Personally, I’m pleased that, if Ichiro had to go, he wound up on the Yankees. The Yankees have as good a shot at the World Series as anybody, and Ichiro’s never played in anything even close to that environment, on and off the field. I hope he gets his ring. He deserves a ring, if more for his career than for his season, and while the Yankees are by no means the most rootable bandwagon in the league, there’s no other playoff contender that boasts an Ichiro. I think it’s neat that the Orioles, the Pirates, and the A’s are in playoff contention. It’s fun to root for underdogs. I don’t feel as strongly about rooting for underdogs as I feel about rooting for Ichiro. I always need a reason to root for somebody, and there’s no reason better than this one.
The Buddhist view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence.…To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-wracking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of passion, and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of his worldly existence.
“I am lured by faraway distances, the immense void I project upon the world. A feeling of emptiness grows in me it infiltrates my body like a light and impalpable fluid. In its progress, like a dilation into infinity, I perceive the mysterious presence of the most contradictory feelings ever to inhabit a human soul. I am simultaneously happy and unhappy, exalted and depressed, overcome by both pleasure and despair in the most contradictory harmonies. I am so cheerful and yet so sad that my tears reflect at once both heaven and earth. If only for the joy of my sadness, I wish there were no death on this earth.”—E.M. Cioran 1911-1995
It’s a store of value, meaning that money allows you to defer consumption until a later date.
It’s a unit of account, meaning that it allows you to assign a value to different goods without having to compare them. So instead of saying that a Rolex watch is worth six cows, you can just say it (or the cows) cost $10 000.
And it’s a medium of exchange—an easy and efficient way for you and me and others to trade goods and services with one another.
All of these roles have to do with buying and selling, and that’s how the modern world thinks of money—so much so that it seems peculiar to conceive of money in any other way.
Yet in tribal and other “primitive” economies, money served a very different purpose—less a store of value or medium of exchange, much more a social lubricant. As the anthropologist David Graeber puts it in his recent book Debt: The First 5000 Years (Melville House, 2011), money in those societies was a way “to arrange marriages, establish the paternity of children, head off feuds, console mourners at funerals, seek forgiveness in the case of crimes, negotiate treaties, acquire followers.” Money, then, was not for buying and selling stuff but for helping to define the structure of social relations.
How, then, did money become the basis of trade? By the time money makes its first appearance in written records, in Mesopotamia during the third millennium B.C.E., that society already had a sophisticated financial structure in place, and merchants were using silver as a standard of value to balance their accounts. But cash was still not widely used.
It’s really in the seventh century B.C.E., when the small kingdom of Lydia introduced the world’s first standardized metal coins, that you start to see money being used in a recognizable way. Located in what is now Turkey, Lydia sat on the cusp between the Mediterranean and the Near East, and commerce with foreign travelers was common. And that, it turns out, is just the kind of situation in which money is quite useful.
To understand why, imagine doing a trade in the absence of money—that is, through barter. (Let’s leave aside the fact that no society has ever relied solely or even largely on barter; it’s still an instructive concept.) The chief problem with barter is what economist William Stanley Jevons called the “double coincidence of wants.” Say you have a bunch of bananas and would like a pair of shoes; it’s not enough to find someone who has some shoes or someone who wants some bananas. To make the trade, you need to find someone who has shoes he’s willing to trade and wants bananas. That’s a tough task.
With a common currency, though, the task becomes easy: You just sell your bananas to someone in exchange for money, with which you then buy shoes from someone else. And if, as in Lydia, you have foreigners from whom you’d like to buy or to whom you’d like to sell, having a common medium of exchange is obviously valuable. That is, money is especially useful when dealing with people you don’t know and may never see again.
Will getting an education help you achieve the American dream? College graduates still earn twice what their peers with only a high school diploma earn, but if you don’t have the educational and social opportunities you need to actually get into college and graduate, your chances of raking in a higher salary are pretty slim. Indeed, in an appearance this week on The Daily Show to promote his new book The Price of Inequality, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz told Jon Stewart that the life chances of “a young person born in the United States” are “more dependent on the income and education of his parents” than in any other other advanced country in the world.
