Lesson #391: Why We Have Friends

I’ve had a particularly social week, which is in part because the football season has started up again, in part because I started classes, and in part because it’s getting toward the end of summer and my friends and I are acutely aware of the declining number of 2014 outdoor drinking opportunities. I assure you, though, that this is a bit abnormal for me. I am, after all, an introvert. I really enjoy being without other people.

As a result of my insane amount of socialization in the past seven days, including dinner with a college friend who lives across town, but I rarely see because we (mostly) don’t run in the same social circles, I was thinking about the mechanism of friendship. Specifically how that developed. I understand why humans would seek out sexual relationships; that’s pretty self-evident. But friendships are less obvious. We don’t need each other anymore in the sense that we’re not reliant on one another to provide food or shelter or clothing, so I was curious as to how the instinct for developing and sustaining friendships has remained over the course of history.

Off I went to find the answer. And now that I have access to JSTOR again, I was able to find science! Basically, despite our modern physical independence from one another, friendships still have enormous, long-lasting psychological effects; friendships are good for our mental health and we seek them out as a result. They lower our stress levels and help us live longer. They can also help us find a mate. Historically speaking, once the Industrial Revolution hit and families dispersed (I have only a dozen friends who live in the city they grew up in. Of those, every single one of the non-North Americans has lived abroad for a time), friendships became a stand-in for extended families. In a good year, I see my immediate family twice in a 12-month span. But I see my friends weekly. Sometimes, like this week, more often than that. So calling your friends “the family you choose” isn’t really inaccurate. You keep your friends around because, like family, even though there’s no outright physical benefit (in that you don’t get something tangible like a chicken in return for being someone’s friend — although they do sometimes cook you dinner, so there’s that), the emotional benefits are necessary for our own happiness. No man is an island, right?

All of this and way more can be read in the article “The Evolutionary Origins of Friendship” by Seyfarth and Cheney, which was published in the January 2012 issue of the Annual Review of Psychology. If you have access to JSTOR, you can access it here.

Two quick things

1. Apparently, there are a lot of people on the interwebs asking Google if syphilis will make your nose fall off because the number of page hits for this blog has multiplied about tenfold since Saturday. There are still a lot of people wondering about dueling in Paraguay, but a whole slew more are suddenly very concerned with their facial features. Safe sex, everyone. Then you won’t have to be quite so concerned that your nose is going to fall off your face. Also, it’s not 1900; you’ll probably see a doctor before your syphilis develops to the nose-falling-off stage.

2. I started classes today, and I’m exhausted. I don’t remember school being this tiring, but I’m really excited about the semester. I’m taking a course in global perspectives or some such nonsense (it’s required to take pretty much everything else in the program), a course in the theory of conflict management (also a core course, but it’s cool because there’s a whole segment on oppression, repression, and systematic violence, which…yay!) and a course in ethnic and cultural factors in conflict.

You’ll have a new lesson tomorrow.

Lesson #390: Protracted Refugees

I was reading an article, recently, about how the UN’s daily food allotment for roughly 450,000 African refugees is 850 calories. That’s not a lot. It’s about a third of what the average American consumes on a daily basis.

This got me to thinking about how long that’s sustainable. Obviously, that’s an untenable situation — because math, science, and common sense say so — and something will have to give, but I was curious about the length of time the average refugee is dependent on UN food resources.

According the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a protracted refugee situation is one in which 25,000 or more people from the same country seek refugee status in another country (or countries) for a period of at least five years. Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, roughly two-thirds are living in protracted situations. But here’s the thing…in 1993, the average length of protracted refugee situations was nine years; by the end of 2003, it was 17 years. Seventeen years. That’s very literally half my life. 17 years stuck in a foreign country, often without the resources or recourse to find employment, or housing, or access to education. I’ve spent more than 17 years of my life being educated by actual institutions. Seventeen years of being stuck in a place with few, if any, options to move, work, and learn is just unfathomable to me.

Anyway, there’s a challenge that exists to go a single day on 850 calories. It’s honestly not that bad if you do it right…I did it for a week and wasn’t any the worse for wear as a result. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. But it’s not that bad if you can eat a variety of things. For me, it was a lot of chicken, fresh vegetables, hard boiled eggs, beans, and a lot of spices. No bread or pasta — which aren’t things I eat a lot of anyway, so that wasn’t a huge challenge — no crackers, no pecan butter, no cheese, (mostly) no chocolate, no juice or pop — also fine because apart from limeade, I rarely drink either — and definitely no booze.* Basically no drinks other than water and one glass of chocolate milk a day.** But refugees don’t have access to grocery stores/farmer’s market and fresh fruits and veggies and eggs and lean meats. They have access to lentils, rice, and a spoonful of salt. Every day. If I’d had to do a week of that, there’s barely a sliver of a chance I’d have succeeded — in no small part because unless you put it in jambalaya, I’m not really very keen on rice. I’d encourage you to give the challenge a go, though. If nothing else, it was really interesting to pay that close attention to what I was eating.

For more on protracted refugee situations, including which nationalities are listed among the displaced, see the state department’s website, here. Or Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre’s website, here.

