Modern

Modern

Posts on events in the last few hundred years

When to Engage with Ideas You Don’t Think are Well Founded

In another place, some people got very upset that I would not engage in a discussion whether some populations have a hereditary difference in intelligence from other populations, and that I thought a famous professor who enthusiastically endorsed this idea had trusted some untrustworthy people. Doesn’t that make me a bad scientist who refuses to look at the data? Haven’t I talked about how I miss the rational argument culture of the early Net? Isn’t engaging with people a better way to convince them (and to convince onlookers) than implying that I think their ideas are silly? Am I just like those posturers on corporate social media who try to ban all dissent, or the lobby groups who try to ban research whose conclusions might harm their cause?

Read more

2021 Year-Ender

Victoria at sunset, fall 2021

Where now the blog and livejournal? Where the alert that was blowing?
Where are the drafts file and imagebank, and the wild words flowing?
Where is the strife about small wars, and the cathodes glowing?
Where is debate and discovery, and the archives growing?
They have passed like bits on a floppy, like tape in a dashboard
The sites have gone down one by one, by their owners abandoned.
Who shall turn the dry sheaves into green grass waving,
Or behold a sunken ship to the Sun returning?

With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien B.A.

So, 2021 is crawling out the door under a hail of bullets, arrows, javelins, beer bottles, and hurlbats. A lot happened.

I worked the 2021 election where Canadians told their representatives to go back to work and not ask for absolute power, and I got a part-time job with a large Canadian retailer after three years of unemployment.

I got vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic.

I finished the manuscript of my second book and am about to sent a draft around to contacts with the right interests.

I published my first article in a language other than English (Spanish, with the magazine Desperta Ferro).

Read more

Child Abandonment in Greek and Roman Egypt

When you point out some of the less appealing aspects of ancient societies, someone usually accuses you of anachronistic morality. For example, it is very hard to find a writer in the ancient world who objects to slavery as a malum in se. There were people who objected to the wrong kind of people being enslaved, or to cruelty to slaves, but there are very few surviving texts where anyone says that slavery is wrong in and of itself. Isn’t it unfair to accuse the ancients of not knowing that slavery was always wrong if none of them seems to have realized this? There are various counters to this, like pointing out that people who point out admirable aspects of ancient societies seldom face the same criticism. But the best counter is listing some ancient practices which other ancient people objected to. One of the central themes of Roman literature is complaining how terrible Romans in the author’s day are.

(content warning: child slavery, infant abandonment)

Read more

Remembrance Day 2021

I am having trouble writing my usual Remembrance Day post. In 2021, Canada finally lost its first war since the Chilcotin War in 1864 (the Chilcotin still belongs to the Tsilhqot’in, and that road was not driven through it). So far, our government has shamelessly betrayed the people in Afghanistan who helped it. Canadians are... Continue reading: Remembrance Day 2021

Debunkers Beware, All Publicity is Good Publicity

if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business. [When I announced my plans to build a huge new real estate development to the press], not all of them liked the idea of the world’s tallest building. But the point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.

Tony Schwartz (under the name of a failed businessman with a gift for self-promotion), The Art of the Deal (1987) c/o https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-modi-a-political-biography

As my gentle readers have probably noticed, I like factual, cautious things. So its frustrating to read or hear things which spend more time rebutting some hurting wrong opinion than presenting facts. I never heard this opinion, and I am reading this book or listening to this talk because I want to see what the author thinks about the topic. They only have so much time to reach me, so why do they waste most of it telling me not to think something I don’t think?

Read more

West versus East, or Primitive versus Modern?

Like me, this European wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) lives here because its ancestors were brought here and have been living here ever since! According to Thompson Rivers University these are an invasive species on the Saanich Peninsula. Photo by Sean Manning, May 2021

The wars I mean are those fought between two widely separated races accustomed to a different physical environment. Then it may naturally happen that each race or nation has developed an armament and a style of fighting suitable to the nature of the country in which it dwells, and is practically unable to alter its national arms and tactics. …

The best examples which history offers of this are the great struggles in ancient or mediaeval times between East and West. Here as a rule the opposing armies differ entirely in character. The Western nation is apt to rely on solid masses of heavy-armed warriors, the Eastern on cavalry and archers skirmishing in open order. This contrast is nowhere better seen than in the Persian War, but something like the same difference meets us again in later history, in the wars of Rome with Parthia, or in the Crusades, though in them, while the Orientals still trust to light horse and archers, the men of the West rely no longer solely or mainly on infantry, but on heavy-armed horsemen, supported by infantry armed with missiles.

W.W. How, “Arms, Tactics and Strategy in the Persian War” (1923) pp. 117, 118 https://doi.org/10.2307/625800

News of the first strikes against Afghanistan indicate that a tested Western response to Islamic aggression is now well under way. It is not a crusade. The crusades were an episode localised in time and place, in the religious contest between Christianity and Islam. This war belongs within the much larger spectrum of a far older conflict between settled, creative productive Westerners and predatory, destructive Orientals. –

Sir John Keegan, “In this war of civilisations, the West will prevail” (2001) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/4266179/In-this-war-of-civilisations-the-West-will-prevail.html

In the latest issue of Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval (link if you read Spanish) I wrote about how many people telling the story of Xerxes’ Ionian War want one side to be a lavishly equipped professional army and the other to be a gang of ragged freedom-fighters, but they can’t decide which side should be the Greeks and which side should be the Persians. If the Persians are the mighty imperial army with the latest equipment and training, they are not the peoples overcome by European firepower and drill in recent times. If the ancient Greeks are the quarreling aristocrats and aggressive amateurs which they tell us they were, they are not Mr. Kipling’s army in skirts. People want to identify with the underdog, but they also want to believe that superhuman forces make their side’s victory inevitable. Its hard to reconcile those two wishes.

There is also a simile where Greeks battling Persians are like crusaders battling the Turks. The people who make this analogy know as little of one as the other, but it sounds impressive. And this kind of rhetoric also has some contradictions which you can see if you read the words of an obscure lieutenant of cavalry.

Read more

The Cult of Youth

Soccer players in Victoria, BC. Photo by Sean Manning, 19 August 2021

Reading Sir John Smythe and Harold Lamb and Martin van Creveld, I was struck by the fact that sometime in the 19th or 20th century, armies began to fetishize youth. A friend joined the Canadian Army Reserve at 17 and was carrying a rifle in Kandahar a year or two later, and when Martin van Creveld wants to show how Prussian supply officers were inadequate in 1848, he accuses them of being aged from 55 to 69 (Supplying War p. 78). My colleague Jolene McLeod has listed the modern authors who insist that Plutarch cannot be correct that Eumenes’ Silver Shields were all 60 years and older when they marched up to Antigonus’ phalanx and stabbed it to pieces in a few moments of blood and horror (Life of Eumenes 16.4). An American speaker calling for a reform of the relationship between their regular army and National Guard wanted the former to be “young” and focus on warfighting, while the older National Guard soldiers could focus on rebuilding and garrison duty. (It might have been this TED talk by Thomas Barnett but I don’t have energy to re-watch it).

Read more