Although the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth have access to better education opportunities, we still tell ourselves that kids growing up in low income communities with parents who don’t have an education can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and end up as a Harvard grads if they just work really hard. We saw this attitude at play earlier this year with Forbes columnist Gene Marks’ much derided “here’s how you poor minority children should try to get an education” advice column, “If I Was a Black Kid.” And, although there areincredibly inspiring of examples of kids making it out of the hood and getting accepted to top-notch schools, that’s not the norm.
Stiglitz says the inequality of opportunity we’re facing now is worse than it was in Old Europe, which means the American Dream has become a myth. His conversation with Stewart raises some great questions about why we’re accepting an institutionally driven system that lets people who have wealth play by and create a different set of rules. Stiglitz also goes on to question the way banks were bailed out in the financial crisis but student loan debt can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.
Good bosses and mentors take a stand on how they want things done, which sets the standard for the organisation at large. No manager’s style will make everybody happy. The key is to be consistent, so that employees learn how to operate within your particular approach.
While at McKinsey, I worked on a project for a manager with incredible attention to detail. His reports were premeditated and polished to a tee: the structure of the document, the choice of words, the rigour of the analysis, even the labeling and placement of the footnotes. At first, I grumbled about his “anal-retentiveness.” But I soon learned that his painstaking approach drove real results and I benefited greatly from employing it throughout my time at the company.
In my next job, I made investments for a billionaire entrepreneur who was a risk taker, unbound by process, structure and other norms. At first, this was chaotic and confusing. But he, too, was incredibly successful and he taught me to be comfortable operating in an environment in constant flux. I learned how to anticipate the unpredictable. And without this guidance, launching and running an internet start-up would have been a daunting task indeed.
The key is: whatever your style, teach it and bring others onboard. They may not love your approach, but they will adopt it. Nobody respects a flip-flopper.
2. Inspire through conviction.
The best mentors and bosses are those who inspire through passion and conviction. Marvin was a master at getting people to do things they normally wouldn’t do because he believed in his ideas so strongly. He got Diane von Furstenberg to ride an elephant to a Bloomingdale’s store opening event. He convinced the city of New York to change the direction of traffic on a major avenue so that the Queen of England could visit Bloomingdale’s. For Marvin, the sky was the limit and his passion inspired those around him to dream big. Whatever you believe in, whatever you stand for, broadcast it with all of your heart. Conviction is infectious — demonstrate it and your people will dream big with you.
3. Give honest feedback frequently.
You need to be extraordinarily honest and forthcoming about the feedback you give your mentees, positive and negative. Your people can’t be proud of what they don’t know they’ve done right and they can’t fix what they don’t know is broken. A month into my job at McKinsey, I was shocked by a performance review from the partner leading my first project, detailing my need for improvement in several areas. But I sucked it up, made changes and came to really appreciate granular criticism on a regular basis as critical to my growth. I probably would not have progressed at the company without the constant, tell-it-like-it-is feedback loop.
Last month, when M’O completed its latest round of financing, I received a message, out of the blue, from that same partner who gave me my first performance review. “I am so proud of you,” it said. So the cycle of feedback continues. Be honest, be critical, be forthright.
4. Share yourself
Have the confidence and willingness to share your experiences and relationships with your people. That’s half of what they are looking for.
Marvin Traub went out of his way to share with me his vast network of contacts. Over daily breakfasts at the Regency and lunches at the Four Seasons, Marvin and his business partner, Morty Singer, introduced me to hundreds of colleagues and associates — including my co-founder, Lauren Santo Domingo. Many of these introductions have formed the basis of my professional community. And Marvin’s generosity in this regard motivated me to work even harder for him. The point: be generous with your network of knowledge and contacts and your mentees will bend over backwards for you. Hoarding only slows their growth and fosters resentment.
