5 Commentators who could help you know your world
1. Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent, The Independent
There is no region in the world that is as volatile as West Asia (Middle East for Westerners). While the countries in the region are not world powers, they have the constant attention of the big guys of the world. Central and West Asia have a significant impact on the undercurrents of contemporary geopolitics, which makes it extremely important to understand what is going on there. And Robert Fisk sits in the eye of the storm. Based in Beirut, there is hardly a major conflict in the past three decades that Fisk has not covered. He has written on the Portuguese Revolution in the 1970s to the Iraq war. He brings a rare understanding to the events of the region.
2. Peter H Diamandis, futurist, founder of X Prize
He wanted to be an astronaut but ended up being a space entrepreneur. With nearly a dozen space-related businesses to his credit, Diamandis has arguably crossed the final frontier: No, not space, but one that is helping people think in exponential terms in vying for his various X Prizes. He founded the X Prize to solve a space problem but soon realised its power for solving other grand challenges. Prizes for growing human organs and predicting earthquakes are in the works. If his book Abundance showed how technology is leading us to a world of plenty in energy, food, education and health, his forthcoming book Bold, he claims, will teach us the tools to create that world of abundance. An infinite fountain of energy, he warns against the negativity of the news media, which, he says, “is a drug pusher, and bad, negative news is their drug”.
3. Wolfgang Streeck, director, Max Planck Institute
“I will argue that the present crisis can only be fully understood in terms of the ongoing, inherently conflictual transformation of the social formation we call ‘democratic capitalism’.” German sociologist Streeck wrote this in a landmark analysis of the global economic and political crisis in the September-October 2011 issue of the New Left Review. Streeck has critically analysed ‘financial capitalism’ and questioned the formulaic approach of policymakers and economists to the crisis based on standard economic theories. The New Left Review article titled ‘The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism’ powerfully described the political economy of the Western world and the ills plaguing it. He has questioned the meaning of growth as it is conventionally understood and suggested that fundamental conflicts, especially between democracy and capitalism, have become so deep-rooted now that tradition doesn’t offer answers.
4. Michael Sandel, professor, Harvard University
If you try to place Sandel in the political spectrum, he will fall left of the centre. He is for equality; he is for affirmative action; his latest book is subtitled ‘The moral limits of the market’, which, wrote Chief Economic Adviser Raghuram Rajan, “gently tries to stoke our outrage at the market’s growing dominance”. You have to follow Sandel not for the destination he nudges you towards, but for the journey. His discussions have immediacy (his examples are often newspaper stories), his method is Socratic (questions are his primary tool) and the effect among the audience is often a resolve to substitute gut reactions to moral questions with critical thinking. Our advice: Don’t just follow him, get into a debate.
If you want to know anything about the universe of food, Michael Pollan is the man to go to. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual are some of the bestselling works that made Pollan one of the foremost writer’s on the entire value chain of food—from photosynthesis to the cooked morsel. Pollan has consistently criticised the modern industrial-scale food production and the practices associated with it. In his books, he explores the evolution and relationship of food and man, as also the industry and politics of the meal on the table. There is some criticism that his arguments are simplistic and non-scientific but that is perhaps being dismissive. Pollan consulted for and appeared in Robert Kenner’s 2008 documentary Food Inc, a revolting portrait of America’s food industry, especially meat and poultry production.
Image: Alia Malley