May 22, 2023

Imperial competition fuels ornamental complexity arms race, unipolarity keeps things simple

The more I look at the history of American architecture, the more striking the parallels to Romanesque become -- beyond the obvious level, where we had a full-blown Romanesque revival here. Our own distinctive American style resembles Romanesque in many ways, whereas both are unlike the lineage of Gothic / Baroque / Rococo in the Late Medieval / Early Modern Euro empires.

Most notably in the stark transitional areas between major volumes, e.g. where columns or wall supports join with the roof, or the walls of two volumes meet up. Romanesque and American architecture leaves these joints fairly free of intermediate-sized volumes to soften or break up the transition, whereas Gothic etc. employ lots of volumes at various intermediate sizes to cover up the seam. That gives lots of ornamentation to Gothic etc., while Romanesque and American buildings are relatively less adorned.

That will be the focus of case studies around the world and over time, soon. For now, I just want to lay out the broad theoretical idea, with a quick review of several different cultural domains.

Our musical styles aren't as intricate in polyphony and counterpoint as the Gothic / Renaissance / Baroque / Classical lineage in Europe, which again makes us resemble the Frankish Empire and early French Empire (back when they were still carrying over the Frankish traditions, before their integrative civil war concluded circa 1200 and set them off on a whole new ethnogenetic journey with Gothic). Compared to 18th-C. German and Austrian imperial music, we've returned to monophonic Gregorian chant of the Frankish / early French era (again, beyond the obvious level where there was a full-blown popular revival of Gregorian chant during the '90s, in the American imperial sphere of influence).

And our literature is far less intricate, developed, and adorned compared to anything from the Gothic era of the 13th C onward in the Euro empires. Whether it's our poetry, novels, screenplays, stage plays -- it's far more naturalistic, less stylized, and therefore without as much ornamentation as our Late Medieval / Early Modern predecessors. But very much like our Scandinavian and Russian peers of the late 19th and especially 20th centuries, as reviewed here. And see here for the same comparison in architecture.

Russia is an even better example of the theory, since they used to have a much more ornamented literary output -- and more ornamented architectural style -- back when they were just one of many empires competing against each other. They only changed to the simplified styles in literature and architecture during the 20th C., when they suddenly had no imperial competitors after those competitors collapsed in WWI (except for America -- on the other side of the world, and so, not a real threat).

In this way we have yet again returned to the Frankish era, where despite recent attempts to rebrand their culture as a "Carolingian Renaissance," no one claims that their writers produced a Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, etc. The closest that the Romanesque world got to such a work was the Song of Roland (about an episode from Frankish history), written in the 11th C, while the nascent French Empire was still thinking of itself as Frankish in nature. Most of those Late Medieval chansons and romances, however, were written as the French Empire's integrative civil war was wrapping up, in the late 12th C (e.g. Chretien de Troyes), and afterward -- along with the radical shift to Gothic architecture.

In the unrelated domains of architecture, music, and literature, American imperial culture resembles that of the Frankish Empire, while both are alien to the imperial cultures of Europe from the 13th to 19th centuries.

What other large-scale set of forces were similar for the Franks and the Americans, but the opposite for the French, British, Spanish, Germans, Austrians, Lithuanians, Ottomans, and Russians (for awhile)? Well, that's just it -- the jam-packed arena of rival empires in the latter group. The Franks were pretty much the only empire of their era. There was a foreign empire confined to Iberia (the Moors), and the Byzantines in the southeast of Europe, but the Franks were based in the northwest (which was still a huge amount of territory, including modern France, Germany, and northern Italy).

Likewise, from our early days, Americans have been mostly the sole imperial power, at least locally, and then globally. The French were not much of a bother in North America, we defeated our British overlords, and the Spanish were confined to Central and South America (and the Spanish colonies collapsed in the early 1800s anyway). Then after WWI, we had no European rivals either, whether geopolitically or culturally. Europe was over... aside from Russia, but that's too far removed to really count in the American mind (again, geopolitically or culturally).

China's most recent empire had collapsed at that time, too, India and Iran's empires had collapsed fairly recently, no empire emerged from the Ottoman territories -- except for the Saudi Empire, which began in the late 1700s, defeated the Ottomans in the Middle East, and kept going strong through most of the 20th C. But they're too far away from America to pose a serious threat to us, geopolitically or culturally.

All around the world, there was only America, Russia, and the much smaller-scale Saudi empires. What a relief!

Just cuz there wasn't literally one (1) empire in the entire world, doesn't mean it was a multipolar environment -- it was very far toward that end of the spectrum. Also close to the unipolar end was the Byzantine heyday, as well as the early Arabian / Muslim conquests (e.g. the Umayyad Caliphate). Also, the Maurya, Delhi Sultanate, and Mughal empires of India.

At the other end was Europe between 1300 and 1900, where multiple empires emerged and jockeyed for position, fighting countless wars with each other for supremacy, but never attaining it. Also at that multipolar end of the spectrum was much of North Africa and the Middle East, circa 1000 to 1300 AD (until the arrival of a unipolar Pax Mongolica). Also, the Gupta and Pala empires of India.

Needless to say, the very first empires like the Egyptians and Akkadians were on the unipolar side -- not enough time for multiple rival empires to emerge and arrive at their borders.

(I'll try to focus on East Asia some other time, since I haven't studied their architectural history very much.)

I'll do the architectural case studies later, but suffice it to say for now, the theory is that unipolar environments favor simple ornamentation, while multipolar ones favor elaborate ornamentation.

