Why Government Needs to be Better Than the People
The truth is, Democracy is not God-given. Neither is it inevitable, “normal” or required.
Democracy is, like all other human ideas, just that — an idea. And as such, its value can rise and fall. Strangely, perhaps, many well-known Ancient Greeks who were, after all, the people most associated with Democracy’s birth, were very sceptical of it.
Take Socrates, for example. In Book Six of The Republic, Plato has him discussing democracy with Adeimantus. Socrates makes the point that if you were heading out to sea, who would you want…
How Humans Adapt: Plague, Government, and the Rise of Science
Throughout ancient history rapacious diseases have repeatedly devastated populations — in many cases proving that bacteria and viruses are far more of a threat than human violence or malfeasance. But throughout history the human response to pandemics evolved, as we learned, sometimes in small ways, sometimes large, how to protect ourselves better. Even in the Medieval European world, the battle against the plague was not hopeless, and after the Black Death’s initial and brutal assault (1348–50) it’s aftershocks–follow-up outbreaks — were milder, partly because people were more resistant, but more…
How Learning Some Basic Math Will Help You Look Smarter: A true Story (sorta)
Excerpted from Look Smart: How To Appear Intelligent (When You’re Not).
Let’s face it; before mathematics, everything we knew came from religious texts. It didn’t matter if you were Mayan, Muslim, or Manichean, you had a question? Open the scriptures. What should I wear? Scriptures. Who should I marry? Scriptures. Which hand should I wipe with? How should I genuflect? You get the picture. But at some point this began to change, and there emerged a new way of approaching the world: As Roger Bacon pointed…
Bad Men, Great Artists: How to Reconcile one with the Other
Pablo Picasso was an awesome artist. No one really argues about that. He was the founder of Cubism, a movement which lay the foundation of much Twentieth Century art, and he is probably the best-known and most influential artist of his time.
That’s great. But what does it mean that his personal life was not so stellar? Now, we may never know the whole story, but people around him tended to commit suicide.
The list includes one of his mistresses, a son, a grandson, and one of his wives.
The Value of Corporate History
Everything has a history, simply because everything exists in time (except of course Monty Python which is timeless).
Starting with nations, which are the best-known kind of histories, we drill down to regions, states, cites and towns. Then further down on the family tree of history we find family histories, and then of course personal histories in the form of biography or memoir.
But let’s not leave out the history of corporations, as well as companies generally, no matter what their legal structure may be. …
The place to begin this story is about 570 CE, with the birth of Muhammad, in Mecca.
At the time Mecca was a site of ritual pilgrimage for people from all over Arabia, largely nomadic tribes. The people of Mecca were involved in trade, especially the long-distance caravan trade to the north, Syria and the Mediterranean. Some histories have argued that Mecca was key in the spice trade, an entrepot between the far east and the Mediterranean world. …
Islam, like other religions, has multiple schisms, factions and parties within it. Just like Christianity, there are divergent views. In the Islamic world the largest of these splits is that between Sunni and Shi’ite. Shi’ites represent 15–20 percent of Muslims worldwide, and these are grouped in certain geographic areas, such as Iran, where Shi’ites make up some 90 percent of the Muslim population, and the Gulf countries.
“Sunni” refers to the term “Sunna of the Prophet,” which are the collected sayings and actions of Muhammad–a kind of biography, from which the Islamic community created an orthodox religious textual basis. This…
A Secret History of You.
I wrote elsewhere on Medium (What is History For?) that just as towns or countries have historians and histories, just so individuals have histories, and are their own historians.
What does this mean?
It means that narratives about ourselves circulate, within our family, within our company, our town, and our various communities, as well as in our own heads: Jimmy’s always been so stressed, it’s who he is, or: Manuela is an angel. She carries her whole family.
The better you know people, the more elaborate and detailed these histories become. Just as only serious…
In social situations people generally don’t have enough time to draw well-informed conclusions about your intelligence. What they are left with after a five or ten minute conversation at a party or over a casual encounter with coffee, is an impression. The Tip-of-the-Iceberg theory of Intelligence is exactly what creates good impressions, and that is often enough, because who is to know your intelligence is all surface, and that there is no substrate?
How does this work? Its very simple really, you just let people see the tip of what they assume is a large underwater edifice (metaphorically speaking). In…
What is History For?
Ibn Khaldoun, the Moroccan traveller and historian, tells a story about Alexander the Great. The story was related by his predecessor, Al Mas’udi. Sea monsters, according to the story, were hindering the building of Alexandria. Alexander the Great therefore had a wooden-and-glass box constructed in which he was lowered to the ocean floor. Once there, he drew likenesses of the monsters, came back to the surface, and had full-scale effigies of the monsters created. These he positioned near the harbor, and when the sea monsters saw them they fled in terror.
Well, Ibn Khaldoun…