*I find I drink more frequently during the summer — because, as I’ve already noted, everyone knows beer consumed outdoors tastes better than beer consumed indoors and everyone enjoys being out in good weather — but giving it up for the football match was the harder aspect. Beer and football go together and always have. I gave up drinking for five weeks between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the World Cup, and that was fine. I went and hung out on patios for happy hours and to friends’ barbeques and whatnot…no problem. I spend one Sunday 8:30am match not drinking with my footie mates, and it’s two hours of agony. Even with a 4-0 victory for Spurs.

**Because secretly, I’m eight.

Lesson #389: Syphilis Will Make Your Nose Fall Off

Turns out, my knowledge of what syphilis will do to a person is lacking. Because I have had exactly zero instances in my life wherein I have ever needed to know. You guys…untreated syphilis will make your nose fall off. Which is freaking bonkers!

Strangely, this piece of information came up twice today in a very short span of time. Once in an episode of The Young Doctor’s Notebook, which I finally got around to on Netflix after I read the series is based on stories by Mikhail Bulgakov*, and once in last night’s episode of The Knick. Thankfully, I’d watched the former before the latter, so when a character showed up with no nose at the start of the latter, I knew exactly what was going on before I was told.

In any event, the technical term for what is basically the implosion of the nose (before it rots off…also common in leprocy, by the way) is saddle nose. You can read all sorts of fun stuff about the cosmetic reconstruction procedure used on The Knick here. It’s really quite interesting.

And they say television will rot your brain.

*who wrote one of the greatest dissident/satirical Soviet era Russian novels, The Master and Margarita.

Lesson #388: French Indochina

One of my favourite books (Marguerite Duras’ L’Amant) is set in Vietnam during the French occupation. And, oddly, Indochina came up among my friends last week because one recently bought a new suit from a company that was named something similar (I think it was “indochino?”) and two friends and I asked, legitimately, I felt, “were they Vietnamese?” and he kind of stared blankly.*

So I decided today to go searching for why Vietnam was called French Indochina during its colonial years. Well, not the French part. That part’s pretty obvious.

Turns out that technically speaking, Indochina — which is an actual geographical thing — is made up of Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. But because I learned history in American schools, I know way more about Vietnamese history than I know about the rest of Southeast Asia combined, so I never learned that Indochina is an actual geographical place.**

Fun thing I also never learned in school because America never fought a protracted war in Cambodia or Laos…French Indochina covered all of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, as well as a small Chinese enclave, Guangzhouwan.

At its inception in 1887 — though the French had been in the area for more than 200 years before this — French Indochina was made up of Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia was annexed in 1893, and Guangzhouwan followed in 1900. It remained that way until Guangzhouwan was returned to China in 1946. And then there were a lot of people in the antebellum years — particularly in that part of the world…Africa didn’t join the party until about a decade later — who weren’t particularly impressed with the whole colonialism bit. This led to the First Indochina War,*** which ran from 1946 until an agreement was reached at the 1954 Geneva Conference — at which France agreed to relinquish control of all its holdings on the Indochinese peninsula. Unfortunately, neither South Vietnam, nor the United States agreed to the accords, so things went a bit south after that…

Not a lot of good sources online — most mention Laos and Cambodia as briefly as possible before moving on to Vietnam (this is what I was talking about above), but the wiki article actually has a pretty good bibliography listed. I’m slightly impressed.

*He’s delightful, but he’s not that bright.

**Though, if I’d thought about it for just a moment, I’d probably have realized that it being situated between India and China would make the whole thing pretty self-evident.

***Which included the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which you should be familiar with if you’ve ever listened to Billy Joel. Or Miss Saigon. Or you had any course in French or Asian colonial history. Probably one of the two former ones though.

Lesson #387: Amok

Because you probably don’t live in isolation, you’re likely familiar with the phrasal verb “to run amok”. Our friends Messrs. Merriam and Webster have four related definitions for amok. The second, the one we know best, “in a wild or uncontrolled manner”, is of Malay origin and dates to the early 1670s.

However, the earlier (1665) definition,  “a murderous frenzy that has traditionally been regarded as occurring especially in Malaysian culture”, is apparently a thing that still exists that is bound almost entirely to Malaysian culture, but has also shown up in cases in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. It’s a rare madness — and is therefore classified as a mental illness — where someone will just completely lose his (or her) mind and causes serious bodily harm or straight up murders someone for no reason.

I can’t be the only person to notice that all three of these places are islands, right?

You can read more on Amok here.

M-W definition here, Etymology here.

A schooling update

I’m headed back to school next week to start a second master’s in International Affairs. It’s a bit of a departure from the History/Politics track of my first master’s/PhD work, but I’m really looking forward to getting back to real, hardcore research. Now I just need to convince my advisor to let me do a thesis. For some reason, it’s not a requirement for graduation (which, if I’m being honest, I think is just stupid in this course track in this day and age), but I’m going to write one because my strength is in that sort of research.

Anyway, I don’t know how much this will affect my postings. I won’t be able to post every day, but I haven’t exactly been diligent about that in years, so that’s kind of a wash. Mondays will almost certainly be out. That’s all I know for sure.