Why? Well, when you have multiple imperial rivals, you're not only competing over the military control of territory, or the economic trade networks, but also cultural influence. You think you can do intricate tracery? Ha! We'll make ours *even more* intricate! You can't compete over simplicity, because it has a hard boundary -- you can't get more minimal than minimal, but you can get orders of magnitude more maximalist.

This imperial cultural rivalry sparks an ornamental arms race among the competitors, as each struggles to keep up and out-do the others. In this way it is similar to runaway / Fisherian selection from evolutionary biology (e.g. the peacock's tail, from a polygynous species with intense competition among males for female mates, vs. the more drab robins who are at least monogamous within the breeding season).

Empires in a unipolar environment don't feel such a strong pressure to keep up with others, or out-do others, so why over-do it? Keep it simple. Make it impressive, monumental, awing, etc. -- sure, but without getting sucked into a ratchet of escalating complexity. This peacefulness of cultural forms reflects the peacefulness of geopolitics when there's only one empire in the neighborhood. That doesn't mean it's free from conflict -- it expands by conquering others, but these others are not also empires in their own right always trading territory back and forth.

Egyptian pyramids and obelisks, Akkadian ziggurats, Frankish / Romanesque and Byzantine churches, Umayyad mosques, Mauryan stupas, American Block Symphony -- all very simple groupings of volumes with minimal volumes of intermediate size to fill in the transition zones, leaving clearly visible seams. Relatively unadorned.

Gothic cathedrals, muqarnas-marked mosques, Gupta temples -- far more encrusted with ornamentation at the highest scale (filling transition zones between volumes).

But we'll see the details in another post. The important point for now is the dynamics underlying the emergence of these ornamental arms races, and why they only appear in certain times and places. It's worth emphasizing that there is no unilinear trend over history toward either greater or less complexity, nor is there a regular rhythmic cycle between the two ends of the spectrum. Periods of complexity do alternate with periods of simplicity, but it's not a regular repeating loop like a pendulum swinging, or weather seasons repeating.

And so, people who complain about the relative lack of ornamentation in 20th-century and later architecture, compared to Gothic through Rococo architecture, are correct on one level -- namely, noticing and describing the facts.

But they're wrong about there being a timeless Paradise that came before this current Fall -- go back to only 1100 AD in Europe, and you're right back to where you started in 20th-century America. Go back even further, in fact -- it was still Frankish and Byzantine. Even Roman architecture is not that heavily ornamented, owing to its unipolar environment (only serious imperial rival was Parthian Iran, leaving a zone of contest in the Levant and Armenia, but still very far removed from the age of Early Modern Euro empires).

And the ornament-likers are also wrong about our ability to intervene and alter the course of history. They complain that the less-adorned buildings come from crazed utopians who deliberately engineer the lack of ornament -- but they don't do that at all. Lack of ornament in 20th-C America, and its sphere of influence, comes from our unipolar environment. We can't will our entire creative class into producing heavy ornamentation in their output. They're subject to societal and geopolitical forces beyond anyone's control.

Rather, it is the would-be builders of latter-day Gothic cathedrals and Miltonian epic verse who are the delusional utopians trying to force a square peg through a round hole. Our environment doesn't support those forms any more than the Frankish and Romanesque environments did.

You can seethe forever about the relatively simpler styles we have, or you can learn to embrace our neo-Romanesque culture, if you require a trad LARP angle to your lifestyle choices.


  1. Brief slideshow on Romanesque vs. Gothic, with few words and many pictures, in case you don't want to read through the whole Wikipedia articles for the relevant info:

  2. Byzantine culture was like Frankish in having monophonic chant, not intricate harmonizing or polyphony. And they didn't produce world-class authors, unlike their Ancient Greek predecessors, who were part of a far more multipolar world (in their neck of the woods -- a bunch of Greek city states vying for regional power, along with occasional pressure from the Achaemenid Empire).

  3. Russian imperial culture adopted polyphony for church singing during the same time as Western Euro empires, despite coming from an Orthodox background and relying on earlier Byzantine influences, which were always monophonic.

    This shift happened sometime during the 16th and 17th centuries, and became very elaborate over time. I'm not clear on how widespread it was in the 1500s, but was certainly common in the 1600s -- after the Time of Troubles was over. Even if it was introduced in the mid-1500s, that's after the Muscovite War of Succession (integrative civil war). The point being: after Russian ethnogenesis began to hit its stride and define themselves as an entirely new people, not merely as "the enemies of the Tatars".

    The reason for the Russian Empire using polyphony, and the Byzantines using monophony, is that Russians were just one of many competing empires of their day -- the Mongols / Tatars, Lithuanians (and Polish junior partners), Ottomans, French, etc. They had to compete harder for status, leading to the ratchet of escalating ornamentation.

    Unlike the Byzantines, who would rest secure in the knowledge that few others were challenging them, so they didn't have to go so crazy with ornamentation.

  4. Steve Sailer recently inadvertantly brought up on iSteve an indication in basketball of the transition between the egalitarian and striver eras in the late 1970s in the United States.

    The 3-pointer was added to the NBA in 1979, which is around the same time America was transitioning between the the New Deal and Reaganite eras in the United States. Steve Sailer then said that before the 3-point era, most basketball players came from a working-class background or the inner city black ghettos. However, after the 3-point era, most basketball players were the children of rich parents who were able to afford their children the resources to practice basketball (i.e. a basket on their driveway).

    This is an indication that American society was shifting away from an egalitarian mindset in the New Deal era and towards the striver mindset where rich upper middle class American parents try to get their children into everything.

  5. Anna Khachiyan's people (Armenians) love blocky assemblages of pure geometric volumes with unhidden seams and minimal surface ornamentation.

    Very similar to Frankish / Romanesque, Byzantine -- and Sasanian, for that matter.

