Circles and Rectangles: Does Your House Shape You?

My first year as an undergraduate, I lived a in four-person dormitory suit. One day I entered the (rectangular) room of my suite-mate Bill and found that he had placed his bed, desk, etc. at diagonal angles to the walls.

“I got tired of everything being so rectilinear,” he said. It was funny how Bill’s new arrangement felt oddly disquieting.

A circular room, however was not an option.

People in some times and places have favored circular shapes and in other times rectangular shapes. Do these preferences say something about the societies?

These kinds of idea have a long history. In the early 1930s, the Soviet city planner Mikhail Okhitovich claimed that the right angle in architecture originated in private land ownership: curvilinear structures, whether they be round buildings or chairs with curved backs, were therefore communist in principle.

This quotation comes from a review essay in the Times Literary Supplement: “Seeing Straight,” discussing three books that examine questions of shape, perception, and society:

Vision is a form of cognition: the kinds of things we see shape the ways we think. That is why it is so hard to imagine the visual experience of our prehistoric ancestors, or, for that matter, the girls of nineteenth-century Malawi, who lived in a world without right angles. Inhabitants of, say, late Neolithic Orkney would only have seen a handful of perpendicular lines a day: tools, shaped stones, perhaps some simple geometric decoration on a pot. For the most part, their world was curved: circular buildings, round tombs, stone circles, rounded clay vessels . . . . What does a round building mean? Does it mean anything, or is the choice of one shape of house over another simply a matter of practicalities?

I think that I want to read at least one of the books reviewed, How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times.

As for my roommate Bill, he eventually put his furniture back in line with the walls, as the non-rectilinear arrangement made it too hard to move around his dorm room.

OK, It’s Their Holiday, But Really, the ATM Too?

Went to town with M. today—it’s our secular Sunday routine of coffeehouse brunch, newspapers (v. trad, that’s us), and then the laundromat and the grocery store.

The coffeehouse is owned by (extremely low-key) Christian ex-missionaries. I had checked the Facebook page to see if they were closing today for Easter — nothing posted there one way or another, so off we went.

When we arrived, however, there was a sign on the door to the effect that they were closing at noon, and the lone barista was totally overwhelmed by a long line of people all ordering cinnamon-ginger-latte-Italian soda-extra large-and-sugary drinks that take five minutes to make. (Really, why don’t they just go down the street and get a milkshake and a cup of coffee, then pour them together?)

All too soon the noon siren at the fire department blew.

With the clothes at the laundromat, we then went to the supermarket. One item on the short shopping list was potting soil, because M. is starting seeds in the greenhouse. But it was closed.

“Let’s try the hardware store,” I said. Nope, closed. Oh, and I needed cash for the week, so I walked to the bank, entered the ATM lobby and — “Temporarily Out of Service.” Now that’s really not fair. I feel marginalized and oppressed.

A Techo-Prophet Who Says the Web Has Harmed Us

Back when I was subscribing to Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly in the 1980s, Jaron Lanier made frequent appearances in its pages as techno-prophet extraordinaire.

He was the guy who was helping to invent virtual reality. He was presented as being miles ahead of the rest of us. He was, as this Smithsonian article, “What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web”  says, a Silicon Valley rock star.

Now he is a Silicon Valley heretic. And having seen the consequences, he has changed his mind about a number of things, including the whole “information wants to be free” mantra, which he helped to promote.

The mistake of our age? That’s a bold statement (as someone put it in Pulp Fiction). “I think it’s the reason why the rise of networking has coincided with the loss of the middle class, instead of an expansion in general wealth, which is what should happen. But if you say we’re creating the information economy, except that we’re making information free, then what we’re saying is we’re destroying the economy.”

The connection Lanier makes between techno-utopianism, the rise of the machines and the Great Recession is an audacious one. Lanier is suggesting we are outsourcing ourselves into insignificant advertising-fodder. Nanobytes of Big Data that diminish our personhood, our dignity. He may be the first Silicon populist.

“To my mind an overleveraged unsecured mortgage is exactly the same thing as a pirated music file. It’s somebody’s value that’s been copied many times to give benefit to some distant party. In the case of the music files, it’s to the benefit of an advertising spy like Google [which monetizes your search history], and in the case of the mortgage, it’s to the benefit of a fund manager somewhere. But in both cases all the risk and the cost is radiated out toward ordinary people and the middle classes—and even worse, the overall economy has shrunk in order to make a few people more.”