5. Encourage debate
Just because you are the boss, it doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Sure, you know that, but you really have to believe and show it. Encourage debate among your people. Get them to speak up and voice their opinions, even if they’re unpopular opinions, particularly with you. Let feisty people tell you your idea is stupid. Help timid people articulate their support for your idea. Good mentors listen and learn and develop outcomes that take into account different personalities and all sides of the argument. To be clear: this is not about letting people be rude — it’s about enabling people to say whatever they think about the idea at hand.
HOW TO BE A GOOD EMPLOYEE AND MENTEE:
1. Debate respectfully
In keeping with the previous point, when your mentor encourages debate, be vocal in expressing your opinions. Articulate your point and provide evidence to back it up. But don’t get out of line if your boss doesn’t see it your way. Your boss is usually your boss for a reason. Pattern recognition and concern for other factors may influence the final decision, even if the outcome seems counter-intuitive to you.
2. Learn from the good and the bad
Nobody is perfect. All bosses and mentors have good and bad qualities, just like you do. Don’t lose sight of the good because you are preoccupied with the bad. And try to learn from what you don’t like: make a note of what you don’t agree with, so that you might do differently when you find yourself in a similar situation. If you’re not also a mentor already, you will be one day and you’ll want to draw on all of these notes.
Make sure you share the work you are doing. Your mentor isn’t psychic. So share loudly and share often. Provide regular updates and schedule frequent one-on-ones. Pick up the phone, pop into the office. Do not wait until a mentor or boss has to ask about something. Indeed, if he or she has to ask, it’s a clear sign that you are undercommunicating.
4. Ask for help
Always ask your boss or mentor for help when you need it. Whether you don’t fully understand a task or feel stretched by your workload, it’s your obligation to ask for back-up. If you think you might need help, then you need help. Said differently: it’s unacceptable to not ask for help and then miss a deadline. That’s a sure fire way to get fired. No boss should be upset with you for asking for help. A boss will, however, look at you critically if you overpromise and underdeliver. Don’t mess this one up.
5. Your boss is human too
Just as you want your mentor to take a genuine interest in what you are doing, take a genuine interest in return. It can be lonely at the top and there is often a lot of good that comes from trying to get your boss to open up in an appropriate but personal way. Having a relaxed human dialogue with a boss or mentor is often the best way to strengthen your relationship and make the most of your learning. But be honest and respectful about how you reach out. Idle chatter or kissing-up is interpreted as just that and may do more harm than good. Better to pick a topic of common interest and dive deep, batting stuff around over a period of time, like an extended chess game. Bosses need love, too, and sometimes the best form of love is a conversation with about something where both parties temporarily put business aside and lose yourselves in something personal or even frivolous.
The Parisian “garçon” with his brasserie apron and brusque attitude already gets a bad press in France and abroad.
Now French journalists have stuck the knife in further by revealing the wiles and tricks employed by staff of Gallic eateries to make diners part with their cash.
In an article headlined: “Seven serving tips to increase the bill”, the website Rue89 claims the waiter or waitress who slaps a free bowl of peanuts on the table or asks: “Still or sparkling water?” is – quelle surprise – probably after your money.
Ever wondered why you have been given a draughty table next to the door, window or on the terrace in a deserted restaurant? Rue89 says it is probably to make the place look busy and attract more customers.
Once seated, the “closed” question: “An apéritif, or straight on to the wine?” makes it more difficult for customers to ask for a jug of free water on which there is no profit margin. Listing wines in a certain order encourages diners to order an expensive bottle; thus the waitress who says: “Sauvignon, chardonnay, chablis?” is banking on the customer not remembering the first two and not wanting to ask her to repeat the question, says the report. It adds that servers who keep filling your glass with wine or sparkling water are almost certainly trying to sell another bottle.
Alexia, a waitress in a “chic brasserie”, told the website: “I serve the water regularly so the bottle is finished bang in the middle of the meal, then I suggest another bottle. Almost always, the customer orders.”