    Iranian architecture didn't get crazy levels of ornamentation until around the Seljuk era, despite having massive empires from 500 BC onward. But in each of those empires (Achaemenid, Parthian, Sasanian), their environment was very unipolar -- maybe distant empires in Anatolia / Italy or way over in India to the east, but they were pretty much the only imperial game in town between eastern Anatolia and Transoxiana, and from the Caucausus to Yemen.

    Before the rise of Persian empires, there were many (mostly Saharo-Arabian) empires in the Middle East -- Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Neo-Babylonian, etc. But as of 500 BC and the rise of the Achaemenids, it was over for the Arabian peninsula... until the explosion of the Arabians and Islam during the 7th C.

    And then the explosion of Turkic (and later Mongol) invaders heading southward through Iran (rather than the usual Steppe route), beginning in the 10th C.

    But between the Babylonians and the Arabians, Iranian empires enjoyed the status of sole regional superpowers. And their architecture is relatively less fussy / adorned than it would become in the far more multipolar environment once the Arabians and numerous Turkic / Mongol groups began contesting for supremacy in the Middle East, not to mention later European empires showing up in the Early Modern era.

  6. To finish the commentary on Anna's people, Armenia was never a great power in its own right when these distinctive buildings were being built. This was mainly the 7th C and after, though beginning somewhat in the 6th C as well.

    However, it was still in a fairly unipolar environment then -- they were mainly part of the Iranian sphere of influence, in Iran's Sasanian era. Western Armenia was part of the Byzantine sphere, but where these churches and national style was being built was close to Yerevan in eastern Armenia (Persarmenia).

    Even allowing for both the Byzantine and Sasanian empires to receive equal weight in the consideration, that's still only 2 empires, not multiple empires. And by the 7th C, both were very long in the tooth, wearing each other down (in fighting over Armenia), and near exhaustion. So there was little imperial competition left to expend during the 7th C and after.

    In fact, the Arabians would take advantage of this inter-imperial exhaustion and wipe out both the Byzantines (in the Middle East) and the Sasanians (altogether). That leaves only one superpower influencing Armenia, the early Caliphate.

    Armenia's national style predates the arrival of the Arabians, though, so they're not relevant anyway. Armenia's unipolar environment was due to their being part of the Sasanian sphere for the most part, especially where the national style was being constructed.

    The main difference between Armenia on the one hand, and their Anatolian and Persian neighbors on the other, is that Armenia never became a great power in its own right, let alone an expanding empire. So they had no further rounds of ethnogenesis that would have revolutionized their culture and made them no longer resemble their 7th-century ancestors, in the way that the French of the Gothic era no longer resembled their Frankish ancestors.

    Several new empires were born in Iran, through the Early Modern (Safavid) era, each radically altering earlier layers of ethnogenetic creations. And a new empire was born in Anatolia, radically altering the previous Byzantine culture.

    But no such empire was born in Armenia, so no new bouts of intense ethnogenesis altered what had already been created in the mid-to-late 1st millennium AD.

    Even today Armenian architectural still heavily alludes to, or outright revives / imitates, its predecessor of 1500 years ago.

    It's not due to a greater "commitment" on the part of Armenians -- but to their lack of founding an empire in the meantime, which would have resulted in a whole new culture for a whole new people defined by a whole new meta-ethnic nemesis. They have just been "going along to get along", hidden safely in the hills and mountains, as waves of empires extract tribute from them but mostly let them be.

  7. What's the most extreme example of encrusted ornamentation and multipolar geopolitical environment? Southeast Asia -- which has never been unified under a single empire, ever, unlike China, India, the Middle East, Steppe, Mediterranean, etc.

    When empires began arising there in the mid-late 1st millennium, there have always been multiple empires or at least great powers from the region itself, not to mention incursion pressures from various East Indian and Chinese empires.

    They have never seen a unipolar environment like the Pax Romana, Pax Mongolica, Pax Americana, etc.

    Here's a snapshot from circa 1000 AD:

    There are no fewer than 4 empires of native origin jockeying for position here: Burma (Pagan), Cambodia (Khmer), Vietnam (Dai Viet), and Indonesia (Srivijaya, extending well up into the mainland). Thailand is not yet an empire, but still a great power or kingdom (Dvaravati).

    Right on its borders are the Song Empire of China (formerly the Tang Empire, which stretched down into northern Vietnam as a protectorate), as well as the Pala Empire of eastern India / Bangladesh (a source of Buddhist influence in SE Asia).

    Whether they were expanding empires or mere kingdoms, the major players have never seen even a 2-way merger -- Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Let alone a 3, 4, or 5-way merger.

    There was a fleeting moment in the 16th C, when one ruler ran around the territory of the others, but did not conquer them medium or long-term, and the would-be mega-empire collapsed after just two generations of rulers, returning to the multipolar norm:

    This is like Alexander running around the Achaemenid Empire, but it fragmenting to pieces upon his death. Or Gustavus Adolphus, Napoleon, Hitler, etc., or the other so-called military geniuses who are simply in the right place at the right time, take advantage of long-in-the-tooth empires, deal them a coup de grace, but do not actually conquer and control them afterward.

    Why? Because such an expansion is not endogenously driven by rising asabiya, an intense meta-ethnic frontier, and so on, which produces insane levels of social cohesion. So there is no large-scale social glue to hold together a central administration for the far-flung "conquered" territories, and it instantly collapses after the death of the "founder" (runner-arounder).

  8. Here is a typical range of SE Asian architectural examples, all from the Khmer Empire, but its rivals all have similar levels of ornamental encrustation, which rival the highly multipolar world of Europe in the Early Modern - Victorian eras:

    Why am I linking to rainforest cruisses dot com? Because Wikipedia is a black hole for images, and their pictures of Angkor Wat all suck. If it weren't such a mega-structure, there wouldn't be any images at all.

