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국회간담회 “국가 미래 반절을 위한 “국가미래기본법” 발의 내용”

2019년 2월 19일

국회

국회 간담회

 “국가 미래 반절을 위한 “국가미래기본법” 발의 내용”

후원:

국제미래학회

국회 미래정책연구회

11:00-13:00

11:50-12:30

패널 토의 “국가 미래 발전을 위한 ‘국가미래기본법’ 제정의 필요성과 향후 과제”

좌장: 이남식 (국제미래학회 회장)

고문현 ( 한국헌법학회 회장)

양승우너 (한국4차산업혁명법률협회 회장)

박인동 (김&장 법부률사무소 변호사) 

문형남 (지속가능과학회 회장 )

이만열 (이사이인스티튜트 이사장 )

이민영 (KNS뉴스통신 부사장)

WSWS on the wall and “emergency powers”

Regarding the “emergency powers” issue, the WSWS presents a very solid analysis, in my opinion.

The content is not revolutionary so much as it is constitutionalist. The points are quite solid and they are ignored by much of the progressive media which is just as much swept up in the circus as anyone.

See the posting:

 “Trump to declare national emergency to build wall”

Especially note:



“House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top congressional Democrat, criticized Trump’s expected declaration, saying, “The president is doing an end run around Congress.” She said that Democrats were “reviewing our options,” which could include a congressional resolution of disapproval or a legal challenge.
At the same time, she was visibly ambivalent about the right of a president to assert emergency powers, suggesting that a Democratic president could make use of the same power on an issue like gun control. Noting the first anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, she continued, “That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would.”

WSWS points out, that just as the Democrats were not interested in who really won the election in Florida back in 2000, or what happened to the ballots cast by poor people. So also, the Democrats are not concerned about the destruction of the constitution. If anything, they are wondering whether a bit of constitutional remodeling might bring them also more power.

But I want to say something about WSWS.

This avowed revolutionary outfit describes itself in this manner

The World Socialist Web Site is published by the International Committee of the Fourth International, the leadership of the world socialist movement, the Fourth International founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.

The WSWS aims to meet the need, felt widely today, for an intelligent appraisal of the problems of contemporary society. It addresses itself to the masses of people who are dissatisfied with the present state of social life, as well as its cynical and reactionary treatment by the establishment media.

Our web site provides a source of political perspective to those troubled by the monstrous level of social inequality, which has produced an ever-widening chasm between the wealthy few and the mass of the world’s people. As great events, from financial crises to eruptions of militarism and war, break up the present state of class relations, the WSWS will provide a political orientation for the growing ranks of working people thrown into struggle.

We anticipate enormous battles in every country against unemployment, low wages, austerity policies and violations of democratic rights. The World Socialist Web Site insists, however, that the success of these struggles is inseparable from the growth in the influence of a socialist political movement guided by a Marxist world outlook.

But having read many excellent articles at WSWS over the last ten years, I have to say that the writing really sounds like the work of CIA analysts. I am not saying it is a front, pushing propaganda. On most issues, they are as aggressive as anyone, but rather that we are looking at a source for insiders to spill their guts and use their skills for something more intellectual.

The actual text of the “Green New Deal” Is it an unconstitutional consolidation of power using the pretext of climate change which is not even focused on climate change?

DRAFT TEXT FOR PROPOSED ADDENDUM TO HOUSE RULES FOR 116TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES

Here is Naomi Wolf’s commentary about the formation of a committee of 15 people who are unaccountable and are not even required to focus on climate change

(a) Establishment of the Select Committee For A Green New Deal.—

(1) ESTABLISHMENT; COMPOSITION.—

(A) ESTABLISHMENT.—There is hereby established a Select Committee For A Green New Deal (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “select committee”).

(B) COMPOSITION.—The select committee shall be composed of 15 members appointed by the Speaker, of whom 6 may be appointed on the recommendation of the Minority Leader. The Speaker shall designate one member of the select committee as its chair. A vacancy in the membership of the select committee shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointment.

