A Visual Map of the World’s Major Religions (and Non-Religions)

Images by Carrie Osgood

“The nones are growing,” we hear all the time, a reference to the huge increase in people who check the “none” box in documents that ask about religious beliefs. In the U.S., at least, the response to this news seems to be fivefold: fear, denial, anger, celebration, and speculation that can seem to go beyond what the data warrants. National Geographic, for example, trumpets “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion,” though it’s not exactly clear what no religion means.

Checking “none” does not signify holding specific convictions or affiliations. It can be an irritated reaction from those who find the question intrusive, an evasion from those who refuse to think about the issue, a response from those whose beliefs are not reflected in any of the choices offered, a confident statement of thoroughgoing philosophical naturalism…. One way to look at the data is that it’s inconclusive.

But it could tell some big stories as well, such as “the secularizing West and the rapidly growing rest” (a story complicated by China, the country with the largest “atheist/agnostic” population). While the internet has made it easier for atheists and agnostics to connect and organize, these labels do not name any consistent set of beliefs or non-beliefs, and they can apply to secular humanists as well as to certain adherents of forms of Buddhism, Taoism, paganism, etc., who may not explicitly identify as religious but who have some spiritual practices...

But whoever they are, the “nones” do appear to be growing, accounting for around a quarter of the population in the U.S. and Europe—where in some countries, such as the Czech Republic, closer to half the population identifies as nonreligious. The story of the nones is counterbalanced by the massive spread of religion, mostly Christianity but also Islam, among the “rest” of the world. Designer Carrie Osgood of the world travel site Carrie On Adventures has given us a handy visual reference (view in a large format here) for the global situation in the infographic above.

Drawing on data from the United Nations Population Fund—which she previously used to create a series of population and urbanization maps—and from the World Religion Database, Osgood visualizes the relative populations of each country by sizing them as proportional pie charts, with their major religions represented by different colors. (These numbers are based on 2010 figures and may have changed considerably in the past decade.) Christianity is still the world’s largest religion, at 32.8%, with Islam close behind at 22.5%.

Yet as Frank Jacobs points out at Big Think, such sweeping generalizations—like those about the “nones”—miss critical details needed in any discussion about world religions. “The map bands together various Christian and Islamic schools of thought,” writes Jacobs, “that don’t necessarily accept each other as ‘true believers,’” and may even view each other as enemies and heretics. Large, thriving religious groups like Sikhs are lumped in with “others,” a category that can include numerically marginal or disappearing belief systems.

Likewise, “there’s that whole minefield of nuance between those who practice a religion (but may do so out of social coercion rather than personally held belief), and those who believe in something (but don’t participate in the rituals of any particular faith).” Especially in countries with a majority faith—and with painful social or legal penalties for those who don’t subscribe—the question of how many people really identify out of true conviction cannot be ignored.

Which brings us back to the “nones,” a category, however fuzzy, that may be far larger than the numbers show, and could include millions more in majority-faith countries, if those people lived under a secular government, in a pluralistic society, and felt free to speak their minds. The "nones" have maybe always been around. Only now, in much of the world at least, they're far more visible. But that's just one possible story among the many we can tell about this data.

View and download a larger version of the infographic map at Osgood’s site and see a detailed breakdown of the data at Big Think.

Related Content:

Animated Map Shows How the Five Major Religions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

Take Harvard’s Introductory Course on Buddhism, One of Five World Religions Classes Offered Free Online

Christianity Through Its Scriptures: A Free Course from Harvard University 

Introduction to the Old Testament: A Free Yale Course 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

New Archive Digitizes 80,000 Historic Watercolor Paintings, the Medium Through Which We Documented the World Before Photography

The watercolor painting has a reputation for lightness. It’s a casual endeavor, done in scenic outdoor surroundings on sunlit days. Watercolors are the choice of weekend hobbyists or children unready for messier materials. Watercolors, in other words, are often treated as unserious. But for a couple hundred years, they served a very serious purpose. In addition to being a portable medium with an expansive range, watercolors’ ease made them the primary means of making documentary images before photography completely took over this function by the turn of the 20th century when portable consumer cameras became a reality.

“Before the invention of the camera,” explains the Watercolour World, “people used watercolors to document the world. Over the centuries, painters—both professional and amateur—created hundreds of thousands of images recording life as they witnessed it. Every one of these paintings has a story to tell.”

