Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for December 20th, 2021

Autumnal arboreal Austin

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On December 8th along the southern fringe of Balcones District Park I noticed several trees putting on a pretty fall display. Not sure what kind of tree they were, I queried Facebook’s Texas Flora group. Wesley Franks replied that he thinks it’s either Texas ash, Fraxinus albicans (formerly Fraxinus texensis and Fraxinus americana ssp. texensis), or Mexican ash, Fraxinus berlandiera. Both are native in Austin. He added that the Mexican is more often planted. For a closer look at some of the leaves, click the excerpt below.

(The only other ash trees I’ve ever shown here were from a visit to west Texas in 2015.)

As we’d almost walked out of Balcones District Park and were just across the street from our car, I noticed how appealing a cedar elm tree, Ulmus crassifolia, appeared when I stood underneath it and looked up at the light coming through its yellowing leaves:

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Here’s a passage from Bobby Duffy’s Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything:

We not only have a built-in bias towards focusing on the vivid and threatening, we also tend towards thinking things were better in the past, and therefore are worse now. Neither of these tendencies is dumb, as they have their roots and our strong sense of self-preservation, including in remembering our history more fondly than the reality justifies.

But they have consequences, which the media and politicians exploit. The media know we are drawn to these stories. Politicians often exploit them to provide a sense of threat or decline. But that’s partly because both those groups are human too: journalists are interested in these stories themselves, and at least some politicians will genuinely believe their faulty facts because they ‘feel’ right.

It’s an effective sales technique, whether it’s clicks or votes we’re after. But it has serious consequences and is perhaps the main reason why our delusions are so important and dangerous. When we feel this false sense of threat and decline, it opens a space for someone, anyone, to sell us an easy solution—which is often that the current system is broken and we need to tear it up.

Our own starting point should therefore be to understand that most things are getting better, not to kid ourselves into accepting the status quo, but to counter a deep trait that leads us to a greater danger. In Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker shows endless charts with good things (mostly) going up, and bad things (mostly) going down. He quotes Barack Obama, who cuts through our biases to highlight that, when it comes right down to it, while our world today is very far from perfect, it is better than the past:

“If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be—you didn’t know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you’d be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman—if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born, you’d choose now.”

And speaking of Steven Pinker, FAIR (The Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) hosted an hour-and-a-half discussion between him and Melissa Chen that you’re welcome to watch. Both are on FAIR’s Board of Advisors.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 20, 2021 at 4:31 AM

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