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A Creative Culture Requires A Leisured Elite

Trying new things is a luxury.  A wild animal that tries to play with its default script probably ends up dead.  Human societies, though, are actually required to try new things or else a more inventive society outcompetes them.  How a society manages its creative output is a matter of existential importance.

The greatest breakthroughs and masterpieces have always come from those who can labor at their work without distraction and who have significant creative freedom.
The ancient world produced works of genius that still stand out today.
This is completely astonishing when we consider that population size, wealth, and the distribution and storage of information were pathetic compared to now.
Surely the works of Ancient Greece ought to compare to our own as petroglyphs compare to Renaissance painting.  This may hold true if we consider technology, but not in the realm of culture and creativity.  Even when we consider technology, it’s amazing what they could accomplish with limited knowledge and resources.  Amazingly, much of what we have now is merely derivative of what the Greeks had 2500 years ago.

If we look at the creativity of societies in the past, one thing we must notice is that the creators weren’t ordinary people who worked on philosophy or poetry after a day in the fields.
Without exception, the people who produced the best and highest culture came from a small but leisured and insulated class of individuals.
For most of history, 90%+ of people were subsistence farmer peasants, yet so long as even a tiny fraction of 1% had the freedom to be professional creators, it was enough to create enduring culture.

Modern American culture idolizes the myth of someone who can work full time, take night classes, raise a family, and write the next great novel all at once. Thousands of years of human experience, however, tells us that the highest quality creative work requires complete devotion just like any other discipline.

There are of course professional creative people today—far more by numbers and proportion than there ever were in previous societies. There’s a big difference though. Modern creators are still paid workers.

The most creative people in older societies were invariably allowed to live free from the concerns of the market economy. They belonged to a leisured, aristocratic class that would have seen such affiliations as vulgar, even if they lived an ascetic lifestyle. They understood that if you depend on the next paycheck you can’t say what you really think. You have to give your audience what it wants right now or else you’re broke.
When it comes to modern creative talents people throw around the words “authentic” and “sellout.” These distinctions are an illusion when everyone lives in the market economy. Everyone is a sellout when everyone has to sell themselves.
This conflict of interest ensures that great creative work is scarce when everyone is busy earning a living. The market will produce plenty of what sells right now, but precious little anyone cares about 100 or 1000 years from now.
The market knows only the present, so a high quality creative class requires some degree of insulation from its caprices.
In the past, most advancement came from the few people who didn’t have to worry about wealth. Even where they did not have talent themselves, they might become patrons. Patrons were not really the same as employers because they were not directly trying to turn a profit. Moreover, patrons were a single person whom an artist could reason with. Artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo both negotiated with their patrons in the middle of the creative process and had some measure of control.
There is no arguing with market demand. The many wants what it wants right now. So when the market prevails we will never see epic works that take half a lifetime to produce, nor works that don’t ape today’s popular taste. Worst of all, the market forces creative people to answer to the masses.

In the past, the few professional creative people were protected by forming tight knit peer groups.
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle represented three generations of master and apprentice, each of them supported in leisure by their society within a school of their making.  We might also consider that Pythagoras or Epicurus thrived as well within their own tribe of students.
In the past, ascetics and mystics formed another sort of leisured aristocracy.  Consider Diogenes who lived on public charity, or that the very name ‘dervish’ originally means a beggar,  or the experiences of John the Baptist, Jesus, any number of saints in the wilderness.   Across the planet, societies that nurtured their mystics have developed lasting spiritual traditions.
Even consider how modern science and education was largely pioneered by monks who had the rare leisure to study and question within the protected environment provided by the clergy.
A universal market economy, though, by its nature has no place for such “low productivity” slow growing endeavors.

Consider how the Romanticist poets all knew each other, most all of them from leisured aristocratic backgrounds.
Tolkien and C.S. Lewis knew each other, both academics with tenure at a university that still had a strong aristocratic tradition.
Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft profited richly from corresponding though both suffered terribly from being trapped in the market economy.  It speaks volumes that like their spiritual predecessor, Edgar Allen Poe, they had to sacrifice themselves to create enduring work.   Imagine what they could have accomplished had they been leisured aristocrats.
One small group of creative peers who needn’t fear for money are a more powerful force than an entire modern hive cluster of hundreds of millions where everyone is slave to money.
Constant busyness at pointless jobs is one of the biggest drains of productivity, the slayer of creativity in a population. The overworked do not tolerate idle creativity in others. Like-minded people are the substrate on which the individual grows. Just as guerilla insurgents cannot survive without a sympathetic population to harbor them.

Not long ago, societies could only afford to have a tiny number of people trying new things. But like efficient bodies honed by evolution, they made the small amounts of energy they spent on their R and D departments count so they were not subsumed by their competitors.
Now with greater modern wealth, we may do well to observe the successful practices of leaner times and apply them on a larger scale.

