the only temporary reversal in that long march. However, that does not mean there is nothing we can do about it.

A linguistic consideration

Why do religious fundamentalists ignore their creeds' injunctions to love one another and hospitably welcome strangers? It is natural to put these injunctions aside during wartime: Who knows what a stranger's intentions are? Yet modern word usage serves to confuse when we are at war and when we are not. Viz., the war on drugs, the war on poverty, and so on.None of these is a "hot" war, and even the decades-long east-west Cold War occasioned much hardship but caused relatively few deaths.

This would be a point of little interest except that many American religious fundamentalists consider themselves at 'war' to make the USA a Christian nation (NPR 2020). This is their rationalization for putting aside Jesus' teaching. It has led to violence, e.g., the January 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, and may do so again.

Critiques of Pinker's work

Though this paper has drawn on many writers' assessment of prospects for peace, Pinker's (2012) is the most prominent. A variety of scholars have disapproved of Pinker's methods, results, and style of argument. This section summarizes and evaluates their critiques.

HistoriansMicale and Dwyer (2021) collect chapters from more historians, each picking at holes in Pinker's thesis. These chapters appear to a reader to be substance-free outrage that Pinker, a psychologist, should dare to breach the historians' disciplinary silo. They offer contradictory comments: Pinker shouldn't have used statistics; He was right to use statistics but used the wrong statistics; He should instead have based his thesis on history's non-measurable qualities, but should then defend against his critics using "scientific method" (!); Wars are now more violent because of more deaths of non-combatants, but "…wars now have lower casualty rates [due to] highly professionalized… and technologized military."

The contributors to Micale and Dwyer (2021) point out hiccups in the long-term trend to peace, as if to invalidate the trend that Pinker put forth. However, Pinker acknowledged deviations, never claiming a perfect straight-line trend. Editors Micale and Dwyer offer "a case for how history should be written and researched…. how historians go about their craft," thus shifting discussion from Pinker's results to his methods. As the methods of psychologists usually differ from those of historians, and Pinker's explanations center on changes in mindset, this criticism is neither here nor there.

These editors are dismissive of technology's contribution to our well-being. They indulge in ad hominem attacks. They claim "poverty is a form of violence" unaccounted for in Pinker's scheme - again a facile tactic - and assert there has been "widespread criticism from other social scientists."

A Google search does not support the latter point. On the contrary, psychologist Joulia Smortchkova (2017) compliments Pinker on addressing "the ambiguities of his data" and "understanding the meaning of complex evidence from history."

Robert Epstein (2011), also a psychologist, faults Pinker for indulging in confirmation bias. (Cirillo and Taleb (2016) differ, asserting Pinker was fooled by the shape of the violence frequency distribution.) Implying that the long-term trend may now be breaking down, Epstein sensibly notes, "We live in a time when all the rules are being rewritten blindingly fast."

Economist Ian Goldin (2018) calls Pinker too optimistic, noting he gives short shrift to recent outsized risks like climate, addiction, and inequality. He wants Pinker to give more weight to context - though it's difficult not to over-simplify when addressing thousands of years of history - and less to the raw numbers. Goldin makes a valid point: "Science and evidence-based thinking do not necessarily triumph over irrationality and ideology. Shared social norms and ethics are the framework that allows reason to prevail." Pinker focused on average changes in norms and ethics, yet it's true that irrational ideology can bend the trend.

Philosopher John Gray's (2005) prominent arguments, intended to refute Pinker, are very much beside the point. After accusing Pinker of overgeneralizing, Gray generalizes that human morals have not improved over the millennia. While many of us might throw morals out the window to protect our families in desperate situations, it is possible that more of us than before would choose a moral path when straits are not so dire. Gray fails to make the distinction. Gray identifies the wish for peace with liberal politics and with "scientific government" - both equations are surely questionable - and notes how liberalism can segue into an authoritarianism as terrible as those of the political far right. He doesn't document how often liberalism does so, especially relative to the steady appearances of new right-wing autocracies in today's world. Gray's critique then segues into bizarre digressions about, inter alia, Tibetan prayer wheels.