(2) JURISDICTION; FUNCTIONS.—

(A) LEGISLATIVE JURISDICTION.—

(i) The select committee shall have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “Plan for a Green New Deal” or the “Plan”) for the transition of the United States economy to become greenhouse gas emissions neutral and to significantly draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and to promote economic and environmental justice and equality. In furtherance of the foregoing, the Plan shall: (a) be prepared in consultation with experts and leaders from business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, academia and broadly representative civil society groups and communities; (b) be driven by the federal government, in collaboration, co-creation and partnership with business, labor, state and local governments, tribal nations, research institutions and civil society groups and communities; (c) be executed in no longer than 10 years from the start of execution of such Plan; (d) provide opportunities for high income work, entrepreneurship and cooperative and public ownership; and (e) additionally, be responsive to, and in accordance with, the goals and guidelines relating to social, economic, racial, regional and gender-based justice and equality set forth in paragraph (6).

(ii) In addition to preparing the Plan as set forth in paragraph (2)(A)(i), the select committee shall prepare draft legislation for the enactment of the Plan (hereinafter in this section referred to as the “draft legislation”), in accordance with this section. Such draft legislation may be prepared concurrently with the development of the Plan, or as the select committee may otherwise deem appropriate, provided that such finalized draft legislation shall be completed in accordance with the timing set forth in paragraph (5)(B)(ii).

 (iii) The select committee shall not have legislative jurisdiction and shall have no authority to take legislative action on any bill or resolution, provided that the foregoing shall not affect the select committee’s ability to prepare draft legislation in accordance with paragraph (2)(A)(i) and (2)(A)(ii).

(B) INVESTIGATIVE JURISDICTION.—In  furtherance of the mandate set forth in paragraph (2)(A), the select committee shall have the authority to investigate, study, make findings, convene experts and leaders from industry, academia, local communities, labor, finance, technology and any other industry or group that the select committee deems to be a relevant resource. The select committee may, at its discretion and as its members may deem appropriate, hold public hearings in connection with any aspect of its investigative functions.

(3) PROCEDURE.—

(A) Except as specified in paragraph (2), the select committee shall have the authorities and responsibilities of, and shall be subject to the same limitations and restrictions as, a standing committee of the House, and shall be deemed a committee of the House for all purposes of law or rule.

(B)(i) Rules [to be confirmed by reference to overall House Rules package] (Organization of Committees) and [to be confirmed by reference to overall House Rules package] (Procedures of Committees and Unfinished Business) shall apply to the select committee where not inconsistent with this resolution.

(ii) Service on the select committee shall not count against the limitations on committee or subcommittee service in Rule [to be confirmed by reference to overall House Rules package] (Organization of Committees).

(4) FUNDING.—To enable the select committee to carry out the purposes of this section—

(A) The select committee may use the services of staff of the House and may, at its discretion and as its members may deem appropriate, use the services of external consultants or experts in furtherance of its mandate;

(B) The select committee shall be eligible for interim funding pursuant to clause [to be confirmed by reference to overall House Rules package] of Rule [to be confirmed by reference to overall House Rules package] (Interim Funding – Organization of Committees); and

(C) Without limiting the foregoing, the select committee may, at any time and from time to time during the course of its mandate, apply to the House for an additional, dedicated budget to carry out its mandate.

(5) INTERIM REPORTING; SUBMISSION OF THE PLAN FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL; SUBMISSION OF DRAFT LEGISLATION—

(A) The select committee may report to the House  or any House Committee it deems appropriate from time to time the results of its investigations and studies, together with such detailed findings and interim recommendations or proposed Plan or draft legislation (or portion thereof) as it may deem advisable.

(B) (i) The select committee shall complete the Plan for a Green New Deal by a date no later than January 1, 2020.

(ii) The select committee shall complete the finalized draft legislation by a date no later than the date that is 90 calendar days after the select committee has completed the Plan in accordance with paragraph (5)(B)(i) and, in any event, no later than March 1, 2020.

