Naked mole rats, the Church of Perpetual Life, young blood transfusions. The quest to discover what the future holds for the human lifespan is a wild ride.
Read the story >
Inside the Experiment That Could End Infertility
In the future, scientists may be able to make eggs and sperm from a sample of our skin. A lot has to happen before the procedure is ready for prime time.
Read the story >
The Case for CRISPR Babies
Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the science community when he used CRISPR to edit two infants. He’s now facing possible criminal charges. Even so, some families with genetic diseases are finding hope in the controversy.
Read the story >
This week’s column: Do different strains of marijuana cause different highs?
The takeaway: Cannabis
researchers say popular notions of
indica and sativa are “nonsense”
Read on for the nuance >
The Health Diaries
This week’s guest: Kate Ryder, founder and CEO of the digital health company, Maven
“One trend I predict for women’s
health care in 2019 is big companies
working to support working
Read more for her full routine >
What Else We’re Reading
Why Rocking to Sleep Is a Matchless Sedative
This story makes a great case for a hammock nap. Two new studies suggest humans’ brains are evolutionarily programmed to respond to rocking, which is important for sleep and brain health.
Read the story >
The Limits of Ancestry DNA Tests
Consumer genetics companies like 23andMe promise to reveal where people come from. But journalists recently discovered that twins can receive significantly different results. This explainer details how ancestry tests work, and their limitations.
Read the story >
Number of the Week
— The number of steps one 66-year-old man completed in a single day. “How to Walk 100,000 Steps in One Day,” David Paul Kirkpatrick
This is the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — Emily Dickinson’s electric love letters to Susan Gilbert, Hermann Hesse on hope and the difficult art of taking responsibility, an illustrated celebration of the heroes who won women political power — you can catch up right here. (Also: Don’t miss the annual selections of the year’s loveliest children’s books and overall favorite books.) And if you are enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
Chance and choice converge to make us who we are, and although we may mistake chance for choice, our choices are the cobblestones, hard and uneven, that pave our destiny. They are ultimately all we can answer for and point to in the architecture of our character. Joan Didion captured this with searing lucidity in defining character as “the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life” and locating in that willingness the root of self-respect.
A century before Didion, Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900) composed the score for harmonizing our choices and our contentment with the life they garner us. Nietzsche, who greatly admired Emerson’s ethos of nonconformity and self-reliant individualism, wrote fervently, almost frenetically, about how to find yourself and what it means to be a free spirit. He saw the process of becoming oneself as governed by the willingness to own one’s choices and their consequences — a difficult willingness, yet one that promises the antidote to existential hopelessness, complacency, and anguish.
The legacy of that deceptively simple yet profound proposition is what philosopher John J. Kaag explores in Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are(public library) — part masterwork of poetic scholarship, part contemplative memoir concerned with the most fundamental question of human life: What gives our existence meaning?
The answer, Kaag suggests in drawing on Nietzsche’s most timeless ideas, challenges our ordinary understanding of selfhood and its cascading implications for happiness, fulfillment, and the building blocks of existential contentment. He writes:
The self is not a hermetically sealed, unitary actor (Nietzsche knew this well), but its flourishing depends on two things: first, that it can choose its own way to the greatest extent possible, and then, when it fails, that it can embrace the fate that befalls it.
At the center of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the idea of eternal return — the ultimate embrace of responsibility that comes from accepting the consequences, good or bad, of one’s willful action. Embedded in it is an urgent exhortation to calibrate our actions in such a way as to make their consequences bearable, livable with, in a hypothetical perpetuity. Nietzsche illustrates the concept with a simple, stirring thought experiment in his final book, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is:
What if some day or night a demon were to steal into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live and have lived it you will have to live once again and innumerable times again; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unspeakably small or great in your life must return to you, all in the same succession and sequence — even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself…”
Art from The Magic Boat — a vintage “interactive” children’s book by Freud’s eccentric niece Tom Seidmann-Freud
Like the demon in Kepler’s visionary short story The Dream — the first work of genuine science fiction, which occupies the opening chapter of Figuring and which the great astronomer used as an allegorical tool for awakening the superstition-lulled medieval mind to the then-radical reality of the Copernican model of the universe — Nietzsche’s demon is not a metaphysical extravagance but a psychological gauntlet, an alarm for awakening to the most radical existential reality. At the heart of the thought experiment is the disquieting question of whether our lives, as we are living them, are worth living. Kaag writes:
Nietzsche’s demon… is a challenge — or, better, a question — that is to be answered not in words but in the course of life: “The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you want this again and innumerable times again?’ would lie on your actions as the heaviest weight! Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to long for nothing more fervently than for this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”
Are we, in the words of William Butler Yeats, “content to live it all again”? Being content in this sense is not being distracted from, or lulled to sleep by, or resigning oneself to a fate that cannot be avoided. It is to live to your heart’s content with the knowledge that you will do this, and everything, again, forever. We made our last turn into the Waldhaus driveway and came to rest beneath its canopied entryway. Nietzsche suggests that the affirmation of the eternal return is possible only if one is willing and able to become well-adjusted to life and to oneself. To be well-adjusted, for Nietzsche, is to choose, wholeheartedly, what we think and where we find and create meaning. The specter of infinite monotony was for Nietzsche the abiding impetus to assume absolute responsibility: if one’s choices are to be replayed endlessly, they’d better be the “right” ones.
There is a beautiful meta-layer to the book — Kaag is writing after returning to Piz Corvatsch, where he had first hiked as a tortured nineteen-year-old on the brink of suicide, hoping to find sanity and salvation in the footsteps of his brilliant, half-demented hero. Revisiting “Nietzsche’s mountain” as an adult cusping on middle age, with his beloved — also a philosopher, though of the warring Kantian camp — and their young daughter, Kaag is performing a real-life enactment of the eternal return. He is thrust into the deepest, most disquieting, yet ultimately buoyant evaluation of the choices he has made in the decades since and their combinatorial consequence in the life he is now living — a life, in the end, well worth living.
He considers the power of Nietzsche’s thought experiment as a tool for calibrating our lives for true contentment:
It might be tempting to think that the “rightness” of a decision could be affixed by some external moral or religious standard, but Nietzsche wants his readers to resist this temptation. Nietzsche’s demon, after all, comes to us when we are all alone, his question can be heard only in one’s “loneliest loneliness,” and therefore the answer cannot be given by consensus or on behalf of some impersonal institutions. It is, indeed, the most personal of answers — the one that always determines an individual choice. Of course you can choose anything you want, to raise children or get married, but don’t pretend to do it because these things have some sort of intrinsic value — they don’t. Do it solely because you chose them and are willing to own up to them. In the story of our lives, these choices are ours and ours alone, and this is what gives things, all things, value. Only when one realizes this is he or she prepared to face the eternal recurrence, the entire cycle, without the risk of being crushed. Only then is one able to say with Yeats, “[A]nd yet again,” and truly mean it.
Art from Creation by Bhajju Shyam — a collection of illustrated origin myths from Indian folklore
Perhaps the hardest part of the eternal return is to own up to the tortures that we create for ourselves and those we create for others. Owning up: to recollect, to regret, to be responsible, ultimately to forgive and love.
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It is often said that books save lives. Most of the time, however heartfelt the sentiment, it is figurative. Every once in an improbable while, it approximates the literal. But only on the rarest of occasions, in the most extreme of circumstances, do books become lifelines in the realest sense.
One such occasion is immortalized in A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (public library) — the collection I spent eight years putting together in the hope of showing young people how essential reading is to an inspired and inspiring life. There are original illustrated letters about the transformative and transcendent power of reading from some immensely inspiring humans — scientists like Jane Goodall and Janna Levin, artists like Marina Abramović and Debbie Millman, musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Amanda Palmer, and David Byrne, entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Tim Ferriss, poets like Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Alexander, and Sarah Kay, media pioneers like Kevin Kelly, Jad Abumrad, and Shonda Rhimes, beloved writers of literature for young people like Jacqueline Woodson, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman, and a great many celebrated authors of books for so-called grownups. But one of the most powerful letters comes from someone whose name might not, or at least not yet, mean much to many: Helen Fagin.
Helen was twenty-one when her family was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. She and her sisters managed to escape, but they lost both of their parents in the Holocaust. Helen arrived in America not speaking a word of English, then went on to earn a Ph.D. and teach literature for more than two decades. She devoted her life to elucidating the moral lessons of humanity’s darkest hour and was instrumental in the creation of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. To this day, she remains a voracious reader of literature and moral philosophy, swimming effortlessly from Whitman to Camus and back again in a single conversation.
Helen Fagin, a week after her 100th birthday, with Ash Gaiman. Photograph by Amanda Palmer.
Helen happens to be my dear friend Neil Gaiman’s cousin. One day over dinner, having just visited her in Florida, a very animated Neil told me the incredible story of how a book — a particular book — became a lifeline for the teenage girls at the secret school Helen had set up in the Warsaw Ghetto as an antidote to the innumerable assaults against dignity to which the Nazis subjected these Jewish youths: the denial of basic education. Her story stopped me up short as the profoundest embodiment of the core ethos of A Velocity of Being, and so I invited her to tell it in a letter.
To celebrate the publication of the book, which Helen sees as an invaluable part of her legacy, I asked her to read her letter for the New York Public Library launch event. She was 97 at the time she wrote her letter and is approaching her 101st birthday as she reads it:
Could you imagine a world without access to reading, to learning, to books?
At twenty-one, I was forced into Poland’s WWII ghetto, where being caught reading anything forbidden by the Nazis meant, at best, hard labor; at worst, death.
There, I conducted a clandestine school offering Jewish children a chance at the essential education denied them by their captors. But I soon came to feel that teaching these sensitive young souls Latin and mathematics was cheating them of something far more essential — what they needed wasn’t dry information but hope, the kind that comes from being transported into a dream-world of possibility.