The Watercolour World is a large-scale digitization of thousands of watercolors found hidden away in drawers all over the UK by former diplomat Fred Hohler, who came up with the idea for the project while on a tour of Britain’s public collections.

“The value—and excitement—of the Watercolour World project,” writes Dale Berning Sawa at The Guardian, "is that it views these historic paintings as documents, not aesthetic objects.” That’s not necessarily how their creators’ saw them. “A lot of the value in these images is… accidental. Often it’s the context—replete with treelines, snowlines or waterlines—the artist painted around, for example, the flower they’d set out to record.” Such accidental documentation captured one of the first known images of Mount Everest, situated in the background, in a painting from the 1840s. Of course much of the documentary purpose was intentional—in land surveys and scientific illustrations, and in the many paintings, like that above from 1833, of Mount Vesuvius erupting.

These images are becoming increasingly important to scientists and historians as ice-caps melt, historical sites are bombed or vandalized, and flora and fauna disappear. With a focus on pre-1900 images, the site launched with around 80,000 digitized watercolors, a number that could expand into over a million, Hohler estimates, at which point, it will become an “absolutely indispensable tool to help us understand today.” As for understanding the context in which these works were created—it’s complicated. Many of the paintings come with a wealth of identifying information. Some of the artists were professionals, some military draftsmen, botanists, expedition watercolorists, and surveyors.

Some had long, distinguished careers taking over other countries, like colonial British General James Maurice Primrose, who painted several very impressive landscapes in India like 1860’s “In the Neilgherries,” above. And there are also “untold numbers of amateurs,” Sawa writes, “which Hohler suspects will turn out to have been mostly women, unpaid for their time and skill—who picked up a paintbrush to record the world around them.” Whoever these painters were, and whatever motivated them to make these works of art, we can be grateful that they did, and that these thousands of paintings, many of which are quite fragile, survived long enough for digitization in this impressive public project.

“By making history more visible to more people,” the Watercolour World puts it, “we can deepen our understanding of the world.” The UK-based organization seeks paintings from around the globe; “there are thousands of watercolours still to add.” If you have some pre-1900 works to contribute, you are encouraged to get in touch and find out if they’re suitable for inclusion. Enter the Watercolour World here.

via The Guardian

Related Content:

Visit a New Digital Archive of 2.2 Million Images from the First Hundred Years of Photography

The Getty Digital Archive Expands to 135,000 Free Images: Download High Resolution Scans of Paintings, Sculptures, Photographs & Much Much More

Download for Free 2.6 Million Images from Books Published Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

25 Million Images From 14 Art Institutions to Be Digitized & Put Online In One Huge Scholarly Archive

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Nobody Smiles in Old Photos: The Technological & Cultural Reasons Behind All those Black-and-White Frowns

We've all heard stories of kids who ask their parents if the world was really black-and-white in the 1950s, or maybe even been those kids ourselves. With that matter cleared up, children who've seen even older colorless photographs — say, from around the turn of the 20th century — may follow up with another question: hadn't they invented smiling back then? If they ask you (or if you've wondered about it yourself), you can take care of it in just three minutes by pulling up this Vox explainer on why people never smiled in old photos. Why, in the words of Phil Edwards writing on the video's accompanying page, "did people in old photos look like they'd just heard the worst news of their life?"

"We can't know for sure, but a few theories help us guess what was behind all that black-and-white frowning." The first, and the one you may already know, has to do with the camera technology of the day, whose "long exposure times — the time a camera needs to take a picture — made it important for the subject of a picture to stay as still as possible. That way, the picture wouldn't look blurry." But by the year 1900 that problem was more or less solved "with the introduction of the Brownie and other cameras," which were "still slow by today's standards, but not so slow that it was impossible to smile."

Other theories explaining the smile-free photographs of old include the lingering influence of the painted portrait on the photographic portrait; the dominant idea of photography as a "passage to immortality" that "meant the medium was predisposed to seriousness over the ephemeral"; and that Victorian and Edwardian culture itself took a dim view of smiling, supported by a survey of smiling in portraits conducted by Nicholas Jeeves at the Public Domain Review that "came to the conclusion that there was a centuries-long history of viewing smiling as something only buffoons did." Yet late 19th-century and early 20th-century photography isn't a completely smile-free zone, as the Flickr group The Smiling Victorian proves.