(iii) The select committee shall ensure and procure that the Plan and the draft legislation prepared in accordance with this section shall, upon completion in accordance with paragraphs (5)(B)(i) and (ii), be made available to the general public in widely accessible formats (including, without limitation, via at least one dedicated website and a print publication) by a date no later than 30 calendar days following the respective dates for completion set forth in paragraphs (5)(B)(i) and (ii).

(6) SCOPE OF THE PLAN FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL AND THE DRAFT LEGISLATION.—

(A) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall be developed with the objective of reaching the following outcomes within the target window of 10 years from the start of execution of the Plan:

(B) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall recognize that a national, industrial, economic mobilization of this scope and scale is a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation. In furtherance of the foregoing, the Plan (and the draft legislation) shall:

    1. including by ensuring that local implementation of the transition is led from the community level and by prioritizing solutions that end the harms faced by front-line communities from climate change and environmental pollution;

(C) The Plan for a Green New Deal (and the draft legislation) shall recognize that innovative public and other financing structures are a crucial component in achieving and furthering the goals and guidelines relating to social, economic, racial, regional and gender-based justice and equality and cooperative and public ownership set forth in paragraphs (2)(A)(i) and (6)(B). The Plan (and the draft legislation) shall, accordingly, ensure that the majority of financing of the Plan shall be accomplished by the federal government, using a combination of the Federal Reserve, a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds and such other vehicles or structures that the select committee deems appropriate, in order to ensure that interest and other investment returns generated from public investments  made in connection with the Plan will be returned to the treasury, reduce taxpayer burden and allow for more investment.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Why do we need a sweeping Green New Deal investment program? Why can’t we just rely on regulations and taxes alone, such as a carbon tax or an eventual ban on fossil fuels?  


Why should the government have a big role in driving and making any required investments? Why not just incentivize the private sector to invest through, for e.g., tax subsidies and such?

How will the government pay for these investments?

Why do we need a select committee? We already have committees with jurisdiction over the subject matter e.g. Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources and Science, Space and Technology.  Just creating another committee seems unnecessary.

Why should we not be satisfied with the same approach the  previous select committee used (i.e. the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming)? Why do we need a new approach?

Why does this new select committee need to prepare draft legislation?  Isn’t investigation, hearings, briefings and reporting enough?

What’s an example of a select committee with abilities to prepare legislation? Does the new Select Committee For A Green New Deal seem to fit on that list?

Doesn’t this select committee take away jurisdictional power from the other (standing i.e. permanent) committees that have jurisdiction over at least part of the issue?

But a select committee only exists for the congressional session that created it! So even if this select committee prepares legislation, it likely won’t get passed in this session by a Republican-held Senate and White House, so why does having a select committee now even matter?


What’s wrong with the other proposed legislation on climate change? Can’t we just pass one of the other climate bills that have been introduced in the past? Why prepare a whole new one?

 パストリッチ インタビュー 「島国に戻らないで」 東京新聞

2019年 2月 13日

「島国に戻らないで」

五味洋治

 米国生まれのエマニュエル・パストリッチさんは、韓国在住十一年。大学で教える一方、「韓国人だけが知らない別の大韓民国」という分析本を出版し、韓国でベストセラーになったこともある。

 中国文学を学んだ後、東京大学で上田秋成をはじめとする江戸文学の研究に没頭した。「韓国語より日本語の方が、楽に読み書きできます」と話すほど日本語がうまい。

 久しぶりにソウルで会ったパストリッチさんは、今度は、日本についての本を書いていると明かした。「大きく変化している東アジア情勢の中で、日本はもっと果たすべき役割がある」という切実な思いからだ。

 例として挙げたのが「気候変動への対応」。日本はこの分野での技術力が高い。また「自然と共生する日本人の知恵を、アジアの国々に伝えることも大切」と強調した。

 最近の日韓摩擦には、心を痛めている。

 自国中心主義が目立つ米国は今後、東アジアでの存在感が薄れていくと、パストリッチさんは予測する。

 だからこそ、「共通点の多い日韓は協力すべきだ。韓国にも問題はあるが、日本の人たちはどんどん内向きになって、『島国』に戻ろうとしているような印象を受けます」。

 本は五月ごろ出版予定だという。二つの国をよく知るパストリッチさんの苦言に、耳を傾けたい。

洪陵文化沙龙 “韩中关系展望” 中文研讨会

洪陵文化沙龙 18届中文研讨会邀请函                                                                                             

“韩中关系展望”

