Comparison of the Woodstock-era pandemic with COVID-19 has to take into account the ages of the population.
In a recent Twitter thread, Princeton Professor Robert George gets at a question that has long interested me: How can you tell who you would have been in ages past — what side of a controversy you would have taken?
Ever since Rhode Island Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello invited accusations of ignorance by questioning whether there had ever been slavery in the Ocean State, the pendulum has been swinging the other way.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for June 22, included talk about:
- Columbus comes down
- “Providence Plantations” gets covered up
- Rhode Island races to watch
- Stanton shows the journalists’ condescension
In our times of turmoil, if we place what’s going on in the proper context, the solution becomes obvious (albeit not easy).
Accepting elected officials’ overt disrespect for the rule of law does not advance the values of equality and mutual respect, but undermines them and will move us toward a dangerous future.
Even in New England, one can find various (benign) meanings of the word, “plantation,” and giving it up would give up something of the character of the region.
My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for June 15, included talk about:
- Teaching Columbus a lesson
- Speaker pokes his head out of hiding
- State of the RIGOP
- What’s in a name?
The Pawtucket middle school teacher arrested for attempted vandalism provides the latest warning about the direction of education and, in turn, our society.
As we claw back our liberty little by little in the months ahead, we must adjust for the degree to which our opinions (and those of our neighbors) can be swayed by the Zeitgeist.
History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, presents an alternating image of the Roman military. At times, it’s the savior of the empire; at times, it’s the cause of its downfall. At times, it’s the only institution carrying forward the essence of the people; at times, it aligns with foreign forces. At times, one gets the impression that the Roman soldiers were driven centrally by a sense of honor; at times, the impression is more of a collection of mercenaries.
As is the way with history, these changes were both causes and effects — amplifying the direction that the circumstances, the enemies, or the emperor dictated while also changing the course of history. How differently the people must have looked at soldiers in each of those epochs.
Over the course of my life, the United States has treated its military personnel with a complicated, often contradictory, presentation. In the times of the old movies, the nation was all but uniformly convinced of the honor of such service. After the ’60s, and with Vietnam, we experienced a flip. Rather, we experienced a division, with one part of the culture flipping to present military service as inherently suspect and the military condemnable as an institution.
At the same time, both sides of that division focused more on personalities and archetypes, or at least that is how it has seemed. If the portrayal is one of villainy, the characters are villains; if it is one of honor, such is invested in the personage of demigods, often performing superhuman feats.
What we need in our time is a sense of the honorable hero defined simply by service, holding the lines and traditions in a way somewhat better than we arguably deserve. What we need even more is for those heroes to be honored by more than a day — but rather by a history-changing imitation.
Human nature makes it difficult for society to correct course, which is a reality currently crushing boys in our education system.
This week, my ongoing efforts to be better cultured landed Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 film Paths of Glory on my television.
The generals in the French army order a regiment to take a German fortification during the First World War. It’s an impossible command, and the attack fails, with large segments of the force pinned down such that to charge is to die instantly. The general in immediate command demands a show trial and execution of three randomly chosen soldiers as an example to the others, and their colonel asks to represent them as their defense.
The officers conducting the court martial hearing give Colonel Dax no chance. They treat one soldier’s medals and proven bravery as no defense against the charge of cowardice in this case. Another soldier’s testimony that he didn’t charge because he had been knocked unconscious by, and pinned under, a falling dead body is insufficient to overcome rank speculation that he could be lying and could have inflicted a serious head injury on himself after the fact.
Kubrick subtly interweaves the very human tendency of the generals to rationalize their acceptance of injustice because they had conflated their own interests with the good of the military and the country. In his closing argument, Colonel Dax expresses shame at being a member of the human race: “The case made against these men is a mockery of all human justice.”
Watching that scene, I wondered how it is that we have not all been acculturated against such behavior. (Unfairness in state and local politics were in my thoughts.) But then my mind separated the themes of the movie and its imagery. The court martial consisted of a group of white men in military costumes before a national flag in a large room at Schleissheim Palace. One can’t deny that our society has been well trained to see injustice in such settings and with such characters as that.
We too easily lose sight of the reality that the particular cause in whose name human beings treat each other unjustly is not ideological or demographic. Not only traditional authority types are wicked or prone to rationalizing harm to others. Any one of us can fall into the same role.
Insisting in the name of identity politics or intersectionality that only certain types of people can be inhumane is a dangerous mistake that our civilization seems at risk of making.
As part of the recent Providence Journal sponsored “Publick Occurrences” panel discussion at RI College, I’d like to share some thoughts I prepared, but did not have the chance to put forth. The event’s premise – “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?” and the polarization of public discourse – leaves us two factors to consider:
Comparing the Battle of Cable Street with today’s Antifa attacks would be a good lesson in critical thinking, if our education system were keen on teaching that skill.
A visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum teaches lessons about evil and humanity, especially in contrast with the memorials to humanity’s highest ideals elsewhere in Washington, D.C.
Tracing our genealogy back in time should remind us that a trajectory of wealth isn’t the only measure of our families.
