Category: Culture

What the Most Famous Love Story of the Middle Ages Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Uncle Fulbert: Abelard, Heloise, and the Culture of Narcissism

It was the love story of the Middle Ages, and one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Abelard, the premier philosopher of the twelfth century and an instrumental force in the rise of the University of Paris, had become attracted to the comely young Heloise, a teenage girl about twenty years his junior, who had already gained a reputation for her learning.

He approached Heloise’s Uncle Fulbert (her guardian) and proposed to live with him and take Heloise under his erudite wing. Fulbert eagerly agreed, proud that his smart niece had been chosen by the leading intellectual light of Europe for special instruction. Fulbert turned Heloise over to Abelard, giving him constant access to her, the right to direct her studies night and day, and even to administer corporal punishment. Under such circumstances, it didn’t take Abelard long to seduce Heloise. They carried on an affair in Fulbert’s house for months, Fulbert blind to it. (Abelard would later write, citing St. Jerome and referring to Fulbert, that a man is invariably the last to know what is going on in his own home; everyone knows what a woman is up to before her father or husband.)

Fulbert eventually learned of the affair and tossed Abelard out of the house. But Abelard had fallen passionately in love with his victim, so they carried on … Read the rest

How Alcohol Fuels Civilization

Gonna pick me up a six-pack of art this evening

Marshall McLuhan made himself a household name, writing about media. Media are tools, things that extend ourselves: a hammer extends our fist, flashlights extend our eyes, etc.

I’m not sure he ever considered whether alcohol might be a medium. That’s the theory of a new book by Edward Slingerland (not Scissorhand), Drunk: How we sipped, danced, and stumbled our way to civilization.

The basic premise: Our prefrontal cortex does the reasoning, thinking, and analysis. It, in other words, is the boring part of the brain. When it swells, like it does when we’re concentrating on making a living, it stifles the creative and fun part of the brain. In order to increase creativity and fun, we need to shrink it. Alcohol is a tool that allows us to shrink it.

Slingerland, a philosopher at the University of British Columbia in Canada, has a novel thesis, arguing that by causing humans “to become, at least temporarily, more creative, cultural, and communal… intoxicants provided the spark that allowed us to form truly large-scale groups”. In short, without them, civilisation might not have been possible.

This may seem an audacious claim, but Slingerland draws on history, anthropology, cognitive science, social psychology, genetics and literature, including alcohol-fuelled classical poetry, for evidence. He is an entertaining writer, synthesising a wide array of studies to make a convincing case.

Without

Read the rest

The Other Side of Vegas is on This Side of Vegas

Aches in my head, bugs in my bed
Pants so old that they shine
Out on the street, tell the people I meet
Won’ch buy me a bottle of wine

The Fireballs

So, my post yesterday definitely signals that I’m enthusiastic about Las Vegas.

But let me offer a few caveats.

First, the trash. I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy Day lately, so I realize I shouldn’t refer to “the poor” as “trash,” but I can’t deny that the term repeatedly bopped into my head. There are a lot of bums on the street downtown. It’s not at California levels by any stretch, but it might be on its way. I don’t think I saw any bums during my last trip in November 2019. But this trip? They’re all over the place in the downtown district.

On top of that, no one seems to care. They’re crashed throughout the downtown district, and the attitude seems to be, “What can we do?” One guy was sleeping in one of the Golden Nugget’s outdoor planters on top of the plants with no objection from the Nugget. It’s almost like they’re sacred cows.

Second, the trash. You don’t have to be passed out on the street to qualify as trash. You can just be disturbingly large yet wear revealing clothes, be inconsiderate of everyone around you, and use the “f word” in lieu of all other verbal … Read the rest

How I Use the Gardening Blockchain Crypto-Johnson Rod Algorithm to Deal with the Modern World

Confused and Contented in the Garden

“I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.” The financier/philosopher Nassim Taleb starts one of his chapters with these words in Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.

Taleb goes to great lengths to point out that modernity (a thing he loathes) is a highly complicated world that, truth be recognized, nobody understands. The world is integrated, labyrinthine, complex, technological, speedy–all adjectives he employs. And he’s right.

It reminds me of a conversation that my wife and I had last spring. She was talking about a friend’s investments and his conviction that the United States economy is going to fall apart. In addition to gold and silver, he’s also buying guns. She asked what I thought, and I basically said, “Yeah, maybe. And definitely, at some point . . . like maybe in 500 years or maybe next week. Who can possibly know? You know what I know? I know that sickly spinach plant I re-planted two weeks ago is going to make it. That’s what I know.”

I don’t understand this world. Heck, it goes beyond that: I don’t understand the world, trust the world, or even particularly like the world.

