The Failure of Trigger Warnings, Folk Art, and a History of Opium
Good morning. You may be able to make the case that trigger warnings are simply a kind of basic courtesy. “If I invite a friend round to watch a movie that I know features disturbing scenes,” Christian Jarrett writes in Aeon, “it’s simply courteous and thoughtful to alert my friend in advance, in case she’d rather watch something more anodyne – and one could make the same case for a lecturer about to discuss distressing topics.” There is no evidence, however, that they help people cope with trauma: “Whereas the ideological arguments for and against trigger warnings are difficult to settle, the specific psychological claims can be tested against the evidence. On the first claim, that trigger warnings enable survivors of trauma to avoid re-experiencing the negative associated emotions, critics argue that the avoidance of potentially upsetting material is actually a counterproductive approach because it offers no chance to learn to manage one’s emotional reactions. As a result, fears deepen and catastrophic thoughts go unchallenged.”
Sanford Schwartz discusses the religiosity and diversity of folk art in The New York Review of Books: “In their paintings and painted objects, people and animals tend to be brushy and loosely formed, and their works, as in a touching and oddly beautiful painting in the current show by the South Carolinian Sam Doyle of a boy stepping out while playing a drum, often convey a splashy energy. Doyle’s Penn School Drumer, dating from around 1970, is painted on a slightly beat-up sheet of tin, and it is a characteristic of these artists to employ any old leftover material. Tin was a favorite, at least with Doyle and David Butler, who is also in Heckler’s collection—he made whirligigs and flat sculptures in vibrant colors—because they liked to place whatever they made in their yards. For a number of these creators, there was little difference between making art and proclaiming their Christian faith . . . The New Orleans–based Morgan was a full-time preacher, as was Howard Finster, whose thousands of works are painted on whatever was at hand, including sneakers. But even if the artists were not preachers, their pictures and sculptural assemblages were meant to be understood by, even to speak for, the communities they were part of. And not all these artists were black. Reverend Finster was not. On the other hand, there is a range of artists who are often European and frequently, unlike their counterparts from the American South, did not share a community ethos.”
A short history of opium and heroin: “Of course the problem with an extract from a plant growing wild and natural – or even farmed, given good years and bad – was that dosage was fundamentally unpredictable. The sixteenth- century physician Gabriel Fallopius complained bitterly that opium tended to be either too weak or too strong, and if weak it didn’t help, and if strong it was exceedingly dangerous. An overdose caused the victim’s breathing to slow down, and down, and down, until it stopped altogether. Not good. So began a quest to isolate the active ingredients, in order to deliver them in known and reliable doses. Like most things to do with practical chemistry, not much happened until the nineteenth century, when, between 1804 and 1817, a German pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner zeroed in on a particular compound that made up about 12 per cent of the latex by weight. It seemed to be where the action was. The other 88 per cent was window dressing.”
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William Logan reviews recent work by Sharon Olds, Paul Muldoon, and others in his latest Verse Chronicle at The New Criterion: “Olds loves nature the way the wolf loves the sheep; but she seems to have lost any governor on her passions.”
Earlier this year, the Swiss federal government decided to stop stockpiling coffee in case of an emergency. The Swiss stockpile enough food, if I remember correctly, to feed the entire army for seven years. The current coffee stockpile is enough to supply everyone in the country with several cups a day for three months. “The Federal Office for National Economic Supply has concluded coffee…is not essential for life,” the government said at the time. “Coffee has almost no calories and subsequently does not contribute, from the physiological perspective, to safeguarding nutrition.” However, now they’ve decided to reconsider: “A poll on Twitter (paid for by Migros, a supermarket chain, which owns Delica, a coffee brand), found that two-thirds of respondents could barely imagine a life without coffee.”
Essay of the Day:
“In the 1600s, the Arakan empire’s capital, Mrauk U, had 160,000 inhabitants.” The spires of its temples reached 200 feet into the air. In the 18th century, however, it was conquered by the Burmese and abandoned. Joshua Hammer tells the story of its precarious return:
“In a shrinking world, the rediscovery of a remote and fabled city is nothing short of miraculous. And few abandoned civilizations have excited the human imagination as much as Mrauk U. It was the power and mystery of this place, tucked away in the Burmese jungle and almost completely forgotten, that lured a French historian, Jacques P. Leider, a quarter-century ago, shortly after the military dictatorship began to open the isolated country to the world. The experience, he says, turned a nagging curiosity into a lifetime obsession.
“Now others have begun to share Leider’s fascination. Through early 2019, historians, hydrologists, archaeologists and reconstruction experts, under the auspices of the government of Myanmar with United Nations support, visited this city on a near-monthly basis. Bouncing over dusty roads, crossing rice paddies and climbing up disintegrating hillside trails in the heat, the teams went searching for abandoned glories scattered across the sleepy rural landscape. Some experts believe that Mrauk U is as emblematic of artistic and architectural achievement as Bagan, the ancient Burmese capital on a plain alongside the Irrawaddy River that contains the world’s greatest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas. But while Bagan draws more than a quarter-million foreign visitors a year, barely 2,000 foreigners made their way to Mrauk U in 2016—only about six a day.
“Two elements make Mrauk U unique: exquisite Buddhist temples constructed largely from stone, and a network of military defenses that utterly transformed the hilly, flood-prone landscape into a fortress city. “There is nothing comparable to it,” says Massimo Sarti, a Unesco consultant hydrologist from Italy, who is helping to support documentation of Mrauk U. (Another collaborating entity is China’s Nanjing University.) A 2017 commission chaired by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended expediting Myanmar’s long-standing nomination of Mrauk U as a Unesco World Heritage site, calling it ‘the greatest physical manifestation of Rakhine’s rich history and culture.’”
Photo: Bran Castle
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