See also: Smart Socialism,
How the Middle Class Used to Be Affordable

How Fleeing Ancestral Parasites Enabled Civilization

“The extraordinary variety of human parasites that exist in Africa suggests that Africa was the principal cradle for humankind, for nowhere else did the adjustment between human and nonhuman forms of life achieve anything like the same biological elaboration.

Many of the parasitic worms and protozoa that abound in Africa do not provoke immune reactions.
Opportunities for transfer from one host to another multiply with increased human density…when a critical threshold is surpassed, infection can suddenly develop into runaway hyperinfection.  Such epidemic situations seriously interfere with normal activity…

This…can soon reduce a population until the local density sinks safely below the threshold necessary for hyperinfection.

The establishment of human hunters at the top of the food chain…did not…do much to alter these age-old ecological relations.  In triumphantly claiming a new niche, humanity did not, therefore, transform the system as a whole.

Until relatively recent times (say five thousand years ago), human communities in Africa played a comparatively modest role amid the abundance of other life forms.  Humans were the chief predators, to be sure, but remained relatively rare in the balance of nature.
It is…mainly because sleeping sickness…remains so devastating to human populations that the ungulate herds of the African savanna have survived to the present.   Without modern prophylaxis, humans simply cannot live in regions where the tsetse fly abounds…Within the tsetse’s range, something resembling a pre-human ecological balance survives to the present.

In leaving tropical environments behind, our ancestors also escaped many of the parasites and disease organisms to which their predecessors and tropical contemporaries were accustomed.

Humanity’s place within the balance of nature in tropical regions differed fundamentally from what developed in temperate and Arctic climatic zones.
The array…of infections and infestations was vastly diminished from what had thriven in the tropical luxuriance of humanity’s oldest habitat.

Thus humankind’s biological dominion in temperate climes assumed a different order of magnitude from the start.
Humanity was in a situation like rabbits met when introduced into Australia.  Lacking both natural predators and natural parasites in the new environment…

Food production permitted a vast and rapid increase in the number of people, and so sustained the rise of cities and civilizations.”

Plagues and Peoples
William H McNeill

Excerpts taken from pages, 19-30 in no exact order so long as I put the main idea out there as succinctly as possible.
This guy is brilliant, but he really needed an editor.

Nanotechnology in Ancient Times

“According to a 2000-year-old recipe for hair dye, the ancient Greeks and Romans were harnessing a scientific force that they had no idea even existed – they were using nanotechnology on their very own heads.
The Greeks and Romans used hair dye with some measure of frequency, most often for the purpose of dying their gray hair to black. Their dry mixture contained ingredients such as slaked lime and lead oxide, which – when exposed to human hair for approximately 3 days – causes nanocrystals made from lead sulfide to form inside the shaft of hair.
This reaction is caused when sulfur from the amino acids that are naturally present in hair keratins mix with the lead in lead oxide – initially, this is what causes the hair to turn black, but it apparently also causes lead sulfide nanocrystals that are highly similar to those found in modern, advanced scientific processes!
In simpler terms, the chemical compound that forms inside of the human hair is what colors the hair without damaging it – and the process by which the hair is dyed black is very similar to modern nanotechnology. Fortunately for the Greeks and Romans, this kind of lead-based hair dye is safe for human use, since the compound typically has trouble penetrating the skin.
Interestingly enough, the chemical engineering that came from this dye process – where the tiny crystal structures line up to form ‘quantum dots‘ – is something that scientists have admitted is a “current challenge in nanotechnology”, and is actually a process that researchers are currently trying to figure out how to develop on their own.”


quantum dots picture

These substances were colored by quantum dots in a modern laboratory. The principle at work is related to that used in ancient hair dye

Why We Use A Decimal System

Most cultures around the world independently arrive at a decimal system for counting things?
Why is this?

Because that’s the number of fingers on our hands. Childish and simple, but the truth. Look at a synonym for a number in our language: a ‘digit.’

Thus, can we say a decimal metric system is necessarily more ‘rational’ than a standard system largely based around numbers like 12 and 16?

Ancient Mesopotamian cultures based their numeral system around the number 60, evenly divisible by 12.

Computers are set up to do many things in hexadecimal, base 16, rather than the base 10 preferred by its ten-fingered users.

It makes best mathematical sense to use numbers most easily divided and factored as a base.
Thus a race of aliens with 13 fingers might also create computers that use base 16.

If we were to suppose the divine is reflected in the nature of the universe, Would humans in the image of the divine have had 12 or 16 fingers instead of 10?

Reconstructing Ancient Irish Musical Instruments

Flavor in Ancient Rome

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