One day, as if guessing my thoughts, one girl beseeched me: “Could you please tell us a book, please?”
I had spent the previous night reading Gone with the Wind — one of a few smuggled books circulated among trustworthy people via an underground channel, on their word of honor to read only at night, in secret. No one was allowed to keep a book longer than one night — that way, if reported, the book would have already changed hands by the time the searchers came.
I had read Gone with the Wind from dusk until dawn and it still illuminated my own dream-world, so I invited these young dreamers to join me. As I “told” them the book, they shared the loves and trials of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. For that magical hour, we had escaped into a world not of murder but of manners and hospitality. All the children’s faces had grown animated with new vitality.
A knock at the door shattered our shared dream-world. As the class silently exited, a pale green-eyed girl turned to me with a tearful smile: “Thank you so very much for this journey into another world. Could we please do it again, soon?” I promised we would, although I doubted we’d have many more chances. She put her arms around me and I whispered, “So long, Scarlett.” “I think I’d rather be Melanie,” she answered, “although Scarlett must have been so much more beautiful!”
As events in the ghetto took their course, most of my fellow dreamers fell victim to the Nazis. Of the twenty-two pupils in my secret school, only four survived the Holocaust.
The pale green-eyed girl was one of them.
Many years later, I was finally able to locate her and we met in New York. One of my life’s greatest rewards will remain the memory of our meeting, when she introduced me to her husband as “the source of my hopes and my dreams in times of total deprivation and dehumanization.”
There are times when dreams sustain us more than facts. To read a book and surrender to a story is to keep our very humanity alive.
Special thanks to Helen’s children, Gary and Judith Fagin, for filming this video, and most of all to Neil and Amanda for bringing this remarkable person into my world and, through her contribution to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, into our shared human world. What an honor.
Complement with a peek inside this massive labor of love eight years in the making, all proceeds from which we are donating to the New York public library system, then sit down with a cup of tea and watch the recording of the NYPL launch celebration — a magical evening of readings by sixteen of our letter writers, original art for the letters, live literature-inspired music, and a roomful of largehearted love of books.
“It is we who are passing when we say time passes,” the French philosopher Henri Bergson insisted a century ago, just before Einstein defeated him in the historic debate that revolutionized our understanding of time. “If our heart were large enough to love life in all its detail, we would see that every instant is at once a giver and a plunderer,” his compatriot and colleague Gaston Bachelard observed in contemplating our paradoxical relationship with time a decade later, long before the technology-accelerated baseline haste of our present era had plundered the life out of living. “Time is the substance I am made of,” Borges wrote in his spectacular confrontation with time yet another decade later. “Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
We are indeed creatures of time who live with it and in it, on the picketed patch of spacetime we have each been allotted. But if time is the foundational baseboard of our being, what happens to the structure of our lives in a culture of doing?
Waiting isn’t an in-between time. Instead, this often-hated and underappreciated time has been a silent force that has shaped our social interactions. Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to our fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans through the messages we send. Waiting shapes our social lives in many ways, and waiting is something that can benefit us. Waiting can be fruitful. If we lose it, we will lose the ways that waiting shapes vital elements of our lives like social intimacy, the production of knowledge, and the creative practices that depend on the gaps formed by waiting.
An embrace of the moments when waiting becomes visible can remind us not of the time we are losing but of the ways we can demystify the mythology of instantaneous culture and ever-accelerating paces of “real time.” Notions of instantaneous culture promise that access to what we desire can be fulfilled immediately. However, this logic that dominates the current approaches to the tech industry misses the power of waiting and the embedded role it plays in our daily lives.
Although waiting is different from stillness — another essential, modernity-endangered state of being — in having an object of anticipation, a thing we are waiting for, it is kindred in that recalibrating our experience of waiting not as tortuous but as fertile requires a certain inner stillness that defies the forward slash of the soul toward the awaited. Farman chronicles some of the landmark technologies that have shaped our relationship with waiting — from aboriginal message sticks to the postage stamp to the buffering icon to Japan’s mobile messaging system deployed in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami — to explore how we can allay the durational restlessness of our lives.
One of the most fascinating and pause-giving chapters of the book uses astrophysics as a lens on waiting — a field in which the greatest discoveries take decades, sometimes centuries, of incubation, prototyping, and testing in the laboratory of reality we call nature. (Take, for instance, the detection of gravitational waves — the most monumental astrophysical breakthrough in our lifetime and the greatest since Galileo — a triumph with a remarkable century-long buildup.)
With an eye to the New Horizons interplanetary space probe — which revolutionized our understanding of the Solar System in faint whispers of data transmitted across three billion miles of cosmic expanse, dripping at a rate vastly smaller than that at which earthlings stream YouTube videos and upload photos to Instagram — Farman frames waiting an essential building block of the speculative imagination, a period that allows for the cultivation of what Bertrand Russell so poetically and memorably termed “a largeness of contemplation”:
The New Horizons mission is a perfect example of the vital relationship between waiting and knowledge. The unknown creates speculation as we try to fill in the gaps of knowledge with everything from educated guesses to fear-inspired myths about what lies beyond the edge of our understanding.
This mode of speculation creates a new way of thinking. Our imaginations allow us to access that which does not yet exist and create scenarios that have not yet happened. Wait times are key to this mode of creative thinking because they afford us the opportunity to imagine and speculate about worlds beyond our own immediate places and speculate about the possible.
In another chapter, he turns to Samuel Beckett’s classic play Waiting for Godot to reframe waiting not as a stoic feat of endurance in the name of some anticipated reward but as a process transformative and rewarding in its very unfolding — a sort of training ground for hope, which is ultimately training ground for character:
Beckett’s play, in its many violations of theatrical norms, strips away plot expectations to make a comment on the human condition. Godot symbolizes whatever we wait for, whatever we long for, whatever we rely on to save us from our current state of uncertainty and despair. Godot represents the promise of what might come on the other side of our waiting.
It shows how time flows through us and changes us. Day after day, as we wait for the things we desire, we become different people. In the act of waiting, we become who we are. Waiting points to our desires and hopes for the future; and while that future may never arrive and our hopes may never be fulfilled, the act of reflecting on waiting teaches us about ourselves. The meaning of life isn’t deferred until that thing we hope for arrives; instead, in the moment of waiting, meaning is located in our ability to recognize the ways that such hopes define us.
At the end of the book, Farman offers two practical strategies for recalibrating our experience of waiting from burdensome to fruitful. The first is a deceptively simple yet effective discipline of shifting focus from the negative feelings waiting breeds — boredom, helplessness, anger — to a reminder of the positive object of the waiting. As soon as we remember, really remember, what we are waiting for and why we want it, Farman argues, the frustration of waiting is neutralized.
But far more interesting and profound is the second tactic. Farman proposes a radical shift of viewing time not as individual but as collective, which is inherently a radical act of empathy — the willingness to accept another’s time as just as valuable as our own, however different our circumstances may be. Embedded in this act is a challenge to the power structures of the status quo, for it forces us to consider who is imposing the wait times on whom and who benefits from that imposition. In a sentiment that calls to mind the fascinating science of why empathy is a clock that ticks in the consciousness of another, Farman writes:
If my time is distinct from your time, and you end up wasting my time by valuing your own, you have robbed me of my resource (time). When you value your own time instead of my time, you have effectively stolen minutes (or hours) from me. We see these attitudes in abundance.
However, if we shift perspectives and see our time as intertwined with one another’s, then we are all investing our time in other people’s circumstances.
Farman recounts a not-uncommon experience: At the grocery store, he finds himself getting reflexively frustrated with the woman ahead of him, who is taking too much time to check out. Only upon realizing that she is counting food stamps and coupons does he transport himself, with a pang of shame, into her difficult circumstances. He writes:
If we work toward an awareness of time as collective rather than individual, we can come to understand wait time as an investment in the social fabric that connects us. My patience with someone like the woman at the grocery store who has to account for every dollar and pay with food stamps is an investment of my time in her situation. As we invest time in other people through waiting, we become stakeholders in their situations. This has the radical potential to build empathy and to inspire a call for social change, as we realize that not everyone is afforded the same agency for how time is used.
There are times when we should wait and see the benefits of waiting; however, there are times when waiting needs to be resisted. Waiting can be a tool of the powerful to maintain the status quo by forcing people to invest their time in ways that inhibit their ability to transform their situation. Many examples demonstrate the kinds of waiting that reinforce the power dynamics in a society. From the long-delayed recovery efforts and federal dollars following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or the perpetually delayed recovery for Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands after Hurricane Maria in 2017, to the long commute times between home and job (often, jobs) imposed on many people below the poverty line, unequal access to time is revealed in the different ways people are forced to wait. Many social justice advocates like Angela Davis and Michelle Alexander point to prisoners like those sitting in San Quentin as prime examples of those who are forced to wait unjustly. The “prison industrial complex,” as Davis terms it, is fueled by racial inequality that targets African Americans more than any other population
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has been hailed as an economic liberalizer, having sharply criticized rising U.S. protectionism under the Trump administration. Yet Modi too has embarked on measures to protect and support manufacturing jobs in India. The latest Indian budget raised import duties on more than 40 items, ranging from auto parts and toys to candles and furniture, in order to protect uncompetitive small businesses and create jobs in labor-intensive industries.
In a new paper, Cato scholar Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar raises concerns that the new protectionism will get entrenched and reverse the major gains India has made since economic reforms began in 1991.
Daniel Goleman is a psychologist, lecturer, and science journalist who has reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times for many years. His 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence (Bantam Books) was on The New York Times bestseller list for a year and a half.