Edwards includes a picture, taken circa 1904, of a man smiling not just unmistakably but hugely. He does so as he prepares to dig into a bowl of rice, that being an important part of the cuisine of China, where Asian-language scholar Berthold Laufer took an expedition to capture the everyday life of the Chinese people on film. "His rice-loving subject may have been willing to grin because he was from a different culture with its own sensibility concerning photography and public behavior," Edwards writes. Whatever the reasons for the smile on that Chinese face or the lack of one on all those Victorians and Edwardians, we must prepare ourselves to answer an even more difficult question from posterity: one about why, exactly, we're doing what we're doing in the billions of photos we now take of ourselves every day.

Related Content:

The First Photograph Ever Taken (1826)

See the First Photograph of a Human Being: A Photo Taken by Louis Daguerre (1838)

See The First “Selfie” In History Taken by Robert Cornelius, a Philadelphia Chemist, in 1839

The First Known Photograph of People Sharing a Beer (1843)

The History of Photography in Five Animated Minutes: From Camera Obscura to Camera Phone

Visit a New Digital Archive of 2.2 Million Images from the First Hundred Years of Photography

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

William S. Burroughs’ Manifesto for Overthrowing a Corrupt Government with Fake News and Other Prophetic Methods: It’s Now Published for the First Time

The Boy Scouts of America have faced some deserved criticism, undeserved ridicule, and have been cruelly used as props, but I think it’s safe to say that they still bear a pretty wholesome image for a majority of Americans. That was probably no less the case and perhaps a good deal more so in 1969, but the end of the sixties was not by any stretch a simpler time. It was a period, writes Scott McLemee, “when the My Lai Massacre, the Manson Family and the Weather Underground were all in the news.” The Zodiac Killer was on the loose, a general air of bleakness prevailed.

William S. Burroughs responded to this madness with a counter-madness of his own in "The Revised Boy Scout Manual," “an impassioned yet sometimes incoherent rebuke to ossified political ideologies,” writes Kirkus. We can presume Burroughs meant his instructions for overthrowing corrupt governments to satirically comment on the outdoorsy status quo youth cult. But we can also see the manual taking as its starting point certain values the Scouts champion, at their best: obsessive attention to detail, MacGyver-like ingenuity, and good old American self-reliance.

Want to bring down the government? You can do it yourself… with fake news.

Boing Boing quotes a long passage from the book that shows Burroughs as a comprehensive, if not quite wholesome, Scout advisor, describing how one might use mass media’s methods to disrupt its message, and to transmit messages of your own. We might think he is foreseeing, even recommending, techniques we now see used to a no-longer-shocking degree.

You have an advantage which your opposing player does not have. He must conceal his manipulations. You are under no such necessity. In fact you can advertise the fact that you are writing news in advance and trying to make it happen by techniques which anybody can use.

And that makes you NEWS. And a TV personality as well, if you play it right. 

You construct fake news broadcasts on video camera... And you scramble your fabricated news in with actual news broadcasts.

We might read in Burroughs’ instructions the methods of YouTube propagandists, social media manipulators, and some of the most powerful people in the world. Burroughs does not recommend taking over the media apparatus by seizing its power, but rather using technology to make “cutup video tapes” and ham radio broadcasts featuring documentary media spliced together with fabrications. These “techniques could swamp the mass media with total illusion,” he writes. “It will be seen that the falsifications in syllabic Western languages are in point of fact actual virus mechanisms.”

Burroughs is not simply writing a reference for making fearmongering propaganda. Even when it comes to the subject of fear, he sometimes sounds as if he is revising Sergei Eisenstein’s montage theory for his own similarly violent times. “Let us say the message is fear. For this we take all the past fear shots of the subject we can collect or evoke. We cut these in with fear words and pictures, with threats, etc. This is all acted out and would be upsetting enough in any case. Now let’s try it scrambled and see if we get an even stronger effect.”

What would this effect be? One “comparable to post-hypnotic suggestion”? Who is the audience, and would they be, a la Clockwork Orange, a captive one? Did Burroughs see people on street corners screening their cut-up videos, despite the fact that consumer-level video technology did not yet exist? Is this a cinematic experiment, mass media-age occult ritual, compendium of practical magic for insider media adepts?

