Nomad: Word Origin

Traveling has been a desire for several years now and although I haven’t yet pulled the trigger on a nomadic lifestyle, I feel myself inching closer to it. With an eye on a passive income, I’m making my way to a sustainable client list that will help me achieve my admittedly conventional millennial goal. And yes, even more trite, Paris or rather all of France is my ideal destination. This week has got me thinking about broadening my horizons but also about the origins of words thanks to John McWhorter’s The Power of Babel, an interesting look into the history of communication. Here is my marrying of the two: the origin of the word nomad.

The general definition used today is (noun):
Someone who doesn’t stay in one place long.

  • Nemein and Nomas (Greek)

First, let’s look at the root greek word *nem, or to “assign,” “allot” or “take.” This root word spread especially into the English language converging into the Middle English “nim,” or “to take.” The words nomad, economy, astronomy, nemesis and Nomos all originate from the Greek word “Nemein,” also coming from “nem.” In this sense, the connection between Nemein and nem is “to allot” or “to distribute” particularly in reference to maintaining pasture or dividing something into compartments, or allotting a melody or constellation for a specific purpose. This leads into the Greek word Nomas which translates to: pastoral people that wander about with their flocks.

Here is a passage from “The “Aeneid” of Virgil” written between 29–19 BC and translated by Theodore C. Williams:

Because of thee yon Libyan savages
and nomad chiefs are grown implacable,
and my own Tyrians hate me. Yes, for thee
my chastity was slain and honor fair,
by which alone to glory I aspired,
in former days.

The Aeneid tells the story of the Trojan Aeneas, of which the first half of a 12-part poem illustrates Aeneas’ journey from Troy to Italy of whom is ultimately regarded as one of the founding ancestors of the Romans.

  • Nomade (French)

The English word ‘nomad’ and its modern meaning is from the French word “nomade.” An alternate French definition extends past people with no permanent settlement. Animals can be considered nomads as well if they move from season to season - ie. migration.

The Prehistoric Potato & Mutilation

The origin of crop plants like the potato have been the subject of debate for botanists, and the debate is between two hypotheses: monophyletic (meaning descendant from a group of organisms with a common ancestor) v.s polyphyletic (meaning descendant from a group of organisms that do not all have a common ancestor). According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, the potato’s origin is mostly likely monophyletic and is probably derived from the s. brevicaule.

Ancon, a coastal district in Peru, is where the earliest potato tuber has ever been found and it dates back to circa 2500 B.C. Modern-day Peru and northwestern Bolivia is currently the birthplace of the domesticated potato which includes remains in Casma (Ancash). The Casma potatoes grew alongside sweet potatoes and in 1982 were confirmed to date back to the ceramic period. Evidence of cooking, boiling and fire charring were found in some samples. The traditional use of the potato isn’t the only, however. A collection of 150 pots collected at a Chimu site in Peru tells a story of facial mutilation and the potato, implying the worship of some kind of “potato spirit.” Notable are the three facial deformities represented in the Chimu collection:

  1. A split, single or double hare-lip

  2. An enormously large lower face or neck.

  3. A drooping face or loss of one or both eyes.

Rare ceramics from this Peruvian period depicted potato vessels in more or less their natural form. The Moche, Chimu and Inca cultures had a certain affinity for the potato, especially the Moche who were also incredibly attentive to the bird, fish, mammal and natural object as well.

Where we see the relation between the Chimu pottery and potato in the same vessel is particularly interesting. There are pieces with potato “eyes” or tuber bodies - possible proof of the spiritual nature of the potato to the ancient Peruvians. Redcliffe N. Salaman provides some probable connections between the crop and the gods:

  1. A potato spirit influenced the plant’s behavior and reproduction.

  2. Opposed to worshiping the potato spirit, they may have sought to help it with guidance. That guidance was aided and its strength influenced by the nature of mutilation of man. And that mutilation of the upper lip into the nose region forcefully displayed the teeth. The following are motives for facial mutilation to a supposed potato spirit:

    1. The ‘eye’ of the potato was often referred to as the ‘mouth,’ something that resembled a gaping hole like that of the mutilated mouth. The buds of the plant were the ‘teeth.’

    2. In showing the potato spirit what quality of potato they desire with equal characteristics on that of a man’s face, a good harvest would hopefully come.

  3. The relation may not be spiritual at all. A wide-spread disease could have caused the deformities instead. This explanation may be the most plausible.

Sources:
arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu
latinamericanstudies.org

Thoughts on Fate and an Ancient Likeness

Fate is likely only to be challenged under the influence of glorified stories, maybe even inaccurate ones. We desire motivation in order to take risks. We believe so deeply for the sake of salvation. We need to have undying loyalty to a set of values, beliefs and the tales that build them in order to survive. When the Athenians met the Oracle at Delphi (a grand shrine where people from all over Greece had their futures revealed to them by the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo), they wondered what their fate against the Persians would be if they decided to fight. The Pythia replied:

“Wretched ones, why sit you here? Flee and begone to remotest ends of earth, leaving your homes …
Many a fortress besides, and not yours alone shall he ruin …
Get you gone out of the shrine! Blanket your soul with your sorrows.”