Goleman is also the author of Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything. The book argues that new information technologies will create “radical transparency,” allowing us to know the environmental, health, and social consequences of what we buy. As shoppers use point-of-purchase ecological comparisons to guide their purchases, market share will shift to support steady, incremental upgrades in how products are made – changing every thing for the better.
His latest book is Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, which he has co-authored with Richard Davidson reveals the science of what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it.
22 September, 2018 Transcript
Daniel Goleman: One of the strong benefits of meditation generally has to do with the ordinary ways in which we suffer depression, anxiety, the angst of life. It turns out that meditation generally makes people feel more positively, it helps diminish anxiety, but it becomes particularly powerful when it’s combined with a psychotherapy. The way this is usually done is with mindfulness on the one hand and what’s called cognitive therapy on the other. Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience. Instead of getting sucked into our emotions or our thoughts, which is what happens when we’re depressed or anxious, we see them as “those thoughts again” or “those feelings again,” and that disempowers them. There’s actually research at UCLA that shows when you can name that feeling, “Oh, I’m feeling depressed again,” you have shifted the activity levels neurologically in the part of the brain which is depressed to the part of the brain which notices, which is aware—the prefrontal cortex. And that diminishes the depression and enhances your ability to be able to understand it or to see it as just a feeling. So if you combine that ability with cognitive therapy, cognitive therapy helps you talk back to your thoughts. The basic realization in cognitive therapy is: “I don’t have to believe my thoughts.” This is extremely important in people with chronic anxiety or chronic depression because it’s our thoughts that trigger the anxiety, that trigger the depression. The depressive thoughts are classic; “I’m no good; my life is worthless,” whatever it is. Those thoughts actually make us depressed. So if you use mindfulness-based cognitive therapy on the one hand you can see, “Oh, there’s that thought again.” On the other hand cognitive therapy lets you talk back to that thought, “Oh I’m not so worthless, I’ve done some pretty good things in my life; there are people who love me,” whatever it may be. You can develop a habit of not letting those thoughts take you over, but countering them with actual evidence from your life that says “Oh they’re not true. I don’t have to believe them!” And that is very relieving. The first study that used mindfulness-based cognitive therapy with depression it was pretty spectacular. It was done at Oxford University and it was done with people whose depression is so severe that nothing helps, no medication helps, electric shock doesn’t help, psychiatry doesn’t know what to do. People get depressed very deeply, they recover, and then they get depressed again. So with that group they use mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and they found that it cut the rate of relapse (of having depression again) by 50 percent. If this were a drug some pharmaceutical company would be making billions of dollars, but it’s not a drug. It’s free basically. So mindfulness-based cognitive therapy works very well for depression. Better-designed studies afterwards shows that it wasn’t 50 percent, but still the impact is palpable and it turns out that mindfulness and other meditations, particularly combined with cognitive therapy, work just as well for anxiety or depression as the medications do, but they don’t have those side effects.
Being mindful of depressing thoughts disempowers them
Meditation becomes particularly powerful when it’s combined with a cognitive therapy
Mindfulness and other meditations can work as well as pills but without the side effects
MICHELE GELFAND: You know, I think often we think about social class as just being about our bank accounts. We don’t think about how is class cultural, truly cultural in terms of differences in values and norms that are socialized in different groups for good reasons. And tightness-looseness, it just doesn’t differentiate nations and states, it also differentiates social class with the same exact logic. We went out and we’ve been surveying people from the working class and people from the middle and upper classes, and what’s fascinating is when we ask people about rules, ‘just tell us five words that you think of for rules’, we see that the working class sees rules very positively. Rules in the working class are important. They’re important for helping people to slide into hard living, as sociologists would call it—to poverty, to the dregs of poverty. Rules are helpful if you’re going to be going into occupations where there’s a lot of danger, where there’s less discretion. The middle class and upper class they saw rules more negatively. They saw it as goody two shoes when you’re following the rules. For the working class, rules are important for survival. For the middle class, there’s a safety net so you can actually afford to be rule-breaking in this context.
And what’s fascinating is, we measure the ZIP codes of people coming into our lab and then we track the neighborhoods they live in. And, for sure, the working class live in much more threatening environments when it comes to crime, unemployment. They report being subject to many more threats. What’s remarkable is that this starts very early. We wanted to see how early can we see these differences developing? And we started to see this even as early as three years old. What we did was we brought three-year-olds into the lab, working-class and middle-class kids. And you can’t exactly ask them about rules, right. But what we did was we borrowed a technique from the Max Planck Institute where we had them interacting with a puppet. His name was Max the Puppet. And they got to know him and they enjoyed playing with him. And Max the Puppet suddenly after a little while became Max the Norm Violator. He started violating all the rules of the game and announcing that he’s actually playing the game correctly. And we simply wanted to know: how did the kids react? Is there a different reaction by age three? And there sure was.
The middle class, in general, were much more likely to laugh and kind of let it go, and the working-class kids wanted Max the Puppet to stop. They told him to stop. They told him it was wrong. And parents are already socializing their kids, by the age of three, to help them fit into the kind of threatening or non-threatening environments they’re going to be working in. So it’s really important to see that these differences arise for a reason and they arise early.
So the rise of Donald Trump has been such an enigma to so many people. Is it an ideology? Is it a personality? In fact, Donald Trump is semi—he’s a very good cross-cultural psychologist. He understands the role of fear and threat in mobilizing people to want more tightness and to want autocratic leaders. And we’ve seen this in our data. The people that were interested in voting for Trump felt very threatened and they felt the country was too loose. And this is not just a Trump phenomenon. It’s all over the world. When we measure support for Le Pen in France we had the same exact data that showed that people who feel threatened want stronger rules and leaders to help them to coordinate to survive. These leaders tap into a very important evolutionary type of instinct: when there’s threat and when there’s disorder, we want strong rulers to help us in those contexts.
And one thing that really predicts whether groups are tight or loose is the amount of threat that they face. And threat can be from a variety of sources; it could be from mother nature, could be natural disasters or famine, or it could be population density. It could also be man-made; it could be the number of invasions you’ve had over the last couple of centuries. And so when there’s threat, there’s the need for strong rules to coordinate to survive. And so actually tightness-looseness has a really important logic, a hidden logic, that helps us understand why certain groups become tight or loose. Loose groups, whether they’re nations or states or organizations, they face less threat so they can afford to be more permissive. Groups tend to evolve to be calibrated to the degree of threat that they have. When you have exaggerated threats, it means that we’re sacrificing liberty for security in contexts when we don’t really need to do that.
The problem here is that we have to separate objective from subjective threat. It’s true that a lot of the working class does objectively feel very threatened in this country and we need, as a loose culture, to reach out and work to help them deal with the threats that are happening from globalization. But it’s also the case that leaders like Trump and others use threat and target people who are threatened in order to gain popularity.
Working-class people take rules more seriously. Upper- and middle-class people do not. Why? The latter have financial and social safety nets, so they can afford to break some rules.
Research shows that, by the age of three, working-class children are primed to be more rigid about rules. Those rules help working-class people survive what sociologists call ‘hard living’: extreme poverty, dangerous jobs, and unsafe neighborhoods. Having strong rules increases chances of safety and survival.
Harnessing this evolutionary psychology can be very powerful in politics. Populists like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen exaggerate fear and threat to gain popularity. They understand “the role of fear and threat in mobilizing people to want more tightness and to want autocratic leaders,” Gelfand explains.
In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World, Michele Gelfand explains her research into ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ cultures. Get a crash course here.
This is the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — Rilke on how to break up with integrity and preserve friendship after romance, Adrienne Rich on how reading emancipates, a “new” Maurice Sendak book — you can catch up right here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
In 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard’s classic 10 Rules of Writing published nearly a decade earlier, The Guardianinvited some of the world’s most celebrated living authors to share their own dicta of the craft. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied,”Zadie Smith counseled in the last of her ten. Midway through her list, Margaret Atwood grounded the psychological dimensions of the craft in the pragmatic and the physical: “Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.” Neil Gaiman thought eight rather than ten tenets would be sufficient — a meta-testament to his sixth: “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
This is the Brain Pickings midweek newsletter: Every Wednesday, I plunge into my twelve-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as a timeless pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here – it’s free.) If you missed last week’s archival piece – Anaïs Nin on why emotional excess is essential to writing and creativity – you can read it here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be,”Joan Didion wrote after losing the love of her life. “The people we most love do become a physical part of us,”Meghan O’Rourke observed in her magnificent memoir of loss, “ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.” Those wildly unexpected dimensions of grief and the synaptic traces of love are what celebrated British children’s book writer and poet Michael Rosen confronted when his eighteen-year-old son Eddie died suddenly of meningitis. Never-ending though the process of mourning may be, Rosen set out to exorcise its hardest edges and subtlest shapes five years later in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (public library) — an immensely moving addition to the finest children’s books about loss, illustrated by none other than the great Quentin Blake.
With extraordinary emotional elegance, Rosen welcomes the layers of grief, each unmasking a different shade of sadness — sadness that sneaks up on you mid-stride in the street; sadness that lurks as a backdrop to the happiest of moments; sadness that wraps around you like a shawl you don’t take off even in the shower.
What emerges is a breathtaking bow before the central paradox of the human experience — the awareness that the heart’s enormous capacity for love is matched with an equal capacity for pain, and yet we love anyway and somehow find fragments of that love even amid the ruins of loss.
This is me being sad.
Maybe you think I’m happy in this picture.
Really I’m sad but pretending I’m happy.
I’m doing this because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.
Sometimes sad is very big.
It’s everywhere. All over me.
Then I look like this.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.
What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie. I loved him very, very much but he died anyway.
With exquisite nuance, Rosen captures the contradictory feelings undergirding mourning — affection and anger, self-conscious introspection and longing for communion — and the way loss lodges itself in the psyche so that the vestiges of a particular loss always awaken the sadness of the all loss, that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change.
