Influential Prose

Kevin McLeod's Portfolio

Posts Tagged ‘non-fiction

Activities for Kids Using Binary Numbers

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Binary numbers form the basis of all modern computing. At the machine level, transistors serve as on-off switches. 0 means a switch is off. Modern desktop computers routinely have more than a billion transistors and often they have 2 billion; graphics processors go as high as 7 billion. A typical smartphone’s cycle speed is 1.7 GHz, meaning each “core” or CPU can process 1 billion, 700 million instructions each second. That’s a lot of flipping switches.

How Binary Numbers Work
Imagine a light switch. 0 is down, 1 is up. Now imagine two light switches. The first one is up, the second one is down, like so: 10. Those two switches together represent the number 2. Imagine both switches are up: 11. This represents the number 3. The number 4 is shown with three switches: 100. Representing 8 requires four switches: 1000. Using enough switches, any number can be represented in binary. Have your child work out the switch positions for the numbers 5 to 7 and 8 to 16?

Place Values
Both binary and decimal numbers use place values. In decimal systems, also called base 10 counting, you know the right-most number is always one of 10 numbers: 0-9. You know the next column is 10s; 10, 20, 30 and so on. The third column is 100s. You can see each column is another power of 10. A similar concept applies to binary. It’s a base-two system, so place values double instead of expanding by 10s. Like so: 64, 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1. Write down this sequence of numbers and imagine them in neon on the wall, with a switch under each one. Draw a 0 or 1 under each number to show if it is dark or lit. Add the numbers that are “on” to get their binary values. For example, if your switches are set to 0001110, you add 8+4+2 = 14. Try other combinations.

Binary Fingers
Another way to visualize binary numbers is by using fingers. A finger up is 1. Hold up your right hand with four closed fingers facing you and your thumb pointing right. Your thumb is 1. Hold up your index finger. Two rightward fingers up = 3. Now hold up your middle finger. Three rightward fingers up = 7. Raise your ring finger, and you have binary 15. Ask you child what number do you get if you add your pinky finger?

Encoding
You can use binary to create a simple code system. Let each number represent a letter. Let’s make the letter A = 1 and Z = 26. With this system, A B C would read 01 10 11. Another example; in binary The Cat in the Hat would look like this: 10100 1000 101 11 01 10100 1001 1110 10100 1000 101 1000 01 10100. Have your child try trading simple binary code messages with a friend and see whether they can both decode it correctly.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:40 am

How Does Biotechnology Affect Kids?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Biotechnology can affect children before they are conceived, before they are born and as they age. The knowledge base is expanding quickly, with new tools for DNA analysis. The ability to model and image molecular and atomic interactions, together with sophisticated scanning techniques that allow doctors to peer into tissue, has bolstered our capacity to re-engineer life. The power of such knowledge is obvious. It can be used for good, by repairing or replacing damaged organs and tissues, or it can be used for ill, by screening out traits that some perceived to be undesirable.

Immunization
Immunization of children is a routine safeguard against disease, and despite the fears of a small minority, it has been and remains an effective defense against serious illness. Children today no longer need to fear diseases such as polio, measles, rubella, whooping cough and meningitis. These diseases once destroyed lives, and still do in regions around the world. Even as those historical dangers fade, new vaccines provide protection against HPV, which can cause cancer in women. HPV infection rates have fallen 56 percent among teenage girls since immunization for HPV became available.

Clean Clothes
Laundry soap enzymes help ensure kids live and play in clean clothes by breaking down proteins, starches, fats and grease. Proteases break down proteins in egg, gravy and blood, and amylases tackle starches, lipases take out fat and grease. Other common enzymes used include cellulase, mannanase and pectinase. This biotechnology has existed since the 1960s, but less well known is that the enzymes used in modern detergents are genetically modified organisms designed to lower costs.

