One Thousand More Words

4-22-17

My previous essay, The Favelas of Sao Paulo, Act 1: One Thousand Words, practically wrote itself after the photograph “Favelas of Brazil: The boundary between wealth and poverty” serendipitously arrived in my email in-basket.  It brought forward old ideas and words.  It expressed visually what I have striven to write in words.  It generated new expressions of those long held ideas and new thoughts.  The picture drove me to write.  Words gathered in my mind propelled by cresting waves of emotion and thought, and I fixed words onto paper.

I have studied my previous post much as I studied that photograph.  What was that initial motivation, the emotion that drove those words crowding into my mind as I studied that photograph?  It took me days to render my thoughts down to “the photo asked ‘is this fair?’ ”  Or it declared “This is not fair.”  Fairness, an old animal, mammalian, primate, and human attribute[1] was the base upon which I built my querying essay A Thousand Words in One Photograph. [2]

With that picture I had my soapbox upon which to stand and proclaim “That boundary between wealth and poverty is not fair, not right!”  And I briefly did.  But by the end of the first paragraph I had taken one foot off that box and started asking questions.  In the next paragraph I expressly eschewed polemics and continued asking explanatory questions.  I saw something in that photograph that upset and disturbed me, something that is so characteristic of civilization that on the other hand is utterly unremarkable: poverty and inequality in the midst of plenty.  At the end of the essay I am asking journalistic questions of that photograph: what, how, when, where, why and who – interrogating the photograph, seeking the economics and sociology revealed by it, and the logic of the lives lived within its boundaries.  That is curiosity.

Clearly there were several things going on in my mind, different motivations and styles of thought and rhetoric ranging from condemning to querying.  I experienced a suite of emotions beginning with the immediate wordless apprehension of unfair, then a bit slower and in words “I’m glad that I do not live on the left side of that fence,” then more words “that is the perfect image for the endpoint of the story I want to tell,” and finally more slowly working out the journalistic questions that I would need to answer in gaining the knowledge to tell the back story of that photograph.

Unfair came first, a fast reaction to the photo.  It quickly evaporated in the light of curiosity, a slower more deliberate evaluative motivation that asks “why?”  This two-stage reaction, fast and slow, is characteristic of many mental attributes. [3]  I began with the fast reaction of “unfair” and ended with the slow evaluation, asking questions, seeking answers on the way to telling the story of inequality and poverty in the midst of plenty.  My two motivations are entrained, gathered together, the sense of unfair underlying curiosity and driving the long-range creation of a story.

How was inequality generated and maintained?  It was done during the Agricultural Revolution at the beginning of civilization by force with words and we have substantial pieces of evidence for this assertion.  My telling of this story will not begin there.  It will begin in 1972 with ….  Well, finishing that sentence would be spoiling the surprise.  Suffice it to say that to understand the inequality expressed by the photograph “Favelas of Brazil” I will begin with words, patterns of words, and the usage of words – with telling more stories.  See you the next time.


[1] This Google search provides the scientific background for my assertion that a sense of fairness is hard-wired into social animals above some level of mental ability, and in particular into some canids and primates – us.

[2] I edited this essay on 4-16-17.  If you have not read it recently, I recommend rereading it, particularly the second paragraph which was removed during a previous edit and replaced while writing this essay.

[3] I no longer know where I first encountered this fast and slow reaction schema.  It has proven to be very useful and I will expand upon it in future essays.

One comment

  1. Nancy Cam-Winget says:

    Hi Carl,
    I like your blog….and your last “One Thousand Words” is spoken like a true engineer!!
    Best, Nancy

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