Sometimes this makes me really angry.
I say to myself, “How dare he go and die like that?
How dare he make me sad?”
Eddie doesn’t say anything,
because he’s not here anymore.
Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone.
Like my mum. But she’s not here anymore, either. So I can’t.
I find someone else. And I tell them all about it.
Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it.
Not to anyone. No one at all.
I just want to think about it on my own.
Because it’s mine. And no one else’s.
But what makes the story most singular and rewarding is that it refuses to indulge the cultural cliché of cushioning tragedy with the promise of a silver lining. It is redemptive not in manufacturing redemption but in being true to the human experience — intensely, beautifully, tragically true.
Sometimes because I’m sad I do crazy things — like shouting in the shower…
Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.
It’s not because Eddie’s gone.
It’s not because my mum’s gone. It’s just because.
Blake, who has previously illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known children’s book and many of Roald Dahl’s stories, brings his unmistakably expressive sensibility to the book, here and there concretizing Rosen’s abstract words into visual vignettes that make you wonder what losses of his own he is holding in the mind’s eye as he draws.
Where is sad?
Sad is everywhere.
It comes along and finds you.
When is sad?
Sad is anytime.
It comes along and finds you.
Who is sad?
Sad is anyone.
It comes along and finds you.
Entrepreneurs have a reputation for being fearless. After all, it takes guts to start a business on your own! But there’s one thing that we’re all afraid of: failure.
We’re afraid that if we make just one mistake, our company will fail. But in reality, a single mistake won’t bring our businesses crashing down to the ground. Our fear of failure does far more damage than failure itself!
Needing some weekday inspiration? Check out this week’s brilliance! 🙂
Dealing with negativity can be difficult at times as a business owner. Franziska shares her best tips on how to cope with people who are offloading their own fears and frustration on to you in this BBTV episode.
2. Brand consistency is crucial if you want to grow a business people trust in and choose to buy from. In an increasingly competitive market, brand consistency is what will help you keep thriving. Franziska and our creative genius Julia talk about ways to put together a simple style guide, why consistency is key to attract a loyal following, and how to amplify your brand across different channels in this week’s ‘Pick of the Bunch’ podcast episode.
This week’s shout out goes to Susan Petrie from Beanstalk, who is one of our amazing Clever Bunch members! Susan is celebrating winning 1st place in the Perks Business Boost awards last week! Big Congratulations Susan!
Book Franziska for your next event:
Are you looking for a speaker at an upcoming event? Franziska’s down to earth approach is like a breath of fresh air and she is quick at winning over the hearts of the audiences through her realness, fun approach and sharp-witted humor. She has spoken at some of the biggest conferences around the globe including Awesomeness Fest, Zentrepreneur, VIVID and TEDx.
After more than 10 months of speculations, Walmart-owned ecommerce unicorn Flipkart has finally made its move into mobile phone insurance – a $27 Bn worth industry globally. Flipkart will offer insurance on mobile phones under its Complete Mobile Protection programme, starting October 10th at the onset of Flipkart’s The Big Billion Days (TBBD).
Global hotel chain OYO, today announced to have inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Uttarakhand. With this signing, OYO Hotels has committed an investment worth $67.5 Mn (INR 500 Cr) to expand its chain in the region.
While the centre and state governments are taking steps to boost the startup ecosystem in the country, Ramesh Abhishek, secretary at the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) stated that there is a huge opportunity for Russian startups in India.
Vishal Gondal believes that you will not get people simply by putting up ads on Naukri and LinkedIn, but rather on the field by networking. “You are more likely to find your early employees and early co-founders as I said not on Linkedin or naukri but they will be in conferences, events, or if you are in the health space, your co-founder might be running a marathon with you,” he says.
To understand the growing trend of freelancing in India, Inc42, in association with PayPal, is conducting a series of webinars titled —The Rising Freelance Economy. These webinars aim to throw light on the different trends in freelancing, whether it is breaking away from a regular job, or women taking up freelancing. Here are the excerpts from the latest webinar.
Investors are pouring millions into the creation of a network of shared kitchens, storage facilities, and pickup counters that established chains and new food entrepreneurs can access to cut down on overhead and quickly spin up new concepts in fast food and casual dining.
SpaceX successfully launched and landed its Falcon 9 this evening, marking the 62nd flight of the vehicle. It was also the 12th ground landing for the company, and the first one on the California coast. SpaceX has two landing pads there, and has managed to touch down 11 Falcon 9 rockets on them. And each time the company has attempted to land on land, it’s been a success.
Ro Khanna (D-CA), whose congressional district includes the headquarters for Apple and Google. Khanna joined Swisher on a new bonus episode of Recode Decode to explain all ten of the potential regulations, which Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tasked him with drafting after Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica affair.
After the failed merger of budget hotel aggregator ZO Rooms and the new unicorn in the block, hotel aggregator OYO, the companies continue to be stuck in a legal trouble and the matter has now reached Supreme court. And now, the Supreme Court in its order dated September 19, 2018 has accepted the arbitration petition by ZO Rooms.
Amid discussions on the Supreme Court verdict on the constitutional validity of Aadhaar Act, the real action is happening at the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which is now trying to manage several processes which were dependent on Aadhaar as the Supreme Court barred private companies from using Aadhaar to validate the identity of customers.
In another move to encourage adoption of electric vehicles, the Indian government is reportedly planning to introduce tradable auto-emission coupons for automakers. This move is aimed at encouraging the automakers to make electric vehicles and its infrastructure economically viable right from the beginning.
The reason behind rising cost of advertising on Facebook is that the growth of impressions on the platform hasn’t kept pace with the rise in the number of advertisers that have come onboard Facebook. The cost has been increasing since 2015-2016 and has doubled since last year. Know what could be the other reasons behind it.
In the 22nd episode of Inc42 Ask Me Anything (AMA), we hosted VishalGondal, the founder-CEO of GOQii, who spoke to us about gaming, fitness, how GOQii is gamifying fitness, and a lot more. Gondal said 99% people fail at their goals while using fitness and weight loss apps because they lack human motivation.
In what looks like a European first, the London-based early-stage venture capital firm Balderton Capital is announcing it has closed a new $145 million “secondary” fund dedicated to buying equity stakes from early shareholders in European-founded “high growth, scale-up” technology companies.
Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed a bit more of the behind-the-scenes decision-making that resulted in conspiracy theorist and alt-right figure Alex Jones’ widespread tech platform ban last month in an interview on HBO’s Vice News Tonight this evening. Read what Cook said about the decision to remove podcasts operated by Jones.
Coinbase is finalizing a deal that would value the company at about $8 billion, a transaction that would make Coinbase one of the highest-valued startups in the U.S. and help further legitimize the entire cryptocurrency industry. The company is in talks with Tiger Global and its current shareholders for an investment of up to $500 million.
DHANANJAYA PARKHE! This is the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — John Steinbeck on kindness and the key to good writing, Emily Dickinson’s sublime ode to resilience animated, and more — you can catch up right here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
We speak of love as a gift, but although it may come at first unbidden, as what Percy Shelley called a “speechless swoon of joy,” true intimacy between two people is a difficult achievement — a hard-earned glory with stakes so high that the prospect of collapse is absolutely devastating. When collapse does happen — when intimacy is severed by some disorienting swirl of chance and choice — the measure of a love is whether and to what extent the kernel of connection can be salvaged as the shell cracks, how willing each partner is to remain openhearted while brokenhearted, how much mutual care and kindness the two who have loved each other can extend in the almost superhuman endeavor of redeeming closeness after separation.
How to do this with maximal integrity, in a way that embodies Adrienne Rich’s definition of honorable human relationships, is what the poet Rainer Maria Rilke(December 4, 1875–December 29, 1926) explores in one of his staggeringly insightful letters, included in the posthumous collection Letters on Life (public library), edited and translated from German by Ulrich Baer.
1902 portrait of Rainer Maria Rilke by Helmuth Westhoff, Rilke’s brother-in-law
As soon as two people have resolved to give up their togetherness, the resulting pain with its heaviness or particularity is already so completely part of the life of each individual that the other has to sternly deny himself to become sentimental and feel pity. The beginning of the agreed-upon separation is marked precisely by this pain, and its first challenge will be that this pain already belongs separately to each of the two individuals. This pain is an essential condition of what the now solitary and most lonely individual will have to create in the future out of his reclaimed life.
He considers the measure of a “good breakup” — a separation that, however painful in its immediate loss, is a long-term gain for both partners, individually and together:
If two people managed not to get stuck in hatred during their honest struggles with each other, that is, in the edges of their passion that became ragged and sharp when it cooled and set, if they could stay fluid, active, flexible, and changeable in all of their interactions and relations, and, in a word, if a mutually human and friendly consideration remained available to them, then their decision to separate cannot easily conjure disaster and terror.
Drawings by Reinhold Rudolf Junghanns
Four weeks later, as Junghanns continues to struggle with letting go of his lover, Rilke admonishes against the painful elasticity of on-again/off-again relationships, in which the short-term alleviation of longing and loss comes at the price of ongoing mutual wounding:
When it is a matter of a separation, pain should already belong in its entirety to that other life from which you wish to separate. Otherwise the two individuals will continually become soft toward each other, causing helpless and unproductive suffering. In the process of a firmly agreed-upon separation, however, the pain itself constitutes an important investment in the renewal and fresh start that is to be achieved on both sides.
Rilke emphasizes the importance of an initial period of distance in order to properly recalibrate a romantic relationship into a real friendship — a period which requires a tremendous leap of faith toward an uncertain but possibly immensely rewarding new mode of connection:
People in your situation might have to communicate as friends. But then these two separated lives should remain without any knowledge of the other for a period and exist as far apart and as detached from the other as possible. This is necessary for each life to base itself firmly on its new requirements and circumstances. Any subsequent contact (which may then be truly new and perhaps very happy) has to remain a matter of unpredictable design and direction.
