Why Study History?


‘The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally “salable” skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.’

– Peter N. Stearns (1998) Why Study History? American Historical Association Continue reading

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Freedom of Speech Anecdote


When Dr Samuel Johnson had finished his great lexicography, the first real English dictionary, he was visited by various delegations of people to congratulate him including a delegation of London’s respectable womanhood who came to his parlour in Fleet Street and said ‘Doctor, we congratulate you on your decision to exclude all indecent words from your dictionary.’ Whereupon he said ‘Ladies, I congratulate you on your persistence in  looking them up.’

Mussolini’s Rituals


‘Mussolini thought the Italians needed to be hardened, and he launched what he called an anti-bourgeois campaign. And among the things he banned, or tried to ban, anyway, was people shouldn’t shake hands, they should give the Roman salute, you know, raising their arm and their hand up in the air. […]

[A] man named Achille Starace, was kind of his circus master, who kept coming up with these ideas of rituals, mass rituals and other kinds of rites that he thought would make the Italians ever more devoted to their duce, which is the kind of Latiny term of leader that the Italians used to refer to Mussolini.

In fact, Mussolini required being referred to as DUCE, D-U-C-E,[1] it’s spelled, and it had to be written in capitals in the newspapers by the 1930s. It couldn’t just be written in the normal way.’

– Kertzer, D. (April 24, 2015) ‘Pope And Mussolini’ Tells The ‘Secret History’ Of Fascism And The Church. NPR.


[1] duce; ‘leader’ from Latin duco, meaning ‘I lead’. E.g. Il DUCE ha sempre ragione; ‘the leader is always right’.

Necrocracy and the Eternal President


North Korea displays all the trappings of a fundamentalist theocracy (Tellis, Wills. 2007). It has long been established that the North Korean culture of government has taken the shape of a leadership cult with special reverence for its founder Kim Il-sung. This worship became particularly apparent in the 1990s when its founder – the first in the current trinity of Kims – passed away.

‘Under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Korean people will hold the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung in high esteem as the eternal President of the Republic and carry the revolutionary cause of Juche through to completion by defending and carrying forward the idea and achievements of Comrade Kim Il Sung.’

– Preamble to the Constitution of North Korea (1972, revised 1998)

In 1998, four years after the death of the so-called beloved and dear leader, it was established that Kim Il-sung would hold the office of President of the Republic for the rest of time.

Subsequent North Korean leaders (a hereditary privilege of the Kim family since the founding of the state) have been made head of the party and of supreme commander of the army, but the office of president is still held by the man who died in 1994. This makes North Korea the only state in the world with a dead president; effectively, the only necrocracy in the world.

Kapparot


In some brands of Judaism it is customary to perform the kapparot rite in preparation for Yom Kippur.

The rite consists of taking a chicken and gently passing it over one’s head three times while reciting an appropriate text from the Torah.

Usually a rooster is used for a man, and a hen is used for a woman. For a pregnant woman, kapparot is usually performed with three chickens—two hens and a rooster. One hen for herself, and the other hen and rooster for the unborn child (of undetermined gender).

If a chicken is unavailable, it is possible to substitute another kosher fowl (besides for doves and pigeons, as they were offered as sacrifices in the Holy Temple). Some use a kosher live fish; others perform the entire rite with money, and then giving the money—at least the value of a chicken—to charity.

After the ritual, the fowl is slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure and its monetary worth given to the poor, or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause.

Conversations: Dogmas Run Amok


Galene
I once heard someone say that Stalin was an atheist. They did not say much else, but I understood their statement to be critical of atheism, suggesting there must be some relation between atheism and totalitarian cruelties.

Sappho
This is a silly stab at trying to reach some sort of moral high ground; it is commonly employed by the more orthodox and fundamentalist theist.

Helena
Throughout history, totalitarian regimes have either embraced a religion, or rejected all existing religions and replaced it with a new one; the problem with totalitarian regimes is they behave too much like religions – they embrace utterly dogmatic systems of thought to validate the regime’s claim to power.

Galene
That seems a little strong. Continue reading

Conversations: Civilization


Helena
It is important to realize that the distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and spiritual experiences from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being honest about what we can reasonably conclude on their basis.

Xanthippe
However, there are good reasons to believe that people like Jesus and the Buddha weren’t talking nonsense when they spoke about our capacity as human beings to transform our lives in rare and beautiful ways.

Sappho
But any genuine exploration of ethics or the contemplative life demands the same standards of reasonableness and self-criticism that animate all intellectual discourse. Continue reading