The Athenians, hungry for victory and the preservation of their homeland scoffed at the idea of fleeing from battle. And so, they demanded a new future and refused to leave the shrine until their second reading was granted. The priestess replied again:

“A wall of wood, which alone shall abide unsacked by the foemen;
Well shall it serve yourselves and your children …
Do not abide the charge of horse and foot that come on you,
A mighty host from the landward side, but withdraw before it.
Turn your back in retreat; on another day you shall face them.
Salamis, isle divine, you shall slay many children of women …”

The oracle didn't change their future, however the Athenians begged to differ. The oracle may have urged them to turn their back in retreat, but surely if the oracle had named their land “the poor Salamis” then maybe the reading was truthful. Instead, their land was described as “Salamis, isle divine.” The Athenians set out to prepare for war with confidence. They ultimately save Greece and successfully change their fate.

Stories like this drive people to do the same. To take risks. To challenge the inevitable. To listen to the heart rather than the hearts of others. Simply being told to go against the grain is lesser to stories that persuade us to act in times fraught with danger. Humans desire a drawn out romantic rendition of what is plain and simple. Sometimes those who lean into the plain and simple are mystified by romanticism that flips their beliefs upside down only to turn back to rationale - and back again. They flip flop until their fate is reached without their say in the matter at all.

480 B.C. - Xerxes, fifth king of kings of Persia, and his uncle and advisor Artabanus (the same man who assassinates Xerxes in 465 B.C.) sat atop a promontory overlooking a million and a half soldiers below. Xerxes cried out and said: “Here are all these thousands and not one of them will be alive a hundred years from now.” Artabanus reassures the king that the troubles faced in life are relieved in death. Sometime earlier, Artabanus dissuaded Xerxes from invading Greece over the humiliation of Darius, his father, at Marathon. Not from his uncle’s words but from a dream the king had twice was what determined the fate of the Persian invasion. The dream was coincidentally paternal. An apparition appeared before the king and said: “If you do not launch your war at once, … just as a short while raised you to be great and mighty, so with speed again shall you be humble.” Artabanus wasn’t convinced by the dream’s significance until Xerxes urged him to sleep in his bed and wear his clothes. The apparition reappeared and Artabanus, fearful and screaming, was too convinced that invasion was the wisest choice.

Back to the promontory atop a million and a half soldiers. Artabanus changed his mind. Despite the horrors of the dream, he resorted to the practical. He warned the king of formidable fighters in large numbers on the other side and what if a storm arise? Starvation could beat the Greeks to the Persians before any battles began. Xerxes replied: “If you were to take account of everything …, you would never do anything. It is better to have a brave heart and endure one half of the terrors we dread than to [calculate] all of the terrors and suffer nothing at all. … Big things are won by big dangers.”

The ancient world is not unlike the world we live in today. However different our surroundings are, our brain chemistry is the same; an urge to walk down paths of least resistance, and a desire for truth too. And not all truth is fundamentally true just because of its age. We tend to worship text from hundreds of years before “civil society” of the Renaissance - transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. This is largely due to our lack of historical documentation so the few accounts we have are cherished as utmost truth. And in many ways, we’ve determined through the use of modern technology the lines between historical accuracy and creative license. Herodotus and Thucydides for instance, like Xerxes and Artabanus, approached their work in different manners. Herodotus, notable for his recounting on the origins of the Greco-Persian wars, was a man who told lively somewhat oversaturated stories about history. Thucydides, on the other hand, was dubbed the “father of scientific history.” Great greek historians like Ctesias, Diodorus, Strabo, and Polybius delivered his work as a model of truth. Thucydides never mentions his rival by name but this statement is widely assumed to be about Herodotus:

“To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which (according to the condition of humanity) may be done again, or at least their like, shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable. And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession than to be rehearsed for a prize.”

Despite his critics, Herodotus’ works had been gladly recited at festivals and the like. His entertaining tales were odd to historians because one couldn’t be a storyteller and a historian at the same time. We can learn a lot from this dichotomy about the nature of fate and persuasion and truth. The same dichotomy is in every individual. Never judge a book by its cover; only by its content. A noble sentiment but not an easy one to adhere to. Rather, the inevitable judgment by instinct of curiosity should be reached quickly, then dwelled upon only until the whole truth is reached. If our initial judgment is wrong, then so be it. The initial judgment isn’t entirely disregarded, however, even if we wish it to be; an observation also suited for thoughts on discrimination.

