A new book discussion group had its first meeting tonight here at Dudley’s bookstore/coffee shop in Bend, Oregon. This is an important event because it offers me the opportunity to get into a deeper conversation with the local intellectually inclined folks. It is being promoted as a big ideas group, and it appears there is a need because fifteen people showed up, five guys including me and nine women. My off-night Socrates group was meeting downstairs at the same time, so I had to choose, and I choose the new group and when it broke up I got to sit in the last ten minutes of the other group. That reminded me of my last year in college when I took multiple classes at the same time, 128 semester units, and then jumped from one class to another. Ya, ya, I know it can’t be done, but I did it anyway.
The new group looks good and the conversation was good too, but a little timid on analysis because people had only read the book and had not digested it. I read it several years ago and had thought about the ideas many times over, so I was prepared to argue with the author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker, on a few points. For example, he had a list of past wars with the number of people killed, which included a percentage comparison to today’s population, but I had created a chart which shows graphically similar data in a clearer way. That gave me an easy to remember way of talking and demonstrating the relative carnage.
One of my favorite subjects was brought up, when someone said the world is probably not going to have a war soon because the world is going well at the moment. Her statement included the idea that there is enough food to feed all of the people at the moment. She had been to China recently and was astonished at how yuppified it felt to be there. She said the people didn’t have much money yet, but they knew it would soon come because they were doing all the right things as a country and as individuals. She said the traffic was astonishingly dense in Beijing, but everyone worked together flawlessly and smoothly, and the people were happy. I was happy to hear those ideas being discussed because it implied some personal thinking about the issues rather than just spewing back what the media puts out.
A new group of people is always a delight because they will inevitably bring ideas up in a new way.