Genetically Modified Foods
Genetically modified foods, which include children’s cereals, have been controversial since their inception, primarily due to the lack of comprehensive safety studies, concerns about their effect on the environment and legal issues related to intellectual property. However, it is certain that world population is growing and food prices will rise unless agricultural yields can be increased. Whether GMO foods can meet this challenge and maintain a record for safety is still a point of contention. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has noted that the “World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

Human Genetic Modification
Since the human genome was mapped in 2003, much has been learned about gene expression, interaction and the phenomenon of epigenetics, the response of genes to environmental cues. The first publicized germline genetic modification of humans occurred in 2001, resulting in the birth of 30 healthy children born with genes from three people. Germline genetic changes are passed on to future generations. Genetic alternations that prevent a debilitating or fatal disease will prevent children from acquiring these genes and becoming ill. They then pass this protection on to their children.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:35 am

System for Tracking Kid’s Good and Bad Behavior

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

There are a variety of ways to track behavior, and tracking systems for children are generally intended to aid in behavioral management. This can be for home, school, or long family road trips. Behavior is measured and recorded for the purpose of encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative behavior. The measurement rules and results are shared in some form with children to deliver clear, fair feedback on what behavior is deemed appropriate. For example, bullying is a behavior to discourage, and some children may need more frequent and intensive feedback to learn it’s unacceptable.

Token Economy
Token economies are a positive behavioral system. They reward positive behavior, while negative behaviors are treated neutrally. Tokens can be anything — star charts, wooden nickels, lego blocks in favorite colors – and these tokens are exchanged for rewards. For example, from the start of each day Jimmy earns a token for every hour he doesn’t throw spitballs at Jenny. If it’s been a bad day, he earns no tokens and no reward. Try again tomorrow. Maybe he does better the next day, but not quite well enough to earn a standard reward. He can trade what he has for a lesser award or attempt to save tokens and earn more to earn a better reward.

Self-Management
Self management systems begin as a collaboration between the student and teacher, or parent and child. In this system, both the adult and child rate the child’s behavior over an agreed timespan, be it 5, 20 or 60 minutes. Points are earned for positive behavior and close agreement in ratings. This encourages the child to behave positively and give an honest self-evaluation. This technique works to promote both better behavior and acknowledgment of mistakes.

Number Line System
This system is useful for providing comparative feedback to groups and individuals at the same time. Children are given clear guidelines on behavior and an understanding of how points are assigned. Points are tracked on a number line for each student and averaged for the group. This setup can also be split into two groups to create a friendly competition between groups for best behavioral points.

Clip Chart
This is similar in concept to the number line, but it is presented vertically. Students begin the day at 0 and move clips up and down the line in accordance with their behavior. The students move the clips themselves, providing a tactile dimension to aid recall and reinforce learning. This system is simple enough for young children to grasp, making it ideal for the K-3 set.

Written by Influential Prose

June 26, 2015 at 2:28 am

The Best Critical Thinking Books for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

How do we know what we know? What is true and how can we be sure? Who can we trust? Just as there is a spectrum of quality when shopping for shoes, a similar spectrum exists for the quality of information we encounter. Books on critical thinking give readers the ability to recognize poor quality, know where high quality knowledge can be found, and serve as a toolbox for clear thinking and focused learning.

‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark’
Author and astronomer Carl Sagan famously rolled out his “Baloney Detection Kit” in “Demon.” It’s a distillation of strategies for separating good information from bad, with examples from familiar issues: the Lost City of Atlantis, UFOs and crop circles. He doesn’t simply debunk them — he explains how he does it. The book’s emphasis is on being skeptical, not taking everything at face value. Poking at information sources sometimes reveals holes. “Demon” tells you how to poke, and where.

‘How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age’
Weird things stick easily in memory because they stand out from the ordinary. They come in forms such as astrology, which makes extraordinary claims of prediction. But proving these claims requires extraordinary evidence, and when examined closely, the claims of astrology fall short. This book is a guide on how to examine claims. It’s a textbook, but it is also read for pleasure because it covers the subject with clear and engaging prose.

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’
Before we understand critical thinking, we might ask, “What is thinking?” There are different kinds, of course — the quick, sometimes instantaneous intuitive decisions we make daily and deeper, more analytical thought. It’s the difference between a reaction and a considered response. How we think matters at least as much as what we think about, and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” looks at how different thinking styles affect ourselves and the people we interact with.

‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts’
There’s critical thinking, thinking and the thinker. This book discusses how we delude ourselves, seeing objects or ideas that aren’t there and making choices we know we’ll regret. Thinking clearly becomes easier when we know our own weaknesses and biases and understand how to set them aside. Explanations come with examples, enabling the reader to step outside of oneself and see circumstances from another perspective.