    It's insane how much Wikipedia has destroyed the global (or even just American) repository of images -- the lie was that "every analog image will be scanned and uploaded to an online global repository, like Wikipedia".

    Actually, nothing will get scanned, nothing uploaded except terrible crap from the wrong angles, wrong distance, wrong lighting, wrong things being the center of attention.

    Flickr was the closest that we got to the high-quality global repository, but it lies in ruins, with no further updates to its archive after like 2012.

  9. To focus on just one example of how elaborate the seamwork is in SE Asia, look at the overhead view of Angkor Wat. The outer walls are fairly simple overall -- a square (with height) made of 4 rather unadorned planes that intersect at right angles.

    But look at those intersections at the corners! A pair of 2D planes intersect to form a 1-D line, clean and smooth. If it were Frankish, Byzantine, Sasanian, Armenian, or American, that's exactly what those corners would look like -- a straight line or seam, from the bottom to top of the wall.

    Instead, there's an explosion of fractal-scaled volumes at the corners. They protrude in all 3 dimensions, and the volumes are of various scales, grouped in a fractal way (e.g., a medium volume to nestle between / over the seam of two large volumes, a bunch of small volumes hiding the seam between medium volumes, all the way down).

    Elsewhere, at the intersection of a wall or columns with a roof, corbels upon corbels upon corbels.

    Or in order to create more walls meeting more roofs, break up ("dEcOnsTRucT") the roof into multiple volumes of similar concentric volumes that taper going upward. Now there's not only one big wall around the main drum or cylinder, the roof itself has multiple smaller-scale cylinders ringing each of the segments of the decomposed roof.

    And each of those segments also has a little roof of its own, where its mini-wall meets its mini-top. Instead of one main eave between a big drum body and a big cone roof, now there are zillions of eaves within the roof itself! And each of them can have smaller-scale corbels under them!

    It's so crazy...

  10. As a reminder, none of this is under anyone's control, so ornament-likers cannot try to utopianize the situation by saying, "OK, we don't want *that much* ornamentation, but we still want a lot more than the Armenian style".

    Sorry, societal-scale forces produce these styles, they're not the outcome of fine-tuning a dial of "degree of ornamentation," which you could set to whatever the Goldilocks level is for you. Imagine thinking you, or any group of people, could have that much fine-grained control over society's outcomes!

    And they call their enemies utopians...

  11. Bringing things back to the Hololive honies, you see this difference in the Minecraft buildings of the Indonesian girls on the one hand (very elaborately ornamented, with details at the large to medium to small scales), and the North American and Japanese girls on the other hand (relatively less complex, boxier, clean lines, etc.).

    Japan largely joined the American sphere of cultural influence in the early 20th century, having been missionized by Frank Lloyd Wright himself, and more so after our occupation. This was a highly unipolar environment -- basically only America and Russia in the entire world (and the Saudis).

    But Indonesians have remained fairly independent, both geopolitically (a central member of the Non-Aligned Movement, instead of getting occupied by America or becoming a vassal), as well as culturally. And in their region, geopolitics has always been multipolar -- and still is, with no single nation dominating the others.

    And so, their cultural continues to favor elaborate ornamentation -- even in Minecraft. Are you even Indonesian if you don't have 17 scales of detail in your building project? ^_^

  12. Here are a couple of interesting pages on brutalism.

  13. SE Asia disproves the Western notion of Buddhism = minimalism, simplicity, peacefulness, etc. in cultural creations.

    The most Buddhist cultures on Earth, from centuries ago through the present, are the most highly complexly ornamented.

    Sure, there's the Zen Buddhist tradition -- but then, Japan has never been part of a multipolar imperial environment. It never spawned an empire of its own, was never incorporated into any other empire's sphere either. Until they picked a fight with the expanding American Empire, they had been left alone in blissful Scandinavian seclusion.

    If there are no multiple empires to catch up with and compete with, why devote so much energy to escalating levels of ornamentation? Japanese culture has always been on the relatively less adorned side, with simple forms, harmony over busy energy, etc.

    Their unipolar environment can produce Zen Buddhist culture, but the multipolar world of SE Asia produces insane levels of complex ornamentation.

    This generalizes to Christianity, Islam, and so on. There is no such thing as "Christian architecture", "Islamic architecture", etc. on a formal level. Even within the same geographic region of France, Frankish and Romanesque look nothing like Gothic. Umayyad looks nothing like Seljuk and Safavid. Zen Buddhist looks nothing like SE Asian Buddhist.

    A religion is not a set of societal forces, or contingent facts of history, therefore it has no influence on cultural expressions. The same religion can produce opposite results, and the same results can come from different -- even bitterly hostile -- religions.

    I don't just mean that a global religion like Christianity has so many different sub-forms like Western, Eastern, Protestant, etc. Nothing changed in the Christianity of early French Empire, when the architecture was Romanesque and church music was monophonic, vs. the French of circa 1200 and after, when the architecture became Gothic and the church music polyphonic.

    No Reformation, no latter-day prophets, no new councils or heretics to cast out, etc. They were not a new strain of Christianity, yet their outward expression of their religion went in a completely opposite direction of how it used to be.

  14. "SE Asia disproves the Western notion of Buddhism = minimalism, simplicity, peacefulness, etc. in cultural creations."

    After WWII, the West is synonymous with the American Empire, because the United States incorporated Western Europe into its empire. Also not how Japan and South Korea are considered as part of "the West" despite literally being in the Far East.