The politics of the modern world favor romanticism over cold hard facts because, well, we always have. It’s absurd to think we’re any different from our ancestors. Just as they married actions with feeling, so have we. Just as ancient men were driven by the heart or apparitions in the night, other men of reason challenged them and vice versa. Finding common ground has always been a struggle, for fate can never be determined ahead of time. The what ifs will eat away at us forever.

There is something we can still rely on though: stories. The cause and effect of everything we do is determined by the cause and effects of yesterday. Stories let us uncover the infinite amount of causes that produce one effect. Naked truth without story has limitations. It is linear and two-dimensional. In today’s world it is clear we’ve overstepped our desire for story. We rarely seek the hidden truths behind a narrative - only the backstory and personhood of the hero.

Bon Iver i,i: Album Review

★★★★☆

It’s been a while since Bon Iver came out with an album after “22, A Million” in 2016, which grew on me nicely. The combination of folk, indie, electronica and glitch was overwhelming but pleasantly so. Like its predecessor, the “i,i” title and track list had me rolling my eyes because, well, it is very ostentatious. Bon is unapologetically that guy though and he’s always walked into projects with an air of pretension around him. I like this side of him most of the time. He gets away with it. I’m not much for some other artists who do the same like Francis and The Lights .

My expectations for “i,i” were simple. I expected ambience to the max, off-kilter song structures and strong hooks. I didn’t expect to hear something coherent but I did hope for it. I pretty much got what I asked for without the coherence. Like 22, A Million, there are soaring standouts like Faith, which has a powerful digitized bass and epic build up not dissimilar to Creature Fear, only less folk more gospel. We is another favorite. Hip hop elements glue the digitized folky yelping from Bon, and the catchy rhythms add up to something rather coherent from beginning to end. I also very much like the saxes here. Songwriting is strong on Hey Ma and reminds me of the pre 22, A Million days. Still, his cadence is a screwed down version of 33 “GOD".” There isn’t a ton of new Bon Iver ideas here and that isn’t something I hate. Like I said, I enjoyed 22, A Million so I’m not disappointed to hear a sequel.

Salem has an interesting instrumental peak and so does Naeem and iMi. Of the three, I prefer Salem. The songwriting in particular is beautiful. He uses the Salem witch trials to briefly transition into a comment on individuality and working together despite our differences. “'Cause abnormalities / Is elasticity, empowerment and ease / So I won't lead no lie/ With our hearts the only matter why /How long it's lasted / I've not received reciprocity.” Reoccurring gospel elements peak on Sh’Diah where distant wailing and saxes intertwine into a clean, watery landscape with a drop of a twinkling sound here and there. Rabi’s closer isn’t super strong instrumentally but not out of place narratively.

Is the “i,i” sequel better than the original? Honestly, yes. Is it a project I love? Like any Bon Iver project, only time will tell.

Thoughts on Nostalgia and an American Mid-Life Crisis

The 20th century started with an explosion of new technologies and excitement for a new world and it ended with nostalgia. The 21st century continues to grow at an exponential rate. Technology is improving faster than we can keep up with. Advancements in the medical field, business, transportation and entertainment continue to climb quickly. However, we desire to hit pause instead of riding this wave into a different earth, an unfamiliar future, a future that is at this point inevitable. We have hit pause globally. Public unrest is brewing. People are loosing their jobs to these advancements. Social media provides an accessible platform for hate and is where the growing frustrations of those effected lash out. And thus, we’re left with two groups: the young and/or the adaptable vs. the world. 

I wonder if this global unrest, this aversion to change and adaptability, is new. Or like the future we are rolling into, is it inevitable? What is inevitability exactly and how can it be determined? I believe anything and everything is inevitable as long as it happens. However, the word inevitable is seemingly unchangeable, stubborn, a set of fates that lead to only one outcome. Humans have proven to make changes that twist outcomes, even outcomes that once were deemed inevitable. The young generations embrace inevitability more or less. They do not wish to fight it. The older generations, and I’m generalizing here, see only the negative effects of rapid change. That rapid change affects their jobs. It affects their wallets. It affects their comfort. They are mad and rightfully so. 

Now, I’m only speaking upon changes that hurt jobs because, let’s be honest, this is all that the public cares about in the grand scheme of things. Climate change for instance is a rapid change people are fighting against, and also technological advancements that endanger earth and the living things on it. 

The unrest by those impacted by 20th and 21st century advancements have been brewing under the surface since the Industrial Revolution. Their desire to hit pause has turned into a smashing of the rewind button. There is now a global desire to start over. This is apparent on both sides (liberal and conservative). Generally, conservatives want to rewind and recycle old ideologies in order to recreate a collective memory. And liberals want to burn down the old institutions and rebuild a future that is in line with new advancements. The middle ground? Not burning anything down and not resorting to old ideas. We should reference American history in this instance. Every decision we have made as a nation so far has been in response to decisions made prior. We build upon ideas. We do not throw them away and start over. At least, we shouldn’t anyway. Politically, and in opposition to the fundamentals of American philosophy, we have frequently made poor decisions directly as a result of this “starting over” syndrome that’s led to a crossroad and another massive divide in America. Both parties want to do the same thing; burn it, burn it all! Granted, they want to tear everything down for different reasons - starkly opposing reasons. We stand on the battle field with Pelosi on one side and McConnell on the other, swords and shields raised, yelling and hollering from yards away doing absolutely nothing more. Then, there’s the progressives who scream “Fuck this! Let’s do something.” They are struck down by both sides and we continue a stale mate yelling match. 

