Hello all – happy Monday.
Sadly, other commitments mean that there’s no weekly article this week. But I do have some interesting links from around the web.
I also had a few reports that last week’s newsletter was caught by spam filters. If that happened to you, and you missed the article on cultivating serendipity, you can find it here:
The discovery of penicillin and X-rays; Newton and the apple; Archimedes in the bath. So often, it seems, someone trying their best to work out a difficult problem ends up stumbling onto the solution by accident. But do you have to leave everything up to chance? Or can you organise your life in a way that maximises the chances of these unintended benefits?
If you’ll permit me a little self-promotion, I spent some time recently assembling a glossary of words and phrases that you commonly encounter in the world of consumer packaged goods. It’s called FMCG.FYI, and it will help you tell your awareness from your emboss and your shelf wobblers from your six-sheets. #
Helen Lewis on learning to drive at age 37, and why it’s a singularly challenging – but also rewarding – experience:
“Everyone I knew told me that the rule for driving lessons is that you need one hour for every year of your age. That reflects the slower reaction times and greater nervousness associated with adulthood, as well as the brain’s dwindling plasticity. From birth to age 2, a baby makes 700 neural connections a second. That process slows as the brain matures, and a psychological shift also occurs: We insulate ourselves from our own weaknesses. I was terrible at team sports at school; today, I no longer play team sports. I once knew what a quadratic equation was; these days, I would fire up my phone’s calculator to subtract 37 from 64. The things that I was always good at? Well, that’s different. I’ve honed those skills so well that people will pay me money for them. But a well-worn groove can become a prison. The better you get at something, the greater the rewards – but the less acquainted you become with humiliation or humility. ‘One of the biggest reasons it gets harder to do new things as you get older is that new things are generally undignified at first (indeed, this is an excellent heuristic for discovering them) and the older you get, the more dignified you’re expected to be,’ the tech investor Paul Graham wrote recently.”
A fascinating paper from Stephan Heblich, Stephen J. Redding, and Hans-Joachim Voth that examines the economic effects of slavery on the industrial revolution in Britain.
They discover that areas of Britain with more slavery-derived wealth adopted industrial practices more quickly, mechanised more quickly and had higher per-capita wealth than areas with less slavery wealth. #
A thoughtful and personal essay by Jon Day on the phenomenon of hoarding, something his own father does and that he has a tendency towards himself:
“You could argue that the hoarder’s tragedy is his inability to convince society that the objects he treasures have value. The line between ‘having a lot of stuff’ and ‘being a hoarder’ is porous, dependent to a large extent on social norms… A hoard that has been curated can become a collection; a collection that has been labelled becomes an archive (just as a collector is merely a hoarder who has space for his stuff).”
Day draws an interesting parallel between the messiness of hoarding and the idea of western psychology and psychoanalysis:
“It’s no wonder psychoanalysts have found hoarders so fascinating: making order out of disorder is the hoarder’s problem and the analyst’s process… The psychoanalytic method has a lot in common with the hoarder’s. ‘All psychoanalyses are about mess and meaning, and the links between them,’ Adam Phillips writes in ‘Clutter: A Case History’. ‘If our lives have a tendency to get cluttered, apparently by themselves but usually by ourselves, most accounts of psychoanalysis have an inclination to sort things out.’”
“Joseph Henney’s emotional support animal WallyGator goes with him almost everywhere, from the grocery store to walks in the park. They hug each other and sleep in the same bed. WallyGator is an alligator.
“The two watch television together on the couch, and when Henney takes him to the farmers market, WallyGator gives hugs to shoppers – as long as they are OK with being that close to a 70-pound reptile with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth.”
David Greer explains the importance of plankton, those invisible but essential marine creatures:
“Tiny and virtually invisible as most plankton are, they make up more than 90% of the biomass in the world’s oceans and are collectively the lowest rung on the marine food chain. Everything we eat that comes from the ocean ultimately depends on plankton for its existence. As if that’s not reason enough to pay attention to the future of plankton, it’s worth considering that about half of the oxygen we take in with every breath also owes its existence to plankton.”
Like all other life on earth, plankton are threatened by the effects of climate change – with potentially disastrous consequences. #
Alex de Waal, who’s covered Eritrea for years, profiles its despotic leader Isaias Afewerki:
“No country in the world has a purer autocracy than Eritrea. The state of Eritrea is one man, Isaias Afewerki, who for twenty years was the leader of a formidable insurgent army that won a war of liberation against Ethiopia in 1991, and who has since ruled as president without constraint on his power. Three decades after independence, Eritrea has no constitution, no elections, no legislature, and no published budget. Its judiciary is under the president’s thumb, its press nonexistent. The only institutions that function are the army and security. There is compulsory and indefinite national service. The army generals, presidential advisers, and diplomats have been essentially unchanged for twenty-five years. The country has a population of 3.5 million, and more than half a million have fled as refugees – the highest ratio in the world next to Syria and Ukraine.”