On the fall of Rome, part two

This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper. T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” Last week, we took a (very brief) look at how and why the Roman empire in the west fell, or rather faded away. The executive summary is that while there were certainly external pressures, the empire’sContinue reading “On the fall of Rome, part two”

On the fall of Rome, part one

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Percy Bysshe Shelley, “OzymandiAs” Those who worry about the impending collapse of our industrial civilisation often compare it – the United States in particular – to the Roman Empire. Even pieces like this one which attempt to deny the parallelContinue reading “On the fall of Rome, part one”

On desperation

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays Desperation is not, of course, to be confused with despair. Both are marked by the absence of hope, but whereas despair is passive, desperation is active. People sunk into despair tend to do nothing; desperate people will doContinue reading “On desperation”

On resilience

When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. Anon. After last week’s discussion of efficiency, it’s time to talk about its complement: resilience, literally the quality of springing back, like a rubber ball. It’s a broader and vaguer concept, with none of the satisfyingly crisp arithmetic we can bring to bear on efficiency, but IContinue reading “On resilience”

On discrimination

For nothing is more democratic than logic; it is no respecter of persons and makes no distinction between crooked and straight noses. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science Languages are never static, and words change their meaning; sometimes they come to mean the opposite of what they originally did. People now use literally to mean metaphorically,Continue reading “On discrimination”

On education

When Scythrop grew up, he was sent, as usual, to a public school, where a little learning was painfully beaten into him, and from thence to the university, where it was carefully taken out of him. thomas Love Peacock, Nightmare Abbey All human societies produce children in much the same way; education, in the broadestContinue reading “On education”

On time, its uses and abuses

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Only the Maya can claim to have been half as obsessed with time as our industrial civilisation is, and even they only went as far as devising a calendar so accurate it is said to be used by NASA. (ThisContinue reading “On time, its uses and abuses”

On festivity

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ode to the West Wind” The day before this post was published, up here in the northern hemisphere we had the 2020 Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. At these latitudes, the day doesn’t get noticeably longer until December 25th, which notContinue reading “On festivity”

On putting people into boxes

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. President George W. Bush There is much talk nowadays about polarisation, in politics and in society more generally. This is often blamed on social media, and the algorithms that tend to show you more of the same rather than anything likely to challenge yourContinue reading “On putting people into boxes”