The World

Now, by “world” I mean the modern world, the cultural-economic milieu in which I find myself. I’m not referring to creation or other people in general. I’m not a Gnostic who thinks … Read the rest

I Was There When Vegas Came Back

What I Saw in Sin City

I went to Las Vegas last week, spending four nights at the iconic Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas. I spent Tuesday evening walking from the Nugget to the Strat, where I surveyed Vegas from 100 stories high for two hours.

The next morning, I covered five miles of downtown Las Vegas on foot, covering huge swaths of area.

On Thursday, I walked the length of the Strip, clocking in over 32,000 steps.

I took a two-hour bus tour and talked with the guide. I talked with Uber drivers. I chatted with all sorts of workers, from a farmers market vendor a half-mile north of Fremont Street to bartenders who make those frozen concoctions along the Strip.

I made notes. I came home and surfed the web. I bounced observations off my traveling companion (wife).

I then put all this into a giant blender and poured out these observations.


Primary Observation: Vegas is Back

Vegas, economists say, got hit the hardest among major cities. Nevada casinos alone saw revenues drop $6 billion in 2020. Vegas’ lucrative convention business was shut down. The reverberation through everything—other tourist attractions, hotels, restaurants—has been devastating.

I could see it Tuesday evening when Marie and I walked 2.1 miles from the Golden Nugget to the Stratosphere. We marveled at the ghost town feeling. After we left the Fremont Street area (which had … Read the rest

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed in Modern Day America

“Peter Verkhovensky meet John Styn. John, Peter is the descendant of godless liberal enlightenment thinkers who now wants violence and revolution. Peter, John is the descendant of an ex-Baptist minister who likes to hug a lot.”

That’s what went through years ago when I clicked on a Yahoo feature story about a website called “Hug Nation” that promotes actual and cyber hugging. Hugs, hugs, hugs; it’s all about hugs. Young John Styn started it with his elderly grandfather, Caleb Shikles.

Relevant excerpts: “Hug Nation was the brainchild of Caleb’s grandson, John Styn, a Burning Man disciple, artist and Internet pioneer with pierced nipples, washboard abs, shocking pink hair and a dizzying creative energy. . . [Caleb] went to college, got married and became a Baptist preacher. A civil rights and anti-war activist, he worked with Martin Luther King for a week during a trip to Denver.”

A few things stand out about Caleb. He’s an ex Baptist minister, though he apparently didn’t lose his faith entirely (his funeral was held at a United Church of Christ church). He lived in California. He was part of the civil rights movement and an anti-war activist. Based on the foregoing and a few other things I read about the man online, I’m reasonably certain he had a strong leftward bent. I think it’s safe to say his faith was probably the watered-down version that’ is more interested in … Read the rest

How to Find Diversity without Even Trying

Re-thinking our obsession with diversity

Religion is good for you. Religious participation, sociologists tell us, correlates with lower levels of criminality, better health, greater marital stability, and greater well-being.

According to an article awhile back in the Atlantic Monthly, sociologists and economists are studying this phenomenon further and, in the process, have discovered other things. For instance, they’ve discovered that Catholics are likelier to attend Mass if they live in a heavily Catholic neighborhood.

This doesn’t surprise me. When I attended the University of Michigan, I never heard any Catholics discuss Mass, confession, fasting on Fridays during Lent, etc. When I went to the University of Notre Dame, such topics came up all the time. Students discussed what churches have the best (okay, shortest) Mass. They moaned about fasting. Notre Dame back then was 91% Catholic. When almost everyone around you is Catholic, you’re more comfortable being Catholic and acting like one.… Read the rest

Blowing Away Fascist Resentment

The redemption of Philip Johnson

photography of roadway during dusk
Photo by Jiarong Deng on Pexels.com

Cancel culture comes at another dead white male. But this time, it’s a dead white homosexual male: Philip Johnson, Ohioan, architect, and Nazi. But msn.com doesn’t like it. It understands it. “White supremacy,” it says, is “the west’s original sin,” so it’s no surprise that Johnson fell for it in one of its worst forms (Fascism), but he changed his views, employed black men, and banged dudes, so he ought to be forgiven.

I gotta say, that last redeeming trait gives me the biggest motivation of all not to be perceived as a racist. “Well, Eric, you applied a toxic blanket characterization to an entire race of people. You can either die a scourge of society, with your children spending the rest of their lives apologizing for your indiscretion, or you can let Franz the Trans bed you publicly. Your call.”

It’s interesting that Johnson is now being attacked. When he died back in 2005, no one said anything about his embrace of Fascism. Here’s Richard John Neuhaus writing in 2005:… Read the rest