Hot takes

Playing catchup

Readers of Storm of Steel, German philosopher Ernst Junger’s grisly First World War battlefield memoir, are treated to an astounding array of horrors – a harrowing years-long chronicle of horrific battle after battle, of countless comrades torn apart in front of the author’s eyes, of trenches literally built through the mass graves of previously slain combatants.

How did Junger and his fellow survivors of the war process their experiences without going insane?

I think the answer may be that they simply didn’t, because their experience of mechanized warfare was so raw, so new, that it wasn’t until years later that their minds – and humanity’s collective cultural mind – caught up to it and began to comprehend what the war had been.

We are always in our minds stuck in the trenches of of the last conflict- both in literal cases such as the world wars and in other types of trauma – while meanwhile our ongoing experiences sit off to the side, untouched, waiting for their turn to be processed.

It’s probably always been this way to some extent – after all, the unfolding of time is almost infinite in its nuances and complexities, while the process of adapting and evolving our culture in response to its sudden twists and turns is intrinsically slow.

In the case of the First World War, it wasn’t until around a decade after the conflict was over that most of the major memoirs about it were published, and we continue to talk and think about the conflict to this day – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the scope and incomprehensibility of its horror and its continuing impact on the course of history.

The problem is our growing backlog of complex historical traumas to wrestle with, and as the injustices pile up even higher we fall further and further behind the disastrous events that are happening now. This is a wonderful gift to the bad actors of today and tomorrow, who face an ever-increasingly remote possibility of accountability at some far-off future date that may never come.

Of course, we have never been truly caught up with the past – even at the best of times, history gives us more horrors to process than we could possibly handle – but the question is this: can we work to become more nimble and less reactive, to develop systems and techniques to nip more problems in the bud before they metastasize?

We must find a way to get farther ahead of the curve on history’s arc of brutality; otherwise, our ability to process our sorrows may break down entirely.

What happens then may be literally and figuratively unimaginable.

Frameworks

Run hide fight

Run, hide, fight is a protocol developed in the United States to deal with that country’s persistent problem of “active shooter scenarios” in classrooms, workplaces and other public spaces. The idea is simple and easy to remember, by design:

Run if you can. The best-case option: rapidly and non-violently avoiding the danger.

Hide if you can’t run. For example, if exits are blocked or if running is too dangerous.

Fight if all else fails.

Life Patterns

Making music together

In a time of commoditized pop music and duelling on-demand streaming services, it can be easy to forget that music is anything other than a generic product to be effortlessly and often unconsciously consumed. But music, perhaps moreso than any other art form, has always been as much about group interaction and co-creation as about mere audience reception.

Hot takes

Diaphany

We have many words to describe the desirable properties of human-made things: strength, durability, lightness, efficiency, simplicity, power, intuitiveness, and so on and so forth.

But we don’t really have a word to describe things that have all of these properties at once and in just the right balance between them for the given situation.

I would like to suggest that diaphany might serve as this missing term, and to propose that it might be particularly useful word at this phase of our social evolution as a species.

Frameworks

Logos, pathos, ethos

“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
-George Box

For centuries, philosophers have grappled with the concept of the metaphysical transcendence: what are the most fundamental divisions in reality, the ur-categories out of which all other categories emerge?

For medieval philosophers high on an epic blend of Plato and Christian theology, the answer was Beauty, Truth and Goodness, which they saw as three aspects of the same mystical ultimate One (also in their thinking synonymous with God in his glory and perfection).

Hot takes

On bullshido

Aikido is the martial art of defensive throws, joint locks and using your opponent’s energy against them – except that it isn’t, because it doesn’t really work.

Martial arts practitioners have coined the word bullshido to describe arts that seem legit on paper but that break down in the real world under even the slightest pressure testing.

I would propose that bullshido is everywhere – not just in the martial arts – and that by being alert to it we can protect ourselves from its various dangers.

Life Patterns

Follow the seasons

In the modern urbanized settings where most of us live today, it can be easy to neglect the seasons. But this is a mistake. The seasonal cycle of the natural world supplies a rhythm against which we can structure our lives.

Life Patterns

Gardening as practice and metaphor

There is a stereotypical view of gardening as a “soft” activity, a gently escapist pursuit suited to retirees with time on their hands and an aversion to loud noises. This stereotype is false. Gardening is one of the most essential of all physical and intellectual activities, bringing us in touch with the deepest core of what it means to be human.

Hot takes

What if this actually is the end?

My grandparents were born in the lands of the Austro-Hungarian empire, during one of history’s great cultural flowerings – a glittering golden age that gave the world Einstein, Freud, Kafka, Wittgenstein, Klimt, Tesla, Schrodinger, Rilke and dozens more of history’s greatest artists, scientists and inventors.

By the time they were teenagers, it was all over: the empire had disintegrated, kicking off two world wars and an unimaginable genocide in the process.

Hot takes

Max bougie

Bourgeois and bohemian used to be in harmony, the yin and yang of white people culture – for every SUV, a patchouli-infused VW van.

But not any more, because boho is dead, guys. Bougie won, and even “blue collar” folks are bougie now. Have you seen their pickup trucks?