洪陵文化沙龙中文研讨会热诚邀您参加第十八届中文研讨会。由庆熙大学孔子学院、亚洲研究所、庆熙网络大学中国学系联合主办的洪陵文化沙龙中文研讨会每年举办4次,此届是2019年的第一届。本届研讨主题是“韩中关系展望”。大家可以发表对中国与美国的看法与想法,展望中美关系走向,进行主题发言及讨论。洪陵文化沙龙期待与君聚首思学,并共饮共餐!

主题:     韩中关系展望

时间:     2019228(周四) 1100 am 1030开始签到)

地点:     庆熙网络大学洪陵文化分馆(경희사이버대학교아카피스) 1楼会议室

서울특별시 동대문구 홍릉로 91/서울특별시 동대문구 청량리동 205-694.(地图与公共交通情况详见邀请函第2页)

具体流程:

主    持:李万烈(贝一明)(Director, The Asia Institute)

会议流程:

10:30 – 11:00  入场

11:00 – 12:30  研讨

12:30 – – –  共进午餐

联    络: 万延娇 (Professor, Kyung Hee Cyber University)                                           

Tel: 010-8013-9988 

What is this “Green New Deal” of the Democratic Party?

Perhaps the most telling statement of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at her meeting with the media (February 7, 2019?) in front of the Capitol was this one:

“Climate change and our environmental challenges are one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s comment represents the manner in which the Democratic Party can take a real issue and turn it into sawdust with its magic touch. To start with, adding “and our environmental challenges” to “climate change” significantly weakens the focus and suggests that there is but a spectrum from climate change, to lead in water to irregular garbage pickup by the sanitation department. So also the expression “one of the biggest existential threats” made the term “existential” seem like a colorful booster, such as those popular with PR firms, or lobbyists, to describe a topic you want to get tax dollars. It is the equivalent of “robust” or “critical” or “absolute must.”

Based on my own experience in DC, I am deeply suspicious that this bright and bold statement was in fact written by a lobbyist or PR firm.

That interpretation is further supported by her employment of the hopelessly banal expression “threats to our way of life” which makes it seem like there is nothing critical or existential at all about the problem, but rather that in the future we may have to pay more for gas, or for vegetables, or not be able to enjoy our weekends with the kids in the park.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pushes for her borrowed “Green New Deal”

The Democrats have taken the concept and the content of “Green New Deal” from the Green Party without giving any credit to Jill Stein and her team. They talked about a broad coalition, but they did not invite any Greens, or other groups not related to the Democratic Party. I am a bit shocked at how many are willing to just accept this move and see it as a revolution in the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is as closed as it ever was.

World Beyond War’s Global Security System

The light and shadows of the Korean Peninsula  (Emanuel Pastreich)

The light and shadows of the Korean Peninsula

Emanuel Pastreich

February 1, 2019

How many times have I seen an American expert pointing to a satellite photo of the Korean Peninsula at night and remarking that the striking difference between the darkness the envelops North Korea and the bright lights that illuminate South Korea, as well as Japan, symbolizes the insularity, the oppressiveness and the pathetically backward economic state of the North. The obvious point is that the brightly lit South is a model of progress, of technology, of democracy and of free markets. 

This contrast between the light of progress and democracy and the darkness of dictatorship and ignorance has a certain aesthetic perfection that easily feeds the imagination of viewers; the narrative is intellectually predigested and it goes down smooth.

In the political debate in South Korea, this narrative is not seriously questioned in the media, among scholars, or among politicians. The progressive politicians argue that we should engage with North Korea and invest more in such projects as the Kaesong industrial complex so that North Koreans can find opportunities for employment and South Koreans can make profits from the cheap labor and abundant natural resources that North Korea offers. The conservatives argue that North Korea is a dictatorship and that it threatens South Korea militarily and cannot be trusted. They say that North Korea must first open itself up completely to the international business, and allow complete inspections of all its nuclear facilities.