See what you can make of Burroughs’ "The Revised Boy Scout Manual" (subtitled “an electronic revolution”). The book has been reissued by the Ohio State Press, with an afterword (read it here) by V. Vale, publisher of the legendary, radical magazine RE/Search, who excerpted a part of the “Revised Manual” in the early 1980s and planned to publish it in full before “a personal relationship blowup” put an end to the project.

McLemee titles his review of Burrough’s rediscovered manifesto “Distant Early Warning,” and much of it does indeed sound eerily prophetic. But we should also bear in mind the book is itself a countercultural pastiche, designed to scramble minds for reasons only Burroughs truly knew. He was a “practicing Scientologist at the time” of the book’s composition, “albeit not for much longer,” and he does prescribe use of the e-meter and makes scattered references to L. Ron Hubbard. But as a practitioner of his own precepts, Burroughs would not have written a monograph uncritically promoting one belief system or another. (Well, maybe just the once.) He also quotes Hassan-I Sabbah, discusses Mayan hieroglyphics, and talks General Semantics.

"The Revised Boy Scout Manual" “has elements of libertarian manifesto, paramilitary handbook, revenge fantasy and dark satire,” McLemee writes, “and wherever the line between fiction and nonfiction may be, it’s never clear for long.” In this, Burroughs only scrambles elements already in abundance at the end of the sixties and in the early seventies, during which he revised and recorded the work several times as he transitioned himself out of an organization that maintained total control through mass media. Like Marshall McLuhan, Noam Chomsky and others, he was beginning to see this phenomenon everywhere he looked. Burroughs' most lasting influence may be that, like the late-60s Situationists, he devised a cunning and effective way to turn mass media in on itself, one with perhaps more sinister implications.

via Boing Boing

Related Content:

How William S. Burroughs Embraced, Then Rejected Scientology, Forcing L. Ron Hubbard to Come to Its Defense (1959-1970)

How William S. Burroughs Used the Cut-Up Technique to Shut Down London’s First Espresso Bar (1972)

When William S. Burroughs Appeared on Saturday Night Live: His First TV Appearance (1981)

5 Animations Introduce the Media Theory of Noam Chomsky, Roland Barthes, Marshall McLuhan, Edward Said & Stuart Hall

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Does Playing Music for Cheese During the Aging Process Change Its Flavor? Researchers Find That Hip Hop Makes It Smellier, and Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” Makes It Milder

Humans began making cheese seven millennia ago: plenty of time to develop an enormous variety of textures, flavors, and smells, and certainly more than enough to get creative about the methods of generating even greater variety. But it seems to have taken all that time for us to come around to the potential of music as a flavoring agent. "Exposing cheese to round-the-clock music could give it more flavor and hip hop might be better than Mozart," report Reuters' Denis Balibouse and Cecile Mantovani, citing the findings of Cheese in Sound, a recent study by Swiss cheesemaker Bert Wampfler and researchers at Bern University of the Arts.

"Nine wheels of Emmental cheese weighing 10 kilos (22 pounds) each were placed in wooden crates last September to test the impact of music on flavor and aroma," write Balibouse and Mantovani. The hip hop cheese heard A Tribe Called Quest's "Jazz (We've Got)," the classical cheese Mozart's "Magic Flute," the rock cheese Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and so on.

Three other wheels heard simple low, medium, and high sonic frequencies, and one control cheese heard nothing at all. But perhaps "heard" is the wrong word: each maturing cheese received its music not through speakers but "mini transmitters to conduct the energy of the music into the cheese."

That may make more plausible the results that came out when a culinary jury performed a blind taste test of all the cheeses and found that they really did come out with different flavors. According to the project's press release, a "sensory consensus analysis carried out by food technologists from the ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences" concluded that "the cheeses exposed to music had a generally mild flavor compared to the control test sample" and that "the cheese exposed to hip hop music displayed a discernibly stronger smell and stronger, fruitier taste than the other samples."