Is nostalgia a reoccurring disease at the turn of every socio-cultural era? We’ve entered the Information Age, for instance. Were similar global discomforts apparent at the onset of the early Industrial Revolution or the “Machine Age?” The American Civil Rights Era? The discovery of the New World? I refer to nostalgia as a disease because it for one started as a medical condition and not a political or poetic contrivance, of which is better suited for poetry but I digress.

Nostalgia is not a bad thing. Nostalgia is also not a fight against contemporary ideas or even progress. Nostalgia is simply enjoying a past moment or set of events or years that one believes are some of the best snippets of their life. Everyone has had varying levels of nostalgia. Many desire to go back to their golden age, resulting in some kind of mid-life crisis. So yes, nostalgia can turn into an action, and still, there is nothing wrong with that. A community’s desire to turn back time can be dangerous. If enough people want change, politically they can bring their desires into reality not just for them but for everyone. The nostalgic Trumpian desires are a fantasy. As opposed to a desire for more job growth or better health care, nostalgia is not real. It is a feeling. We are living in an ongoing attempt to create a fantasy that little less than half the country desired to be in in 2016. We are living in a “Make America Great Again” land where the President readily fights to enable a collective mid-life crisis.

And so, those who have helped slowly erase the lines between fantasy and reality are unknowingly paying the price along with the rest of us. “Fake news” and the lack of truth is a direct result of our current mid-life crisis. Reason is dead. Not permanently but it is in a coma. Feelings are dominant not because we choose to run away from the truth - feelings are all that’s left. There is no truth. There is no reliable source. I do want to say Trump’s incessant lying and enabling of a fantasy world isn’t entirely at fault per se. This is also a downfall of the Information Age, ironically enough. When we are faced with so much information from so many sources, the truth is buried. It is inevitable. 

However, through history we’ve never truly had a “reliable source.” There is technically no way to find the origin of most things and the fundamental truth is elusive in almost any field of study. Before the internet we looked to the President, government officials, a handful of news stations that brought on “experts” and various other public figures that held the public’s trust. All of these reliable sources cannot provide us with absolute accuracy for one reason or another. We have lost our trust, whether consciously or subconsciously or at the hands of our own intuitions or the influence of the president. We now equate the incredibility of Wikipedia with CNN for some reason. We’ve destroyed the only reliable sources we’ve had in the modern world. And I say “we” because this paranoia is happening on a massive scale. We now have little to rely upon other than our own feelings. And boy, do we have a lot of feelings. The President wants us to continue relying on our feelings. He wants us to turn our feelings into weapons. He wants us to avoid reason. He wants us to attack each other and he wants us to have no other choice than to give in to his fantasy. He wants the mid-life crisis to grow stronger.

The Information Age is special. It’s special because there is a lot of truthful information on the web written by experts. With a little google literacy, most people can acquire skills once impossible without formal education. You just have to know where to look. We should use this information as our weapon against the fantasy. And we are. We have been since 2016. We are trying. We truly are. Feeling is hard to fight because feeling and trust go hand in hand. Accurate information will never be accurate when trust is destroyed. This vicious cycle must stop in 2020 and must stop all around the world.  

Social Currency & Cancel Culture

The social market is as volatile as a Wall Street floor, and if you aren’t willing to learn or keep up, there’s the door. I am a product of my generation, so naturally I want my hand in social currency - a currency that has gone beyond a single unit value. Now it can be traded, manipulated and fabricated altogether, much like what we see in financial institutions. Social media is world number 2, or rather version 1.5. It may have parallels to the real world but the meat on its bones is still rare. And I’m not sure we want to see world number 2, for despite the attraction of a pretty new future, we have a lot to understand and more importantly, to fix. Whether a bug update or full upgrade, we need several. Our perception of social currency, the influences that trigger our desire for it and how we may react to a more complex social market is already creating real life problems.

People are brands. They always have been. Social media isn’t the cause for fraudulent personalities and manipulative behavior or bullying another for social gain. This is a facet of human nature. We do this all the time. I personally have made lasting friendships through the power of gossip and exaggerated smearing of a mutual. We feed off negativity. We love it. That is how we connect. Is it healthy? In the grand scheme of things, no. But it is inevitable for now. We enjoy mutual shit-talking behind the backs of others, and in that, we desire utmost anonymity - something social media provides in the comfort of our homes.