References
GoodReads: Popular Critical Thinking Books
Foundation for Critical Thinking: The Critical Thinking Community
Adolescent Literacy: Critical Thinking — Why Is It So Hard To Teach?

Resources
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan
GoodReads: How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, Schick & Vaugan
GoodReads: Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
GoodReads: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, Tavris & Aronson
Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative: Logic & Proofs

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:45 pm

Moral Reading for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Morality is fundamentally about the choices we make and the behavior that follows. Stories can expose different moral dimensions, circumstances that present contrasts, and give teen readers perspective on their lives and their choices. Given all the media and entertainment options available, books must be compelling to compete. By exploring the age-old questions of family, peer pressure, temptations, personal appearance, sexuality and health, books can challenge teens.

‘Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey From Homeless to Harvard’
Finding the path to responsibility and maturity amid irresponsible adults would be tough for anyone. Finding a way from being homeless and alone at 15 years of age to becoming a Harvard graduate would be Herculean. Liz Murray’s story winds from a roach-infested Bronx apartment with drug-addicted parents to the bridges she slept under and the parade of losers she encountered. She is faced with an array of pitfalls that many never imagine, much less encounter.

‘Am I Blue? Coming Out from the Silence’
Years of high-profile stories about bullying, murders and suicides of gays and lesbians, the effect of the television series “Will and Grace,” and the legalization of gay marriage in several states has prompted a cultural conversation about love that once dared not speak its name. In this anthology, gay and straight authors speak out with short stories that explore the moral dilemmas faced by people coming to terms with themselves and the reactions of their peers, families and communities. The passage from tolerance to acceptance to respect is often rocky, but the journey can make better persons of us all.

‘The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible’
Author A.J. Jacobs takes up the challenge of living in literal accordance with the Bible, a centuries-old standard of moral guidance. He prays regularly, lets his beard grow, tells the truth at all times, keeps the 10 Commandments and herds sheep. Along the way, he discovers that keeping some biblical injunctions are nearly impossible, and others are downright illegal. Jacobs takes the reader through his year like a tour guide, explaining ambiguous interpretations of some rules, the rationale behind others, and how he choose to follow them. It’s funny, respectful and educational for believers, agnostics and atheists alike.

‘The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir’
Gaby Rodriguez took up an unusual challenge during her senior year in high school. Coming from a family with a history of teen pregnancies, she knew people assumed it would happen to her, too. Rather than fight the expectation, she rolled with it — by faking a pregnancy for six months as her senior class project. Her sociological study triggered whispers among her peers, fears from her boyfriend’s family, and discrimination from many directions. Teen pregnancy is all too common, but Rodriguez’s story provides uncommon insight into the consequences and problems that result.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Virtual World Games for Teens

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Virtual worlds, like the real world, are set in a variety of environments. A variety of behavior is also possible in both realms — you can fight or socialize, plot strategy or play sports, dance or build a home. Virtual worlds encompass many of the behaviors we see daily in other media, both good and bad. For younger teens, some caution and parental guidance about the potential for manipulation and deception is advisable. Most of the worlds listed here are browser-based and free to play, although some require in-game purchases for complete access. Mac users can run PC games with a copy of Boot Camp.

Fight
Teenagers and combat environments go together like peanut butter and jelly. “Battlestar Galactica” is a war scenario that follows the same story line as the TV show. Pick a side, pick a ship and go to battle. In “Total Domination: Nuclear Strategy,” you’re in a world where a civil war is being fought, and you have to harvest resources, build forces and conquer all rivals to survive. “Offensive Combat” is rude, cartoonish and lots of fun, with fighting pandas and pistol-packing bananas. “Brick Force” is a mash-up with elements of “Super Mario,” manga, “South Park,” “Doom” and Lego. You get hilarious visuals, supreme silliness and the ability to easily build your own levels.

Love
Social games let you explore the virtual world, build, work together and do business. One of the oldest and best known is “Second Life.” The graphics are dated, but it’s a classic that continues to grow. “Planet Calypso” is a more modern, fully realized virtual world with a real economy. You can earn — and lose — real money in this world. “Grepolis” takes you back to ancient Greece. If you stay focused, you might be able to build Athens in a day. If dancing is your thing, head over to “5Street,” where you can dance on your own or put on a show with others. Finally, “Sims Social” is another classic game. You’ll need to visit Facebook to play it.