    The Western notion of Buddhism derives from Japanese Zen Buddhism, because that is the only form of Buddhism which was incorporated into the American Empire, after the United States defeated Japan in WWII. The United States tried during the 1960s to invade and bring Southeast Asia into its empire but failed.

    Had the United States invaded Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand during the 1920s or 1930s and successfully incorporated them into the American empire for the next 90 years or so, then the forms of Buddhism native to SE Asia would be more familiar to American Empire and thus to the West.

  15. A lot of South American countries follow the model of conservatives/military coalition leading the country during the New Deal era and the liberal/finance coalition leading the country during the Reaganite neoliberal era, the complete opposite of the Anglosphere. Along with Brazil which has been talked about previously on this blog there is also Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

  16. Brutalism was common in newly developed areas, though, so I don't think it's the memory of what was there before.

    Even so, some memories of the old stuff must've been bad, not only good. Some overly encrusted Victorian building -- "thank God they finally got rid of that tacky eyesore," some people must've thought. "We're not European anyway!"

  17. There were four Cesca chairs at the unpicked-over thrift store yesterday, although someone had already bought them (waiting to be picked up). Only $5 apiece -- you just have to go to the non-glamorous areas, and there is still tons of this middle-class treasure coming in on a weekly basis.

    I probably wouldn't have picked them up if they were available, though, because I'd want the upholstered seat like my home used to have. These were the normal caning on the seat and back.

    Still, someone scored absolute gold in the 2020s -- because they went to the less glamorous part of town.

    It's not just furniture, BTW, if you're not into that. At this same store, they had a vintage Logitech mouse, with the really glossy finish, wacky postmodern '90s logo, curvy palm-of-your-hand shape, etc. Or a CD / DVD player by Pioneer -- made in Japan, not a slave labor colony.

    All kinds of cool stuff that used to be everywhere during the 2010s, but now is only where the strivers are afraid they'll get shot by visiting (i.e., a lower-middle-class area with normal or somewhat lower crime rates, but not an affluent gated community).

  18. Alt girl who works at the thrift store was doing the no-bra look again, as usual. I couldn't care less about boobs, but it's natural and not manipulative like the underwire / torpedo bra style.

    "You smell really good," she said first thing at checkout. I told her it was Hugo Boss Number One -- three sprays. Don't listen to anyone on the internet who warns you against wearing cologne, or "too much" cologne. If they're an online content creator, chances are they're cerebral and awkward about anything corporeal, physical, bodily, etc. Ignore it.

    Girls who are natural, corporeal, etc., will welcome your scent. She said that previously when I was wearing Antaeus -- also a strong one, like Number One. And Number One has a reputation for being "pissy" among gay cerebral nerds online. No, it smells like honey and rose at that stage. It doesn't even smell very animalic like Antaeus (castoreum), since it only has a bit of musk in the final stage.

    Just bodily awkward people finding something to complain about in a wonderfully heady aroma.

  19. I got that bottle of Number One 10 years ago, at Nordstrom Rack, back when the discount stores used to carry all kinds of awesome stuff, just like with the thrift stores. The only one I had to pay full price for back then was Antaeus, at Nordstrom (not Rack).

    These days you're lucky if TJ Maxx has a bottle of Eternity. I couldn't believe they had Aramis a couple years ago, and on clearance to boot! That almost never happens anymore.

    Hmmm, maybe I should check out the discount stores in the non-glamourous parts of town, too...

  20. Finally found a wood-and-chrome Midcentury Modern coffee table at a thrift store, for only $18, hehe. Chromed brass frame, rectilinear, with a wooden top set into the frame that's alternating diagonal stripes of warm golden honey and rich chestnut brown. And the figuring is crazy, the brown one looks like a walnut burl, and the golden one looks like bird's eye maple but isn't that. I don't know what species exactly, but it's amazing.

    No usual maker's mark, not even a model number stamped or branded onto the underside of the wooden top. It does have a hand-painted "M 28", as in a small paintbrush with white paint.

    Maybe from a small local studio back in the '70s? It's heavy-duty, with welding holding the frame together, not screws or other fasteners. The metal braces running around the legs are secured with rivets going through small brackets welded to the legs. And the wood is veneers over plywood, not particle board.

    Whoever made it, it's totally fucking awesome -- and I didn't even have to go to the non-glamorous place for it!

  21. These are not mere "material possessions" BTW. Anyone who says that is just coping about being deracinated, culture-less, and adrift in their own cerebral online cloud-ether. Belonging to a real culture is a physical, embodied thing.

    You're not American if you don't have something with real or simulated woodgrain on it.

    And if you live in America, remember something:

    >you will never be European

    (Or Asian, etc.)

    So it's not like the anti-material people have a rich, embodied culture that just happens to come from outside of their country of residence. They have nothing, and are bitter at those who do (most people / normal people).

    Taking part in our own material culture is rewarding and exciting. I was always fascinated, and warm & fuzzy, every time I got to sit in my grandparents' La-Z-Boy recliner when we visited. A Midcentury design with the bentwood arms and streamline design, in a '60s dark green. I passed over one of those, in a harvest gold, a few years ago at a thrift store -- and it had already been marked down to under $5, just begging someone to take it away. I regret that big-time now.

    Or going for rides in their early '80s Lincoln Town Car -- easily the most luxurious car I've ever been in. And they were not rich, living in rural Appalachia in a small Midcentury home. But by not being status-strivers, they didn't waste shitloads of money on housing in a top 10% zip code, travel, and other empty indulgences that leave no trace.

    So by retirement time, my grandfather had money kicking around to buy a Lincoln (vs. his daily-driver, an F-150 from the late '70s, also in a dark green -- and their carpeting was dark green, too!).