Or, as Smithsonian.com's Jason Daley summarizes the findings, A Tribe Called Quest "gave the cheese an especially funky flavor, while cheese that rocked out to Led Zeppelin or relaxed with Mozart had milder tests." Cheese-lovers intrigued by the possibilities implied here would be forgiven for thinking it all still sounds a bit too much like those CD sets that claimed a baby's intelligence could be increased by playing them Mozart in the womb. But if Cheese in Sound's results hold up to further scrutiny, maybe those parents — at least those parents hoping for a funkier child — should have been playing them hip hop all along.

via Smithsonian Mag

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cheese: 10,000 Years in Under Six Minutes

How to Break Open a Big Wheel of Parmesan Cheese: A Delightful, 15-Minute Primer

Music in the Brain: Scientists Finally Reveal the Parts of Our Brain That Are Dedicated to Music

Stephen Fry Hosts “The Science of Opera,” a Discussion of How Music Moves Us Physically to Tears

Leo Tolstoy’s Family Recipe for Mac ‘N’ Cheese

Enter the The Cornell Hip Hop Archive: A Vast Digital Collection of Hip Hop Photos, Posters & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Sax Solo on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” on a 10 Hour, Endless Loop

Enjoy, but the rule is once you start, you have to listen through to the very, very end. :)

Journalism Under Siege: A Free Course from Stanford Explores the Imperiled Freedom of the Press

This past fall, Stanford Continuing Studies and the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships teamed up to offer an important course on the challenges facing journalism and the freedom of the press. Called Journalism Under Siege? Truth and Trust in a Time of Turmoil, the five-week course featured 28 journalists and media experts, all offering insights on the emerging challenges facing the media across the United States and the wider world. The lectures/presentations are now all online. Find them below, along with the list of guest speakers, which includes Alex Stamos who blew the whistle on Russia's manipulation of the Facebook platform during the 2016 election. Journalism Under Siege will be added to our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Weekly Sessions:

  • Week 1 –  First Draft of History: How a Free Press Protects Freedom; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 2 –  Power to the People: Holding the Powerful Accountable; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 3 – Picking Sides? How Journalists Cover Bias, Intolerance and Injustice; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 4 – The Last Stand of Local News; Part OnePart Two
  • Week 5 – The Misinformation Society; Part OnePart Two

Guest Speakers:

  • Hannah Allam, national reporter, BuzzFeed News
  • Roman Anin, investigations editor, Novaya Gazeta, Moscow
  • Hugo Balta, president, National Association of Hispanic Journalists
  • Sally Buzbee, executive editor, Associated Press (AP)
  • Neil Chase, executive editor, San Jose Mercury News
  • Audrey Cooper, editor-in-chief, San Francisco Chronicle
  • Jenée Desmond-Harris, staff editor, NYT Opinion, New York Times
  • Jiquanda Johnson, founder and publisher, Flint Beat
  • Joel Konopo, managing partner, INK Centre for Investigative Journalism, Gaborone, Botswana
  • Richard Lui, anchor, MSNBC and NBC News
  • Geraldine Moriba, former vice president for diversity and inclusion, CNN
  • Bryan Pollard, president, Native American Journalists Association
  • Cecile Prieur, deputy editor, Le Monde, Paris
  • Joel Simon, executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Alex Stamos, former Facebook chief security officer
  • Marina Walker Guevara, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for coordinating the Panama Papers investigation


Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Watch Seder-Masochism, Nina Paley’s Animated, Feminist Take on the Passover Holiday: The Animated Feature Film Is Free and in the Public Domain

Seder-Masochism, copyright abolitionist Nina Paley’s latest animated release, is guaranteed to ruffle feathers in certain quarters, though the last laugh belongs to this trickster artist, who shares writing credit with ”God, Moses or a series of patriarchal males, depending on who you ask.”

Bypassing a commercial release in favor of the public domain goes a long way toward inoculating the film and its creator against expensive rights issues that could arise from the star-studded soundtrack.

It also lets the air out of any affronted parties’ campaigns for mass box office boycotts.

“The criticism seems equally divided between people that say I’m a Zionist and people that say I’m an anti-Zionist,” Paley says of This Land Is Mine, below, a stunning sequence of tribal and inter-tribal carnage, memorably set to Ernest Gold’s theme for the 1960 epic Paul Newman vehicle, Exodus.

Released as a stand-alone short, This Land Is Mine has become the most viewed of Paley’s works. She finds the opposing camps’ equal outcry encouraging, proof that she’s doing “something right.”

