Object Lesson

In a speech class at Oregon State University in 1967, Charles Goetzinger arranged for one student to arrive covered with a large black bag. Only his bare feet showed. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11 a.m., the student would sit on a table at the back of the room, rarely speaking or moving. Goetzinger knew the student’s identity, but none of the other 20 students did.

At first the students treated the bag with hostility, but this evolved into curiosity and even friendship. When another teacher disparaged the mysterious student, “It made me mad,” said a classmate. “I felt I had to protect him.”

The experiment is seen today as an example of the “mere-exposure effect,” the phenomenon that familiarity breeds preference. The students knew nothing about the man in the bag, but simply encountering him over and over disposed them to like him. In the words of social psychologist Robert Zajonc, “mere repeated exposure of the individual to a stimulus is a sufficient condition for the enhancement of his attitude toward it.”

In a letter to a newspaper, one student wrote, “The Bag has motivated us, made us delve, explore, ponder and try to understand what goes on inside us. … Above all it has made us learn. It has persuaded us, and drastically changed everyone in the class.”

Summary

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A letter to the Daily Telegraph, Feb. 26, 1913:

Sir,

Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual.

1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom.

2. Give women the vote.

Yours truly,

Bertha Brewster

The Other Half

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 19. [1777], after breakfast, Dr. Johnson and I set out in Dr. Taylor’s chaise to go to Derby. The day was fine, and we resolved to go by Keddlestone, the seat of Lord Scarsdale, that I might see his lordship’s fine house. I was struck with the magnificence of the building; and the extensive park, with the finest verdure, covered with deer, and cattle, and sheep, delighted me. The number of old oaks, of an immense size, filled me with a sort of respectful admiration; for one of them sixty pounds was offered. The excellent smooth gravel roads; the large piece of water formed by his lordship from some small brooks, with a handsome barge upon it; the venerable Gothic church, now the family chapel, just by the house; in short, the grand group of objects agitated and distended my mind in a most agreeable manner. ‘One should think,’ said I, ‘that the proprietor of all this must be happy.’

‘Nay, Sir,’ said Johnson, ‘all this excludes but one evil — poverty.’

— James Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791

Love and Law

Writing in the San Francisco journal The Californian in 1865, Mark Twain answered this inquiry from a reader:

I loved and still love, the beautiful Edwitha Howard, and intended to marry her. Yet during my temporary absence at Benicia, last week, alas! she married Jones. Is my happiness to be thus blasted for life? Have I no redress?

“Of course you have,” Twain answered. He argued that intention is everything in the law — if you call your friend a fool, this is not an insult if you intended it playfully. And killing a man by accident does not constitute murder.

Ergo, if you had married Edwitha accidentally, and without really intending to do it, you would not actually be married to her at all, because the act of marriage could not be complete without the intention. And, ergo, in the strict spirit of the law, since you deliberately intended to marry Edwitha, and didn’t do it, you are married to her all the same — because, as I said before, the intention constitutes the crime. It is as clear as day that Edwitha is your wife, and your redress lies in taking a club and mutilating Jones with it as much as you can. Any man has a right to protect his own wife from the advances of other men.

But you have another alternative — you were married to Edwitha first, because of your deliberate intention, and now you can prosecute her for bigamy, in subsequently marrying Jones.

But there is another phase in this complicated case: You intended to marry Edwitha, and consequently, according to law, she is your wife — there is no getting around that — but she didn’t marry you, and if she never intended to marry you you are not her husband, of course. Ergo, in marrying Jones, she was guilty of bigamy, because she was the wife of another man at the time — which is all very well as far as it goes — but then, don’t you see, she had no other husband when she married Jones, and consequently she was not guilty of bigamy.

Now according to this view of the case, Jones married a spinster, who was a widow at the same time and another man’s wife at the same time, and yet who had no husband and never had one, and never had any intention of getting married, and therefore, of course, never had been married; and by the same reasoning you are a bachelor, because you have never been any one’s husband, and a married man because you have a wife living, and to all intents and purposes a widower, because you have been deprived of that wife, and a consummate ass for going off to Benicia in the first place, while things were so mixed.

