FF Daily #515: Faith and science

November 5, 2021: Greta’s Dilemma; Work-life relationships; Summits explained

Founding Fuel

[Charles Darwin. Image from Pixabay]

Good morning,

While most of us know about Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution that he made popular, few know how conflicted he was in the years before his research was published. His daughter Annie had just died and he was in grief. To mourn her death, his wife Emma had gotten more devout. If he published his work, Darwin thought it inevitable the church would condemn him and that Emma would feel compelled to disown him. He was lost. Just how did he finally publish his research then? Steven Johnson answers that in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most.   

“Having spent more than a decade exploring the parameters of his theory—writing down all the objections he could come up with and, one by one, knocking them down—Darwin was even more convinced that he was sitting on one of the most important ideas of the century, if not the millennium. That made him eager to share it, both because it was true and because he would invariably be recognized for the achievement. He was driven by both a superhuman drive to understand the world and an all-too-human desire for vindication.

“But he was also driven by his attachment to Emma and his children, not to mention the memory of Annie. This was the double edge of meaning in the whole notion of being ‘recognized’ for your work. He would become the Darwin, the one with the dangerous idea.

“It was not implausible that he would receive some kind of formal denunciation from the church. The gulf in religious belief that had always separated Charles and Emma grew even wider and more turbulent after Annie’s death. Faith in salvation and the afterlife kept Emma afloat in the wake of losing her child. Releasing his heretical ideas into the world would have been the equivalent of Darwin putting stones in Emma’s pockets. He might have been ready to suffer the public shame of condemnation, but he was not ready to suffer the private guilt of challenging his grieving wife’s faith… 

“There was no third way to release evolution into the wild and not challenge the doctrines of Christianity, not announce to the world that your wife’s solace was nothing more than a myth. Or perhaps, in a semiconscious way, Darwin did figure out a third option: to stay in a state of suspended distraction—researching his barnacles and pigeons, and revising his drafts—until someone forced his hand. By the time he finally published On the Origin of Species, Emma had long reconciled herself to her husband’s lack of faith, and he could hardly be blamed for wanting to put his theory into circulation under his own name first.”

In this issue

  • Dealing with ‘Greta’s Dilemma’ 
  • Work-life relationships
  • Summits explained

Dealing with ‘Greta’s Dilemma’ 

On Wednesday, we suggested you read Arun Maira’s latest essay to understand why global problems such as climate change and pandemics need a fresh approach, drawing from deep study of complex, adaptive systems. Maira suggested we read a recent column by Prof Kaushik Basu published in Mint. In the column Prof Basu argues that “we need to clearly understand the social and economic game we are playing, and then try to alter its rules so that our individual moral intentions are reflected better in collective outcomes.”

It’s tough because the world is complex, and our actions/inactions might not always bring us the results we seek.

Prof Basu writes, “When people say they want to do everything to avert climate disaster but do little, this may not be hypocrisy. They may be in the grip of what I have described in a recent paper as ‘Greta’s Dilemma.’

“In this game, a group of people initially pursue their own interests, with no concern for how the environmental damage caused by their actions will harm future generations. If people then become environmentally conscious and take corrective action, traditional economic models would predict that such a shift will lead to improvements in future generations’ welfare.

“However, in the complex and strategically-connected world that we inhabit today, the outcome may be different. Greta’s Dilemma illustrates the paradoxical result whereby individuals who become environmentally conscious collectively do greater damage to the environment. Akin to one of those paradoxical paintings by M.C. Escher, it is the intertwining of small individual steps that lead the group to a destination they did not seek. Far from helping future generations, they end up hurting them.

“Admittedly, this game is crafted deliberately to highlight the paradox. But it shows that, in today’s complex global economy, we need to devote much greater attention to the strategic foundations of human interaction in order to design policies that can help us turn away from the brink of climate disaster.”

Dig deeper

Work-life relationships

An essay where Kathryn Hymes, a computational linguist, had our attention. The essay quibbles with how “The Great Resignation” is now bandied all over and investigates why people are re-examining their relationship with work.

“For employers, the term often inspires a more defensive response, now commonplace in the annals of workplace commentary on LinkedIn and Twitter. It functions as a warning: ‘Beware, the Great Resignation is coming for you.’ How will your organization stave off a massive departure? Can you convince employees to stay? These queries are more short-term and reactive. The conversational spotlight is focused on identifying the incremental change that can keep a company on course.

“But perhaps what’s most notable about the name the Great Resignation is that its main substance—resignations—may be the least consequential thing about the moment that it’s come to represent. The real takeaway is why people are leaving their jobs in the first place—rampant stress, the shift to remote work, a forced reckoning with what matters in light of the pandemic—and what resigning is leading them to do next. Taken on its surface, the Great Resignation foregrounds the language of job status, but misses a parallel, arguably bigger story: the radical realignment of values that is fueling people to confront and remake their relationship to life at home, with their families, with their friends, and in their lives outside of labour.”

Dig deeper

Summits explained

(Via WhatsApp)

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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