Comment of the Day: Yes, the failure modes of making jam are pretty scary: Graydon on Homer's Odyssey and David Drake's Hammer's Slammers: "Like Little Birds... They Writhed with Their Feet... But for No Long While...": "I think you're missing the central thing about Drake's writing. It is not so much that, yeah, these are not the best circumstances and our feels are in abeyance; that happens, that's depicted. But among that depiction you get what I think of as the essential Drake thing, which is a vehicle crew. They may not like each other much; they may not, in some senses of the word, trust one another. But they are entirely predictable to one another, and reliable. And it's that obligation of reliability that lets people get their head out of hell, whether as imperfectly as Danny Pritchard does it or as entirely as the protagonist of Redliners does. (You can see much the same flavour of reliable between Gunnar and Brennu-Njáll)...

...In terms of common elements, Drake's characters are moderns or post-moderns; they are there in an environment with state and post-state actors. Their battles are in that anonymous impersonal context of abstractions like commodity prices. If they are to have anything in common with Odysseus or Telemachus, persons of a time when the notion of "king" was doubtful and all authority was personal authority, it has to be something basic.

I think the notion of insecurity management is more fundamental than basic; it's much or most of why we're a band-forming primate. (Orangutans are not, most gibbons are not; band-forming is not a primate requirement.) In Heroic Age—any heroic age—societies, your insecurity is—if you are not one already—how you stay out of "women, cattle, and slaves", because in there, anyone can do anything to you; your insecurity is vast. (It's pretty silly to pretend that the slave women had an option of refusing the suitors; the idea being reinforced its that it's better to get yourself killed turning the suitor down, because when the master returns you will as surely die, and less honorably. I doubt the slave women thought was a sensible construction of their circumstances.)

You don't get an understanding of anything important about insecurity management—that fear is in you, so killing fear means killing yourself; that you are helpless, but maybe not hapless; that it is not so much "bare is back without brother behind it" as "lone monkeys die"—in the abstract, by study, or by reading. You get it by doing actually dangerous things[0] in groups.

Much effort has gone into preventing any such thing for anyone we'd call "educated" for a few generations now, and this is a mistake. If you have no personal experience of the whole band-forming process, this might benefit the randite myth of the individual and it certainly benefits the corporate desire to prevent any ganging up on problems by the prey animals, but it does not benefit you at all.

Education could do with much, much more of "theory informs; practice convinces." If you want people to exhibit empathy for those whose state is not theirs and whose expertise is different, you need to make most of education involve failure; do this material thing at which you are unskilled. Allowing education to be narrow, and to avoid all reminder that the world is wider and that to a first approximation everyone is utterly incompetent, just encourages arrogance. Arrogance is terrible insecurity management; it makes the other monkeys less inclined to help you. (Yes of course we should overtly teach both insecurity management and band forming best practices in simple overt language.)

[0]I do not mean "fight in a war"; I mean "use power tools", "split wood/use an axe", "build something to keep the rain off and sleep under it", "assemble a pontoon bridge", "portage in haste", "use a wood-fired oven", "make jam" (think about the failure modes for a minute), and such like; all of these things can hurt or kill you, and at group scales you can't possibly take sufficient care of yourself by yourself. Such activities don't usually do us any harm because we're pretty good at being a band-forming primate and working out social mechanisms to control the collective machinery of our effort...


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