    Dark green carpeting, wood paneling, bentwood-arm recliner, cream and brown two-tone Lincoln Town Car with plush brown interior and chrome details -- that's American culture. Trying to reconnect with it is not nostalgia, cargo cult, or LARP-ing -- it's making sure that your connection to your culture does not fray into a thousand wispy strands, leaving you adrift and meaningless.

    You have to visit thrift stores and the like, not only to get things for your own home, but to visit it like a museum of your own material culture, which is what defines any group of people. The Corded Ware culture, the Bell Beaker culture -- and the Woodgrain and Chrome culture.

  22. My grandfather was always blue-collar skilled labor, BTW, never a manager or knowledge professional. Didn't graduate high school. My grandmother was always a homemaker, never worked for a wage. That's how good Americans used to have it -- even they could cruise around in total luxury.

    Partly because the elites were good and mutualistic back then, instead of evil and parasitic since the '80s / neoliberal era. But also because they were not strivers, and lived a modest lifestyle overall -- crucially, in a modest zip code. Actually, probably in the bottom 25% of zip codes, it was rural Appalachia.

    So they had money saved up for a rainy day, for other family members who needed it, and toward their golden years, a luxury car.

    1. The neoliberal era began in 1975 in New York:

      Although it is arguable that 1973 Chile (the "Chicago Boys") was the prototype.

  23. Pretty sure both of my grandparents' classic cars are still in the family, too. Most Boomers just sell them off and take the dirty money for striver indulgences. But we have some good Boomers in that side of the family, who not only kept the cars, but restored the F-150 (no, not a "pimp my ride" restoration -- just tuning it up, getting the bench seat re-upholstered, etc.).

    They also kept my grandparents' Midcentury home in the family after my grandfather died, instead of selling it to the highest bidder and wasting the dirty money on striver indulgences. It's been maintained and added onto as well.

  24. Another example of "low and upper class" horseshoe theory -- keeping material possessions in the family, either inter-generationally or passing them around laterally based on who needs them at the time.

    Only insecure middle-class strivers auction off their stuff, so they can blow the dirty proceeds on fleeting eXpeRIenCEs, top 10% zip code housing, etc. And no, that luxury zip code housing will not get passed on to the next gen, cuz greedy people sell it off when they're toward the end of life, and blow the dirty proceeds on renting instead, plus the other usual indulgences that leave no trace to be passed on (food, travel, etc.).

    1. Also just sell/donate just to make room to replace with a newer, more on-trend item that does the exact same thing. My striver, boomer parents and my sister couldn’t understand the concept of preferring old family items. There were a couple times when I asked my mom to have some old thing in her house she already had replaced just because it was cool and vintage and from my childhood. Sometimes she would buy something new and send it to me saying the old thing I wanted was just too old and this new thing is better. I’m not sure she ever understood why I would want old revereware cookware or such.

  25. My mom sold her father's beautiful brick house almost immediately after he died. I miss patrimony. It's worth almost a million dollars now. But at least she has an apartment with hundreds of neighbors, mostly immigrants...great.

  26. Revereware is an early example of primitive futurism, from the '40s. Streamline design, gleaming stainless steel, gleaming bakelite -- but also the copper-clad bottom, which is more ancient, especially after it gets some use and it develops a marbly patina.

    Not the most intense example of the style, but an example nonetheless. And you can't get more American than Revereware.

  27. Ending patrimony is central to the libertarian / neoliberal revolution. I don't just mean the literal type, of inheriting something from your parents, but figuratively, where someone's car might be given to someone outside the kin network, like if someone from their church needed one real bad.

    In the neolib model, nothing has value outside its market transactional exchange rate. The "dead hand of history" weighs on present dynamism and development, etc.

    But as usual, this is just ideological window dressing -- the truly dynamic and rapid-development era was the Progressive and New Deal periods, whose central mission was to strangle the original libertarian / utilitarian revolution of the Gilded Age / Victorian era.

    If everyone is greedy and trying to maximize individual (or small group) self-interest, anarchy and stultification is the result. All those free banks from the Jacksonian era, after Jackson destroyed the central bank, did not lead to prosperity, booming businesses, etc. -- they just led to wave after wave of bank failures, panics, bank runs, and general instability in the financial sector.

    We only ended that with the founding of the Federal Reserve, and bringing the elites to heel during the New Deal / Great Depression, where none of the strivers got bailed out. Not a single financial / banking crisis during the entire New Deal.

    We only got recurring waves of financial breakdown with the neolib era, when Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter's Fed Chair (Volcker) with an Ayn Rand acolyte (Greenspan). Again, proving how full of shit the libertarians are in practice -- just flood the economy with cheap money by lowering interest rates (and then printing shitloads of new dollars outright), in order to give a free ride to the wannabe elites, who don't have to struggle or prove their merit at all. They just need to impress a panel of middlemen, between the entrepreneurs and the central bank, a la Shark Tank.

    None of it has any value, profitability, soundness, etc. -- hence bubble after bubble popping since Reagan, beginning with Continental Illinois, Savings & Loan, etc.

    Technology has made almost no progress during the neolib era either -- and no, streaming HD porn over a smartphone is not progress. Does not add value, is not profitable, has no aesthetic merit, or anything else heroic or grand. This is what "Greed is good" Greenspanism gets you.

    1. The people who point to technological progress as a benefit to the current neoliberal globalist world order never consider standards of living. This basically has stagnated since the end of the great compression. In terms of how people live, their home comforts, home appliances, work hours, personal space, leisure time, sense of community, etc, nothing has much improved since the 70s and most metrics have gone down. Even healthcare while providing ever more expensive end of life and cosmetic care, has resulted overall in a fatter, more unhealthy population with a reducing lifespak.