Socializing is a complicated behavior. Not only can it be used to trick others but can easily fool the speaker as well. It can fool the speaker into thinking they have accomplished an important interaction - a social media pitfall that needn’t further explaining. You get it. Social media doesn’t fulfill the social quota in the healthiest of ways but it does fill it. Where we find ourselves today is in front of something much bigger and is where every great thing meets its demise, money (or currency).

Money ruined the good old days of wild west internet browsing and almost every corner of global hardship. But it also saves us, gives us purpose, structure and stability - things we need more than any comparably trivial problem. But it’s also foolish to assume the desire for wealth be merely for stability. In fact, its core intent isn’t a tool for survival, like an urge to build a shelter or start a fire. We only believe the accumulation of wealth to be a DNA written human urge because we willed it to be over thousands of years.

And so on the ever-present screens around me, I cave to my instincts. I see other investors cashing in big and trading engagement for real opportunities and an honest living. These are the creators in most instances. And the lifeblood of the creator depends on the curator, or an individual who prefers sharing the content of others. And for most social investors today, they are a hybrid of the two. Then, there’s the “piker.” In Wall Street, a piker is an investor who almost exclusively makes small trades or can otherwise be considered an amateur, ill-equipped for the trading day. A fairly harsh term for someone who contributes little to the market yet seeks to convince others of their superior knowledgeable of it. These investors are “out of touch,” the folks who take up space and are usually inseminating misinformation into the social pool. Or worse, unbeknownst to them, draining it rapidly. And what do we do with them? Well, we kill them.

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Polish aphorist and poet, once wrote “The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it.” The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ belief is an evolved Homo sapien trait not exclusive to humans. In fact, most social animals do not think on behalf of an entire species. However, The Cognitive Revolution shifted the social human in this regard. And what resulted was willingness to help a neighbor who would otherwise be a complete stranger. But still, for as logical as we’ve become, we have acute and sometimes irrational anxiety about ill intentions of another neighbor.

Fast foreword to the shift from the ancient world to classical antiquity, and a near double in population from 100 to 200-250 million people. A set of laws were necessary to keep order among so many. Economic, political and religious demand set forever changing global orders and narrowed the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ What makes the economic order in particular so strong is that it transcends prophets and kings. Currency is the great unity of people. For those who do not believe in the same god or under the rules of the same land, money is adaptable, always necessary and a universal language in itself. There is no equivalent transactional value in worshiping a god or following the laws of the land. If you believe in god, your afterlife may be plentiful, or if you follow the law you may not rot in jail. If you believe in and fully understand an economic system, you may gain not just material things and security for your family, but it can also increase odds of a rise in social hierarchy - an immediate reward in life rather than death.

From 2006 to 2012, Facebook’s alliance with Microsoft elevated the platform to unprecedented heights. What was the digital milestone of Myspace amounted only to the conception of a virtual reality embryo. And a virtual reality Facebook has become with its Twitter and Instagram brother and sister. The complexity of our social behavior has not become more complicated or toxic due to social media, everything is just amplified - our empathy, our apathy, our pride, our pity, our concerns, our curiosity, our observations, our free thinking, our passions, our learning, our teaching. Everything has gone from moderate to extreme. Our desire for currency has elevated as well. Our hierarchal tendencies are raging. We are desperate to gain and show off the social currency we have. We flaunt it like fat kings. We use followers for arbitrary blue ticks and engagement for validation of our class. Unlike the lifelong classification of the medieval peasant, on Twitter it only takes one mistake to go from prince to pauper.

I want to return to Stanislaw’s the “weakest link in the chain is the strongest” quote to start a conversation about cancel culture. I have quite a lot to say on the subject, so I’ll keep it brief for now (I want to isolate this topic for its own article).

Cancel culture, right off the bat, is a perpetual vicious circle that feels both horribly wrong for the accused without a platform for a rebuttal and super important for human progress. This dichotomy is like my experience with anti-depressants. I’ve had anxiety since my I entered school at age 5. It stems from a lack of productivity, an incessant self-loathing and sensitivity to worldly disappointments i.e a fixation on the approval of others. When I took my prescription however, after several trial and error periods, I was never able to kick the zombified side effects of which were keeping me from you guessed it … being productive. And back to square one. The pikers are the sickness but the Outrage pills™️ aren’t solving the underlying issue. Now, if the sickness is life threatening to its occupant, the side effects are moot. But who is to say what sickness requires what medicine?

I realized what I needed was more therapy centered in the end. There is more than one way to treat a sickness. If we’re comparing apples to apples, more so granny smiths to galas, the real world equivalency to internet’s cancel culture pre dates the iron age in many ways. We have the mindset of a hunter gatherer with a population of the Roman Empire 130 fold. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but we need to understand the infant state we’re in.

