Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Great Conversation: Solar CITIES prepared speech for Abu Dhabi Media Company

( This speech was prepared for the launch of the National Geographic Arabic Edition at a marketing and branding conference in Abu Dhabi in October 2010.)

There is something called "The Great Conversation".

My father John Culhane, who was a journalist and feature writer for Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Reader's Digest, Geo, Argosy and The Walt Disney Company (among others), told me and my classmates that we could be a part of that conversation at a keynote address for the Rotary Club that he gave when I was in high school.
My father's address to me and my peers then was echoed by Simon Pearce's address to us today here at the Abu-Dhabi Media company when he said, "Your actions, discovered by the world, tell the story".  And what we are celebrating now is that with the launch of the National Geographic Arabic edition, we have finally found our own voice to tell what we discover in our own unique way.

In a certain literal sense there is only one story that we are all part of, and so we should all be participants in its narration. We call the one-story, quite literally, "the Uni-Verse".  It is a never ending story, ever unfolding. When we learn to see our Earth, so well described by National Geographic, as a living thing, as a giant organism within that Universe, we can also learn to see our essential roles as parts of that planetary body. From an ecological point of view we can see that nobody is expendable.

We  play different roles at different times, and  as we observe in nature, it is natural for each of us to  exhibit a certain "pleomorphism" -- that is to say it is natural for us to adapt our roles to the different environments and contexts we inhabit, and in so doing, use our behavioral plasticity and flexibility to enter The Great Conversation with the appropriate voice at the appropriate time. What has been lacking before was a medium to add our own vibrant Arabic color to that conversation on the world stage.  We contributed to what philosopher Jean-Fran├žois Lyotard in his classic 1979 work The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge called "Le Grand narrative" or “master narrative” of world society, but we mostly did so in the tongues of our former colonizers, wearing their garb and looking through their eyes.  We were often made to feel, by the historical legacy effects of colonialism and what Edward Said called "othering" and "orientalism"  that our own take on things, and our way of expressing our experiences, was somehow less interesting.

But now the launch of National Geographic Araby changes that equation definitively.

There is a passion that comes from participation, and when  when we become truly INTERESTED in our own stories ourselves (which often comes with the realization and confidence of knowing that we count in the grand narrative) our stories suddenly become INTERESTING to everybody else.

Adam Smith, the economist who wrote The Wealth of Nations, talked about how, when we act out of self-interest, in a system that was transparent, an invisible hand would guide us toward a positive outcome.  What isn't often talked about is his second book -- The Theory of Moral Sentiments, wherein he described how self-interest is not at all the same as selfishness.  It is actually a passionate interest in how you yourself are connected to the whole -- and the changing roles you play (that pleomorphism I mentioned) -- a feeling that your existence has meaning, and that you can do great things.

The "self", of of course, is a kind of BRANDING.  And Marketing is, as Irving Goffman famously wrote, "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life", i.e. how you fit into the Great Conversation.  Each of us is an ambassador for our personal brand. And let us not forget that "the corporation" means the incorporation of each of our personalities into one giant body.

As I mentioned earlier, until the Abu Dhabi Media company launched National Geographic Araby,  many of us in the Middle East and Africa felt excluded from "the Great conversation".  Other people told our stories, in their own languages, through their eyes.  I know this first-hand because my grandfather's cousin was Hormuz Rassam, a great Iraqi archeologist who discovered Nimrud and the Tablets of Gilgamesh, but at the time received no credit from the British.  National Geographic articles of those discoveries at the time had no way to present the true stories coming out of the Middle East and Africa because our own people had no voice.  Most of our achievements were eclipsed from the meta-narrative. Most of us felt discouraged, thinking that perhaps the problems lay within us -- after all, if even our great archeologists and scholars could find no way into the Great Conversation, what chance did we have to make a difference? Perhaps we made no difference. And so we became indifferent to our own contributions.

But today's globalized Digital Media Platforms and Technology have removed most of the barriers to entry! We can connect with each other across the globe via youtube and flickr and facebook and myspace and blogging and commenting and expand the great conversation to include our voices among the many. And with National Geographic Araby there is now a platform to life those voices of special interest to the world stage.

Of course to participate in this Great Conversation, we know we have to do things that others will find interesting.  But since the access barrier has been removed there is only one final barrier that we have to take down -- the barrier within us.  After generations of feeling we might be  somehow "less" than the West when we embraced our own traditions, defensively trying to be "hyperwestern" in all we do, we must now discover a new, post-modern authentic Arab identity.    We must find ourselves interesting as ourselves, get interested in our own stories, and invest our time and energy in doing interesting things. When we truly begin to take a passionate interest in what we do and who we are, we can be quite sure that others will take a passionate interest in us too.

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