Gray does correctly raise the matter of agency. In contradistinction to the prominent peacemakers mentioned earlier in the present paper, Gray notes the impacts of the charismatic, fanatical individuals who instigated and perpetuated the Inquisition, the Holocaust,and 9/11.

These critics raise some weak points, some that are off-topic, and a few that are very much worth considering. As noted earlier, Pinker relies on statistics, and does give short shrift to agency. Critics also want him to consider historical context. To do so, however, might have needed another 700 pages! The trend revealed in Pinker's numbers, even allowing for some selectivity, is so striking that a kind of "statistical significance" may be inferred. The cited arguments against long-term reductions in violent death do not invalidate Pinker's statements about changes in consciousness and norms.

Pinker is a rationalist. The current reprise of a "know-nothing" movement in America buttresses Goldin's point that harmful beliefs and negative emotions have trumped rationality in the past and show signs of doing so again. Epstein's point that social change has very recently accelerated (in dangerous directions) doesn't refute that Pinker's long-term trend may be valid up until now, but might mean that Pinker's optimism about the future is misplaced. Goldin's reasonable emphasis on shared social norms is well served by the global impacts of Hollywood, Bollywood, and K-dramas.

Pinker most frequently looked at violent deaths as a proportion of contemporary world population. Epstein (2011), noting this may disguise a growing absolute number of violent deaths, as world population increases, accuses Pinker of a certain insensitivity. However, Pinker's construct does reveal much that is encouraging.

This section's analysis may help the reader assess the prospects for peace and decide on personal actions.

What we can do

Have confidence in the multi-century trend toward less violent societies. We need not feel that our efforts are wasted, or that the quest for peace is a hopeless one. Persons of conscience may advocate for peace, become peaceful role models, and support peace-oriented organizations, having confidence that further evolution of human sentiment is possible.

Bass (1969) showed that two forces drive a person's decision to change: persuasion and imitation. Though Bass put forth proof for this in the context of product marketing, it is true also for the diffusion of ideas and ideals. It implies we should be both persuaders advocating for peace, and peaceful role models worthy of imitation.

Pinker's analysis gives us a frame from which we can infer constructive actions. See Table 1. Its left-hand column gives a list of motives for violence that goes beyond the "money, love, or revenge" triad beloved by detective dramas. Grasping an aggressor's motive is key to eventual reconciliation.



 

The peacemaker's appeal to an element of the Table's middle list may moderate an aggressor's behavior. Finally, actors affiliated with the right-hand list may turn their (pre-emptive) efforts toward encouraging and disseminating the "angel" qualities of the middle list.

We don't have to be saints in order to advocate for peace. Gandhi's and King's sexual habits did not meet universal approval. Mortenson faces charges of fabulation and embezzlement.6

Yet these persons are remembered more for their messages than for their misdeeds. Importantly, though this does not excuse them, their misdeeds were in realms quite separate from the realm of peace and nonviolence. The peacemakers did not betray their commitment to peace.

6. https://medium.com/galleys/greg-mortenson-disgraced-author-of-three-cups-of-tea-believes-he-will-have-the-last-laugh-760949b1f964. A pleasing counterpoint is the 14th Dalai Lama, who has not been touched by scandal.

Conclusions

Recent years' record numbers of civil conflicts, school shootings and street murders might shake readers' faith in the numbers Pinker (2012) assembled, especially now that these numbers are ten years old. It does seem insensitive to call these tragic instances of violence "blips" in the secular trend, but in fact there are always blips in long-term trends.

Prospects for civil unrest are not encouraging. Current war-induced currency inflation caused The Economist magazine (2022) to calculate "the relationship between food- and fuel-induced inflation and political unrest." Their model "reveals that both have historically been good predictors of mass protests, riots, and political violence." Therefore, "many countries can expect to see a doubling of unrest this year."

