Measuring Civilization: Wheels on Meals

Image

Are you civilized?  Is your neighbor?  How about your President?

Trick question.

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a measure of “how” civilized we are.  Sure, an economist will point to GDP, a geographer could point to population, and a librarian could point to how many reference works exist.

But HOW civilized are we?

One measure put forward many years ago has to do with eating.

I love eating.  And I love studying behavior.  Let’s put the two together.

If I took your civilization and withheld the food supply so it was, say, 25% of normal, what would happen?

Would many people starve quietly, still obeying the rules of decency and law so that civilization continued peacefully?

Or would there be some sort of breakdown in the rules?  Would people become more like wild animals, stealing, robbing, murdering, even cannibalizing?

Let’s bring some rigor to the process.

Take any group of people, say the group you’re stuck in a meeting with today, and make them supreme.  By that I mean, make everyone else in the world go away.  They have the whole Earth to call their own.

How long can this group survive using the rules of society they grew up with?  Will they thrive and grow into a new society?  Or will they end up at each other’s throats?  Or, my favorite, will they run away from each other, dying alone?

Make the group your whole nation.  Or the whole Earth.  You choose the group.

Then restrict their food.  Give them only so many calories every quarter day.

Here’s where the fun starts.

I know that when I get hungry, I attack.  I attack the fridge.  MUST EAT screams my stomach.  The rest of the body follows.  When my stomach is full I go back to being all nice and civilized.

How many quarter days would I allow civilization to survive?  Maybe two.

How about you?

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Vendetta

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Last P&P post covered the fact that the omniscient narrator was making a mistake.  I know, it seems crazy, but there it is.  She (of course it’s a she!) makes claims about Mr. Bennet that aren’t shown in the book.  

What we didn’t cover was why the narrator would make mistakes like that.  What is she hiding?  More importantly, what is Jane Austen trying to prove?

I’m not sure what Jane was thinking, but it certainly makes the book far more complex.  It means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.  Even worse, the narrator has a thing against Mrs. Bennet.  How do I know?  Check out this evidence.

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

Talk about getting slammed!  The narrator is pretty much saying Mrs. Bennet who is weak, illiberal, no longer gets any affection, respect, esteem, or confidence.

But the book doesn’t hold up any of those claims.  True, Mr. Bennet never kisses her or says he loves her, but a lot of that didn’t go on back in those days anyway.  At the same time, he does show her respect and confidence throughout.  So what’s going on here?

The only thing I can figure is that the narrator has it in for Mrs. Bennet.

Maybe they were childhood rivals, and the narrator is in love with Mr. Bennet?  Or perhaps it’s a sister that no one likes to talk about.  At any rate, the narrator takes great pains throughout the story to slam Mrs. Bennet whenever she can.  Why?

Even if you think this is crazy talk, consider this.  No one writes tighter than Jane Austen.  It’s like reading a compressed computer file that expands in your head.  So why should Jane keep going on and on about how silly Mrs. Bennet is?

There can only be one reason.  Mrs. Bennet is truly a genius but hides it well.  The narrator is jealous, but since she’s a narrator she doesn’t have much recourse to revenge but telling us lies about Mrs. Bennet.  That’s where the vengeance comes in.

What who did when, I don’t know.  But I’ll get to the bottom of it.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to read more Jane.

Forgotten Warriors

Image

Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Mistakes

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Back in writing class I learned that the omniscient narrator was, well, omniscient.  That means they know everything.

Since the author DOES know everything, and since the narrator is also the author, that makes sense.

But what if they weren’t the same?

That means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.

Need some evidence?  Here you go:

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

It’s pretty hard hitting, with the narrator letting us know how hard life has been for Mr. Bennet.  That last line is the hardest of all; he’s lost all respect, esteem, and confidence in Mrs. Bennet.  Wow.

Wait just a minute.  One of the things that strikes me about Jane Austen’s writing is that she is tight, super tight.  When she describes something, or someone, she doesn’t waste space or words.  We learn Lydia is tall and stout.  Austen tells us this in two separate places, only once.

But when it comes to certain things, the narrator just keeps going on and on.  We’ll get to that in the next post.  What’s critical here is that Austen does everything right – her characters do exactly what she wants them to do.