  28. Worth emphasizing that the Boomers destroyed patrimony at the grassroots level, not being forced by Big Guv or whatever other boogeyman.

    No one made them sell off their patrimony, and then blow the proceeds of the sale on fleeting indulgences for their own individual gratification.

    They could've sold their parents' home and given the money to their post-Boomer offspring, who have always been poorer than Boomers -- and always will be. One reason being the Boomers had all these free stuff to inherit, and had the option to sell it for free money if they wanted to.

    But once it's sold, it's sold -- post-Boomers cannot have their turn at selling their (grand)parents' home. And because the Boomers blew the proceeds of the sale on indulgences that leave no tangible assets afterward (a la Brewster's Millions), the post-Boomers do not receive a different object -- of similar monetary value -- to sell either. E.g., if Boomers sold their parents' home, bought a fleet of classic luxury cars with the proceeds, and passed on that fleet of cars to their post-Boomer relatives, instead of the house. Nope, nothing.

    Boomers sell their parents' home, then become renters (including going to an Assisted Living Facility). Well, post-Boomers can't sell what is not owned, like if their parents become renters in old age, to deprive their offspring. And they can't receive their Boomer parents' travel, dining out, Jimmy Buffett concerts, medical expenditures (much of which is pointless, like boner pills), and so on and so forth.

    Whatever is left near the end of their life, gets flushed down the last-resort recepticle called "end of life treatments". The price is "whatever you have left, maybe minus the funeral costs". That way, no wealth of any sort gets transferred to other people (aside from the stockholders of the HMO providing the service of "flushing your remaining cash down the drain to spitefully deprive others, after you got the money for free".)

    This is the result of "Greed is good" / Social Darwinism. The survival of the fittest, in reality, does not mean a fair playing field, and may the best man win. It means one generation decides to alter the course of their ancestors, inherit shitloads of valuable stuff for free, sell it off to the highest bidder, and blow the proceeds on their own indulgences.

    Then they blame everyone after them for not having the Randian heroic spirit that their generation did -- not the obvious fact that they inherited everything, and wasted it all, so that the next gen could not have their own turn at making something of that heritage.

    There is never a level playing field between a mature generation and a not-yet-born generation. Or between those who get in on the ground floor of a bubble, and those who come of age after the bubble is ready to pop.

    Roman greatness came after their civil wars were crushed, and before the anarchy of the 3rd century. Great things come from cooperation and cohesion, not hyper-competitiveness and mistrust. As our empire continues its collapse into the latter social environment, we will never create anything great again (already apparent by the 2010s).

  29. And no, Christianity is not an example of post-collapse greatness from the Roman Empire. The development of Christianity is mostly a product of another empire -- the Byzantines, who were in the rising-asabiya stage of their imperial lifespan.

    The definitive first seven ecumenical councils were all convened after the Roman Empire bit the dust during the 3rd century -- lasting from 325 to 787 -- and were all held in western Anatolia, AKA the Byzantine core, sponsored by the literal Byzantine Emperor himself.

    After the Byzantine Empire peaked, there was no more such creative / developmental energy left. The only big event in Christianity after the 8th C was the East-West schism of the 11th C., right as the Byzantines are about to get overrun by the Seljuk Turks.

    That goes for the development of cultural forms, too, like Gregorian or Byzantine chant, church architecture, and so on. The Roman Empire barely influenced that at all, it was the Byzantines and the Franks (who were influenced by their Byzantine peers, who invaded and occupied the Papal States in the mid-1st millennium).

    All the amazing Roman culture, from the Aeneid to the Pantheon, was post-civil war and pre-3rd-C anarchy.

  30. When is England going to disintegrate into multiple small countries fighting against each other like Italy did when the Roman Empire collapsed and the Rhineland did when the Frankish Empire collapsed?

  31. Ever heard of the Irish War of Independence? Happened over 100 years ago. Canada and then Australia split off around that time, too. They were colonies of Britain, not like America, who'd fought an independence war already.

    The first Scottish independence referendum was less than a decade ago. I emphasize "first" cuz there will be a 2nd, 3rd, etc., until they undo the Rough Wooing of the Tudor expansion.

    Scotland did not belong to the same native polity as southern England before then.

    Wales might stay, though. That's a bit older -- first under the Normans, then completed under the Plantagenets in the late 1200s. That's before Britain was a mighty expanding empire, so it has a better chance of getting grandfathered in, as Britain de-imperializes.

    There's always been polarization between northern and southern England, since the meta-ethnic frontier was in the south (against the French), so they've been the leaders, and the north has been more backward (they still refuse to fully adopt the Great Vowel Shift, much like back-East people in America still refuse to unround their low back vowels).

    I don't think the north & south will separate, though. That has never been on the table, unlike Ireland, Scotland, and the overseas colonies (whether Anglo or African or Indian). All of those non-southern-English entities pounced on the opportunity when it became clear that the peak of the British Empire had been passed. Not Manchester and York, though.

    They will continue being internal rivals, but not formally separate.

  32. Also worth remembering that most of the Frankish Empire would qualify as "colonialism" under today's views. The Franks were from the Rhineland, so everything farther over to the east was conquest of initially non-Frankish people.

    When the Frankish Empire collapses, that whole area east of the Rhine is like the African or Indian or Anglo-seeded colonies of the British Empire. Not only do they break away from their colonizers, they also start going to war against each other locally / regionally.

    This is part of the dynamics of imperial rise-and-fall cycles -- you can end up in a far lower level than where you started, akin to a hangover after getting really drunk. When the buzz wears off, you don't just go back to an ordinary state of sobriety -- you crash all the way through that level, into a hangover, possibly a coma, or even death, depending on how drunk you got.