Another trick of the restaurant trade, says the report, is serving salty snacks with pre-meal drinks to make customers thirsty and serving the occasional glass “on the house” to detain diners at the table if business is slack. Once the main course is finished, clearing the plates and glasses quickly may make the customer feel obliged to order more. Likewise, plonking the desert menu on the table is more successful than reeling off a list of puddings, it found.
"You would think it wouldn’t make much difference, but in fact it’s key," Romain, a waiter, told Rue89.
Finally, a server with their eye on a good tip will deliver the bill with an “everything OK?” and, if paid in cash, will return lots of small change that is easier left than a banknote.
Aurélie Viry, a teacher with AV-Conseil, which offers catering and hostelry courses, says serving is not just about taking orders and delivering plates.
"Everything that can be sold means more profits. It’s all about how it’s proposed. We’re not forcing the customer, who can always say no," Viry says.
The function of the mirror system is a subject of much speculation. Many researchers in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology consider that this system provides the physiological mechanism for the perception action coupling (see the common coding theory). They argue that mirror neurons may be important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Some researchers also speculate that mirror systems may simulate observed actions, and thus contribute to theory of mind skills, while others relate mirror neurons to language abilities. Neuroscientists such as Marco Iacoboni (UCLA) have argued that mirror neuron systems in the human brain help us understand the actions and intentions of other people. In a study published in March 2005 Iacoboni and his colleagues reported that mirror neurons could discern if another person who was picking up a cup of tea planned to drink from it or clear it from the table. In addition, Iacoboni has argued that mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.
(via Quora) If you are feeling mischievous, there are many things that you can do besides fake yawning to get reactions from people in your vicinity. Other things you can do:
cross or uncross your legs while sitting in a circle and watch everyone else follow suit.
put a hand up to your face when you are in a group and watch everyone else do the same.
It’s been a testing journey, finally being out on my own. But there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing ideas and dreams that have been floating in your head materialize into reality.
I always had a lot of gripes when it came to womenswear designs. For example, why don’t jackets have inner pockets? Why are there non-functional pockets? Why does it seem like “designed for women” equals “crop and shrunken”
After years of complaints from my female friends about how hard it was to find a good leather jacket, and my girlfriend routinely stealing jackets from my closet, I set out to solve these issues. LÉON was my response.
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It was three months into my solo road trip when I grew genuinely scared. I’d been pitching my tent across the country, but I had rolled into Bar Harbor, Maine, on July 4 only to discover all the campgrounds and hotels were full. Wouldn’t you know: The grand celebration of our freedom left me with nowhere to stay. So I parked my car in Acadia National Park, because I figured serial killers wouldn’t bother with the entrance fee, and I curled up in the backseat with the only protection I had: A ball peen hammer, and a teddy bear.
Yes, I carried a teddy bear with me on my swashbuckling Jack Kerouac adventure. It was a gift from my high school boyfriend, and it reminded me of being loved, and I had dragged it along the ground of the previous decade, across college and my first career and various romantic disappointments. That bear was a kind of battle armor, even as it squished up against my face.
And I needed it that night, because my mind was a haunted house of broken glass and men in ski masks lurching from the shadows. There were so many reasons to be frightened while traveling alone – 18-wheelers, lightning storms, roadside motels that reeked of death – but the most formidable was my own imagination. I told myself I’d be fine, that no one would find me here, but I was wrong, because I was startled awake by a flashlight flooding the window at 3 a.m.
“Ma’am, you can’t sleep here,” said the park ranger. I tumbled out of the car, barefoot, and how strange I must have looked to him: the ball peen hammer swinging from one hand, the teddy bear from the other. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see his face, a mixture of amusement and disbelief. What the hell are you doing here?
The truth was, I didn’t know.
At the age of 27, I got in my aquamarine Honda and drove 26,000 miles around the country for five months by myself. It was foolish and lonely and 10 years later, I still think it might be the best thing I’ve ever done. I wore clothes till they were filthy and lived on baked beans and peanut butter, but the luxury of that time is unimaginable to me now, because I woke up every morning with no one’s agenda but my own. What did I want to see today? Where did I want to go?