Etching by Reinhold Rudolf Junghanns
That autumn, Rilke counsels another brokenhearted friend — this time a woman — through a similar predicament. Noting that “our confusions have always been part of our riches,” he reiterates that whatever the pull toward reunion may be, it is crucial to take distance in order to gain a clearer perspective on saving what is worth saving of the relationship. In a mirror-image complement to his wisdom on challenging necessity of giving space in love, he insists on the difficult, necessary art of taking space after love:
I have written “distance”; should there be anything like advice that I would be able to suggest to you, it would be the hunch that you need to search for that now, for distance. Distance: from the current consternation and from those new conditions and proliferations of your soul that you enjoyed back at the time of their occurrence but of which you have until now not at all truly taken possession. A short isolation and separation of a few weeks, a period of reflection, and a new focusing of your crowded and unbridled nature would offer the greatest probability of rescuing all of that which seems in the process of destroying itself in and through itself.
Rilke cautions against the temptation to turn a willfully blind eye toward all the factors that have rendered the romantic relationship unfeasible and to reunite — a choice that, rather than healing, only retraumataizes and perpetuates the cycle of mutual disappointment:
Nothing locks people in error as much as the daily repetition of error — and how many individuals that ultimately became bound to each other in a frozen fate could have secured for themselves, by means of a few small, pure separations, that rhythm through which the mysterious mobility of their hearts would have inexhaustibly persisted in the deep proximity of their interior world-space, through every alteration and change.
Today, silent movies appear to have an old-timey innocence about them. Villains twirled mustaches, and damsels were always in distress but always rescued by a handsome hero at the last moment. Even the tramps seemed whimsical.
However, behind the camera, the burgeoning film industry was decadent and dissolute. Movie stars made fantastic amounts of money and spent it wildly, mostly, it seems, on drink and drugs. Studios tried hard to keep the scandals out of the press and present a wholesome family image, working their publicity departments at full stretch to not only promote the films but protect their stars.
Given the antics many of them got up to, it was a blessing that they couldn’t talk!
At the height of the silent era, William Desmond Taylor was riding high. A noted film director, he directed 60 films and acted in 27. But on February 1, 1922, he was murdered by an unknown assailant. The scandal that followed almost destroyed the fledgling movie industry.
Taylor had been shot in his home. There was no sign of a break-in, and cash was found on his body and in the house, which seemed to rule out a burglary gone wrong. There was a 12-hour delay in reporting the death, and when police arrived, they are said to have found studio bosses frantically burning Taylor’s papers.
Witnesses said that the movie star Mabel Normand had been with him that evening, and she was immediately suspected. A large number of rumors circulated about the lifestyle of both Taylor and Normand, including drug dealing, sexual perversion, and even Satanism.
The rumor mill was fueled by Taylor’s mysterious past, not least the fact that his name was not Taylor at all but William Cunningham Dean-Tanner, which is even more of a mouthful. The appearance of the wife and child whom he had deserted in 1908 added fuel to the fire.
There was a long list of suspects as well as 300 people who confessed to the murder despite appearing to have never met Taylor. Mabel Normand was among the chief suspects, and her career never really recovered. Some strenuous attempts were made to implicate a former employee of Taylor’s, but no one was ever charged.
Barbara La Marr was nicknamed the “girl who was too beautiful”—too beautiful for Hollywood and, it seemed, too beautiful to live. Her life was always colorful. She was at one time kidnapped by her own sister. A star of 27 silent films, such as The Three Musketeers and The Prisoner of Zenda, La Marr even co-wrote some of her movies.
Her public success was not mirrored in her private life, however. She was married at least four times and had a son whose existence she kept secret. She claimed to sleep for only two hours a night. Whether her rumored drug addiction or her bizarre dietary regimens contributed to her insomnia is unclear.
La Marr, despite her beauty, began to fall out of favor with the studios but continued to work regardless, desperate to regain her popularity. Even a terminal lung condition could not prevent her from working. Finally, one day, she collapsed on set. She died a few months later at the age of 29.
Probably the most famous star of the silent era, Charlie Chaplin is still adored by many today. His Tramp character is one of the most enduring in Hollywood history. His success brought him the kind of wealth he could only have dreamed of during his poverty-stricken childhood. He had a mind for business and set up his own studio, increasing both his profits and his artistic freedom.
Privately, however, Chaplin’s life was much more complicated. He was married several times and was the defendant in a paternity suit. He even bribed a doctor (to the tune of $25,000) to make false entries on the birth certificate of one of his children. More damningly, he is known to have had numerous relationships with women under the age of consent.
Chaplin was denounced as a Communist by the House Un-American Activities committee in 1947, and his star began to dwindle. After a trip to London, his reentry permit was revoked. Knowing that he would have to explain his political views and private life, Chaplin chose not to return and moved to Switzerland. It was a sad end to an illustrious career.
Olive Thomas began her career as an artist’s model and then as a dancer. She won her first movie contract in 1916 and soon met and married the actor Jack Pickford. The couple seemed to have a glamorous life, though there were signs that, perhaps due to long work-induced separations, things were not going well.
In September 1920, the two went on a second honeymoon to Paris. They are said to have enjoyed a night of high revelry at some of Paris’s more notorious night spots. On returning to their suite at the Ritz, Thomas, for reasons unknown, swallowed a bottle of Pickford’s medicine. It was mercury bichloride, a toxic medication prescribed to Pickford to treat his syphilis. She is said to have called out, “I have taken poison,” though whether or not she meant to poison herself is not clear. Despite attempts to revive her, Olive Thomas died soon after. She was 25 years old.
Thomas Ince was the world’s first movie mogul. He created the first movie studio and later went on to form Paramount Pictures.
By 1924, he was said to be close to bankruptcy and began to discuss a deal with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. On November 16, he joined Hearst on his yacht, along with Charlie Chaplin and Hearst’s mistress, Marion Davies, whom Hearst suspected was having an affair with Chaplin.
On board the yacht, the guests celebrated Ince’s 44th birthday. What happened after that is unclear. He was certainly taken off the boat to a hospital, where he died a few days later. The fact that his body was immediately cremated has increased suspicion of foul play. Theories proposed at the time included accidental poisoning, accidental shooting, and deliberate murder.
Ince’s death certificate records the cause of death as heart failure, but newspaper reports of the time declared that he had been shot. Note that those papers belonged to Hearst, who had little to say on the subject. A secretary aboard the yacht claimed to have seen Ince bleeding, and Hearst was suspected of either the deliberate murder of Thomas Ince or the attempted murder of Charlie Chaplin, leading to the accidental shooting of Ince.
There were definite attempts to hush the matter up. Chaplin denied ever having been on the boat, and Ince’s wife was sent on an unexpected trip to Europe after a meeting with Hearst. Hearst offered her a trust fund, and other guests on the boat were given similar inducements to keep their mouths shut.
A further twist came when one of the staff members claimed that Ince had raped her while on board the boat. This might have been dismissed as fantasy, had she not given birth to a child nine months later, before dying almost immediately afterward in a car accident near Hearst’s home. She was found by Hearst’s bodyguards, along with an improbable suicide note. The child was sent to an orphanage under the patronage of Hearst’s mistress. Hmm.
Jewel Carmen was an actress with Keystone Studios. Though talented, she appears to have been quite troubled.
She had a long-running legal dispute with the Fox Film Corporation to try to get out of her contract, even signing to a new studio while still tied to Fox. The legal battle took her off the screen for three years, during which her career suffered immeasurably. She married director Roland West in 1918, but their marriage was stormy, and they separated sometime during the 1920s. West began a relationship with actress Thelma Todd, who lived in an adjoining apartment.
In December 1935, Todd was found dead in her garage after inhaling carbon monoxide fumes. Though Carmen and West had been separated for a long time, Carmen was interviewed about her husband’s relationship with Todd. At a grand jury hearing, Carmen even testified that she had seen Thelma Todd the night of her death, traveling in a car with a “dark-appearing” man. It seemed clear that she was trying to implicate her husband in the death, but the grand jury chose to look on it as a case of mistaken identity.
After the scandal, her career never recovered, and Carmen died in obscurity in 1984, remarked by no one.
Rudolph Valentino, the “Latin Lover,” began his working life as a “tango pirate,” dancing with wealthy women. This ended abruptly after a scandalinvolving a court case, a vice charge, imprisonment, and a murder. He changed his name and moved to California, where he began to pick up film parts. By 1921 Valentino had a starring role in The Sheik, a film which portrayed him as an irresistible lover. It was an image that was to follow him forever.
Further scandals followed, mostly involving women. In 1922, he married his second wife, without having divorced his first, and was charged with bigamy. He said to be engaged again at the time of his death.
Despite this, Valentino was sensitive about insinuations about his sexuality from men, who he felt were jealous of his prowess with women. A headline in the Chicago Tribune describing him as a “Pink Powder Puff” particularly riled him. Valentino challenged the author of the piece to a boxing match, calling him a “contemptible coward.” Though the anonymous author of the piece declined to reveal himself and accept the challenge, Valentino did have a bout with a sports writer who reported that Valentino packed a punch, which did little to soothe the actor.
A few weeks later, he collapsed in his hotel due to a ruptured appendix. He’d also developed pleuritis in his lung. The insult must have still been playing on his mind, as he asked a doctor, “Am I still a pink powder puff?” On August 23, 1926, Valentino died a few hours after slipping into a coma. He was 31. Over 100,000 people lined the streets for his funeral, and several fans reportedly killed themselves in their grief.
Today, Alma Rubens is little-remembered as an actress, though she appeared in almost 60 films, including, fittingly, The Regenerates, which is about a woman tormented by drug addiction. By the mid-1920s, Rubens had a heavy morphine and cocaine addiction, and she was replaced on the movie The Torrent by newcomer Greta Garbo.