From 500 million users in 2010, Facebook now has over 2.1 billion. And these are active users. That’s about 30% of the world’s population. We are building something that can hold over 2 billion people. Social media was originally an escape from reality. In 2009, however, when the smart phone made its way to everyone’s pocket, the transformation from productivity killer to birth of a new reality converged. And here we are - animals with brains too big for our own good, with nature’s wonderment right in front of us, and yet, we strive for more, something greater, something beyond our reach. The Cognitive Revolution is both a human miracle and a natural disaster, but we’ll survive. We always do.

We are on our way to a classical period. The start of a vibrant, well-tamed or wily, maybe dangerous future. Only time can tell. We are living in a time never seen before - a future only a cheap 80’s movie could predict. A celebrity con artist is the leader of the free world and he is often on Twitter spouting immoral villianish rhetoric. Deep-fakes are becoming a serious concern. Fabricated news stories for the sake of social gain is ruining the integrity of journalism. Facebook is stealing personal data and jeopardizing our security. WikiLeaks, run by a drunk cartoonish mastermind is collaborating with prominent world figures, and Russia is using cyber strategies to undermine governments around the world. We are domestically and globally facing the brewing of a detrimental outcome.

And it starts with us. The fundamental problem is on the individual. We’ve perpetuated this but not purposefully. Our weak online social structure is due to our incessant need for social currency over principal and action. Tweeting advocacy is not the equivalent to joining a protest or calling a local government official. Sub-tweeting is not the equivalent to solving inter-personal issues. Likes are not the equivalent to validity. The woes of life are merely being transferred to an external hard drive, drag and dropped to world 1.5.

19th Century Rhetoric, Campaigning & A Poem by Abraham Lincoln

After listening to “Abraham Lincoln: His Hand and His Pen” from the wonderful Washington Post podcast “Presidential,” I wondered how I’ve managed to go so long without reading the famous writings, speeches and letters from the 16th president. Before I get into his work, I want to get some nagging questions out of the way. Below, I went on an internet dive into some topics on 19th century campaigning, political rhetoric and Lincoln’s first steps into the influential man we know of today. Creating a general timeline of Lincoln’s life has especially helped me become immersed in the 1840’s -1860’s America.

Rhetoric: the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

The ability to sway public opinion through speeches and political drama has always been of utmost importance for a presidential nominee. In Abraham Lincoln’s 19th century political landscape, speeches that managed to reach local and national press was the only path to political success. Their speeches needed to be well-versed, well-spoken and well-received. And if one of these elements was weaker than the other, his influential power would suffer. Research has shown that contemporary campaigning also favors memorable speeches for popularity gain. This is over foreign campaigning that have zero impact and domestic campaigning that hurts popularity (Brace and Hinckley, 1993). However complex modern politics have become, public opinion is manipulated in many of the same ways as the days of Abraham Lincoln with a common thirst for charismatic, relatable partisan candidates. 

In the mid-19th century voter turnout for political events such as speeches, rallies, announcements, and debates were attended by roughly 80% of those eligible during national elections (Glasser, Salmon 1995), which is quite a percentage considering the limitations to travel at the time. Over 150 years ago, citizens were readily involved in politics mostly for the entertainment of it all. The important business of politics was second best to the show a candidate touted for his audience. Campaigning was something of an art form, and if there was one man that trumped above the rest, it was Abraham Lincoln. 

The famous Lincoln-Douglas debates for the Illinois Senate seat attracted 10 - 15 thousand voters at many of the seven events. These debates were particularly fascinating because debating publicly for a senate seat was unusual. It was state legislature who voted for senate, not the people - not at this time at least. In fact, the popularity of the Lincoln-Douglas debates became so famous, most assumed it was a part of their presidential campaign. 


Early use of the terms “stump speech,” “to stump,” and “taking to the stump” were birthed in the early 1800s. The meaning behind it was simple. Speeches by politicians, usually in rural areas, were often spouted upon the stumps of trees. This implied that such lands were infantile and still being cleared - fertile ground for the ambitious American politician. However, the experienced politician from the city rather disliked the idea of a backwoods stump speaker and regularly mocked the rural trend. (McNarma, 2019)

If 19th century campaigning was a strategic battle plan, the south’s vote was its best shot at victory. They had all the votes. And they happened to be particularly uneducated and illiterate, so a passionate, relatable speech void of aristocratic policy talk was a relief. And so, the unfiltered frontier personality was soon embraced by much of the east. The stump speech was not an express ticket to political success, but it sure helped tremendously because “the man who could not make himself heard did not get elected.” (Davis, 1982)

"I shall have my hands full. He is the strong man of the party — full of wit, facts, dates — and the best stump speaker, with his droll ways and dry jokes, in the West." - Stephen Douglas (about Abraham Lincoln)

Leading up to the Civil War, speeches and debates were colorful, passionate and at times full of rage and name-calling. Nothing has changed in America. Our ambition rages on two centuries later. And so too, our love for entertainment over substance. The days of Lincoln, Clay and Calhoun made for quite a series of shows across America. They were about serious topics however, topics the public shared feverishly; slavery and the future of the Union. Lincoln’s rhetoric was poetic and easy to understand. He could be crude, yes, using words like “howdy” often, but he also spoke on complex issues in a simple fashion. His archaic approach and sing-song delivery was captivating. A clear reflection of everyday issues replaced a complex web of empty political speak. (Dillard, Shen 2012) And he wasn’t afraid to take jabs at his opponents either.