I’ve been thinking about that trip recently, because I’ve been reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild,” an account of her foolish and lonely solo walk along the Pacific Crest Trail at the age of 26. As far as feats of fortitude go, Strayed blows me out of the water. She loses her toenails. She swallows her own mother’s ashes. Meanwhile, I visited the Cereal Museum at the Mall of America (and I highly recommend it).
But what we shared was a reckless sense of adventure and a grandiosity to believe we could make such a journey in the first place, when many people were ready to convince us we could not. A woman traveling alone threatens tradition and propriety. And because women often doubt themselves, we stay toward safe harbors and soft landings, hiding behind the needs and wants of others.
I spent my mid-20s in this crouch of safety. My friends scattered to both coasts after college, but I stayed in the same city where we went to school, in the same state where I’d grown up. I got a good job at an alt weekly. I learned to shoot pool. But I hid behind 20 extra pounds and a pyramid of empty beer cans. I would get these honking crushes on guys at work — I lived lifetimes with them in my mind — but I would run into them at the printer and be all blank stares and whatever.
My female friends were not like this. They were crashing against the rocks of 20-something relationships in a way that was thrilling and age-appropriate – living with boyfriends, dating older men, dating women. But I spent the ages of 23, and 24, and 25 drumming my fingers on the table, waiting for a big romance that never arrived.
Men had always been the instigators of adventure for me. It was my older brother I stumbled behind as a little girl, tripping along the ground to try to keep his pace. It was my college boyfriend who whisked me out to Colorado two weeks after we met, where we drove all night and slept under the stars. I kept thinking if I met the guy, then I would lose the weight, I would stop drinking myself into a coma, I would crawl out of my hidey-hole.
But I knew in my heart that the opposite was true. No one could rescue me from my own isolation. The first line of “David Copperfield” kicked around my mind: “Whether I shall be the hero of my own life, or whether that position will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
If you are lucky, you stop seeing the world as a series of things you do not have — a boyfriend, a baby, an adorable terrier – and you start noticing the things you do have. A healthy bank account, unburdened by mortgages or school loans. No romantic ties. Loving parents who wanted nothing but happiness for me. Years to burn. That kind of freedom is like a command from the universe to get off your ass and do something amazing.
And so, at the age of 26, I quit my job and went to travel in South America for four months. It was amazing, although I don’t need to tell you about it now, partly because that is not the point of this essay, and partly because I am the kind of person who can’t read about someone else’s mind-blowing world travel without quietly seething with envy. Oh, I’m so happy you saw the face of God in the stones of Machu Picchu, I’ll just be over here dribbling this Chipotle burrito down the front of my shirt and dying inside.
The point of this essay is that I went by myself, and doing so made me wonder what else I could do alone. A map of the world became like a series of boxes unchecked. I kept thinking about my 401K — $7,000 gathering dust in a series of graphs and charts that arrived in the mail each month. I kept thinking about those swaggering tales of men blazing across American asphalt: Soaring down Route 66 with the windows down, sliding into some corner booth while a waitress called them “honey.” Travel can be an addiction, and five months on the road suited that greediness in me. I didn’t want to go to one place; I wanted to go to all places. I wanted to run my hands across the entire continent.
Not everyone loved this plan. My parents, for instance. But my mother is partly to blame for my wanderlust in the first place. I had grown up hearing tales of her trips to Germany and Austria as a young woman. She traded the cost of an engagement ring to my father for a chance to hike around in the Black Forest, which I thought was the coolest thing ever – to commit to travel and marriage all at once. (My parents are still together.) So she sucked up my eccentric journeys, and settled for a call from every port. It wasn’t easy for her. The world is a wicked place, and no one likes the thought of their only daughter swallowing fear and vulnerability on a daily basis. But at some point, every one of us must stare down this calculation: How safe do we want to be? How much of ourselves are we willing to give up for it?
