Last week, for a second time I headed to The Believer Festival in Las Vegas, a literary festival spun out from the Believer Magazine, founded by Vendela Vida and Heidi Julavits. One of the best parts of being on the McSweeneys board is going to this festival with them. It redeems Las Vegas for me.
I’ve always avoided Las Vegas–the smoke, the vice, the disorienting carpets, the sad compulsion, the flashing lights and ringing bells–but through the festival I’ve learned to see Las Vegas as a vast, still disorienting carpet woven of a million stories. Everything in Las Vegas is a story. For the four days of the festival we floated in an oasis of stories, a glory, an orgy, a jackpot of stories.
The two old friends hadn’t seen each other lately. Now one of them was on her deathbed, crippled with arthritis, refusing food and drink, dying of old age. Her friend had come to say goodbye. At first she didn’t seem to notice him. But when she realized he was there, her reaction was unmistakable: Her face broke into an ecstatic grin. She cried out in delight. She reached for her visitor’s head and stroked his hair. As he caressed her face, she draped her arm around his neck and pulled him closer.
The mutual emotion so evident in this deathbed reunion was especially moving and remarkable because the visitor, Dr. Jan Van Hooff, was a Dutch biologist, and his friend, Mama, was a chimpanzee. The event — recorded on a cellphone, shown on TV and widely shared on the internet — provides the opening story and title for the ethologist Frans de Waal’s game-changing new book, “Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves.”
Science has historically ignored emotions, dismissed them as irrelevant, as impossible to study, as beneath our regard. The technology we’ve built is unable to detect it, and so emotion has been invisible to us as we communicate through our machines, using clumsy signals such as emoticons, and agreeing to be misunderstood, misinterpreted and reduced to a smaller and smaller version of ourselves, even eliminating nuance and expression to use technology.
Emotions, de Waal writes, “are our body’s way of ensuring we do what is best for us.” Unlike instinct — which leads to preprogrammed, rigid responses — emotions “focus the mind and prepare the body while leaving room for experience and judgment.” Emotions “may be slippery,” he writes, “but they are also by far the most salient aspect of our lives. They give meaning to everything.”
The world we live in–the Technic–denigrates and disparages our emotions, and this is damaging and deadly to our humanity. Looking forward to getting my copy!
From the Amazon review: “De Waal discusses facial expressions, the emotions behind human politics, the illusion of free will, animal sentience, and, of course, Mama’s life and death. “
Kanopy If you have a library card, you most likely have access to Kanopy, which is full of excellent movies, including a selection from the Criterion Collection, and the Bicycle Thief. I’m recommending it because I am still surprised at how few people know about it. The kids section is also full of good movies, sans garbage like My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Movie Night and Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus.
Recomendo, the mailing list from Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder & Claudia Dawson always has something to discover. KK wrote Cool Tools previously, which was a source of so many good links, and there is also a book of Recomendos.
DF Tube This is a chrome plugin that eliminates all the cruft around a YouTube video. For the past few months I’ve been trying to force YouTube to show me palatable content on my sidebar, but no matter how much crap I reject as “Not Interested” more crap appears. Since the fountain of crap is inexhaustible, I searched for a YouTube cleanup plugin. DF Tube–Distraction Free Tube– is so great! Everything bad — recommendations on the sidebar, crap on the homepage, inane commentary–vanishes!