Learn
So you wanna be a doctor? In “Surgeon Simulator,” you can try your shaky, bloodstained hand at this amusing update to Operation. When you tire of exploring someone else’s inner space, switch over to outer space with “Celestia,” a realistic game that gives you the sun, the moon, Mars and the stars. For practice getting off Earth, there’s “Orbiter,” which puts you in the pilot’s seat of the space shuttle, the Apollo command module, lunar lander, Soyuz capsule and aboard the ISS. You can also join the Kerbal Space Program, build your own rockets, and test them against real-world limitations. If you prefer to stay closer to home, “X-Plane” is a flight simulator with a range of aircraft and airports to choose from. “X-Plane” and “Kerbal” are the only virtual environments in this group that aren’t free. Google Earth, the “GE Flight Simulator” and “Stellarium” are virtual representations of the real world. GE gives you the planet, Stellarium gives you the sky.

Play
Soccer fields are huge, but you can have your team do all the running for you. You play Perfect 11 Soccer in an impressively rendered stadium, and guide the action toward victory. Racing fans are in luck. Two browser-based Facebook racing worlds are available: “CSR Racing” and “Real Racing 3.” Buckle in, rev your engines and watch out for those curves. If you’ve got a mean curve ball, then wind up for the strikeout in “WGT Baseball: MLB.”

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:32 pm

Chinese Religion & Ethics in the 17th Century

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

The Chinese word for religion didn’t enter the language until late in the 19th century, when scholars needed a term to translate the concept from Western texts. The conception of religion as the West understands it today simply did not exist in 17th century China. In the first sociological analysis of Chinese thought, Chinese scholar C.K. Lang wrote, “Even priests in some country temples were unable to reveal the identity of the religion to which they belonged. Centuries of mixing gods from different faiths into a common pantheon had produced a functionally oriented religious view that relegated the question of religious identity to a secondary place.”

Three Traditions
The three dominant influences on 17th century Chinese thought and belief were Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. These are primarily philosophical and ethical systems rather than religions, and each of these traditions have schools of thought and sects. Although aspects of ritual have theist overtones, such as requests for favors from deities, the Chinese relationship to deities can be described as devotion and veneration (respect) rather than worship. There are various deities for different aspects of life, such as the ubiquitous City God, who is often a long-dead former city leader. In Chinese cosmologies, everything is integrated, with no distinction between the natural and supernatural.

Confucianism
Formally taught in China for centuries, Confucianism was the dominant ethical system during the 17th century. Humanist and holistic, it imparts ethics with an emphasis on the practical, presenting a subtle and nuanced structure of ideal behavior. In contrast to the Western stress on personal autonomy, Confucianism centers more on relational values, such as family loyalty, mutual obligation and respect. Schoolchildren learned these values at the earliest levels, and the best students went on to take civil service exams. Exams were explicitly based on Confucian values, and constituted the world’s first comprehensive merit system whereby proof of knowledge and understanding of ethics was required.

Buddhism and Daoism
Buddhism came to China from India via Silk Road trade routes in 67 CE, but it was several centuries before Buddhist concepts were fully adapted and integrated with the Chinese worldview. The Chan (Zen) school dominated through the 1600s. Daoism, also known as Taoism, is indigenous to China, but frequently makes a point of distinguishing itself from other beliefs, such as highlighting its differences with Buddhism. In practice, both traditions have shared deities, include complementary values and in the 17th century, both acknowledged the supremacy of the state over temple.

Folk Religion & Christianity
In the 1600s folk religion was popular among the illiterate, rural peasants who made up the majority of the population. Folk religion was a polyglot of animism, shamanism and elements of the three main traditions in a syncretic mix. This diffuse assortment of practices continued for centuries and still survives today. In the late 16th century, Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci was reestablishing Christianity in China after a long lull, and the 17th century was marked by waves of incoming Jesuit priests fulfilling Ricci’s legacy. By the early 18th century, the Qing emperor was encouraging his subjects to reject Christianity in favor of local beliefs.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:23 pm

Who Advocated Religious Individualism?