Rubens was earning large fees for her films, most of which she squandered on drugs. She had several brushes with police and a spell in a mental hospital to try to get clean. Rubens also had three brief marriages in quick succession.
In 1931, she wrote an account of her life, entitled “Why I Remain A Dope Fiend,” which was serialized in newspapers throughout the United States. She died shortly after its publication at 33 years old.
Gloria Swanson transcended both silent films and the talkies. Her life is as fascinating as any of her films. She had a uniquely powerful position in Hollywood. She started her own production company, and she was one of the few movie stars of her time to sign a seven-figure contract. And yet Swanson was still a victim of the studio system.
In 1925, Swanson made the film Madam Sans Gene, one of the first movies using American filmmakers abroad. While working on it, she fell in love with a French marquis, though she was still married to her second husband. She became pregnant with the marquis’s baby.
Knowing that her contract contained a morality clause and that she could be banned from working if they discovered the pregnancy, Swanson chose to have an abortion, which almost killed her. She kept the pregnancy a secret from everyone for the sake of her career.
With her private life a mess (she married and divorced six times), Swanson tried to concentrate on her production company. However, her inexperience in choosing her business partners brought her to the brink of bankruptcy, and her career began to wane.
It is perhaps fitting, then, that her most famous role is that of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, a poignant portrayal of a fading silent film star.
The trial of Roscoe Arbuckle is probably one of the most shameful moments in Hollywood history, not just because of the death of a young woman, and the debauchery of the scene where she died, but also because of the way that Arbuckle, commonly known as “Fatty Arbuckle,” was pilloried by a presswhich seemed to confuse Roscoe Arbuckle the actor with his character on screen. He was accused of killing Virginia Rappe with “external pressure” during forced sex. Medical records showed Miss Rappe died of peritonitis, but the implication made by the prosecution was that Arbuckle ruptured her internal organs by lying on top of her because he was so fat.
Rappe was portrayed in the press as an innocent starlet, despite the fact that she was known to have had a heavy drinking habit, which made her prone to strange outbursts, such as tearing her clothes off at parties, something she had done more than once. She’d recently had an illegal abortion, which had not gone well and may have contributed to the peritonitis and ruptured bladder she subsequently suffered.
Roscoe had to endure three trials before he was finally acquitted. He was portrayed in the press as bestial, with depraved appetites, and his weight (much exaggerated) was seen as evidence of his greedy nature. At each trial, lurid descriptions of the lavish parties he held turned public opinion against him. Though he was finally proved innocent, the revelations during the trial were too much, and Roscoe’s career as a movie star was over.
The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) has opposed the government’s decision of epharmacy regulation. In lieu of this, AIOCD reportedly called in a day-long nationwide strike on Friday (September 27). As per the regulations, the epharmacies are given a set of regulations including data localisation and other sets of rules regarding registration.
This week 13 startups raised around $106.3 Mn funding and six startup acquisitions took place in the Indian startup ecosystem. (The startup funding calculations are based on the startups that disclosed funding amount). One of the biggest funding this week was raised by hotel chain OYO securing a total of $800 Mn in its latest financing round led by SoftBank. Read more to find out other startups who made it to the list.
On September 28, the reports of ecommerce retailer Infibeam stock getting crashed by more than 70% in a single day circled the media all day round, leaving the industry amid a state of confusion. A few hours later, a WhatsApp message was found to be the culprit. The message circulating among traders raised concerns about the ecommerce company’s accounting practices.
In line with Supreme Court’s verdict on Aadhaar case thereby restricting the use of Aadhaar data by private entities, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has now reportedly asked Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) to prepare an action plan to ensure compliance with Supreme Court judgement.
San Francisco-headquartered global payments company Stripe has reportedly raised $245 Mn, at almost 2x valuation than the previous fund raise. The latest funding valued the company at $20 Bn, while the last valuation was $9.2 Bn after the $150 Mn fund raise in November 2016.
Ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision in the crypto case, India’s leading cryptocurrency exchange operator Zebpay has shut down its exchange operations. On the other hand Google is apparently going to partially lift the cryptocurrency and ICOs related ads ban. Let’s take a look at the some of the top Bitcoin-related developments this week!
The report discusses the vast scope of application of blockchain across industries, specifically exploring opportunities in India and explains the difference between blockchainand cryptocurrencies for readers with limited or no knowledge of the technology. Order your copy now!
In another major development, 10 leading media companies of India came together to launch the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) to work collaboratively on defining, creating, and fostering the digital news ecosystem in the country. Roundup with insights on these and other important Indian startup news stories…
Facebook has finally appointed Ajit Mohan as Managing Director and Vice-President, Facebook India. Mohan is expected to join Facebook early next year. He will be aligning teams and driving Facebook’s overall strategy in India. Let’s see the movers and shakers of this week…
In a step closer to officially become a portfolio company of US-based investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, Indian digital payments decacorn Paytm’s parent company One97 Communications has reportedly approved the investment of $300 Mn from Berkshire.
Unlike Japan, the US, Australia, and many other countries, India’s blockchaindevelopment has been caught in a Catch 22 situation where the central government and central banks want to promote blockchain projects but not cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings (ICOs), and crypto-tokens.
Here comes Stanza Living, a tech-enabled student accommodation platform, which wants to take the pain out of student living in India and redefine the space with its scalable, professionally managed offerings. The startup is based on a unique community living concept created for students moving to a new place.
To keep up with the growing sizes of early-stage funding rounds, Y Combinator announced this morning that it will increase the size of its investments to $150,000 for 7 percent equity starting with its winter 2019 batch. Since 2014, YC has invested $120,000 for 7 percent equity in its companies. It has increased the size of its investment before — in 2007, a YC “standard deal” was just $20,000.
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a cybersecurity law covering “smart” devices, making California the first state with such a law. The bill, SB-327, was introduced last year and passed the state senate in late August. The bill has been praised as a good first step by some and criticized by others for its vagueness. Cybersecurity expert Robert Graham has been one of its harshest critics.
Hackers may have accessed as many as 50 million Facebook user profiles without those users’ permission, Facebook said today. Facebook says the hackers took advantage of a “vulnerability in Facebook’s code” that gave them access to special “digital keys” that keep people logged into their accounts without needing to re-enter their password.
This is the Brain Pickings midweek newsletter: Every Wednesday, I plunge into my twelve-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as a timeless pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here – it’s free.) If you missed last week’s archival piece – Annie Dillard on choosing presence in a culture of productivity – you can read it here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love,” the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh admonished in his terrific treatise on how to love — a sentiment profoundly discomfiting in the context of our cultural mythology, which continually casts love as something that happens to us passively and by chance, something we fall into, something that strikes us arrow-like, rather than a skill attained through the same deliberate practice as any other pursuit of human excellence. Our failure to recognize this skillfulness aspect is perhaps the primary reason why love is so intertwined with frustration.
That’s what the great German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and philosopher Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900–March 18, 1980) examines in his 1956 masterwork The Art of Loving (public library) — a case for love as a skill to be honed the way artists apprentice themselves to the work on the way to mastery, demanding of its practitioner both knowledge and effort.
This book … wants to show that love is not a sentiment which can be easily indulged in by anyone, regardless of the level of maturity reached by him. It wants to convince the reader that all his attempts for love are bound to fail, unless he tries most actively to develop his total personality, so as to achieve a productive orientation; that satisfaction in individual love cannot be attained without the capacity to love one’s neighbor, without true humility, courage, faith and discipline. In a culture in which these qualities are rare, the attainment of the capacity to love must remain a rare achievement.
Fromm considers our warped perception of love’s necessary yin-yang:
Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.
People think that to love is simple, but that to find the right object to love — or to be loved by — is difficult. This attitude has several reasons rooted in the development of modern society. One reason is the great change which occurred in the twentieth century with respect to the choice of a “love object.”
Our fixation on the choice of “love object,” Fromm argues, has seeded a kind of “confusion between the initial experience of ‘falling’ in love, and the permanent state of being in love, or as we might better say, of ‘standing’ in love” — something Stendhal addressed more than a century earlier in his theory of love’s “crystallization.” Fromm considers the peril of mistaking the spark for the substance:
If two people who have been strangers, as all of us are, suddenly let the wall between them break down, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness is one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for persons who have been shut off, isolated, without love. This miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation. However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. The two persons become well acquainted, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement. Yet, in the beginning they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being “crazy” about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.
There is hardly any activity, any enterprise, which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love.
The only way to abate this track record of failure, Fromm argues, is to examine the underlying reasons for the disconnect between our beliefs about love and its actual machinery — which must include a recognition of love as an informed practice rather than an unmerited grace. Fromm writes:
The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. What are the necessary steps in learning any art? The process of learning an art can be divided conveniently into two parts: one, the mastery of the theory; the other, the mastery of the practice. If I want to learn the art of medicine, I must first know the facts about the human body, and about various diseases. When I have all this theoretical knowledge, I am by no means competent in the art of medicine. I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice, until eventually the results of my theoretical knowledge and the results of my practice are blended into one — my intuition, the essence of the mastery of any art. But, aside from learning the theory and practice, there is a third factor necessary to becoming a master in any art — the mastery of the art must be a matter of ultimate concern; there must be nothing else in the world more important than the art. This holds true for music, for medicine, for carpentry — and for love. And, maybe, here lies the answer to the question of why people in our culture try so rarely to learn this art, in spite of their obvious failures: in spite of the deep-seated craving for love, almost everything else is considered to be more important than love: success, prestige, money, power — almost all our energy is used for the learning of how to achieve these aims, and almost none to learn the art of loving.
