Sunday, 14 February 2021

Has Newtonian Physics Been Unfairly Maligned?, or, We Are Arguably Hurtling Down an Incline towards the Seventeenth Century, or, In Defence of Boffins

Introduction: Egg-Whites and Rum, Also Brown Wallpaper

Do you have a favourite century? Many people apparently do. Some people like living in "a tent of handwoven, unwashed wool pitched steeply from the branch of a tree", to recreate that AD 625 vibe. Others go so far as to make Austen-era shampoo out of egg-whites and rum*. Personally we have always argued that (the indignities of our childhood - which include, but are not limited to, pastel-coloured clothing, enforced cross-country skiing, and inexplicably brown wallpaper - aside) we are extremely fortunate to have been born in an age and a region where we have been able to enjoy modern plumbing (the barbaric excesses of the British isles notwithstanding); medical care which includes the polio vaccine and birth control; public libraries; and food that isn't offal-based. However, the other day we happened to be philosophising with Our Favourite Aunt, and reached the conclusion that despite the many blessings of our current era, our civilisation is arguably hurtling towards the seventeenth century, in a little cart.

The Terrors of Newtonian Physics

Why the seventeenth century, you ask? Well, to begin with it has been argued by many people, rather convincingly we think, that we seem to be moving away from Enlightenment values like empiricism, objectivity, and observable facts, and moving towards valuing other things like personal feelings, subjectivity, and dogma. Science, reason and logic are, in some quarters, argued to be colonialist constructs intended to oppress and subjugate the masses. While in high school, being epically bored by Newtonian physics**, we might have agreed that the purpose of science was to torture and humiliate innocent spirits. However, having reached woman's estate with many of our limbs intact, we are willing to acknowledge the usefulness of science. We still have no desire to engage in it ourselves, mind you. We're quite happy to leave the tedious laboratory work necessitating the wearing of uncomfortable and aesthetically un-pleasing plastic goggles, and the contemplation of little crates rolling down an incline, to the people described by the British tabloid press as "boffins", who seem to derive pleasure from this type of activity. We would like them to continue deriving pleasure from it, depraved though we may find their proclivities. What's more, we'd like them to be able to publish their findings without being harassed, fired or denied funding for having the wrong opinion. Some people are unironically arguing not only that "transwomen are women", but that 2+2=5. While these statements may be emotionally satisfying, they are nonetheless not true. Trans-identified men remain men, and two plus two continues to equal four, whatever we feel about it. Repeating a statement many times does not make it true, it just shows that you are in the grips of herd mentality. Or so we would be inclined to argue, in this day and age. In the seventeenth century, on the other hand, the Enlightenment wasn't a thing yet, God's word was law, and men in wigs demanded to control your thinking. Hence our inclination to think that perhaps we are, as a society, seated in a little cart hurtling down an incline towards the seventeenth century.

Large Hats with Plumes

Another exciting aspect of the culture of four hundred or so years ago that we seem to be clasping to our collective bosom, is the focus on dignity, and the propensity to consider yourself offended, outraged, and triggered. This has led to the development of so-called cancel culture. The phenomenon of cancel culture operates by cancelling someone who has expressed a view that is considered offensive, usually because it contradicts the current dogma (the dogma may change, but the outrage, fascinatingly, doesn't). The cancellation may take different forms; it may include being banned from a social media platform, being uninvited to a seminar or conference, losing your job, being harassed into resigning, having your book or publisher made the target of harassment, being asked to apologise for your heresy, others being forced to apologise for your heresy, or a combination of these phenomena. In the seventeenth century, of course, the punishment for heresy was a little more spectacular than a mere Twitter ban, but the case of Galileo Galilei seems eerily similar to some stuff that has been going down quite recently

