SINA WEIBO (China), TEALEAF NATION (China), LE MONDE (France), ASAHI SHIMBUN (Japan), NPR (U.S.A.)
BEIJING - The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress concluded with 59-year-old Xi Jinping being officially chosen as head of state.
The decision at the weeklong meeting was in no way a surprise but came as the culmination of the months of intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering between neo-Maoist and pro-reform factions. Xi’s party is considered to be one of moderate reform, and he was a compromise candidate. His rise to China’s top position was considerably aided by the fall of his neo-Maoist rival Bo Xilai, who is awaiting trial for abuse of power and whose wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman.
At a press conference for 200 members of the foreign and domestic media, Xi declared that the Party faced “problems of corruption, of loss of contact with the people, of bureaucracy. We must respond,” reports Le Monde.
Xi Jinping’s appointment has been seen by many as a sign that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party wants to move forward with at least some reforms. But the new party lineup, notes Asahi Shimbun, “is heavy on conservatives and leaves out reform-minded politicians” and is “another all-male cast of politicians whose instincts are to move cautiously.”
Another twist in Xi’s biography is his wife, Peng Liyuan, who was famous before he was, as she is a well-known singer in the People’s Liberation Army. (Here she sings “My expand=1] Motherland.”)
Xi, a Chinese “princeling” whose father was a revolutionary, grew up in luxury as “red nobility,” reports Le Monde, but was sent to a remote village to live in a cave during his father’s disgrace at the time of the Cultural Revolution.
A villager told an NPR reporter that once Xi accidentally ate a frog and a snake for supper (it was “an exceptionally good meal. They didn’t know why”). The young man was plagued by fleas and not used to climbing mountains; the villagers were impressed that someone from such an important family would be “close to the people.” The link to the story was removed from Twitter almost immediately.
During the weeklong meeting, which was intensively but carefully covered by Chinese media, much of Beijing’s normal life was affected by security measures. The microblogging site Sina Weibo was monitored by censors for any disrespectful posts, including mentions of “Sparta,” which was a web nickname for “18th Great.”
One compilation of the 18 different Politburo members, from 1949 till now, showing a progression from intense young revolutionaries in peasant clothes to plump middle-aged men in suits, was immediately deleted, along with a surreptitious series of photos showing former premier Jiang Zemin dozing off during the interminable speeches.
Tealeaf Nation, a China-watching site, published a Beijing University student’s sardonic take on “taking my girlfriend shopping for the 18th time....The main focus of her shopping is cosmetics. She usually purchases seven or nine varieties there are seven to nine members of the Politburo. This time, she crossed the name of a very famous brand off her shopping list, because there have been some problems with this brand,” a reference to Bo Xilai.
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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