“And by this time I have got myself so tangled up in the intricacies of this extraordinary case that I shall have to give up any further attempt to advise you,” he added. “I might get confused and fail to make myself understood. I think I could take up the argument where I left off, and by following it closely awhile, perhaps I could prove to your satisfaction, either that you never existed at all, or that you are dead, now, and consequently don’t need the faithless Edwitha — I think I could do that, if it would afford you any comfort.”

In a Word

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hydronym
n. the name of a river, lake, sea, or any other body of water

A bizarre exchange from E.S. Turner’s 2012 What the Butler Saw, a social history of servants in English society:

Vain young gentlemen had a way of summoning their valets to answer questions to which they well knew the answer. [Beau] Brummell, when asked by a bore which of the Lakes he liked best, rang for Robinson. ‘Which of the lakes do I admire most, Robinson?’ he asked; and was informed, ‘Windermere, sir.’ ‘Ah, yes, Windermere, so it is. Thank you, Robinson.’

Head Over Heels

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Image: John Allan

In his 1703 Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, Martin Martin describes an alarming tradition concerning a beetling rock formation in St. Kilda:

In the face of the rock, south from the town, is the famous stone, known by the name of the mistress-stone; it resembles a door exactly; and is in the very front of this rock, which is twenty or thirty fathom [120-180 feet, 37-55 meters] perpendicular in height, the figure of it being discernible about the distance of a mile; upon the lintel of this door, every bachelor-wooer is by an ancient custom obliged in honour to give a specimen of his affection for the love of his mistress, and it is thus; he is to stand on his left foot, having the one half of his sole over the rock, and then he draws the right foot further out to the left, and in this posture bowing, he puts both his fists further out to the right foot; and then after he has performed this, he has acquired no small reputation, being always after it accounted worthy of the finest mistress in the world: they firmly believe that this achievement is always attended with the desired success.

“This being the custom of the place, one of the inhabitants very gravely desired me to let him know the time limited by me for trying of this piece of gallantry before I design’d to leave the place, that he might attend me,” he added. “I told him this performance would have a quite contrary effect upon me, by robbing me both of my life and mistress at the same moment.”

With All Speed

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The earliest photograph of a human figure on paper is “The Footman” by William Henry Fox Talbot, from 1840. Footmen came in several varieties; an early breed that quickly went extinct was the running footman, who would advance as a herald before his master’s carriage and also deliver urgent dispatches. In What the Butler Saw, E.S. Turner gives some amazing examples:

  • As the table was being laid for dinner in his castle at Thirlstane, the Duke of Lauderdale was informed that there was a shortage of plate, so he sent a running footman over the Lammermuir Hills to his other castle at Lethington, near Haddington, 15 miles away. The man returned with the additional plate in time for dinner.
  • In his Recollections of 1826, the writer John O’Keeffe remembers a running footman he saw in his youth in Ireland: “He looked so agile, and seemed all air like a Mercury; he never minded roads but took the short cut and, by the help of his pole, absolutely seemed to fly over hedge, ditch and small river. His use was to carry a message, letter or dispatch; or on a journey to run before and prepare the inn, or baiting-place, for his family or master who came the regular road in coach-and-two, or coach-and-four or coach-and-six; his qualifications were fidelity, strength and agility.”
  • One evening the Earl of Home sent a running footman from his Berwickshire castle to Edinburgh on important business. On going downstairs the following morning he found the man asleep in the hall. He was about to chastise him when the man told him he’d already been there and back, a distance of 35 miles each way. (If we allow 12 hours for this that’s 6 mph, allowing for a few breaks to eat and rest. That seems accurate — Turner says that a footman running before his master’s coach “was prepared to cover sixty miles and more in a day, at an average of six to seven miles an hour.”)

“In London the fourth Duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’) continued to employ running footmen until his death in 1810. He would try out applicants in Piccadilly, lending them his livery for the occasion, and then stand watch in hand on his balcony to time their performance. There is a story that he said to one candidate: ‘You will do very well for me.’ The reply was, ‘And your livery will do very well for me,’ with which the runner bolted.”