Mueller (2022) believes we are seeing a blip in nation-nation warfare, that Putin's aggression - and its multifaceted failures - will increase humans' disinclination to further inter-state violence. "Five months into the war in Ukraine, it seems more likely that Putin's venture will reinforce and revitalize the aversion to and disdain for international war" (Mueller 2022). One hopes that is true.If not, if the Ukraine war is just a symptom of a climate-change-induced end of civilization, then it will not matter.

Pinker's 2012 analysis didn't include non-lethal instances of violence - for example, bullying7, maiming, or pepper-spraying - simply because it's hard to get good statistics on these. Human trafficking is no longer overt, but has gone underground. The Inquisition has been superseded by quiet ecclesiastical sexual assaults. Nonetheless, evidence for an overall, macro-historical decline in violence is considerable.

It's easier to join a parade when one knows where to find the parade. The present essay gives readers a vocabulary for recognizing individuals and organizations that embody the evolution of mind and heart toward peace, and for joining them. There are of course many NGOs and outfits like the UN Peacekeeping Forces that have explicit missions to create peace, and crave wider support.

However, the authors quoted here argue that something more subtle is going on: An evolution of consciousness. Such a notion may strike readers as implausibly New Age, and in fact scientists are not yet sure what consciousness is. Yet the diverse backgrounds of the authors who express this notion or something close to it, many of them cited here, lend plausibility to it: We do not see, think or feel in the same ways our ancestors did. Sociological and organizational changes, and the influence of pioneering leaders, ensure this. Changes in human consciousness are an important driver of our long march away from war and violence, and toward peaceful co-existence. May they continue, and may they continue quickly, as the Doomsday Clock8 ticks.

7. He did note that we no longer see those ads in teen magazines that offered muscle-building and boxing lessons, promising a young customer will not be embarrassed in front of his girlfriend when a beach bully kicks sand in his face.
8. https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/

 


Acknowledgement: The author thanks LanAnh Alice Nguyen for research assistance.




 

References

Autesserre, S. (2021). The Frontlines of Peace. Oxford University Press. As reviewed in The Economist, 24.04.2021, p. 73.

Bass, F. M. (1969). A New Product Growth Model for Consumer Durables. Management Science 15: January, pp. 215-227.

Boeckmann, Robert J. and Tom R. Tyler (2002). Trust, Respect, and the Psychology of Political Engagement. Jour. Applied Social Psychology 32(10), 2067-2088.

Borman, W. (1986). Gandhi and Non-violence. SUNY Press.


Cirillo, Pasquale and Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. (2016). The Decline of Violent Conflicts: What Do the Data Really Say? (November 27). The Nobel Foundation, Causes of Peace, NYU Tandon Research Paper No. 2876315. Available at SSRN or SSRN

The Economist (2021). A Modern Murder Mystery. The Economist, March 27, p. 23.

The Economist (2022). Hungry and Angrey. The Economist, June 25, pp. 12-14.


Epstein, Robert. (2011). Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Scientific American. October 7.

Dennett, D. C. 1993. Consciousness explained. Penguin UK.

Ferguson, C. J., and S. Smith. (2021). Examining Homicides and Suicides Cross-nationally: Economic Factors, Guns and Video Games. International Journal of Psychology (March).

Goldin, Ian. (2018). The limitations of Steven Pinker's optimism. Nature, 16 February.

Gray, John. (2015). Steven Pinker is Wrong About Violence and War. The Guardian. 2005.

Jaynes, J. (1976, 1982) 1990. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Houghton Mifflin.

Kelly, K. (2010). What Technology Wants. Penguin Group, New York, NY, USA.

King, M.L. Jr. (1958). Stride Toward Freedom.1st ed. Harper & Brothers.

Mednick, Sam.(2021). Burkina Faso says at least 100 civilians killed in attack. Associated Press, June 5.

Micale, Mark, and Philip Dwyer (eds.). (2021). The Darker Angels of Our Nature: Refuting the Pinker Theory of History & Violence. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mortenson, G., and D.O. Relin. (2006). Three Cups of Tea: One man's mission to promote peace, one school at a time. Penguin.