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

The modern understanding of religious individualism, as defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia, “describes the attitude of those persons who refuse to subscribe to definite creeds, or to submit to any external religious authority.” It is conceptually similar to “cafeteria Christians,” a phrase used to describe Christians who take an a la carte approach to their faith. This is done by accepting some aspects of Christianity while rejecting others. For example, one might accept the teachings of Jesus while dismissing the stories of virgin birth and resurrection as myth. The religious individualist expands on this idea to encompass different faiths. Rather than go all in with one religious tradition, a personalized set of ethical views are derived from the elements of a variety of faiths.

Søren Kierkegaard
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard is frequently referenced in relation to religious individualism, but as an ardent Christian, Kierkegaard’s expression of the idea diverges from the current definition. His view could be termed introspective individualism, or internalized religion–faith that is deeply embedded within the individual. Kierkegaard was a fierce critic of the Christian Church of Denmark, and his focus on the individual over the institution contains the seeds of the modern understanding of religious individualism. Today, the religious individualist proactively assembles a collection of values from several sources rather than passively accepting a package of values from a single, institutional source.

Martin Luther
The first advocate of religious individualism was Martin Luther. A respected Catholic priest and professor of theology, he sparked the Protestant Reformation by challenging the church’s positions on indulgences and the path to salvation in 1517. Luther openly defied the Pope by declaring that the Bible, not the Pope, was the final word on divine knowledge, a direct challenge to the Catholic Church’s authority. He also translated the Bible from Hebrew and ancient Greek to common German, making it more accessible to individuals. This further weakened the church by depriving it of the sole power to interpret Biblical understanding. Individuals could now evaluate the Bible for themselves and form their own opinions, a change that would have profound and lasting consequences.

Jean-Marie Guyau
In 1897, French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau published the “The Non-Religion of the Future,” a book that describes religious individualism in the modern sense. Guyau argues that religion as it exists is in decline and speculates about the dimensions of a secular society. The following year, the “Philosophical Review” published a dismissive review of Gayau’s book, but his ideas have proven prescient in the United States and northern Europe. Much of Europe is now predominately secular, and the segment of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated is growing faster than any faith group.

Religious Deregulation
Sociologist Roger Finke of Purdue University portrays the separation of church and state in early American history as religious deregulation, which triggered variety and vitality in American worship. Religious individualism can also be viewed as a process of deregulation, but on the individual level. Individualism has always been about maximizing personal choice; religious individualism simply extends this power to the realm of values by rejecting subordination and advocating the diffusion of power from institutions to people.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:17 pm

Cultural Influence on Morals

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013. Published version here.]

Culture influences morals. But it is not the only influence, nor necessarily the strongest one. Thinking about how culture influences morals raises several questions. What are morals? What is culture? What are their sources and what causes them to change? The dictionary definition for morals is “relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.” The definition of culture is “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” And it may well be that both culture and morality are less an agreement than a constant process of adding and subtracting effective rules for social cooperation and survival.

Popular Culture
Popular culture — TV, movies, media, fads — is a social conversation. The media provides news, ideas and entertainment, generally presented within the bounds of existing moral codes. For example, kissing on TV shows and movies has long been depicted in American media, but was taboo in Indian media for decades. The social conversation is about where the boundaries lie. Sometimes, morality sets the parameters and culture determines what behavior, within those parameters, is acceptable. Both America and India have moral codes, but the boundaries have sometimes been in different places. Different cultures, different ideas about right and wrong.

Family and Other Influences
We are exposed to cultural values from many sources — family, peers, education, authorities, religion. Because we spend most of our formative years with family, the values of the family, good or bad, are a powerful influence. The impact of other sources varies with age, experience and understanding. As we enter adolescence, for example, the influence of peers grows and that of family often wanes. These multiple influences affect our personal values and our outlook. Who we are and what we believe evolves, even as we recognize some enduring principles.

Conflicting Moral Sources
Values from multiple sources sometimes conflict. Behavior that is accepted at home may not be accepted at school and vice versa. Where does culture end and morality begin?

The religious answer is that our aspirational values are set down by a deity and it is our task to live in accordance with them. But another answer has been suggested by research on primate behavior by Dutch/American biologist and ethologist Frans de Waal. His studies have identified moral behavior in socially intelligent mammals — chimpanzees, monkeys and elephants — implying that morals have developed as a result of natural selection.