The Open Christmas Letter

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Image: Flickr

In December 1914, as the first Christmas of World War I approached, 101 British women suffragists sent a holiday message “To the Women of Germany and Austria.”

“Some of us wish to send you a word at this sad Christmastide,” it ran. “The Christmas message sounds like mockery to a world at war, but those of us who wished, and still wish, for peace may surely offer a solemn greeting to such of you who feel as we do.”

Though our sons are sent to slay each other, and our hearts are torn by the cruelty of this fate, yet through pain supreme we will be true to our common womanhood. We will let not bitterness enter into this tragedy, made sacred by the life-blood of our best, nor mar with hate the heroism of their sacrifice. Though much has been done on all sides you will, as deeply as ourselves, deplore — shall we not steadily refuse to give credence to those false tales so free told us, each of the other?

We hope it may lessen your anxiety to learn we are doing our utmost to soften the lot of your civilians and war prisoners within our shores, even as we rely on your goodness of heart to do the same for ours in Germany and Austria.

The following spring they received a reply:

If English women alleviated misery and distress at this time, relieved anxiety, and gave help irrespective of nationality, let them accept the warmest thanks of German women and the true assurance that they are and were prepared to do likewise. In war time we are united by the same unspeakable suffering of all nations taking part in the war. Women of all nations have the same love of justice, civilization and beauty, which are all destroyed by war. Women of all nations have the same hatred for barbarity, cruelty and destruction, which accompany every war.

Women, creators and guardians of life, must loathe war, which destroys life. Through the smoke of battle and thunder of cannon of hostile peoples, through death, terror, destruction, and unending pain and anxiety, there glows like the dawn of a coming better day the deep community of feeling of many women of all nations.

It was signed by 155 women of Germany and Austria.

A for Effort

During World War I, an anonymous American businessman who felt that “moral education of children is the fundamental need of the nation” offered $5,000 for “a children’s morality code that can be accepted as official — something prepared by the best brains of the educational profession.”

The contest ran for a year, from 1916 to 1917, and the winner was announced in American Magazine: William J. Hutchins had formulated 10 “laws of right living”:

  1. The welfare of our country depends upon those who try to be physically fit for their daily work.
  2. Those who best control themselves can best serve their country.
  3. Self-conceit is silly, but self-reliance is necessary to boys and girls who would be strong and useful.
  4. Our country grows great and good as her citizens are able more fully to trust each other.
  5. Clean play increases and trains one’s strength, and helps one to be more useful to one’s country.
  6. The shirker or the willing idler lives upon the labor of others, burdens others with the work which he ought to do himself. He harms his fellow citizens, and so harms his country.
  7. The welfare of our country depends upon those who have learned to do in the right way the things that ought to be done.
  8. One man alone could not build a city or a great railroad. One man alone would find it hard to build a house or a bridge. That I may have bread, men have sowed and reaped, men have made plows and threshers, men have built mills and mined coal, men have made stoves and kept stores. As we learn better how to work together, the welfare of our country is advanced.
  9. In America those who are of different races, colors and conditions must live together. We are of many different sorts, but we are one great people. Every unkindness hurts the common life, every kindness helps the common life.
  10. If our America is to become ever greater and better, her citizens must be loyal, devotedly faithful, in every relation of life.

I don’t know how widely this was actually used. The anonymous “Donor” followed up by offering a $20,000 prize for the best method of character instruction in American public schools, but I can’t tell whether that was ever awarded.

Lodging a Complaint

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Among the most compelling anecdotes suggesting that dolphins have concepts of ‘wrong’ behavior is Thomas White’s description of how a human snorkeler observing Atlantic spotted dolphins off the Bahamas went outside the bounds of the norms of behavior expected by the dolphins of human observers at that site. The swimmer approached a calf engaged in learning to fish with its mother, a no-no in the rules of engagement between swimmers and these dolphins built up over years. When this happened, the mother then swam not to the hapless trespasser but to the leader of the group of swimmers, whom she could identify, and tail-slapped, her displeasure apparently directed at the leader who had not controlled the behavior of those being led.

— Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, 2015