    Central Europe (i.e. north and east of the Rhine) had never been unified before the Franks. The Romans never got over the Rhine, and the Germanic tribes there remained small-scale or regional confederations, but not a solid unified and expanding empire -- or subject to an empire.

    Only when the Franks conquered them, did they get sucked into the life-cycle of an empire. And as they rose, they fell -- even lower than where they began. A refractory state for asabiya ("black hole" in Turchin's term).

    So as the British Empire collapsed, the kleinstaaterei phenomenon took the form of colonial fragmentation and warfare among former colonies.

    It doesn't need to fragment and descend into enduring civil war close to the core of the empire. In fact, northeast France never got that bad after the division of Charlemagne's empire. They were powerless for awhile, but not separating, waging civil wars against each other, etc. That was the west of Francia, which only got reconquered in the 11th C by the rising Capetian Empire (AKA French Empire).

    And the Papal States, the rump state in the core of the former Roman Empire, didn't get that bad at civil warfare, lack of trust, etc. That was more in the south of Italy, far from the old meta-ethnic frontier against the Gauls. And southern Italy has been a low-trust shithole ever since, for reasons of imperial hangover and remoteness from that empire's meta-ethnic frontier, not genetics.

  33. As for America, that means the back-East region may fragment -- the obvious faultline would be northeast vs. southeast. I doubt the Midwest would play a part in that separatism. Certainly Iowa would be part of the same polity as California and Texas. But would Michigan and Ohio? A little sketchier, but I think they'd stay part of America and not join either the seceding southeast or northeast.

  34. To fill that in, the reason is that the Midwest was the winner of the Civil War (the northeast were merely our allies). Lincoln was Midwestern, and so were all those Republican presidents from Ohio. It was a victory for westward expansion (Transcontinental Railroad), favoring the industrialists (based in the now Rust Belt, mainly in the Midwest).

    We were fighting major Indian wars after independence, and it's still part of local culture -- you're not a real Ohioan if you haven't seen the historical reenactment drama of Tecumseh.

    Mutual mistrust, shithole status -- way more of a back-East thing, whether northern or southern. Sorry, rounders of low back vowels, you might not make it into the successor state to the American Empire (and you probably like it that way).

  35. Scored a Midcentury Scandi teak tray for only $4 at the thrift store, about 8" square, plywood (presumably with teak throughout) that's bent slightly upwards around the perimeter. And the top layer is quarter-sawn, with lots of light-colored flecks and straighter grain -- maybe the only time I've seen teak quarter-sawn. Pretty cool!

    Can't quite make out what the sticker says, some of the ink has worn off. Looks like "denrama" or something. Others like it were made in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland, so from one of those places ("den..." referring to Denmark?)

    Only had to condition it with a little mineral oil (food safe, in case I use it for that), and it looks amazing.

    To show how far Denmark's industrial policy has fallen since the '90s, when their national style was in full revival, there is nothing at TJ Maxx that was made in Denmark. There's glass from Spain, ceramic sculpture from Portugal, marble sculpture from Italy, cutting boards from Italy... but nothing from Denmark (or Sweden or Finland).

    It's a total no-brainer to use teak wood for all sorts of things, put the "Made in Denmark" stamp on it, and bingo bango, they'll sell like crazy. Midcentury style never went away, in fact it became a national standard here.

    If Italy can make cutting boards that wind up in TJ Maxx, so can Denmark, as long as it's teak.

    They're so greedy, they do actually make some teak cutting boards with some Danish name ending in "haus" or something, but it clearly says made in China. No sale! Nothing was made in China in the good ol' days, and their cutting boards are still going to be cheap crap today.

    Spain, Portugal, Italy... is it Catholic vs. Protestant, or Med vs. Nord? Protestants need to stop being such penny-pinchers -- it gets mixed with Germanic autism, and suddenly you have no revenue.

    And those not-actually-Danish teak cutting boards weren't even in the orangey-brown color -- it was more plain yellow / beige with some dark figuring. They're supposed to be orangey-brown! It's like trying to change the colors on your nation's flag -- they have to stay what they are, so everyone recognizes it!

  36. Moom, a little something to represent hoomans' first stage of grieving over several weeks of Moomless nights. Pleading:

    I figured you'd resonate with it, since you're such a boy-band girl, hehe. I haven't forgotten that medley of One Direction songs you did in karaoke after I began posting about the topic last year -- and how much you girls were all giggling about that during the Propnight slumber party stream. :)

    We know you have to rest your vocal cords for awhile, and we hope it goes as fast as possible. But we'd be lying if we just cheerfully wished you a happy recovery and went about our business, like it's nbd to not get to hang out with our favorite owl girl for so long.

    That's not to actually plead for you to reverse course... it's just letting you know that we're going to be torn up during that period because we really do value you as who you are individually. You can't just be replaced by some other content.

    We're especially grateful that you chose to ditch that striver credential mill, in order to spend more time hosting parties with your community. I'll bet a lot of people in your fandom were never sure they were worth befriending, whether they were lovable, etc., due to their cursed-yet-wholesome edgy internet lifestyle.

    But if a pretty songbird princess has chosen to spend so much time with them, rather than climbing the degree-holder ladder, they must have some kind of charm to their personality, right? ^_^

    Kind of like Snow White escaping her wicked stepmother to live a charmingly offbeat life among the Seven Dwarves. Or Sarah making friends with her lovably off-the-wall companions in Labyrinth.

    And remember, fair owl girl, should you need us...

    Yes, should you need us, for any reason at all...


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