Cultural Malaise & Action

Recently during our regular grilling and drinking sessions with friends, the topic of conversation has been turning towards politics and even some religion. I’m a firm believer in the Chestertonian “I never discuss anything else except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss,” maxim, so I’m usually right in the middle of it.


Sadly the consensus amongst my friends and family is that everything is going south. That we as a culture are in decline, that our institutions are failing, and that the future looks dark. Violent political division, racial animosity, moral decline, mass shootings, and an overall pallor of degeneracy and unhappiness.


Last weekend, after a particularly long and dark discussion best described some other time, my wife rather demoralized asked the question that matters. What do we do about things, how do we live through times that are dark and demoralizing, what actions should we take?


Her question has been bothering me all week. I don’t have an answer. At least nothing that is concrete. I think that looking around, assessing the state of our lives, and the state of our society is the first step. So many of us live empty fast-food lives stuck in a never-ending cycle of work, consume, repeat; addicted to mind-numbing entertainment and shallow pleasures. So even seeing a problem with how we live and react is a first step in the right direction. And honestly, it’s easy sinking into despair and complacency. Becoming overwhelmed with Acedia, the defining characteristic of our modern world. Inactivity, inaction, lack of attention, dissatisfaction and slavery to anxiety. After all, we live in a sick world where we are connected digitally with thousands but can’t name the person who lives next door.


While I don’t have the answer, I do have some ideas on how we can try to combat the ills of today. I think that there needs to be a refocusing on the personal, a return to small scale intimacy and sub-creation. Not everything must be connected, displayed, and shared with the whole world. Do things for yourself and the ones you love. Create artistically, build, collect, adventure, but do it for yourself, not for Instagram.


I believe a small step towards alleviating the spiritual malaise is to revitalize the idea of crafty small scale creative hobbies. Everyone should have at least two personal hobbies. One that is physical such as weightlifting, running, surfing, hiking, or a sport, and more critically a creative hobby. I think way too many of us lack creative and intellectual outlets. Drawing, painting, cooking, baking, woodworking, gardening, photography, or any other creative outlet is critical.


As a writer I know that nothing beats the revitalizing mental high I get when I finish a story or even a section of one. But I’ve challenged myself to other hobbies such as my recent experiments with cooking and grilling, and my slow return to art. Eventually, I plan on getting into gardening, but I’m a little intimidated by the starting process.


As I said, I don’t have any concrete answers. But I do think that any change starts at home with the self, the small, and the personal. Disconnect from the mind-rot of television and get to work on a creative hobby. Learn it, master it, and share it with your friends.


It won’t change the world but it might make a small part of it a little bit better.

No Silver, No Swiss

“No silver, no Swiss,” commented Gian Trivulzio, a Milanese Condottiero during the Italian Wars. He was talking about the Swiss Mercenaries that served in the armies of the Italian City States. They were expensive and often sieges and sacks depended on the city’s ability to pay foreign soldiers.

A more recent quote “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics,” quoted to Gen. Robert H. Barrow, Commandant of the USMC.

The bravest warriors and the stoutest horses can’t fight without food and water. The most advanced military weapons can’t be operated without fuel and spare parts. Men can’t march without boots. Supplies can’t be used unless they arrive at the right place at the right time. Military supply and logistics is often if not the most important aspect of battle behind fate itself.

Yet so many fantasy and science fiction novels completely hand wave this critical aspect of military operations. Fantasy fiction is often the most grievous violator of basic common sense. Massive armies march across barren lands. Foot soldiers willing to leave their homes to die for whatever cause, yet pay is never mentioned, supplies never shown, equipment that in reality would cost a lifetime to acquire is just magically handed out.

The Cost of Infantry

During the Renaissance

Sergeants -5 Ducats per month

Corporals -3 Ducats per month

Pikemen -3 Ducats per month

Musketeers -3 Ducats per month

The Renaissance at War by Thomas F. Arnold

The above is in Venetian Ducats, one of Europe’s most popular and traded form of currency. While exact value and buying power is hard to pin down. You can approximate based on known sources. For example, Leonardo DaVinci and Michelangelo earned about 100-300 Ducats a year. Michelangelo earned up to 450 per statue, and he was a superstar.

The Ducal Palace in Urbino built by Federico da Montefeltro was estimated at 100,000 Ducats when it was first built. The richest Medici had savings of 200,000 and up.

Ducal Palace Urbino

Your average army had about 20,000 infantry, so you are looking at 60,000 Ducats per month in wages alone, ignoring food, water, clothing, and you know.. the really expensive aspects of an army, cavalry and artillery.

Emperor Charles V during the Schmalkaldic War took 54 artillery pieces, 10 of them were full cannon. A full cannon weighed 10,000 lbs, required 21 horses to move, and cost about 1,310 ducats. The price does not factor in the horses, carriage, spare parts, iron balls, and the wages of the 20 or so artillery men assigned to each gun.

Warfare was, and still is, monumentally expensive.

The Great Courses – The Early Middle Ages and Audible Lectures.

st-augustine-3I’ve been exceptionally busy these past few weeks. Work is filled with new responsibilities, this is the third year of duty in Japan and I’m finding myself with ever increasing responsibilities. Most importantly the majority of my attention is focused on preparation for the upcoming birth of my daughter. Intellectually I feel ready, but I know that nothing I read or listen to can truly prepare me for the experience.

All of this means that I haven’t had a lot of time or mental energy to dedicate towards reading and writing. One way I have managed to keep up is taking advantage of The Great Courses offered on Amazon. Audible so far has been fantastic. The wife and I are listening to Robin Hobb’s Assasins Apprentice a few chapters at a time before going to bed, and I have been listening to history lectures on my way to work, during cardio, and when I’m catching up with mindless paperwork.

I just finished Professor’s Philip Daileader The Early Middle Ages, a 12-hour lecture on EMAcoverEurope between 600 to 1000 A.D. A fantastic survey of the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Constantine, St. Augustine, Julian the Apostate, Charlemagne and the Carolingian Dynasty, Vikings, Angles and Saxons, and a whole lot of Irish monks. 

One of my favorite segments was an hour lecture focused on the changes to the Family unit brought about by Medieval Christians. Replacing ancient Roman and Barbarian customs such as slavery, concubinage, and infanticide, with what we would recognize as the nuclear family unit, focused on a set of married partners and their children.

If you have some free dead time like a long commute or enjoy cardio sessions I highly recommend getting an Audible account and giving the Great Courses a listen. If you are a writer or just want to expand your education this is a must. Click here and get those free books.

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

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