But the assumptions made by the progressives and conservatives in South Korea do not differ fundamentally. Both are assuming that South Korea is more advanced and that a future North Korea should look more like South Korea where citizens enjoy a far greater GDP, drive cars, live in spacious houses with televisions and smartphone and produce K Pop hits that sell around the world.

Of course, it would be ludicrous to make an argument that North Korea is a model for others. The closed environment and the repressiveness of the government is no myth.

But as someone who has lived in South Korea for twelve years, I have been forced to admit, despite my hesitancy, that there is something seriously wrong here too. Whether it is the high suicide rates, the polluted air, the ruthless competition in schools, the deep alienation felt by young people, the extraordinary dependence on imported food and imported fuel or the tremendous numbers of the elderly who live in poverty, there are deep, deep shadows that cross all of South Korea.

There are two important points that are often buried in the shadows in the official narrative about North and South Korea. We need to look at North and South Korea from the ground up, not from high up in space.    

I have heard from numerous South Koreans who had the opportunity to visit North Korea that they had a strong sense that something vital had been lost in South Korea when they walked through the small vegetable markets in North Korea, observed the modest décor in the clean-scrubbed hotels and encountered the unadorned and unpretentious behavior of the citizens of Pyongyang.  

Such South Korean friends noted that women in North Korea, although they may not have the luxuries of the South, are also not under the same pressure to wear makeup and to compete with each other in consumption. There is not the demand for brand clothing.

South Koreans detect decency in the manner in which people treat each other on the street in Pyongyang. Many are reminded of the Korea of the 1960s and 1970s when there were far closer relations in South Korea between family members, and between members of the community. For that matter, the absence of automobiles, of youth addicted to cell phones, of endless advertising that drives people to buy things that they do not need or want for the sake of profit—all these aspects of North Korea evoke an original Korean culture that has been lost.

But there is an even more important issue that has been completely buried in the media of South Korea, and in our discussions about North Korea.

All the discussion by “experts” by journalists, about North Korea is based on issues involving economic growth, GDP, standard of living, production and consumption. According to these standards, North Korea is helplessly far behind advanced nations, and South Korea in particular. That means that South Korea can be the big brother and teach the North Koreans how to be “advanced” and “modern.” But all those terms are subjective and ideological in nature. The assumption made in South Korea is that wasteful consumption of resources is a positive and that it should be actively encouraged. It is assumed that it is progress to live in bigger, overheated homes and to own automobiles and smartphones.

But there is no scientific evidence, whatsoever, that underlies these assumptions. They are as accurate as saying that praying to the moon will bring rain or using leeches to drain blood will cure the diseases.  

In fact, research shows that such behavior patterns focused on consumption can have profoundly destructive effects on society as a whole including deep alienation and increased levels of suicide and substance abuse. That is to say that the assumptions about what North Korea should become, and what South Korea has been successful at, are based on ideology, on unfounded assumptions and on a myth of modernity. The result is that South Koreans are convinced that they are successful even as profound stress and frustration sweep through families.

When we approach this image of the Korean Peninsula at night using a scientific approach, this image tells a profoundly different story; the lights and shadows are completely reversed.

The overwhelming opinion among experts based on objective scientific analysis, not based on ideology, or profit, or warm fuzzy feelings, is that humanity faces an unprecedented crisis in the form of global warming (climate change) and that at the current rate we will be lucky if we manage to avoid extinction as a species.

There are numerous reports and books on the catastrophic changes in our climate, and the resulting extinctions taking place already. We can already see in Seoul that mosquitos manage now to survive until December, and often flowers are found blooming into January. That is just the beginning of what will be rapid, life threating changes.