One fascinating difference between the seventeenth century and today is that the focus then, in terms of outrage and offence, was on personal honour, whereas now it seems to be de rigeur to be outraged on behalf of someone else. We're wondering if today's individualism somehow causes collectivist outrage, whereas the more collectivist society of the seventeenth century caused personal honour to become conversely more important. Perhaps it's rather to do with personal honour becoming increasingly crucial the more stratified a society is. Possibly these things are well researched and we're just revealing our ignorance. Either way, somewhere round the mid-seventeenth century the Swedish noblewoman Agneta Horn argued that she could never respect a man who didn't defend his honour and shrank from a duel. We can't help wondering if sword-fights and duels with pistols are about to become a trend in 2021. If so, we will be the first to flock to this spectacle, eyes agog, wearing a large hat with plumes and snacking on a turnip.

Should We Be Nostalgic about Luther's Catechism?

There are other things we're pondering, like whether the fact that the school system in for instance Sweden is so terrible that we're not only reverting back to a pre-modern phase where there is no standardised written language, but even to a state of affairs where at least part of the populace is effectively illiterate. One might, if, seated in a twelfth-century cathedral as we happened to be the other day, ponder, while surrounded by the artefacts and architectural styles of nearly a thousand years, whether the educational system should focus on teaching children to read and write, however important other things, like inclusivity, anti-oppression, or the gender identity spectrum (whatever the hell any of these things are), may seem. In these post-post-modern (or post-post-post- or even post-post-post-post-modern?) times, where there are no truths and no observable facts, it is of course entirely possible to argue that illiteracy is neither good nor bad, and that we should reject the ability to read and write as normative and conformist. Indeed, our propensity to regard the Lutheran tradition of insisting on literacy even for the poor as useful and productive is probably an expression of our cisheteronormativeableist privilege. One might indeed ponder this whether seated in a twelfth-century cathedral or a cubist concrete condominium. However, we suspect our rantings on this subject might be considered if not alarmist then at least unbearably pedantic. Also, as regular readers are aware, we are not prone to avoiding suffering from RSI at the Privy Counsel, and as Stephen Fry so poetically remarked, I'm mongrel-bitch tired and my fist cannot form letters any more, so fuck off, my darling, and leave me alone.

A Suspicious Lack of Discussion, Conclusion or Summary; Instead, Gratuitous Lithuanian Plumbing

However, before we fuck off to frolic, cavort and gambol our way through the rest of this beautiful Sunday, we feel we should at least give you a glimpse of some 17th-century plumbing. After all, that is probably what you came here for (unless of course you came for facetious political screeds, in which case you should arguably seek professional help). Here, thusly, is a picture of some Lithuanian sewage pipes:

 Ahhh, yes, that did scratch that itch, is what we assume you are now exclaiming in wild delight.

*Our passionate regard for source criticism forces us to tell you the painful truth that the depraved person conducting this experiment apparently didn't have any rum. Despite setting out to try a recipe specifically demanding rum. We don't know what causes us the greater despair - the fact that people apparently live in houses without rum, like savages, or that they have such a blasé attitude to historical accuracy.

** In fact, sensitive artist that we considered ourselves, we created a whole series of charcoal drawings and acrylic paintings on the theme of The Evil of Science, where, if memory serves, the little crates used to demonstrate the forces acting on an object on an inclined plane were portrayed as Machiavellian instruments of torture. Our suffering was nothing if not objectively real.

Festive Video


The witch scene, from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Blogger has fucked up the video embed function and although there is a workaround we are, as previously mentioned, mongrel-bitch tired and simply cannot be arsed, so here is a link to the video you possibly can't see.

Related Reading

More seventeenth-century toilets, or at least toilets that are tenuously linked to the seventeenth century:

The Royal Toilet at Kronborg: "A Foul and Pestilent Congregation of Vapours."

Blogging Something Rotten

We Receive a Postcard

Christinehof: A Woman's Er, Bog Is Her, Er, Castle?

A Wild International Toilet Journey, Possibly Incorporating Sacrilege

Lithuania, Land of Luscious Loos

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