Yes, I was scared at times, but I had also been scared sitting on my futon watching “The Real World.” (Scared of the phone, scared of the future, scared of what people said about me.) The far more terrifying fate, as I saw it, was that I would fail to become the person I wanted to be. I still wasn’t sure what that was yet. I spent much of those five months feeling like a kite dangling on a string. Was I going to head to grad school? Write for television? Open my own school? My mind filled with clouds. But my God, it was fun. It was boring, too. I took eight-hour hikes and let my mind wander, or sang the “Xanadu” soundtrack for the 18 billionth time.
I also made incredibly stupid decisions. One night, while walking to my friend John’s house in Portland, Maine, I climbed in the car of a strange man who offered me a ride because he thought I was cute. I know better than this, but I was buzzed on five beers and the whiff of danger. He got lost almost immediately, and I grew nervous, and at some point, he started yelling at me, “So you think I’m a rapist? You think I’m going to kill you?” And the answers to those questions were yes, and yes.
But he did not. Instead, he called me a bitch and dropped me off at John’s place, where he had grown panicked with worry. “You can’t do that,” John said, pacing the floor as he spoke. “Promise me you’ll never do that again.”
And I felt bad, but I also thought he was being unfair: John spent his 20s hopping on rail cars and dumpster diving. He joined the Hari Krishnas. He was a wild-eyed wanderer, and now he lived in a comfy Victorian in Portland, Maine, and was giving me lectures about stranger danger. Why? Just because I was a girl?
I didn’t get it. And it took me years of harrowing escapades and narrow scrapes to get it. Climbing into that car wasn’t stupid because I was a woman. It was stupid, period.
So I had a lot to learn about taking care of myself, but I was on my way. In the years since, I feel a jolt of excitement whenever I hear about a woman traveling alone, whether she’s a single woman surfing in Costa Rica or a married journalist dropping into a war zone or a mother going to the wilds of Africa, discovering what quiet sounds like when it unfolds around her. Such exotic forays are out of reach for many people – including me, for most of my life. But I also think you can take a day hike by yourself, you can travel to the lake by yourself. And what you find is a reassurance that you can stand on your own in the world.
There is a poignant scene near the end of “Wild.” Cheryl Strayed’s mother is close to death, and she tells her daughter, “I never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life … I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone else’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”
God, that moment cut me. Boyfriends are nice, and careers are important, but I think this is all I’ve ever been after: to just be me.
I can’t travel much these days. I don’t have the money. I have a cat I love beyond all reason, who is old and tired. But I also found that I had to stop moving every time I grew uncomfortable. Being in the driver’s seat of your own life is grand, but it requires knowing when you are out of gas. I try to keep a traveler’s eyes. I take expeditions to strange suburbs. I take expeditions to the 7-11. (Behold: Corn Nuts in their native environment!) After years of movement, my challenge now is to sit still.
But I also try to hold on to the girl who was young and stupid enough to believe in foolish adventures, the girl who was equal parts ready to fall in love with you and hurl a ball peen hammer into your front windshield. I had a strength I did not realize, but one I did not forget. When I am restless and defeated and scared again, I tell myself this: that the greatest trip of my life came because I did not get the things I wanted.
SOMETIME this year Voyager 1, a probe sent from Earth 35 years ago, will cross a threshold no human-fashioned object has reached before. Passing through a sun-driven shock wave at the edge of the solar system, it will reach the icy dominions of interstellar space. Voyager is one of the fastest vessels we’ve ever blown out of Earth’s gravity well. Still, after three and a half decades of hyper-velocity spaceflight, it will take another 700 centuries for the craft to cross the distance to the nearest star.
Short of a scientific miracle of the kind that has never occurred, our future history for millenniums will be played out on Earth and in the “near space” environment of the other seven planets, their moons and the asteroids in between. For all our flights of imagination, we have yet to absorb this reality. Like it or not, we are probably trapped in our solar system for a long, long time. We had better start coming to terms with what that means for the human future.