More bothersome has been University of Illinois Associate Professor of Gender Studies Mimi Thi Nguyen’s social media push to brand the filmmaker as transphobic. (Paley, no fan of identity politics, states that her “crime was, months earlier, sharing on Facebook the following lyric: 'If a person has a penis he’s a man.'”) Nguyen’s actions resulted in the feminist film’s ouster from several venues and festivals, including Ebertfest in Paley’s hometown and a women’s film festival in Belgium.

What would the ancient fertility goddesses populating both art history and Seder-Masochism have to say about that development?

In Seder-Masochism, these goddess figures, whom Paley earlier transformed into a series of free downloadable GIFs, offer a mostly silent rebuke to those who refuse to acknowledge any conception of the divine existing outside patriarchal tradition.

In the case of Assistant Professor Nguyen, perhaps the goddesses would err on the side of diplomacy (and the First Amendment), framing the dust-up as just one more reason the public should be glad the project's lodged in the public domain. Anyone with access to the Internet and a desire to see the film will have the opportunity to do so. Called out, maybe. Shut down, never.

The goddesses supply a depth of meaning to this largely comic undertaking. Their ample curves inform many of the patterns that give motion to the animated cutouts.

Paley also gets a lot of mileage from replicating supernumerary characters until they march with ant-like purpose or bedazzle in Busby Berkeley-style spectacles. Not since Paul Mazursky’s Tempest have goats loomed so large in cinematic choreography…

Paley’s use of music is another source of abiding pleasure. She casts a wide net—punk, disco, Bulgarian folk, the Beatles, Free to Be You and Me—again, framing her choices as parody. "Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here" accompanies the seventh plague of Egypt (don’t bother looking it up. It’s hail.) Ringo Starr’s famous "Helter Skelter" aside (“I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”) boils down to an apt choice for plague number six. (If you have to think about it…)

The elements of the Seder plate are listed to the strains of "Tijuana Taxi" because… well, who doesn’t love Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass?

Paley’s own religious background is of obvious interest here, and as with her previous feature, Sita Sings the Blues—also in the public domain—the autobiographical element is irresistible. A 2011 audio recording provides the excuse to portray her father, Hiram, who died the year after the interview was conducted, as a Monty Python-esque God. The senior Paley was raised in an observant Jewish household, but lost faith as a young man. An atheist who wanted his children to know something of their heritage, Passover was the one Jewish holiday he continued to celebrate. (He also forbade the kids from participating in any sort of secular Christmas activities.)

A wistful God with the complexion of a dollar bill, Hiram is at times surrounded by putti, in the form of his parents, his contentious Uncle Herschel, and his own sweet younger self.

For these scenes, Paley portrays herself as a spirited “sacrificial goat.” This character finds an echo at film’s end, when “Chad Gadya,” the traditional Passover tune that brings the annual seder to a rollicking conclusion, is brought to life using embroidermation, a form Paley may or may not have invented.

Perhaps Paley’s most subversive joke is choosing Jesus, as depicted in Juan de Juanes’ 1652 painting, The Last Supper, to deliver an educational blow-by-blow of Passover ritual.

Actually, much like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Jesus was ghost-voiced by another performer—Barry Gray, narrator of the midcentury educational recording The Moishe Oysher Seder.

As you may have gleaned, Paley, despite the clean elegance of her animated line, is a maximalist. There’s something for everyone (excepting, of course, Mimi Thi Nguyen)—a gleaming golden idol, a ball bouncing above hieroglyphic lyrics, actual footage of atrocities committed in a state of religious fervor, Moses’ brother Aaron—a figure who’s often shoved to the sidelines, if not left outright on the cutting room floor.

We leave you with Paley’s prayer to her Muse, found freely shared on her website:

Our Idea

Which art in the Ether

That cannot be named;

Thy Vision come

Thy Will be done

On Earth, as it is in Abstraction.

Give us this day our daily Spark

And forgive us our criticisms

As we forgive those who critique against us;

And lead us not into stagnation

But deliver us from Ego;

For Thine is the Vision

And the Power

And the Glory forever.


Watch Seder-Masochism in its entirety up top, or download it here. Purchase the companion book here.

