What’s Going On At ‘We Lack Discipline’?

It has probably not escaped the notice of any repeated readers that for the past couple of months I have not been around on social media, and have not been writing articles so much.

Here’s the deal. I’m a one man band at the moment! It’s just me and for now I just don’t have the time and energy to write like I was a few months ago.

I don’t want to worry anyone, I’m having a bit of a hard time of things right now and when my personal life situation ends up like that the idea of persevering with work is just unfathomable (thanks autism!).

As a result I have been taking some time not only to focus on these personal battles, but also to recharge my brain. I’m continuing to read, I’ve gone back to playing a few videogames to relax in my downtime, I’m watching more series and movies to catch up with a pop culture zeitgeist I left behind a while ago and I’m building a steady supply of ideas.

I spent the first six months of 2021 working like an absolute demon! There’s burning the candle at both ends and then there’s chucking the candle into a furnace whilst screaming – the latter is what I did!

I put out six months of articles at over 450,000 words – Top 10s, some serious looks at things, some not so serious looks at things, animals, history, Romans, mythology, psychology etc. etc. I basically overworked.

This was, in a way, by design, and my reasoning for this was simple. I wasn’t merely building a solid portfolio of articles in the trademark We Lack Discipline style. I’ve said it before – people don’t read! Whilst I want a text-based portfolio of our work to be a permanent thing for accessibility as much as ease of archiving, this was not my only reason for this busy period. I was building a catalogue of ideas to move forward into version 2.0 with! My intent is, eventually, to script and produce a video on just about every article so far produced. This, obviously, will take time especially since I have no video editing experience. Learning this is one of the things I have been doing in this quiet period and is proving time consuming!

So what I am working on besides? Let me give you a few ideas.

As mentioned I am working on learning video editing. I have done audio editing before and am finding some aspects easily translational. Other aspects are not so easy, though. I don’t have any quality camera equipment so I am limited in what I can shoot and a lot of the aesthetic details and minutiae escape me right now!

I am aiming to be ready for podcasting by next year. I suggest this as a podcast should (hopefully!) require minimal editing, and merely needs some art assets and a decent structure. My hope is that I can interview people, 1 on 1; whether they are academics or just Curious Idiots™ and discuss the things they are interested in and, given our modus operandi, some crossover with other academic disciplines.

I ultimately want it to be casual and fun. I’ve been lucky enough to get to know a few academics via social media since doing WLD and I see such amazing potential in their enthusiasm and personalities that I feel are not getting utilised by academia or media. There are huge personalities out there, capable of conveying otherwise complex information with a casually appealing, lay-person’s perspective in mind and I think those voices need to be publicised!

In terms of reading I have a few things on the go. Our series on The Bible is likely on hold. It always was a difficult sell but they are some of the least read things on the website. The sad fact is the kinds of people who want to criticise religion are often seldom the people who want to break down the nitty-gritty of those religions to tear them down internally – like I enjoy and basically set out to do with the series! I said at the start it would be a long-term project and so it shall remain because it is a huge amount of work for little to no payoff.

‘We Lack Discipline Reads: The Bet’ is definitely still alive. I am greatly enjoying pulling apart the meaning of this text word-by-word and the author seems to be enjoying being analysed-by-proxy. I can’t express how good a work of literature I genuinely think ‘The Bet’ is and I only hope my series analysing it can convince people to pick it up and give it a read.

I’ve recently started Robert Graves’ ‘Claudius the God’ – the sequel to ‘I, Claudius’. I’ve been waiting for this book to turn up in a charity shop since finishing ‘I, Claudius’ and it certainly pushes my Roman buttons. Robert Graves is an incredible historic fiction writer mainly due to his solid classicist’s background. As a student of classics with knowledge of the Latin language, Graves has created a Rome in his works that whilst almost definitely exaggerated, still feels believable. He really draws the melodramatic aspect of the Julio-Claudians out in these books and I recommend them to anyone interested in the period.

I am considering the idea of reviewing historic fiction (particularly TV or movies). Being the Curious Idiots™ we are my main focus will be on entertainment and how it achieves it but I also want to focus a little on any documentary/factual basis for the presentation.

This is going to involve me compiling a much larger selection of Roman texts and boosting my classics knowledge beyond a bit of Virgil, Suetonius and Tacitus but that will merely give me more to think and write about!

I’m also still mulling over a comparison of historic, particularly ancient warfare, and organised crime gang structures. Like many working class males I have had a ‘gangster’ phase and did a lot of reading about the subject. In recently reading about Alexander the Great it struck me how similar his methods of swinging between inspiration and fear and leaning upon his own personality, manufacturing a ‘legend’ about himself; there are fewer similarities between these armies of the past and modern military structures than there are between ancient military groups and major organised crime gang structures. I think it’s an interesting concept and one I cannot find a lot of investigation on. If anyone knows anything I’d appreciate a head’s up.