So, let’s look at the three items that Mrs. Bennet has lost in the eyes of Mr. Bennet.

Respect.

How do you show someone respect?  You leave their personal space alone.  You don’t talk when they are talking.  You don’t badmouth them behind their back.  You address them politely at all times.

Guess what?  Mr. Bennet does exactly all those things throughout the book.  So how is that he has lost respect?  He certainly has lots of opportunities to show it.

Esteem?  This is a hard one so I’ll leave it for later.

What about confidence?

This one’s easy.  How do you show confidence in someone?  You trust their decisions, you don’t second guess them, you don’t “micro-manage” their activities.  Guess what?  Yes, it’s happened again.  Mr. Bennet does in fact trust his wife to make all sorts of decisions, including managing the girl’s education.  How about that?

We’ll talk about why the narrator makes these mistakes next.  But for now, it’s sufficient to show that the narrator certainly is not omniscient.  In fact, I don’t think the narrator even read the book.

So what I learned back in writing class was a start, but studying Jane Austen?  That’s a master class.

 

.

Non-Urban Design

Image

There’s this kind-of discipline that exists at the intersection of architecture, geography, economics, politics, and civil engineering.  I know almost nothing about it, so that qualifies me to sound off.

This discipline is another aspect of behavior.  The better their theories about behavior in general, and specifically regarding living conditions, the better their work.

So here’s a fun project for our unsung planners.  Consider this scenario.  You have a planet, much like Earth, and a good distribution of resources.  Nothing is infinite, but let’s not go too crazy.  Speaking of crazy, let’s limit the area to 100,000 square kilometers.

What’s the smallest city-size you can make for a city-state containing 10 million people?

What’s a city?  Let’s say it’s a concentration of people more than 1,000 per square kilometer, OR the same area containing two or more buildings taller than three stories.

Yes, my conditions are a bit arbitrary, but it’s a start.  With today’s technologies, why do we even need cities?  Let the planners chew on this.  And who knows?  They might come up with some pretty cool ideas that we can use to eventually get rid of cities entirely.

Now THAT’S planning.

 

Pride and Prejudice: No Means No

Great Novel, Great Novelist

I certainly never thought I’d be talking about #MeToo in the context of Jane Austen, yet here it is.

It started with an attractive French cloth featuring a folk song about the wonders of local liquors and love.  It begins with a young man enticing a young woman with small vials of different spirits.  It ends in a haystack.  I thought he might have been trapped.  My wife suggested date rape.

And that got me thinking about the whole “no means no” subject.  After all, quite a few guys go through adolescence being told that “no means yes.”  And that’s where Mr. Collins comes in.

He is adamant that, according to popular lore, a young lady will say no but really mean yes.  In the context of P&P, we know he’s referring to matrimony.  But in the context of Jane Austen, she likely knew that she was referring to almost anything young women do in the context of men.

Exactly where did Mr. Collins learn this wisdom of femininity?  Probably on the street corner with his other guy buddies boasting of their prowess.  Jane doesn’t tell us, it’s not relevant to the story and it doesn’t make it any funnier.  How could it get funnier?

Here’s Elizabeth doing her best to get rid of this oaf, and he refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She asks him for respect, for dignity, for some recognition that she has a head on her shoulders and can think for herself.  He still doesn’t quite get it.

And I’m willing to bet that Jane was familiar with the condition.  There’s a darn good chance that she had her own “no means no” moment, and she took it to heart.  The fact that she could weave it into one of the best novels of all time is to our advantage.  I’m just glad I finally figured it out.

 

Dividing Flirt from Felon

Image

I was in a meeting the other day where two friendly members made a professional date.  Alan then made comments to Barb that made me uncomfortable.  Barb laughed them off, so I’m not sure if she felt the same way.  To make sure, I’m going to ask her the next time we meet.  If she was uncomfortable, then I’m going to ask permission to talk to Alan.

It got me thinking about more important things.  Those things have to do with biology.  Our very genes want us to make more of ourselves.  Our genes also encourage us to have a partner.  These are not necessarily the same thing, but they can be.