This is a challenging article, one that I plan to return to and absorb. Read it yourself.

Added: Rod Dreher talks about the Lanier article and how it dovetails with a lesson he learned in life: Never trust the Crowd.

How Ren Faires Changed the Counterculture

Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American CounterculturePersons interested in understanding festivals and other “temporary autonomous zones” might find insights in a new book from New York University Press, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture by Rachel Lee Rubin.

From the publisher’s description:

In order to understand the meaning of the faire to its devoted participants,both workers and visitors, Rubin has compiled a dazzling array of testimony, from extensive conversations with Faire founder Phyllis Patterson to interviews regarding the contemporary scene with performers, crafters, booth workers and “playtrons.” Well Met pays equal attention what came out of the faire—the transforming gifts bestowed by the faire’s innovations and experiments upon the broader American culture: the underground press of the 1960s and 1970s, experimentation with “ethnic” musical instruments and styles in popular music, the craft revival, and various forms of immersive theater are all connected back to their roots in the faire. Original, intrepid, and richly illustrated, Well Met puts the Renaissance Faire back at the historical center of the American counterculture.

Business Opportunity for the Next Generation

Tattoo removal. It‘s starting to take off (pun intended).

The psychological motivations for tattoo removal (change of lifestyle and relationship status, changes in body and skin over the years, upward mobility in society and employment, etc.) are a constant, and will lead to an even larger market for tattoo removal than currently exists today.

And some related critiquing:

By enlarging ourselves with tattoos, we’re belittling ourselves in the process. It’s a sign of our low expectations that having control over flesh decorations is considered to be the limit of our capacities as an individual.

Kind of related—how do you as a priest dress to be counter-hip so that hipsters will “relate” to you? We’ve been down this road before. Anyone remember “folk Masses” with tambourines?

Be authentic. Be real. Invest in a chain of tattoo-removal clinics. That is all.

Pagans Preparing for Collapse

Archdruid John Michael Greer and the Four Quarters Sanctuary figure in this article on “doom time religion.”

Based on my limited experience, a strong religious emphasis might hold a communal group together. Otherwise, the people you need are not always the ones who want to live in the commune. The hard workers don’t want to have to carry a bunch of parasites and wannabes who think that “communal living” equals “easy.”

Pentagram Pizza for May 18th

Twelve words for for bloggers, pointed towards people in the medical professions, but likely appropriate for academia as well.

• While we are in the workplace, some thoughts from a Psychology Today article on why “diversity training” is a waste of time. Or why good manners are better than rules enforced by bureaucratic idiots.

• More thoughts on cult-occult films of the 1960s, this time from Zan at The Juggler. I have a couple in my Netflix queue now.

Pentagram Pizza for April 21st

Week-old pizza from the back of the refrigerator …

• Here’s an idea for a novel: “two down-on-their-luck entrepreneurs who stumble upon the idea of reviving for-profit idolatry. Selling statues of household gods to the masses, and building a neo-pagan religion around it.” Um, I think that people have been doing this for some time.

Circus Breivik. Norwegian scholar of esotericism Egil Asprem analyzes the trial of Anders Behring Breivik. (He wrote about the shootings for the current Pomegranate.)

This trial will be about two things: psychiatry and ideology. Two drastically conflicting reports on Breivik’s mental health have already ensured this. Added to this, of course, is Breivik’s own clearly stated wish to be judged as sane, and have his actions confirmed as ideologically motivated.

Teaching classical philosophy to Brazilian schoolchildren:

I assured the students that until the nineteenth century hardly any philosopher was an atheist. Plato’s Euthyphro—with its argument about the relationship between ethics and the will of the gods—gets us into a lively discussion.

* This is called “edgy, irreverent outreach” by some of today’s Christians Jesus Followers. I think the pastor needs to look up “pathos” in the rhetorical dictionary, because he is doing it wrong. But to be fair, some long-ago saints would have agreed with him.

• Alcohol  “sharpens the mind.”  But “beer goggles” are real too.

Canada braces for more Danish aggression.