Of course, we know this, on some level. But in a culture saturated with inbred notions of “progress” and an obsession with worlds seemingly just beyond our grasp, there is an expectation that sooner rather than later, we will be building an interstellar culture. In a kind of cosmic version of Manifest Destiny we assume that, unless something terrible happens, our science will be taking us to the stars sometime in the next few hundred years. Simply say “warp drive” to just about anyone and see if they know what you mean.
From “Star Trek” to “Star Wars,” from warp drive to hyperdrive — the idea of rapid interstellar space travel is such a deep meme for cultural visions of space and our future that Hollywood films don’t even have to waste time introducing them to the audience. You pull a lever and zap — you are in a new star system. How many people would be surprised to know that warp drive isn’t even a coherent concept, let alone a near-future technology?
The truth is we propel ourselves into space using much the same physics as the Chinese played with when they discovered what we came to call gunpowder more than 1,400 years ago. Blowing stuff up under us is just about the only way we know how to travel through the void.
But for the distances between the stars, that method simply won’t cut it. Even if we could find a way to increase the speed of our spacecraft a hundredfold — about the same ratio of speeds between a horse-drawn cart and a 747 jet plane — they would still take almost a thousand years to reach nearby stars, and as long to return. And while exciting theoretical research is under way into pilotless probes to the stars, the real possibility of large-scale human interstellar culture is considerably less thrilling.
Think about it. No salvation from population pressure on the shores of alien worlds. No release from the threats of biosphere degradation in the promise of new biospheres. No escape from our own destructive tendencies by spreading out among the stars like seedpods in the wind. For as many epochs in the future as there are epochs of human history in the past, we may simply have to make do, get by with what we have and, in the end, learn to get along.
I was just 15 when Voyager 1 left on its long journey. At that age I already knew I wanted nothing more than to be an astronomer. I was also sure that humanity’s future, even on the time scale of centuries, would be played out in the theater of the stars. Voyager’s departure on its interstellar mission convinced me we were well on our way toward that grand future where anything would be possible.
Today I am still in awe of that tiny box of electronics as it sails to the edge of the solar wind. I still believe it represents the best of human genius, ambition and hope. It is through these qualities that, I believe, we have taken the full measure of the stars.
But what we’ve learned in doing so brings me, as an adult and as an astrophysicist, to the hardest and most inconvenient truth of all. While our children’s children’s great-grandchildren will live with ever more powerful technology, they will also live ever more intimately with ever more billions of others in this, our corner of the cosmos. Looking back and forward, my bets are now on that same human genius, ambition and hope to rise to the occasion. We will have no other choice. There will be nowhere else to go for a very long time.
By T. M. Luhrmann The American Scholar, Summer 2012
Hans is a Dutch man in his 20s, kind and large and careful in his speech and movement. He has the profile typical of someone with schizophrenia. He had been an excellent student in grade school, but things started to fall apart in his teens. He began to smoke a lot of marijuana and quit school at 17 to work in a factory. One evening, he heard a woman outside his apartment screaming for help. She was shrieking that five men were raping her and that they were going to kill her. Hans was afraid. He called the cops, anonymously, and they came to search, but they couldn’t find the woman in the apartment complex. Hans saw them drive away. He could still hear her screaming, high, loud, spine-chilling screams. Hans began to think that if the men raping her knew he could hear them, they would come to kill him, too, so he ran to his car and drove. He drove for half an hour, hard, until he could no longer hear her screams. She’s dead, he thought, and he didn’t dare go back to his apartment. He slept in his car that night, then went to work the next day. He got a newspaper to find out what had happened, but no one had reported the murder. He concluded that the men who had done it wanted him, too. Then he decided that one of them was his closest friend. He took a knife and went to see his friend, intending to slit his throat. He sat there with his friend, drinking tea, waiting for the right time to kill him—but he didn’t. He left his friend’s apartment and went back to his car, where he lived for two months. He heard voices outside his head, talking about him, commenting on the way he dressed, the way he looked, what they thought he should do. Which was mostly to die.