In the remainder of the enduringly excellent The Art of Loving, Fromm goes on to explore the misconceptions and cultural falsehoods keeping us from mastering this supreme human skill, outlining both its theory and its practice with extraordinary insight into the complexities of the human heart. Complement it with French philosopher Alain Badiou on why we fall and stay in love and Mary Oliver on love’s necessary madnesses.
This is the brainpickings.org weekly digest by Maria Popova. If you missed last week’s edition — Walt Whitman on creativity, Toni Morrison on the deepest meaning of love, Martin Buber on what a tree can teach us about seeing each other fully — you can catch up right here. And if you’re enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
A decade later, and a decade before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, Steinbeck turned this abiding tug of war between good and evil into a literary inquiry in East of Eden (public library) — the 1952 novel that gave us his beautiful wisdom on creativity and the meaning of life, eventually adapted into the 1955 film of the same title starring James Dean.
Steinbeck opens the thirty-fourth chapter with a meditation on the most elemental question through which we experience and measure our lives:
A child may ask, “What is the world’s story about?” And a grown man or woman may wonder, “What way will the world go? How does it end and, while we’re at it, what’s the story about?”
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in a Pearl White serial of continuing thought and wonder. Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?
At the most fundamental level, the triumph of good over evil presupposes an openhearted curiosity about what is other than ourselves and a certain willingness for understanding — the moral choice of fathoming and honoring the reality, experience, and needs of persons and entities existing beyond our own consciousness. Steinbeck, too, saw the centrality of empathic understanding in the choice of goodness. Perhaps unsurprisingly — since he used his private journal as a creative sandbox for his novels— this sentiment originated in a diary entry.
In every bit of honest writing in the world… there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.
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The new A380-capable runway at Velana Airport in Maldives was accidentally inaugurated last week when an Air India A320 mistakenly landed on the unopened runway. This week, an Etihad A380 became the first aircraft to land on the opened runway and the first A380 to visit Maldives.
Cathay Pacific’s 777 B-HNO was in Xiamen for maintenance and application of the airline’s new livery. The paint shop, well, we’ll let you see for yourself. B-HNO is soon headed back into the paint shop for a bit of corrective action.
The first Boeing 777 ever built was sent to the Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona this week. WA-001 was used as a test aircraft before being acquired by Cathay Pacific in 2000 where it operated 20,519 flights before retirement.
In our latest update for iOS (7.10), we’ve added Siri Shortcuts compatibility. If you see the ’Add to Siri’ on a page, you can tap that to create a shortcut. Siri Shortcuts works with features like AR View, nearby flights, and airport pages.
This is the Brain Pickings midweek newsletter: Every Wednesday, I plunge into my twelve-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as a timeless pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here – it’s free.) If you missed last week’s archival piece – Shel Silverstein’s sweet allegory for the secret of love and the key to lasting relationships – you can read it here. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
She goes on to illustrate this existential tension between presence and productivity with a fine addition to history’s great daily routines and daily rituals:
The most appealing daily schedule I know is that of a turn-of-the-century Danish aristocrat. He got up at four and set out on foot to hunt black grouse, wood grouse, woodcock, and snipe. At eleven he met his friends, who had also been out hunting alone all morning. They converged “at one of these babbling brooks,” he wrote. He outlined the rest of his schedule. “Take a quick dip, relax with a schnapps and a sandwich, stretch out, have a smoke, take a nap or just rest, and then sit around and chat until three. Then I hunt some more until sundown, bathe again, put on white tie and tails to keep up appearances, eat a huge dinner, smoke a cigar and sleep like a log until the sun comes up again to redden the eastern sky. This is living…. Could it be more perfect?”
Dillard juxtaposes the Danish aristocrat’s revelry in everyday life with the grueling routine of a couple of literary history’s most notorious self-disciplinarians:
Wallace Stevens in his forties, living in Hartford, Connecticut, hewed to a productive routine. He rose at six, read for two hours, and walked another hour—three miles—to work. He dictated poems to his secretary. He ate no lunch; at noon he walked for another hour, often to an art gallery. He walked home from work—another hour. After dinner he retired to his study; he went to bed at nine. On Sundays, he walked in the park. I don’t know what he did on Saturdays. Perhaps he exchanged a few words with his wife, who posed for the Liberty dime. (One would rather read these people, or lead their lives, than be their wives. When the Danish aristocrat Wilhelm Dinesen shot birds all day, drank schnapps, napped, and dressed for dinner, he and his wife had three children under three. The middle one was Karen.)
Jack London claimed to write twenty hours a day. Before he undertook to write, he obtained the University of California course list and all the syllabi; he spent a year reading the textbooks in philosophy and literature. In subsequent years, once he had a book of his own under way, he set his alarm to wake him after four hours’ sleep. Often he slept through the alarm, so, by his own account, he rigged it to drop a weight on his head. I cannot say I believe this, though a novel like The Sea-Wolf is strong evidence that some sort of weight fell on his head with some sort of frequency — but you wouldn’t think a man would claim credit for it. London maintained that every writer needed a technique, experience, and a philosophical position.
At the heart of these anecdotes of living is a dynamic contemplation of life itself:
There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur’s life a good one, or Thomas Mann’s?
The Writing Life is sublime in its entirety, the kind of book that stays with you for lifetimes.
These words above, from the fictional title character of the film, Forrest Gump, have amazing clarity and truth. Think about it as it applies to you. We all do stupid things, mostly by accident, sometimes by omission, and other times strictly due to a lack of concentration. But, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Let’s take a closer look.
I feel safe in venturing that few, if any, of us wake up each morning with the singular goal of, “Gee, what stupid things can I do today and still live to tell about it?” Yet, we manage to do more stupid than brilliant things without really trying. The fact that we are not aware of our own propensity for stupidity may be more of a curse than a blessing. The fortunate end of this is that most often the stupid things we do are little things which, when taken individually, have little or no effect on our life each day. Yet day after day we still do the stupid without regard to the cumulative effect it has on our lives as a whole. While some consider doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result to be a definition of insanity, I like to think of it a dose of good ole homegrown stupidity. This type of behavior will eventually call into question the foundation of Respect we have for yourself.
RESPECT AND THE SPEAKER
As a speaker, you must be ever aware that your authority to speak rests greatly and precariously on the foundation Credibility you established for yourself. A large portion of your credibility is impacted and shaped by the depth of respect you have for yourself, your foundational message, and your relationship to the audiences you serve.
In many cases, as a speaker, it is what we do when we are saying nothing that can easily betray the depth of our credibility and the level of respect we maintain.
You’re at the airport on the way to a speaking opportunity when you step into the newsstand to pick up some water and a snack for the flight. As you walk down the aisle you cross in front of another shopper who is tortuously deciding which chewy snack will hit the spot and you do so without even offering a courteous, “Excuse me.”
“So, what,” you say, “they probably didn’t even notice!”
You might be right. But, that’s not the question you should be asking yourself. The real deep question here is. “Did you notice?” And if you did notice and did not offer a polite, “Excuse me” you may have committed a double offense, one to the person you offended and two to your personal dignity and respect.
When you walk in to your speaking engagement the next day, you are greeted by the very person you were rude to at the airport. You feel stupid for having acted badly in a situation you can never undo. You cannot NOT communicate and the message you have sent through your action is a sign of disrespect and questionable credibility.
RESPECT AND YOUR SPEAKING VOICE
“Actions speak louder than words” and growing your speaking voice is less about what you’re saying and more about the foundational base from which are speaking. While you are diligently digging to discover content that matters to you and will impact your audiences, your actions throughout the process will help solidify a platform with the integrity to support your message.
The more actions of respect inward and outward that you perform, the stronger your experiential base as a speaker will be. Not only will what you say grow, but the strength of conviction within the voice behind those words will grow as well.
SPEAKING OF RESPECT
The general point here is that it is more than just a common courtesy so say “Excuse me” when we infringe on another’s space. By doing so, we acknowledge there are rules of conduct which we ascribe to as a civilized society. These rules help us to create order while they relieve us from the potential rule of chaos.
Saying, “Excuse me” not only bestows a measure of respect on the infringed, it bestows a measure of civility on the infringer as well. This behavior can and will establish an atmosphere of mutual respect between each person involved in the encounter. Respect makes our world a better place to live. It makes our common efforts rewarding. It makes us understand the basis of our common existence.
My challenge to you is to try to be courteous and respectful in all situations. Particularly those when you are about to knowingly do something stupid. Give yourself a break. Take yourself off of autopilot and take command your vessel. At the end of the day, acknowledge the stupid little things you have done and make a conscious effort not to repeat them.
Remember, the most important person in the world is you. If you don’t show yourself the maximum amount of respect you deserve, it’s quite possible no one else will either. If you keep on going day after day repeating one small stupidity after another, it will have a cumulative effect on your reserve of self-respect.
“Stupid is as stupid does,” but stupid does not have to become a standard of performance or an excuse to be rude.
Thanks for your support as a reader of my blog and I eagerly welcome any comments on this post or suggestions you might have for a future blog on a topic near and dear to you in the comments section below. As always, please feel free to share this post with a friend or colleague.
Being pretty isn’t easy. The most beautiful women in history weren’t just born that way. They put hard work into it—and, sometimes, a few crushed bug guts, stewed birds, or dung.
It’s the dirty little secret behind glamour: No matter how fantastic someone looks, it never comes naturally. Behind every great beauty in history, there’s a dirty secret about all the work that went into looking that good.
The most beautiful woman on earth, in the 19th century, was Empress Elisabeth of Austria. She was famous across Europe for her impeccable skin and the thick, chestnut hair that fell all the way down to her feet.
None of which came easy. To keep her skin beautiful, she would crush strawberries over her hands, face, and neck, bathe in warm olive oil, and sleep in what has only been described as a “mask lined inside with raw veal.”