Mueller, John (2022). The Upside of Putin’s Delusions. Moscow’s Disastrous Invasion of Ukraine Will Reinforce the Norm Against War. Foreign Affairs, Aug. 2

National Public Radio. (2020). Building the Kingdom of God. 29.09.2020.

Phillips, F. (2007). "On S-curves and Tipping Points." Tech. Forecasting & Social Change 74(6): July, pp. 715-730.

Pinker, S. (2012).The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Penguin.

Rogers, E.M.(2003). Diffusion of Innovations. 5th ed.New York: Free Press. 512. ISBN 0-7432-2209-1.

Roser, Max (2016)."War and Peace". Published at OurWorldInData.org.

Smortchkova, Joulia. (2017). An Analysis of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature. Why Violence has Declined. Macat Library.

Tate, G. (2009). Tennyson and the embodied mind. Victorian Poetry 47(1): pp. 61-80.

Tusa, M.T. Jr. (2016). Advancing on Chaos. Createspace Independent Publishing.

Walter, Barbara F., LiseMorjé Howard, and V. Page Fortna. (2021). The Astonishing Success of Peacekeeping. Foreign Affairs, November 29.

Whitelaw, Ginny. (2020). The Presidential Debate: The Surefire Sign of Fake Leadership. Forbes, October 23.

Witte, Griff, and David Weigel. (2021). With violent crime spiking, the push for police reform collides with voters' fears. Washington Post, May 16.


 

 

 

 

About the author

Fred Phillips
fredyoungphillips@gmail.com

Fred Phillips is Visiting Professor at SUNY Stony Brook (College of Business and Alan Alda Center for Science Communication). He is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the Elsevier journal Technological Forecasting & Social Change. In 2017 he was awarded the Kondratieff Medal by the Russian Academy of Sciences. He now heads the TANDO Institute, www.tando.org, a thinktank/consultancy.



CONTENT

Climate Change Success Story

Soil

 

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Accelerating Restoration in Latin America | Highlights from Initiative 20x20 Annual Meeting
by World Resources Institute

 

 

 


 

CONTENT

Futurist Portrait

Ben Crowther
F
arming Futurist

 

 

Ben Crowther, Farming Futurist, Design engineer at LettUs Grow, UK


I’m from Reading and I’m passionate about the environment. I have developed a new way to farm using less water to feed more people and reduce the carbon footprint of farming.

My family all like making things. I grew up surrounded by steam engines, crocheting and my dad’s vegetable patch. I was the one who sorted the pipes and fences for the veg patch and liked to fix things when they went wrong.

I studied Engineering Design at the University of Bristol because it was recommended to me – my friend’s sister had also done it. I worked in web design for a while, but I wanted to make something more real and tangible than websites. I wanted to be my own boss and make a difference to the planet. At university, I had met people who were also passionate about reducing food waste and CO2 emissions. Together we developed new ways to grow plants and set up a business – LettUs Grow.

I’m Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder for our business LettUs Grow. The company aims to build the most efficient farms to feed the next generation. Instead of growing plants in soil, we cover plant roots in mist filled with nutrients. This increases the plants growth and uses less water than traditional farming. We also use less pesticides and the technique can be used across the world, from cities to deserts. While I have an engineering background, I know that sometimes the best solution isn’t the most high-tech. Engineering helps you develop a new way of thinking to find solutions to challenges.

My job is a real mix of business, software, biology and technology. I am always learning and I work with a team of experts to make sure the plants are growing perfectly. Together we grow over 50 different types of crop, including carrots, strawberries, radishes – and of course, lettuce.

I love how broad engineering is, from web design to engines, aeroplanes to farming. Engineering lets me find better solutions than what came before, and develop ideas to feed the planet.

 

Meet Ben: Farming Futurist
by This is Engineering

 

 

What makes LettUs Grow's aeroponics unique?
by LettUs Grow


 

 

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