Generational Change
We are born into a world of values that have existed throughout humanity’s history. We absorb these values as children while we navigate our social environment, processing and reevaluating them through our adult lives. While value systems resist change within generations, they are subject to fresh inspection by each new generation, and each new generation chips away at the norm.

Samuel Butler once observed that “Morality is the custom of one’s country and the current feeling of one’s peers.” Morals are also subject to change, but usually over longer stretches of time. There are clear instructions on slave management in the Bible; it was an accepted practice at the time. Our moral values and our culture are different now. Our culture says slavery is wrong, and our moral code agrees.

Culture influences morality, and morality influences culture. But they don’t always agree. That’s why the social conversation never ends.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:10 pm

Globalization & Religious Violence

[One of 50 articles written and published for Demand Media in 2013]

Even as the world population has grown, globalization has made our planet shrink. Travel options have expanded, more people are living in cities, and the products we use daily are increasingly made and distributed by multinational corporations. Mass production and its economic advantages have been expanded to nearly all corners of the world, to the point where one can find familiar food, clothing, tools and services wherever people gather in large numbers. Change, such as the worldwide use of mobile smartphones, now spreads with amazing speed. For people of faith who live in accordance with established traditions, the velocity of change can feel threatening and provoke violent backlash in defense.

Resistance to Change
Venerated social values are resistant to change. The dominant religious traditions today — Christianity, Islam and Hinduism — have existed for centuries, their core tenants preserved and passed on through generations. When rapid change ripples outward, it generates friction as it collides with deeply held religious beliefs. Occasionally this friction flares into violence.

In September 2005, a stark example began in Denmark, where the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten broke an Islamic taboo by publishing mocking images of the prophet Muhammad. The images quickly appeared in other newspapers around the world, sparking widespread riots. This violent reaction also became a global phenomenon. Buildings burned and an estimated 200 people died soon after publication because news is now globalized through the internet.

Elements of Conflict
In his book “Religious Violence in the Age of Globalization”, Hans G. Kippenberg observes that conflict is never caused by religion alone. Rather, violence results from the complex interaction of economic interests, political division, cultural discord and social upheaval. Sometimes tensions with a surface appearance of religious or ethnic strife may mask more basic disagreements.

An example is the ongoing conflict in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been blamed on differences between ethnic Sunni Kurds, Turkish forces and Iraqi Shi’a Muslims. However, the region is rich with oil, and this has been another major focus of contention. Much to Baghdad’s consternation, the semi-autonomous Kurds have done oil survey and extraction deals with several multinational firms. Thus, it may be misleading to simply attribute conflict to ‘religious violence’, as it is likely that more than just religious faith is involved.

Cultural Hegemony
The most casual study of history shows conquest has often been accomplished by violence. Empires have subjugated, enslaved and annihilated peoples, cultures and faiths. But trade has played a role as well. It can have the effect of normalizing cultural exchange, and globalized trade has delivered many benefits. But it has also prompted accusations of cultural hegemony — cultural domination by economically powerful nations — as Western influence expands in tandem with the growth and spread of market economies. The primarily Western members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development account for 59 percent of global gross domestic product.

Incoming trade and migrants can expose people to conflicting values, and the secular decoupling of religion and government in the West is anathema to some cultures. Resistance to this perceived hegemony is another factor that has motivated religious fundamentalists to commit horrendous acts of aggression — witness the 9/11 attacks in the United States.

Globalization of Violence
The globalization of information and travel has provided radical militants and smaller, less-developed nations with new levels of agility and lethality. The weaponization of biology is becoming increasingly feasible, and the potential for small groups of religious fundamentalists to instigate a nuclear and/or biological attack against nations in response to real or perceived injustice is aided by these developments.

Embassy attacks, seemingly-routine roadside and suicide bombings, and other violence — some of which has a religious component — has shaken parts of the Middle East, Africa and other regions over the decades. Those attacks provide abundant reason to believe that globalized technologies can be leveraged by small angry groups, both religious and secular, in any part of the world. No place on earth is invulnerable to that possibility.

Violence is sparked by conflict. Trade requires cooperation. For better or worse, both conflict and cooperation are now globalized. Humanity’s future depends on how we manage these opposing influences.

Written by Influential Prose

June 25, 2015 at 11:03 pm