Two farewells for a pair of towering figures in world history: the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II and Tuesday’s mass public ceremony to mark the death of Nelson Mandela.
Not since the global public outpouring in Rome more than eight years ago to pay respects to the Polish pontiff has the world come together to mark a life that shaped our times.
Though the personal biographies are quite different, the Roman Catholic monarch and South African freedom fighter shared that unique mix of political and spiritual leadership that extended far beyond their own respective flocks.
Tuesday’s memorial for Mandela is also a chance to take stock in what has and hasn't changed since John Paul's passing: the global economic crisis and election of the first African-American president, the Arab Spring, Afghanistan and Iraq, exploding Facebook and Twitter, imploding Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus.
Here are some points of comparison:
St. Peter’s Square
Soweto's FNB Stadium
John Paul II: 300,000
Notables: The Vatican funeral in 2005 was limited to official political and religious dignitaries — while such celebrities as Bono, the Spice Girls, Charlize Theron and Oprah Winfrey are on hand for Mandela’s farewell.
Here are the officials who showed up, then and now:
|John Paul II funeral||Nelson Mandela memorial|
President Jacques Chirac.
|President Hamid Karzai.||President Hamid Karzai.|
|Minister of Culture
|Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma.||No representative.|
|President Viktor Yushchenko.||No representative.|
|George W. Bush with his wife Laura,
George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton.
|Barack Obama, George W. Bush,
Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter.
American dignitaries at John Paul II's funeral — Photo: White House
|President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.||President Dilma Rousseff.|
|President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
|Prime Minister Enrico Letta.|
| Charles, Prince of Wales, Tony Blair
— but not the Queen.
|Charles, Prince of Wales
and Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Queen wished to attend but
has been advised against it by doctors.
|President Mohammad Khatami.||Although President Hassan Rouhani was rumoured to go, he tweeted Monday that his VP for Executive Affairs Mohammad Shariatmadari would be attending the memorial.|
|Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei.||President Mahmoud Abbas.|
|Robert Mugabe.||Robert Mugabe.|
|Vice President Jacob Zuma.||President Jacob Zuma.|
|No representative.||Vice President Li Yuanchao.|
|President Moshe Katsav.||President Shimon Peres is not attending,
citing health problems. Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu won't be there either,
citing high travel costs.
|President of the National Assembly
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada.
|President Raul Castro.|
Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.
PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?
In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.
This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.
Addictions to sex and social media
Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'
Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.
No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.
Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image
According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.
Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.
Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.
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