Gail Heriot gives Rhode Island history some national attention today:
On this day in 1776, Rhode Island (officially the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations) renounced its allegiance to George III—a full two months before the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. For such a little squirt, Rhode Island was fiercely independent. It refused to send a delegation to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and for a long time refused to ratify the Constitution the Convention produced. Finally, after the Constitution was up and running, President Washington was inaugurated, and the 1st Congress was assembled, Rhode Island was reminded that if it isn’t part of the United States and America, then it’s a foreign country. If it’s a foreign country, then tariffs can (and likely will) be imposed. Meanwhile, Congress passed the Bill of Rights, which reduced some of the concerns of Rhode Island citizens. Rhode Island decided to be “in.”
As a naturalized Rhode Islander (so to speak), I find myself wondering… what happened to our state? How did that independent spirit become a willingness to follow and to give other centralized power of us?
Or maybe there’s more consistency than that read would suggest. What if underlying that old cantankerousness was really just an attempt of the insiders of the day to make sure that folks in other states couldn’t meddle with their “I got mine” arrangements.
As Baby Boomers set their eyes on Millennials and their efficiency toys, we’ll miss something important if we let GenX indulge in its loner inclinations.
Taking recent celebration of the Enlightenment as a cue, Yoram Hazony lays out some of the flaws and consequences from an overly zealous promotion of reason as a guide and source of meaning:
For Kant, reason is universal, infallible and a priori—meaning independent of experience. As far as reason is concerned, there is one eternally valid, unassailably correct answer to every question in science, morality and politics. Man is rational only to the extent that he recognizes this and spends his time trying to arrive at that one correct answer.
This astonishing arrogance is based on a powerful idea: that mathematics can produce universal truths by beginning with self-evident premises—or, as Rene Descartes had put it, “clear and distinct ideas”—and then proceeding by means of infallible deductions to what Kant called “apodictic certainty.” Since this method worked in mathematics, Descartes had insisted, it could be applied to all other disciplines. The idea was subsequently taken up and refined by Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as well as Kant.
In the popular imagination, the Enlightenment was a sort of stage in intellectual evolution. To the contrary, Hazony suggests that the driving theories of the Enlightenment weren’t so much unknown prior to that era, but repeatedly rejected because of the obvious dangers. The breakdown of the family, the lonely solipsism of the modern age, the devastation of secular ideologies over the past couple centuries — these and more grew out of the essentially mystical notion that individuals could tap into some fount of reason. Gone is the wisdom of the ages and any cultural mechanism for learning and remembering truths that the average Joe or Jane would not bother or be able to conceive after some time with hand on chin.
The “aim” of Enlightenment figures “was to create their own system of universal, certain truths, and in that pursuit they were as rigid as the most dogmatic medievals.” Like other areas from which human beings strive to derive meaning — such as government and capitalism — reason is really just a tool. Meaning must come from elsewhere… and will, for better or worse.
It’s difficult to believe that this isn’t fake, but Rod Dreher tends to be reliable, so there you go:
Yeah, yeah, there are something like 30,000 public high schools in the United States, each open for something like 36 weeks of the year, so a single flier in Atlanta, Georgia, can’t be taken as representative, even if this isn’t a joke or a prank. But my how this jibes with the sense of progressives’ definition for “tolerance,” reminding me of my parody song, “Shout Down the Hate.”
If it is a joke, by the way, it’s awfully elaborate, involving (apparently) the school’s parent, teacher, and student association, which writes on its Facebook page:
Instead of demonizing and demoralizing students for their desire to protect themselves and bring some sanity to the wild west of America’s gun laws, how about harnessing that incredible energy? Grady High School in Atlanta is doing it.
Yup. “Harnessing that incredible energy,” because (as the flier says) “individually we are different; together we are Grady!” (Is that anything like being Negan?)
Clearly, Michael Morse had his tongue in his cheek while writing his recent op-ed thanking the one percent — by which he meant humanity’s innovators:
I like nothing more than to envision myself the great survivor — a person for the ages, one who leads, invents and survives. Truth be told, without the 1 percent who actually do invent, I would be living in a dilapidated lean-to, or worse, I would be skinny as a rail because I have never hunted or killed anything on purpose, don’t know an edible mushroom from a magic one, and probably would be relegated to eating bugs and pine needles. As for leading, my guess is I would lead myself to ruin as soon as I figured out how to ferment wild grapes and berries.
As Morse cleverly implies (and one can’t help but think it’s intentional), the luxury of modern life isn’t only made possible by those few innovators. Somebody has had to make the products and provide the services that create our luxury, and somebody else has had to provide the products and services that they needed. And of course, somebody has had to pull together the corporate and (yes) government structures to enable the work, and others have had to provide the investments and take the risks to make it all a reality.
Society is a cooperative endeavor, for which we all ought to be perpetually in mutual gratitude. How different things would be if we would carry that attitude in defiance of those who dice us into identity and interest groups in order to play us against each other for their own reward of wealth and power.
Birtherism versus RussiaRussiaRussia, proper humility for kids, mutual discomfort in the co-ed workplace, American aspiration, and aggregate parenting.
Radical individualism, young conservatives’ political naivete, brain coupling, and disease in the social media city.
The sexist children of the General Assembly, blue states as a fleet of Titanics, Rand got God wrong, and a progressive contradiction.
OK, it's just one point from Hart's NYT op-ed, but "there were no political ideologies in the ancient world" is an odd statement.. 1/
— Andrew Morse (@CAndrewMorse) November 5, 2017
Plus, I wonder how many pages it would take to explain how believing in the abolition of private property is not an ideology. 2/2
— Andrew Morse (@CAndrewMorse) November 5, 2017