More importantly, the urge to reproduce is very ancient.  That “phenotype” is one of the very first to be programmed into sexual animals.  After all, if an animal didn’t have the urge to reproduce, their species wouldn’t be around very long.

The other phenotype is wanting to have a partner.  That’s fairly unique among animals, but not unique to humans.  Plenty of other organisms like to have long-term mates.  It makes sense.  They get to know you, you know them, you help each other out.

Alan and Barb also have these urges.  Barb is young so that both urges are probably strong, despite her having a boyfriend.  Alan is older and married, so his urge *should be* less.

This means that each wants to be alluring to the other.  Yes, both already have others in their lives, but that doesn’t mean their basic urges turn off.  So we end up with this:

  1. We want to be alluring.
  2. When we’re talking with someone we like, we let them know by flirting.
  3. If, and this is huge:
    1. Both people want the same thing (each other) then they are going to keep flirting, and talk, and touch, and before you know it they become intimate.
    2. Both people DON’T want intimacy, this is what happens.
      1. At a certain point, one person’s flirting becomes another person’s harassment.
      2. If the person who is harassing doesn’t stop, the harassment is assault.

And there’s the rub.  Both people want to be liked.  Both people want to enjoy each other’s company.  But to the extent we must encourage allurement and flirting (in any form), then we must also encourage learning when to stop.

That’s part of what #MeToo is all about.

Societies that don’t want to deal with all of this tend to suppress their women in burlap and burkhas.  Even in the most modern societies, you can find women who are being bundled up.

Is it bad?  Is it good?

Neither.  It only is.  But the conversation is important.

So, as Jane Austen’s Elizabeth says to her Aunt Gardiner: “Where does discretion end and avarice begin?”

 

Pride and Prejudice: Copycat

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Every now and then I feel a pang of guilt because I’m studying P&P so closely in order to improve my own story.

It’s not like I’m stealing anything from Jane.  Hardly.  A lot of times I’m paying homage to her genius.

Why should I feel guilty?

Because it’s the first time I’m doing this.

The greatest artists always copied great art before them.  When they became great, they usually start copying themselves.  Check out Rodin, one of the greatest sculptors of all time.  His early works and his later works are very much derived from each other.

We watched a silly monster movie the other night.  It featured “marines” fighting “artificially intelligent robots” that had broken their programming.  I put all those things in quotes because those characters didn’t act anything like what the words are saying.  They were simply misleading labels to substitute for “teenagers” and “magic monsters.”

How many movies are there where some unknown monster preys upon unsuspecting souls?  Even Stanley Kubrick, the greatest of the great directors, made a monster movie using basically the same formula.

So, copycat?  Heck yes.  In fact, I urge all of us to go out and copy something.

Only, please make it something good.  Copying something poor is only going to give me a headache.  And that’s something you don’t want to copy.

 

 

 

Jeweler Screws

Image

As a student of behavior, it’s great to make sweeping generalizations inspiring others.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore details that muddy up one’s life.

This is one of those diddly details.  I’m trying to make the best of it, and use it as a lesson for staying on track and being a good STUDENT of behavior, instead of a VICTIM.

For our 25th anniversary, and for Valentines, and for her 50th birthday, and for recognizing neutron stars, I wanted to do something very special for my wife in solid gold.  That’s total gold.  24 carat.  No extra ingredients.

Jewelers don’t like pure gold because it’s very soft.  But I wanted pure gold in a very special shape.  Not only because it was a special occasion with special math involved (halves and all that), but also because physicists and chemists had figured out where gold comes from.

Colliding neutron stars.  Cool, huh?  So all the gold on Earth started out as space dust spewed out from a couple of neutron stars that couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

Now, four years ago when I did this, it was only a partial theory than generally accepted physics, because there was no evidence.  Then, only last year, we got evidence.  Three huge telescopes that are set up to measure gravity waves recorded the collision of two neutron stars.  Bang.  Gold!  And a whole lot of other heavy elements.

Back to me and the jeweler.  I asked them to make this.  They were local, they were nice, and they did it.  Cost a lot.  My bride was very happy.  She always is.  Heck I could have made it out of steel and she would have been just as happy.