George Forquer, a Whig to Democrat, had been given lofty incentives by the Jackson administration. And upon Abraham’s delivered speech for the Whigs, the party he occupied at the time, Forquer criticized Lincoln’s youth as he had only been 27. This is how Lincoln responded:

"I am not so young in years as I am in the tricks and trades of a politician. But, live long or die young, I would rather die now, than, like the gentleman," — at this point Lincoln pointed at Forquer — "change my politics, and with the change receive an office worth three thousand dollars a year. And then feel obliged to erect a lightning rod over my house to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God."

The written and spoken word, his love for theater and attraction to poetry were Lincoln’s most potent leadership tools. His love for language started early and out of necessity. Formal education for the young boy on the frontier barely amounted to one year. And so, he had to teach himself, scribbling poetry and arithmetic where he could. This thirst for self-learning continued into later years, where he’d teach himself land surveying and law. One document recovered from Lincoln’s early days includes this short poem:

“Abraham Lincoln,
his hand and pen,
he will be good,
but god knows when.”

His stepmother, Sarah, nourished young Lincoln’s passion for reading against his father’s wishes who preferred the boy head straight into the workforce. However, his father did pass down a skill for the spoken word, even if it was unknowingly. Lincoln would gather all his little friends around the town and tell his father’s jokes verbatim, with mimicking mannerisms and all. He studied his father’s jokes to his buddies from the next room. The way he crafted punchlines, when to pause for laughter, he learned all he needed to know.

And where he used the written word for expression and mood stabilizing, the spoken word was often used as a defense mechanism. His tales and jokes were met with laughter but as he grew older, his lighthearted crudeness was sometimes inappropriate (Cunningham, Kroll 2016). But who is to blame him for wanting a laugh in troubling times? Lincoln once said, “With the fearful strain that is on me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die.” Upon his entrance into politics, Lincoln’s speeches quickly became his steady sword and writing his impenetrable shield.


Canto: one of the sections into which certain long poems are divided.

His speeches were crafted with surgical care, rearranging paragraphs and lines every which way for utmost impact, for laughter and heaping sighs. I would like to discuss Lincoln’s precision and how it developed over time after my reading is complete. But first, I want to look at this famous poem the future president wrote to better understand where the roots of his talents grew, and also, his distinct personality.

My Childhood Home I See Again (1844): In the fall of 1844, after visiting his childhood home, Abraham Lincoln described his old town “as unpoetical as any spot of the earth.” Still, he felt compelled to turn the memories of his home and his mother and sister who lay buried there into poetry. In part II (second canto), Lincoln’s subject is Matthew Gentry, a childhood friend who still lived there in a “wretched condition.”

“He is three years older than I, and when we were boys we went to school together. He was rather a bright lad, and the son of the rich man of our poor neighborhood. At the age of nineteen he unaccountably became furiously mad, from which condition he gradually settled down into harmless insanity. When, as I told you in my other letter I visited my old home in the fall of 1844, I found him still lingering in this wretched condition. In my poetizing mood I could not forget the impression his case made upon me." - Abraham Lincoln (about Matthew Gentry)

Canto 1
HighlightSensibility
My childhood's home I see again, And saddened with the view; And still, as memory crowds my brain, There's pleasure in it too.Lincoln returns to Indiana after briefly campaigning for Henry Clay's failed presidential bid. Here, we witness a shift from young, crude frontier boy to mature man waving goodbye to his formative years. His frontier background served him well politically.
I hear the loved survivors tell How nought from death could save, Till every sound appears a knell, And every spot a grave. I range the fields with pensive tread, And pace the hollow rooms, And feel (companion of the dead) I’m living in the tombs.Lincoln had been known to suffer with depression, or melancholia, as it was described then. Much of his sadness stemmed from his early exposure to death at the hands of disease both in his family and his town. Lincoln rarely wrote about these feelings, and so, it surely sheds light on his reserved nature (Willen 2015).
Canto 2
HighlightSensibility
But here's an object more of dread Than ought the grave contains A human form with reason fled-- While wretched life remains.Lincoln compares the sadness of his friend's sickness to the sadness of the dead in their graves. This shows Lincoln's compassion for those less fortunate. Perhaps this canto is proof of his care for mental health.
When terror spread, and neighbours ran, Your dang'rous strength to bind; And soon a howling crazy man, Your limbs were fast confined.What is determined by these line is the frontier town's fear of a wild man who has shed his voice of reason. In other words, community crumbles when order is no more. Steady and mindful reason is an important philosophy for Lincoln, contrary to an unruly mob mentality.
How plaintively your mournful song, Upon the still night rose. I've heard it oft, as if I dreamed, Far-distant, sweet, and lone; The funeral dirge it ever seemed Of reason dead and gone.Lincoln still thinks about his friend often, despite his turn in nature. He still feels a connection with Matthew that is "sweet." His ambivalnce, or strong contradictory feelings, toward those who suffer and commit indecencies is a defining characteristic. He often shows compassion for those deemed unworthy by society. And often, he may find their indecencies criminal but their intentions or personhood good natured.