It was the closest she came to eating food. Her favorite dish was pressed extract of chicken, partridge, venison, and beef—which isn’t so much a “food” as something you’d find in a spice cabinet. And even then, she’d wrap herself in a corset so tight that her waist only measured 49.5 centimeters (19.5 in) around.
She spent three hours each day getting her hair down, mainly because it was so long that it would get tied up in knots. And when it was put up in ribbons, her hair would get so heavy that it would give her headaches.
It meant that, more often than not, she was stuck indoors, too afraid to let the wind ruin her hair. But if you want to be beautiful, sometimes you have to give up on little luxuries, like ever leaving your house.
Queen Cleopatra won the hearts of the most powerful men alive. Maybe it was her grace. Maybe it was her charm. Or maybe it was that sweet aroma of dung and insect guts.
Cleopatra, after all, almost certainly followed the usual beauty conventions of her time—and that meant wearing a lipstick made out of mashed-up beetle guts and putting powdered crocodile dung under her eyes.
But Cleopatra didn’t limit herself to a peasant’s beauty regimen. She was a queen, and that meant that she could afford the most luxurious treatment of all: bathing in sour donkey milk. Her servants would milk 700 donkeys each day so that they could fill a tub with their milk. Then, once it had gone bad, Cleopatra would bathe inside.
The theory was that it would reduce wrinkles—and it may actually have worked. Soured lactose turns into lactic acid, which can make the surface layer of skin on a woman’s body peel off, revealing the smoother, blemish-free skin underneath.
That was the real secret to her beauty: burning her flesh off.
The Egyptian queen Nefertiti’s name meant “the beautiful one has come”—and she lived up to it. She was so beautiful that, in the early 20th century, a statue of her face caused an international sensation. More than 3,000 years after she died, her looks were still front-page news.
And no wonder. She put no small amount of work into looking good.
The queens of Nefertiti’s time would be buried with their makeup, and so, while they didn’t write many of their beauty secrets down, we’ve been able to find their methods left behind in their tombs. While her tomb has never been found, the tombs of her contemporaries give us a pretty good idea of how she did it.
Nefertiti was completely hairless. Her entire body was shaved from head to toe with a razor, including the hair on the top of her head. Instead, she topped her head with a wig and painted her eyes black with something called kohl.
Ancient Egyptian kohl, incidentally, was made out of the dark lead ore galena—which means that Nefertiti was slowly killing herself with lead poisoning every time she put on makeup.
But it’s highly unlikely that the lead killed her. There’s simply no way it could have finished her off before her lipstick. Her lipstick, after all, contained bromine mannite, another toxic substance that it’s generally believed would have poisoned her long before the lead she dabbed around her eyes.
Poisoning yourself with lead is no passing fad. It’s been a great look for thousands of years. While Nefertiti may have dabbed a little lead around her eyes, it was nothing compared to Queen Elizabeth I.
During the Elizabethan era, the most popular skin product was something called “Venetian ceruse”—which, quite simply, was a mixture of lead and vinegar that women would put all over their skin to make them look porcelain white.
Nobody used more of it than Queen Elizabeth herself. When she was 29, Elizabeth contracted smallpox and was left with scars all over her skin. She was too humiliated to show her scars in public—and so, instead, she covered every inch of her flesh with the toxic white paint.
Queen Elizabeth used so much of it that she was completely unrecognizable without it. When one man, the Earl of Essex, accidentally peeked a sight of her without her makeup on, he went around joking that she’d hidden a “crooked carcass” underneath that thick veneer of Venetian ceruse.
The French queen Marie Antoinette didn’t exactly let herself eat cake. She had a reputation as a world-class beauty, and she was determined to keep it up.
Like Empress Elisabeth, she would go to bed with a face mask, but Antoinette’s—made of cognac, eggs, powdered milk, and lemon—sounds a little bit less like a beauty treatment and a little bit more like the catering menu at a birthday party.
She’d start the morning by washing her face with a facial cleanser made out of pigeons. In those days, that was a selling point: the product came proudly labeled with the mean “Eau Cosmetique de Pigeon” and a little ad promising every bottle had been made with “eight pigeons stewed.”
Then she would get dressed—for the first of three times each day. As queen of France, Marie Antoinette was expected to never wear the same thing twice. And so, each year, she would 120,000 livres on clothes, the equivalent to about $4 million today.
She may even have indulged in the popular French fashion of tracing her veins with a blue pencil. At the time, the women of France wanted to be so thin that they were translucent—so they’d draw the inner workings of their bodies, trying to convince the men that they had transparent skin.
Mary, Queen of Scots, wasn’t a natural beauty. She was born with a nose a little large and a chin a little too sharp—but she was a queen, and she was determined to be beautiful.
To keep her skin as striking as possible, she had her servants fill a bathtub with a white wine. She would wade in it, convinced that the wine was improving her complexion.
It sounds decadent, but it’s actually something people still do today. Today, it’s called vinotherapy, and there are places all around the world where you can experience the Mary, Queen of Scots, treatment for yourself.
It’s hard to say exactly what the queen used, but the modern vinotherapists don’t actually pour drinkable, alcoholic wine. Instead, they use the leftover compost from the winemaking process; the “pips and pulps” of grapes that get left behind. So, no—you can’t get drunk off of it.
4Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita: Starting Your Own Cosmetics Lab
Empress Zoe Porphyrogenita was one of the most beautiful women in the Byzantine Empire. She didn’t just look good when she was young, though. Even when she was well into her sixties, it’s said, she still looked like a 20-year-old.
She certainly worked hard enough for it. After becoming the empress, Zoe Porphyrogenita had an entire laboratory dedicated to making her cosmeticsbuilt inside of the imperial palace. It was a real cosmetic factory, every bit as huge and expensive as the ones that supply whole countries. At this one, though, Zoe was the only customer.
It was expensive—but for the empress, blowing a small fortune was just all in a day’s work. It’s said that she was “the sort of woman who could exhaust a sea teaming with gold-dust in one day.”
But it’s also said that “like a well-baked chicken, every part of her was firm and in good condition.” This is definitive proof that it worked, because, clearly, Zoe looked so good that the men who saw her were so smitten that they couldn’t even form a sentence that didn’t make your skin crawl.
3Lucrezia Borgia: Spending Multiple Days Washing Your Hair
The poet Lord Byron once said that Lucrezia Borgia’s hair was “the prettiest and fairest imaginable.” He wasn’t just trying out a line for a new poem—he was in love, so much so, in fact, that he stole a strand of her hair and kept it by his bed.
It sounds one of those touching love stories that usually end with someone filing a restraining order. Lucrezia, though, probably appreciated it. She deserved a little recognition for the amount of work she put into that hair—because she would spend days washing it.
Lucrezia’s hair was bright and blonde, but that wasn’t nature. Everyone else in her family had dark hair. Lucrezia, though, made sure hers shined like the Sun by rinsing it in lye and lemon juice for hours, then drying it out in the sunlight for the better part of a day.
It took so much time that she repeatedly canceled trips to wash her hair. Multiple letters from Lucrezia’s attendants have survived to to this day. In them, she politely apologizes to people and explains that she will be a few days late because she has to “put her clothes in order and wash her head.”
Helen of Troy had the face that launched 1,000 ships. She was a woman so beautiful that thousands of men died for her honor.
Well, either that, or else she was just a figment of an old Greek guy’s imagination. If Homer really did make her up, though, he had a remarkable understanding of women’s cosmetic care. Because packed deep in her legend is a beauty regimen that really works.
Helen of Troy, according to the Iliad, would bathe in vinegar. Every day, her attendants would prepare what, technically speaking, was a bathtub full of acid, and she would just dive right in.
Today, people tend to assume that she used apple cider vinegar or that she diluted it in water, simply because, otherwise, it sounds pretty horrible. After all, that’s something people still do today—bathe in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. And it actually works. The vinegar balances the body’s pH levels, which can have a cleansing effect.
But there’s nothing saying Helen of Troy ever added water. She may just have dived right into a bathtub filled to the brim with white vinegar. It would’ve hurt, and she would’ve smelled—but that’s what it takes to look good enough to start a war.
1Simonetta Vespucci: Arsenic, Leeches, And Human Urine
Even if you don’t know her name, you’ve seen Simonetta Vespucci’s face. She was the muse for some of the greatest painters of the Renaissance. She was even chosen to model for the goddess of love herself at the center of the painting The Birth of Venus.
In the Renaissance, everyone wanted to look like her. And so they copied her beauty regimen—leeches, poisons, and all.
To keep their skin pale, white, and beautiful, the women in Vespucci’s time would attach leeches to their ears. The leeches would drain the blood out of their faces, leaving them deathly pale.
Those who didn’t want to go that far, though, could always use a face mask. Renaissance women would mix bread crumbs and egg whites with vinegar and then apply it liberally on their faces—a beauty secret that, conveniently, doubles as a great recipe for fried chicken.
Eyebrow hair, at the time, had to be plucked, or, ideally, burned straight off. Women would remove their hairs with arsenic and rock alum and then sand it all down with gold.
But that was nothing compared to what they’d do to get that long, flowing, golden mane of hair on her head. For Vespucci, it just came naturally, but the poorer women who wanted to copy her found their own way. They bleached their hair in human urine.
Sure, it sounds gross—but every beautiful woman has to do a few things that just aren’t pretty.
When it comes to lawsuits concerning the food industry, someone has to be in the wrong. Often, we’ll find that a company is trying to deceive its customers, but in some cases, the customers themselves can make some pretty outlandish claims.
While it’s true that most lawsuits are pretty straightforward, a select few of them stood out and made headlines across the world. Some were justified class-action lawsuits, while others just seem like feeble attempts at suing the food industry for something they weren’t responsible for. Here are ten utterly ridiculous, absurd, and astonishing lawsuits that involved the food industry.