Author: George Gallatin

Why Walls Work

When Constantinople finally buckled and fell in the spring of 1453, it was before the awesome power of the Ottoman siege cannons. A Venetian surgeon, Nicolo Barbaro described the barrage during the desperate final days,  When it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake, and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbor felt the vibrations of it…No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world, and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls. The siege cannons were created by a Hungarian engineer named Orban. He first offered his services to Constantine XI, but the nearly insolvent Emperor couldn’t afford his retainer. He subsequently sought out the young Sultan Mehmet II who immediately understood their potential use in his planned attack on the seat of the dying Byzantine Empire. The fall of Constantinople was the dramatic final chapter of the Middle Ages. Powerful cannons radically changed the value of walled cities, and thus the nature of …

Mimesis Machines and Millennials

In 1956, a young Liverpudlian named John Winston Lennon heard the mournful notes of Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, and was transformed. He would later recall, “nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been an Elvis, there wouldn’t have been the Beatles.” It is an ancient human story. An inspiring model, an inspired imitator, and a changed world. Mimesis is the phenomenon of human mimicry. Humans see, and they strive to become what they see. The prolific Franco-Californian philosopher René Girard described the human hunger for imitation as mimetic desire. According to Girard, mimetic desire is a mighty psychosocial force that drives human behavior. When attempted imitation fails, (i.e. I want, but fail, to imitate my colleague’s promotion to VP of Business Development), mimetic rivalry arises. According to mimetic theory, periodic scapegoating—the ritualistic expelling of a member of the community—evolved as a way for archaic societies to diffuse rivalries and maintain the general peace. As civilization matured, social institutions evolved to prevent conflict. To Girard, sacrificial religious ceremonies first arose as imitations of …