Fast forward four years.  The jeweler has moved.  My wife is taking out the jewelry, and guess what?  It’s tarnished.  What?  She tries to remove the tarnish, and it doesn’t come off.

Gold doesn’t tarnish.  I’m feeling, angry, anguished, cheated, vengeful, disappointed, angry again, depressed, and trapped.  Angry with them, angry with myself.  How could I have allowed this to happen?

I’ll go to another jeweler and get it checked.  I’ll go to a lawyer and see what my options are.  But my guess is that the money is gone, along with my friendly jeweler.

What’s the lesson?  I’ll let you help me figure it out.  The bigger point is that I can’t let it get to me.  My wife is still happy, she always will be.  The money is still gone, and it’s unlikely to come back.

At least this life’s lesson, this life event, can live on the internets so that others may be able to learn from it before it happens to them.

Learning.  That’s what being a student is all about.  I just wish it didn’t have to be so darn expensive.

Or painful.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Fight Club

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Fight club?  Isn’t that a reference to a brutal, physical, bloody pugilistic mess of masculinity and violence?

Why, yes.

There is something about watching a well-choreographed fight scene that draws many people, not only men, in order to find out how equal opponents will fare in the most brutal of sports.

The fight becomes more suspenseful when the opponents are unequal.  We expect one to win, and then, surprise, the underdog comes through.

Guess what?

Jane included a fight-club like scene right smack-dab in the middle of P&P.  You guessed it.  The chapter where Darcy comes and proposes to Elizabeth.  She’s the underdog.

I’m in the middle of writing my version of this chapter, and my admiration for Jane has gone up yet another notch.  She’s already pretty high up as it is, but this chapter is brilliant.  Here’s a breakdown of the fight, in five parts.

  1. Darcy comes in swinging.  He states his position, catching her with an unexpected left hook, and he’s confident of victory.  Liz bounces off the ropes, a bit dazed, but still in the fight.  Her “No thank you” is a light punch to the gut.  He’s not fazed.
  2. Darcy comes back with his demands, and Liz lets him have it with some of the best quick punches in history: you say you love me while insulting me!  He’s certainly a bit unsteady with this one.  NO ONE tells Darcy he’s not logical!
  3. He doesn’t fight back, but hits the ropes while Liz delivers some more blows, telling him that he separated Jane and Bingley.  He doesn’t argue, he’s proud of it!  That’s quite a defense there, holding up his hands to his face the entire time.
  4. Liz isn’t done.  Now she brings up the whole Wickham thing.  These are known as “feints” in boxing, because the blows don’t really land.  All they do is distract your opponent, and mix him up it does, as Darcy goes ballistic thinking about Wickham and the past.  But Liz has set him up for a series of punches known as the TKO.
  5. While Darcy is still hot, claiming he was too honest with her, and could have won if he’d been all nice and romantic, hiding his true feelings.  This is called dancing and weaving in the boxing ring.  Liz isn’t having any of it.  She’s focused on the kill:
    1. First Punch, a hard right.  If you had behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.  Wow.  This one draws blood, but he’s still standing.  We find out much later this has been hurting him for the entire rest of the story.
    2. Second Punch, a good left throwing him off balance.  Liz lets him know she wouldn’t have accepted him no matter what he said.  Ha!  At this point he thinks he’s still in the fight, but this is how you tell the great fighter (Lizzy) from the wannabe (Darcy).
    3. Third Punch, the technical knockout.  I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth.  This is the first time ANYONE ever said those words.  And it’s letting him know that he’s dead last in her eyes, Mister “Everyone Adores Me” totally getting cut down at the knees.  Fight’s over.

 

The whole thing is absolutely brilliant.  Darcy has barely enough energy to stand at the end and see her crowned the winner.  He says “You have said quite enough”, which in boxing language is “Uncle!”  He leaves, nursing serious wounds.

So the next time anyone says a romantic comedy doesn’t have enough action, point them to this story, this chapter, and let them read away.  It’s one of the bloodiest fight scenes in literature.  And the best part is that the suspense doesn’t end there, it only gets better.

Thank you Jane.