These external commenting voices are so distinctive that if patients report only that one symptom, and if their life has gone awry, they meet criteria for the diagnosis of schizophrenia. The voices told Hans that truck drivers were in on the conspiracy, too, so he could no longer sleep in highway pullouts. He went home to his mother. Hans is a quiet man, so he didn’t tell her about the voices or the knives he carried with him, and at first she didn’t notice. Then he confessed to her that he had raped a good friend. His mother didn’t believe it. She persuaded him to invite the girl to tea, and indeed the girl said he hadn’t raped her. That relieved Hans, but not his mother.
So Hans found himself in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, where he stayed for more than a year. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and given Clozaril, one of the new “miracle” drugs for schizophrenia—miracle for a small handful of patients, a desperate stopgap for the rest. Nothing really changed for Hans on Clozaril, neither his voices nor his delusions, but he became calm. He became so calm that he slept all day. His panicked mother argued with the doctors, telling them this was no kind of life. They told her sleeping was normal “at this stage.” Hans’s skin itched. He gained 90 pounds, and now he could not think clearly or move comfortably, a Michelin man with tubby limbs. Over the course of the year, little changed.
Then Hans joined a group of people like him who met once a week. They talked about their voices, and they were encouraged to talk back to them. They were even encouraged to negotiate with their voices. One of Hans’s voices thought he would be better off if he devoted his life to Buddhist prayer. Hans is not a Buddhist—like many Dutch, he grew up as a secular Protestant—and he did not want to follow the voice’s command. The group persuaded him to cut a deal with his voices. He told his voices that he would read a book on Buddhism every day for one hour—but no more. He would say one Buddhist prayer every day—but no more. And if he did this, he told them, they had to leave him alone.
They did, more or less. He began to feel better. His psychiatrists began to lower his Clozaril from its high of 500 mg per day down eventually to a dose of 50 mg. He lost weight. He became more alert. He moved out of the hospital. The voices didn’t disappear immediately, but they got nicer. When he was moving into an apartment by himself—and petrified by the prospect—he heard a voice say, “Buck up, we know you can do it.” By the time I met him in 2009, he hadn’t heard a voice in more than a year.
It’s been a subject of yours for a while, and it’s remarkable just how much the culture of pornography has changed even since you’ve been writing about it.
In my early novels there are references to magazines, which seems quaint now. It didn’t really exist, except pictures of young girls showing their breasts. And then there was the breakthrough with pubic hair, 1970, I think. But it just felt illegal. And now it’s—
It’s sex education.
That’s how they get their sex education now. Watching Desiree Fairweather and some tattooed ex-convict in high-definition close-up. I shudder to think what my girls have certainly already seen. My oldest daughter—I had many candid conversations with her when she was in her twenties, about how certain things were expected, just taken from pornography, which, lest we forget, is a very misogynistic form. Why does every sexual act end with something that girls hate? You know, the facial. When I wrote a long piece about pornography, I hung out with this porn actress, who was incredibly bright, and I said, How many girls, even here in San Fernando Valley, how many of them like that? She said, Well, I like it. I like being spanked and spat on, I like that kind of thing. But she said about 5 percent like it—5 percent don’t mind it. And 95 percent hate it. And yet it’s the sine qua non of the sex scene.
Amateur porn is now a much bigger part of the diet, and yet it’s not any less misogynistic and not any less directed by male desire, even if it’s couples making it.
They talk about pornography becoming mainstream and accepted. And I thought, no, it never will, until masturbation is mainstream and accepted and cool. Women will never assent to it. And the reason is because their great power, gift, procreation, is just ignored in pornography—there’s no talk about getting pregnant, “Don’t make me pregnant.” There’s none of that. It’s as if procreation were caused by something else entirely, like sneezing. But I think that women are coming around to it. There’s a review by a woman I read the other day of that 50 Shades of Grey book. Last sentence is, I wouldn’t wank to it, but it’s not bad. And I thought, Christ, that’s sort of lad’s-mag talk—sort of more male than male.