If we let things progress as this rate, the oceans will warm, and grow acidic until fish are extinct, deserts will spread until much of Earth is uninhabitable and South Korea, hopelessly dependent on imported food and on the export of fossil-fuel intensive products, will be devastated

So what should South Korea do if it wants to survive? The answer is quite clear. It should start looking more like North Korea in terms of energy consumption and frugality. It should stop wasting energy and be dark at night, the way it has been for tens of thousands of years. It should get rid of all the useless lights on apartment buildings, end those electrified signs on commercial buildings, reduce dramatically unnecessary internal heating and end the wasteful design of high ceilings and concrete, glass and steel exteriors found in its buildings. It should go back to the traditions of frugality and simplicity that characterize much of its history.

South Korea should be dark at night. Its citizens must be aware of the tremendous cost of keeping its cities illuminated, in terms of the expense of importing fuel, in terms of the terrible pollution generated by subsidized fossil-fuel power plants, in terms of increasing global warming that is destroying the future for our children.

But there is a deeper, hidden secret. We have been fed a myth that Korea must grow, must advance, must consume and consume more to be modern, to be advanced, to be recognized as being special, as opposed to the unwashed masses of “developing countries.” Becoming modern has been assumed to be the highest priority for generations. But what is modern if consuming fossil fuels and wasting natural resources is destroying our ecosystem and damning our children?

The numerous problems that exist in North Korea are quite serious, but from the perspective of climate change, South Korea should be benchmarking North Korea’s low-consumption, rather than planning to vastly increase consumption and build highways and expensive wasteful apartments.

Many people may find that my words sound odd, even nonsensical. It is so obvious to many that South Korea’s modernity and its high level of consumption is a badge of honor, a sign that it is a member of advanced nations. Consumption considered as a major factor in calculating the state of the economy? If people consume less (and that means consuming less energy) then the growth rate will go down.  

But if we are facing extinction because climate change, who cares what stupid things the newspapers tell us about consumption? We must stop subsidizing fossil fuels immediately. Those numerous lights that burn all night in South Korea do not represent cultural advancement, but rather a dark and dangerous game of living for the moment by sacrificing the futures of our children.

There are infinite meaning and depth, spiritual and personal experience, to be derived from talking with family and friends, from reading books, writing letters and essays, walking in the woods or putting on plays and musical performances for each other. It requires almost no and does far more for us than a jungle of smartphones, lit up Starbucks Cafes, or throw-away plastic toys and cups that we are given, whether we want them or not.

As we think about the future of a unified Korean Peninsula, we must first move beyond this dangerous concept that being modern and advanced is a priority. We should ask ourselves rather what does it mean to be human? How do we live a meaningful and fulfilling life and contribute to society?

I do hope that North Koreans can live in a freer way than they do today and that they can eat more nutritious food. Yet they will not find any nutritious food in the convenience stores that have taken over South Korea and destroyed the family-owned stores that once gave citizens economic independence.

But I also hope that South Koreans can be set free also from the invisible chains that bind them to mindless consumption, that force them to consume increasing amounts of coal (heading in the opposite direction of almost every country in the world) and that leave so many feeling deeply alienated from friends and from family because of a brutal culture of endless competition.

The move toward unification must be about freedom for North Koreans and South Koreans. How unfair it would be if we assumed that only North Koreans are entitled to be free. 

“information everywhere but not a drop to contemplate”

Nicholas Carr’s book

“What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows” has had a deep impact on my thinking about disturbing trends in our society that I had already noticed. Carr demonstrates, with reference to scientific research and philosophical insights, how the computer and the resulting internet (and related market-driven stimulations) are remapping our brains and creating a social and intellectual wasteland in the midst of an unprecedented wealth of information. I have selected a few critical quotes from Carr’s book and will refer to him in an upcoming article.

It is truly “information everywhere but not a drop to contemplate.”