After reading this poem, I got to thinking about nostalgia and its power as a political tool. I scratched the surface of this topic with a look at only one study but I plan on going deeper soon.

Although nostalgia has been a political tool for centuries, not by every politician but by many, Lincoln focused solely on the present and the future. He rarely promised his supporters the glory days of the past. He mentions only the intentions of the founding fathers in regards to slavery. Despite Lincoln’s presidential opponent, Stephen Douglas’ goal for a Jacksonian future, he too did not use nostalgia often. In fact, Nostalgia in the early to mid 19th century was used only sparingly in U.S. politics as it was still a new country expanding its boundaries. The word nostalgia was associated with a troubled, diseased person - one who could not bare being away from their home, or one who could not stop thinking about the past. After the Civil War, nostalgia was “something to be ashamed of, that those who suffered from it were unmanly, idle and weak-willed. [American military doctor Theodore Calhoun] proposed curing it with a healthy dose of public ridicule and bullying.” (Beck 2013).

Stacey Menzel Baker and Patricia F. Kennedy from the University of Nebraska categorize nostalgia into 3 terms: “real nostalgia,” “simulated nostalgia,” and “collective nostalgia.”

Real Nostalgia: bittersweet yearning

Simulated Nostalgia: having nostalgia through the lens of someone else.

Collective Nostalgia: longing for the past represented by a community, culture, generation, or a nation. This is used in politics often, especially in times of national hardship or perceived hardship.

There are two nostalgic elements that they also define. “Imagery implications” and “emotion and effect.”

Imagery Implications is when imagery and visual components help us relive the past. If imagery is used by a politician, for instance, in order to sell the glory of the past, the nostalgia that is already imbedded in the viewer’s mind is extracted and dwelled on, even if that memory or feeling has faded. Here are Stacey and Patricia’s propositions in regards to the imagery tactic:

  • The more direct the experience, the more vivid the memories.

  • The more intense the nostalgia, the easier it is to image being in the past.

What these two ladies call Emotion and Effect is an exploratory look at the direct relation between nostalgia and both the emotional effect and the affect for an ad. The study instructed 86 college students to look at a magazine ad and to state their feelings. Next, they were asked to look at 6 attitude items that measured a student’s general like or dislike of an ad, and 6 nostalgic items that measured their nostalgic response. The results determined that nostalgia and general attitude as two distinctly different factors, in that the nostalgia for an ad does not always determine the effectiveness of it. (Menzel and Kennedy, 1994)

  • Brace, Paul, and Barbara Hinckley. Follow the Leader: Opinion Polls and the Modern Presidents. BasicBooks, 1993.

  • Glasser, Theodore L., and Charles T. Salmon. Public Opinion and the Communication of Consent. Guilford Press, 1995.

  • McNamara, Robert. “Definition of Stump Speech.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 29July 2019, www.thoughtco.com/stump-speech-definition-1773348.

  • Davis, William C. “‘Taking the Stump’: Campaigning in Old-Time Kentucky.” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, vol. 80, no. 4, 1982, pp. 367–391. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23379655.

  • “The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion Developments in Theory and Practice.” The SAGE Handbook of Persuasion Developments in Theory and Practice, by James Price. Dillard and Lijiang Shen, SAGE, 2013, pp. 11–13.

  • Cunningham, Lillian, and Michelle Krowl. “Abraham Lincoln: His Hand and His Pen.” Presidential, The Washington Post, 24 Apr. 2016.

  • Willen, Sara. “Abraham Lincoln Autobiographical Letter with Poem ‘My Childhood Home I See Again.’” Shapell, 25 May 2015, www.shapell.org/historical-perspectives/between-the-lines/abraham-lincoln-autobiographical-letter-poem-childhood-home-see/.

  • Beck, Julie. “When Nostalgia Was a Disease.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 14 Aug. 2013, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/when-nostalgia-was-a-disease/278648/.

  • Stacey Menzel Baker and Patricia F. Kennedy (1994) ,"Death By Nostalgia: a Diagnosis of Context-Specific Cases", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds.Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 169-174.