Related Content:

Sita Sings the Blues Now on YouTube

Celebrate the Women’s March with 24 Goddess GIFs Created by Animator Nina Paley: They’re Free to Download and Remix

Watch Nina Paley’s “Embroidermation,” a New, Stunningly Labor-Intensive Form of Animation

Introduction to the Old Testament: A Free Yale Course 

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti Turns 100: Hear the Great San Francisco Poet Read “Trump’s Trojan Horse,” “Pity the Nation” & Many Other Poems

It has been a season of mourning for literature: first the death of Mary Oliver and now W.S. Merwin, two writers who left a considerable imprint on over half a century of American poetry. Considering the fact that founding father of the Beats and proprietor of world-renowned City Lights Bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, turns 100 on March 24th, maybe a few more people have glanced over to check on him. How’s he doing?

He's grown "frail and nearly blind," writes Chloe Veltman at The Guardian in an interview with the poet this month, "but his mind is still on fire." Ferlinghetti “has not mellowed,” says Washington Post book critic Ron Charles, "at all." If you’re looking for him at any of the events planned in his honor, City Lights announces, he will not be in attendance, but he has been busy promoting his latest book, a thinly-veiled autobiographical novel about his early life called Little Boy.

In the book Ferlinghetti describes his childhood in images right out of Edward Gorey. He was a “Little Lord Fauntleroy” in a Bronxville mansion 20 miles outside New York, an orphan taken in and raised by descendants of the founders of Sarah Lawrence. “His new guardians spoke to one another in courtly tones and dressed in Victorian garb,” notes Charles. “They sent him to private school, and, more important, they possessed a fine library, which he was encouraged to use.”

The poet would later write he was a “social climber climbing downward,” an ironic reference to how some people might have seen the trajectory of his career. After serving in the Navy during World War II, earning a master’s at Columbia, and a Ph.D. at the Sorbonne, Ferlinghetti decamped to San Francisco, and founded the small magazine City Lights with Peter D. Martin. Then he opened a bookstore on the edge of Chinatown to fund the publishing venture.

The shop became a haunt for writers and poets. Ferlinghetti started publishing them, starting with himself in 1955. The following year he gained international infamy for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (hear Ginsberg read the poem at City Lights in '56). The book was banned, and Ferlinghetti put on trial for obscenity. If anyone thought this would be the end of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, they were mistaken.

He has published somewhere around forty books of poetry and criticism, novels and plays, been a prolific painter for sixty years, as well as a publisher, bookseller, and activist. He does not consider himself a Beat poet, but from his influential first two books—Pictures of the Gone World and 1958’s A Coney Island of the Mindonward, Ferlinghetti’s philosophical outlook has more or less breathed the same air as Ginsberg et al.’s.

Quoting from Coney Island, Andrew Shapiro writes, “he counseled us to ‘confound the system,’ ‘to empty out our pockets… missing our appointments’ and to leave ‘our neckties behind’ and ‘take up the full beard of walking anarchy.’” He is still doing this, every way that he can, in public readings, media appearances, and a canny use of YouTube. His is not a call to flower power but to full immersion in the chaos of life, or, as he writes in “Coney Island of the Mind 1” in the “veritable rage / of adversity / Heaped up / groaning with babies and bayonets / under cement skies / in an abstract landscape of blasted trees.”

Ferlinghetti urged poets and writers to “create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic… you can conquer the conquerors with words.” Despite this stridency, he has never taken himself too seriously. Ferlinghetti is as relaxed as they come—he hasn’t mellowed, but he also hasn’t needed to. He’s a loose, natural storyteller and comedian and he’s still delivering sober, prophetic pronouncements with gravitas.

See and hear Ferlinghetti take on conquerors, bullies, and xenophobes, underwear, and other subjects in the readings here from his throughout his career, including a full, 40-minute reading in 2005 at UC Berkeley, below, an album of Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth, above, and at the top, a video made last year of the 99-year-old poet, in Lady Liberty mask, reading “Trump’s Trojan Horse” under a grinning, gray-bearded self-portrait of his younger self. Happy 100th to him. "I figure that with another 100 birthdays," he says, "that'll be about enough!"