Nicholas Carr

But the news is not all good. Although neuroplasticity provides an escape from genetic determinism, a loophole for free thought and free will, it also imposes its own form of determinism on our behavior. As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit. The paradox of neuroplasticity, observes Norman Doidge, is that, for all the mental flexibility that it grants up, it can end up locking us into “rigid behaviors.” The chemically triggered synapses that link our neurons program us, in effect, to want to keep exercising the circuits they’ve formed. Once we’ve wired the new circuitry in our brain, Doidge writes, “we long to keep it activated.” That is the way the brain fine-tunes its operations. Routine activities are carried out even more quickly and efficiently, while unused circuits are pruned away. (page 34)

The potential for unwelcome neuroplastic adaptations also exists in the everyday, normal functioning of our minds. Experiments show that just as the brain can build new or stronger circuits through physical or mental practice, those circuits can weaken or dissolve with neglect. “If we stop exercising our mental skills,” writes Norman Doidge, “we do not just forget them: the brain map space for those skills is turned over to the skills we practice instead.” Jeffrey Schwartz, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s medical school, terms this process “survival of the busiest.” The mental skills we sacrifice may be as valuable, or more valuable, than the ones we gain. When it comes to the quality of our thought, our neurons and synapses are entirely indifferent. The possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains. (page 35)

“A new medium is never an addition to an old one,” wrote McLuhan in Understanding Media, “nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them.” His observation rings particularly true today. Traditional media, even electronic ones, are being refashioned and repositioned as they go through the shift to online distribution. When the Net absorbs a medium, it re-creates that medium in its own image. It not only dissolves the medium’s physical form; it injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, breaks up the content into searchable chunks, and surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. All these changes in the form of the content also change the way we use, experience, and even understand the content.

(page 89)

What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing that I had expected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it is possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. (page 115)

One thing is very clear: if, knowing what we know today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet. It’s not just that we tend to use the Net regularly, even obsessively. It’s that the Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli—repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive—that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions. With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use. At the very least, it’s the most powerful that has come along since the book. (page 116)

As we go through these motions, the Net delivers a steady stream of inputs to our visual, somatosensory, and auditory cortices. There are sensations that come through our hands and fingers as we click and scroll, type and touch. There are the many audio signals delivered through our ears, such as the chime that announces the arrival of a new e-mail or instant message and the various ringtones that our mobile phones use to alter us to different events.

The net also provides a high-speed system for delivering responses and rewards—“positive reinforcements,” in psychological terms—which encourage the repetition of both physical and mental actions.

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The Net commands our attention with a far greater insistency than our television or radio or morning newspaper ever did.

(page 117)

This is particularly true for the young who tend to be compulsive in using their phones and computers for texting and instant messaging. Today’s teenagers typically send or receive a message every few minutes throughout their waking hours. As the psychotherapist Michael Hausauer notes, teens and other young adults have a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible. (page 118)

The constant distractedness that the Net encourages—the state of being, to borrow another phrase from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “distracted from distraction by distraction” –is very different from the kind of temporary, purposeful diversion of our mind that refreshes our thinking when we’re weighing a decision. The Net’s cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, quickly shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again. (page 119)

What we’re not doing when we’re online also has neurological consequences. Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quite reflection and contemplation, the circuits the support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for other, more pressing work. We gain new skills and perspectives but lose old ones. (page 120)

But brain scientists have come to realize that long-term memory is actually the seat of understanding. It stores not just facts but complex concepts, or “schemas.” By organizing scattered bits of information into patterns of knowledge, schemas give depth and richness to our thinking. “Our intellectual prowess is derived largely from the schemas we have acquired over long periods of time,” says John Sweller. “We are able to understand concepts in our areas of expertise because we have schemas associated with those concepts.”

(page 124)

Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in transferring information from working memory into long-term memory. By regulating the velocity and intensity of information flow, media exert a strong influence on this process. When we read a book, the information faucet provides a steady drip, which we can control by the pace of our reading. Through our single-minded concentration on the text, we can transfer all or most of the information, thimbleful by thimbleful, into long-term memory and forge the rich associations essential to the creation of schemas.

With the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from one faucet to the next. We’re able to transfer only a small portion of the information to long-term memory, and what we do transfer is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source. (page 124)

Still, [Google’s] easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by artificial intelligence is as unsettling as it is revealing. It underscores the firmness and the certainty with which Google holds to its Taylorist belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. “Human beings are ashamed to have been born instead of made,” the twentieth-century philosopher Gunther Anders once observed, and in the pronouncement of Google’s founders, we can sense that shame as well as the ambition it engenders.

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