One of the other things I want to do, inspired by a recent reading of ‘Alex and Me’ by Dr. Irene Pepperberg.

For those who don’t know Dr. Pepperberg was the carer of a wonderful African grey parrot named Alex. Alex was the subject of one of the greatest, deepest dive experiments into animal cognition there has ever been.

His name is actually an acronym for ‘Avian Language Experiment’ and the whole deal was to figure out if parrots could talk or just repeated shit.

Thankfully Pepperberg was clever in the experimental design and actually used her language experiment to push the boundaries of what we know of how animals sense, understand, process and ‘think’ about the world around them.

If you believe her observations then Alex demonstrated not only a level of intelligence and play previously never thought possible outside higher primates but, in the cases of all except humans, seemingly surpassing them! Alex could understand the differences in concepts, e.g. the difference between shapes, colours, numbers etc. as well as being potentially the only animal outside of a human being to ask an existential question when he saw himself in the mirror and asked “What colour?” about himself.

It’s an incredibly story and I do recommend reading ‘Alex and Me’ for some of the most heartbreaking but smile-inducing science literature out there.

Anyway, animal cognition, consciousness, sensory processing and adaptive thinking – It is very much one of my cups of tea! As a result I have also bought ‘The Alex Studies’, Pepperberg’s book that goes into more depth about the studies and their findings, as well as a text on animal cognition that Pepperberg has contributed to.

So at some point in the future you can probably expect a little animal cognition action.

It’s a truly fascinating subject. From an evolutionary perspective I cannot believe adaptive thought, human-style cognition and consciousness are entirely unique to humans. Seldom is there a trait in one animal that there is no equivalent, or prior step for in their predecessors. With current research on consciousness, increasing technology allowing us to probe deeper into the workings of the brain, with less invasiveness, I think it is only a matter of time before we truly recognise these signatures in animals.

Sadly for the behaviourist school, whilst the level of reductive philosophy might be good for getting good, quantitative data most people who spend any quality time with animals will know they just don’t seem to operate like that.

It is remarkable that what could be construed of as common sense by anyone who has lived with, worked with or observed animals for their own sake is having to be painstakingly worked towards by cognitive biologists but such is the burden of proof (and arrogance…) of science. Whilst I don’t agree with the attitude, the reason for the scepticism is honest. We must prove these things, almost criminally, beyond a reasonable doubt, before we can accept them. Whilst part of this is due to nonsensical human exceptionalism and the same kinds of things that have been stifling biology since before Darwin had a beard, there is an aspect of it that is just caution. One must rule out every other possibility before declaring something true.

Does this mean I think every animal is conscious? Absolutely not and certainly not with the same capacity as humans. However if there is a suggestion some animals may possess cognitive capabilities akin to consciousness it must be investigated for ethics if nothing else! If it turns out pigs are aware, and terrified of, their own impending farmyard deaths I, a bold, unapologetic carnivore, would think twice about eating pork.

Why is this, to me, ethically different? Predator/prey relationships are built upon savagery and fear. It is reasonable when, in the clutches of a potential predator, particularly when that predator is human, the environment likely alien to the animal, perhaps with the scent of blood and death in the air, it is reasonable for there to be a reactionary fear. However, up until the point of killing the animal can have had a lovely, relaxed, normal life with no idea of what was going to happen. If, however, I was aware that prey item had lived in the muddy field, eating, living, snuffling about doing all the stuff food animals do, but that it was living in a constant state of anxiety about the fact that it knows it will be slaughtered…It’s different, mate – it really is!

Commercial, intensive farming is already horrible enough as it is! If it turns out pigs spend their days in abject existential terror then pork is off the menu! Bring on the lab grown meat. I can’t wait to go into a supermarket and ask for a 1kg slab of lab.

As far as everything else, nothing’s quite ticking over as before. Sadly I haven’t had the time or inclination to do my nature walks. Thankfully nature likes to come to me. I have been getting acquainted with moths a lot recently because they keep flying into my spot. I’ve also had a visit from a couple of wasps although the lack of them around seems to indicate to me there are no nests on my side of the vegetation.

In short, the work may have slowed but it hasn’t stopped. Visitor numbers to the website are still good and hopefully will only improve as we add and add to our catalogue of works.

We do have a Patreon, so anyone who wishes to support us can head over there and pledge.

We currently have…erm…No patrons for a total of £0. I’m planning on using all funds gained to save towards equipment. I could definitely use a decent camera/mic setup, and at some point I’m going to need a new computer as my main one is not quite up to the task of video processing and encoding. After that one of the main things I would want to do is pay for better guests and guest writers to contribute.

So, yes we’ve been taking it easier. But it has by no means been easy! I really do want to put a spurt on with video editing as I suspect that will be my greatest means of outreach. So expect the articles to be slow for a while.

Thanks for your time and thank you for supporting ‘We Lack Discipline’.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

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