Related Content:

Bill Murray Reads the Poetry of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Niedecker, Lucille Clifton & More

Allen Ginsberg’s Howl Manuscripts Now Digitized & Put Online, Revealing the Beat Poet’s Creative Process

The First Recording of Allen Ginsberg Reading “Howl” (1956)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

24 Common Cognitive Biases: A Visual List of the Psychological Systems Errors That Keep Us From Thinking Rationally

There’s been a lot of talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect, the cognitive bias that makes people wildly overconfident, unable to know how ignorant they are because they don’t have the basic skills to grasp what competence means. Once popularized, the effect became weaponized. People made armchair diagnoses, gloated and pointed at the obliviously stupid. But if those finger-pointers could take the beam out of their own eye, they might see four fingers pointing back at them, or whatever folk wisdom to this effect you care to mash up.

What we now call cognitive biases have been known by many other names over the course of millennia. Perhaps never have the many varieties of self-deception been so specific. Wikipedia lists 185 cognitive biases, 185 different ways of being irrational and deluded. Surely, it’s possible that every single time we—maybe accurately—point out someone else’s delusions, we’re hoarding a collection of our own. According to much of the research by psychologists and behavioral economists, this may be inevitable and almost impossible to remedy.

Want to better understand your own cognitive biases and maybe try to move beyond them if you can? See a list of 24 common cognitive biases in an infographic poster at yourbias.is, the site of the nonprofit School of Thought. (The two gentlemen popping up behind brainy Jehovah in the poster, notes Visual Capitalist, "happen to represent Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two of the leading social scientists known for their contributions to this field. Not only did they pioneer work around cognitive biases starting in the late 1960s, but their partnership also resulted in a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.")

Granted, a Wikipedia list is a crowd-sourced creation with lots of redundancy and quite a few “dubious or trivial” entries, writes Ben Yagoda at The Atlantic. “The IKEA effect, for instance, is defined as ‘the tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects they partially assembled themselves.’” Much of the value I’ve personally placed on IKEA furniture has to do with never wanting to assemble IKEA furniture again. “But a solid group of 100 or so biases has been repeatedly shown to exist, and can make a hash of our lives.”

These are the tricks of the mind that keep gamblers gambling, even when they’re losing everything. They include not only the “gambler’s fallacy” but confirmation bias and the fallacy of sunk cost, the tendency to pursue a bad outcome because you’ve already made a significant investment and you don’t want it to have been for nothing. It may seem ironic that the study of cognitive biases developed primarily in the field of economics, the only social science, perhaps, that still assumes humans are autonomous individuals who freely make rational choices.

But then, economists must constantly contend with the counter-evidence—rationality is not a thing most humans do well. (Evolutionarily speaking, this may have been no great disadvantage until we got our hands on weapons of mass destruction and the tools of climate collapse.) When we act rationally in some areas, we tend to fool ourselves in others. Is it possible to overcome bias? That depends on what we mean. Political and personal prejudices—against ethnicities, nationalities, genders, and sexualities—are usually buttressed by the systems errors known as cognitive biases, but they are not caused by them. They are learned ideas that can be unlearned.

What researchers and academics mean when they talk about bias does not relate to specific content of beliefs, but rather to the ways in which our minds warp logic to serve some psychological or emotional need or to help regulate and stabilize our perceptions in a manageable way. “Some of these biases are related to memory,” writes Kendra Cherry at Very Well Mind, others “might be related to problems with attention. Since attention is a limited resource, people have to be selective about what they pay attention to in the world around them.”

We’re constantly missing what’s right in front of us, in other words, because we’re trying to pay attention to other people too. It’s exhausting, which might be why we need eight hours or so of sleep each night if we want our brains to function half decently. Go to yourbias.is for this list of 24 common cognitive biases, also available on a nifty poster you can order and hang on the wall. You'll also find there an illustrated collection of logical fallacies and a set of “critical thinking cards” featuring both kinds of reasoning errors. Once you've identified and defeated all your own cognitive biases—all 24, or 100, or 185 or so—then you'll be ready to set out and fix everyone else's.

via Visual Capitalist

Related Content:

Research Finds That Intellectual Humility Can Make Us Better Thinkers & People; Good Thing There’s a Free Course on Intellectual Humility

Why Incompetent People Think They’re Amazing: An Animated Lesson from David Dunning (of the Famous “Dunning-Kruger Effect”)

The Power of Empathy: A Quick Animated Lesson That Can Make You a Better Person

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

  • Great Lectures



    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.


  • About Us

    Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.

    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Quantcast