Quotes: Where Despotism Can Be Taken Pure

Abraham Lincoln, later the President of the U.S., is reported to have reacted to the white supremacist movement of 1840s thus:

“As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, exept Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” [original emphasis]

– Abraham Lincoln

Whoa, that’s pretty pointed. Granted, it’s decades since my U.S. history classes—not that we were taught that much to begin with, the focus was always on our fellow Nordics, Europe, and Russia—so it’s no wonder I can’t remember coming across this view of Lincoln’s.

Ghaemi, Nassir. A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness. New York: Penguin, 2011, p. 71-72.

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Quotes: Society Works Better Than It Ever Had

Arkady Martine wrote at Tor.com on disaster stories and human behavior, noting a pattern on concentrating on the catastrophic and awful. That, however, has been proven a myth, at least initially:

“Humans do not, under the pressure of an emergency, socially collapse. Rather, they seem to display higher levels of social cohesion, despite what media or government agents might expect… or portray on TV. Humans, after the apocalypse, band together in collectives to help one another—and they do this spontaneously. […]

“Humans all over the world display this behavior after disasters. They display it consistently, no matter what kind of disaster is happening or what culture they come from.

“What really happens after an apocalypse? Society works better than it ever had, for a brief time.” [original emphases]

– Arkady Martine

Yay, us! We did evolve as and still are highly social creatures.

Now, how long this century’s phenomenal technological change takes to alter that and in which ways remains to be seen. I have high hopes of our curiosity and drive to engage with others, however. That may be a bit funny for a huge introvert to say, but there it is. 🙂

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Quotes: Everything in the World Is Beginning to Fail

“No one should be amazed that everything in the world is beginning to fail, since the world itself is already failing and near its end.”

– Cyprian, To Demetrianus 4

(My own translation)

How’s that for a cheery thought to start your week?

We hear a lot of grim takes on the world and its fate these days, but this one is far from recent. This line comes from a letter written by St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage in the mid-third century CE. Cyprian had plenty of reason to feel gloomy about the state of the world. The Roman Empire was in disarray, in the midst of a long period of civil wars and violence. When the empire did periodically pull itself together, it engaged in repeated persecution of Christians. On top of this, the Mediterranean was in the midst of a widespread epidemic of a deadly infectious disease, possibly smallpox or a hemorrhagic fever similar to Ebola. It’s no wonder that Cyprian’s world felt like it was coming to an end.

I share this quote not to depress you all further, but as a reminder that, however dire our times may seem, they are not unique. The world didn’t end in the third century. The Roman Empire pulled itself back together again, at least for a while. The persecutions were ended, and Christians were allowed to worship in peace. The epidemic passed. None of these things happened quickly or easily. It took an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice from an awful lot of people to bring the Mediterranean world back from the brink, but it happened.

It’s going to take an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice from an awful lot of people to bring today’s world back from the brink, too, but it can be done. Cyprian was wrong about the end of the world. Let’s make sure that today’s direst predictions turn out to be wrong, too.

Quotes: Sometimes They Develop Entire Research Articles Around Something They Overheard on the Bus

Idle browsing brought me to CD Covington’s article at Tor.com about linguists and the movie Arrival, which is based on Ted Chiang’s short scifi piece “Stories of Your Life”.

“A linguist’s job is to think about language and how it works. Linguists enjoy that and often have conversations about which dialect features they personally have, or sometimes they develop entire research articles around something they overheard on the bus. This is what we do. Not everyone thinks about how language works or is even interested in the subject. So it’s not surprising that Weber is frustrated because he doesn’t think there’s any progress happening, when Dr. Banks knows she’s made considerable progress.” [original emphases]

– CD Covington

Yup—I can attest. I take such geeky, unabashed pleasure over thinking and talking about my favorite linguistic features…! 🙂

(Find my posts about Arrival here.)

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Quotes: There Was No Room for Romance

I don’t usually like to do two quotes posts in a row, but the interview at A Mighty Girl blog with Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden was too good to pass. So:

“We didn’t take some kind of firm stance like ‘There will be no romance in this movie’ at the beginning. But as we were exploring the character and exploring what the story was really about, it was about her humanity and, ultimately, her friendships. Not just her buddy friendship that she makes with Nick Fury over the course of the journey but that key, essential friendship with Maria Rambeau from her past that helps link her to her own humanity. And even her friendship with Talos, the Skrull leader, which is a surprising friendship, as she kind of recognizes the humanity in him as well. There was no room for romance. That wasn’t the point. The point was about her connection to these friendships. That felt like a more true story to tell for this character.” [original emphasis]

– Captain Marvel co-director Anna Boden

Bang on. It really annoys me when action movie writers deign to put in a lone Smurfette of a woman, they’ll apparently also have to squeeze in a romance—usually poorly written and atrociously justified with respect to the rest of the story. It’s like regardless of the story, the presence of Wimmin Parts Dictates That There Must Be Romance(TM) Because Otherwise the World Will End. (Although sometimes they work for me, like in The Terminator, but that was better justified, not superficially tacked on.)

Women are people, and like most people, we are able to focus on multiple issues and shift our focus as needed. A war-invasion would definitely be the kind of a situation that takes most of one’s concentration! Besides, not everyone is interested in romance.

It makes for more realistic, genuine, accurate storytelling to show people acting like they do in real life, and to show various kinds of people within a group, any group. It’s so refreshing that the writers of Captain Marvel recognized that; I can’t believe Hollywood’s taken this long to realize it (and/or listen to the storytellers that do).

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Quotes: Lords of Creation Don’t Take Advise

I’m (re)reading some things from my childhood, except in English instead of a Finnish translation. This paragraph made me gawk:

“Amy’s lecture did Laurie good, though, of course, he did not own it till long afterward; men seldom do, for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don’t take the advise till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do; then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it; if it fails, they generously give her the whole.”

– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Whoa! Little Women isn’t really the kind of book where you’d expect to see sarcasm this sharp; it sounds more like Jane Austen.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women. New York: Puffin Books, 1997 [reissued; published by Puffin 1953; first published 1868], p. 571.

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Quotes: Who Do You Want Me to Talk into Loving You This Time?

Rich-throned, immortal Aphrodite,

daughter of crafty Zeus, I beg you,

my lady, do not weigh down my spirit

with overflowing grief,

but come to me now, if ever you came before

when you heard my voice, far away,

leaving your father’s golden house,

you yoked

your chariot and came. Swift and beautiful

sparrows brought you over the dark earth

with a thick whir of wings across the borders of heaven.

At once they brought you, happy one,

with a smile your ageless face,

to ask what troubled me, why

I called you,

and what my frantic spirit

most wished for. “Who do you want me to

talk into loving you this time? Who has

wounded you, Sappho?

If she runs away now, soon she will be chasing you.

If now she won’t take your gifts, she will give to you.

If she doesn’t love you now, soon she will,

even if she doesn’t want to.”

Come to me now, soothe

my anxious mind. Fulfill everything

my heart desires and be

my ally.

– Sappho, quoted in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 23

(My own translation)

This is the only poem by the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho to come down to us from antiquity intact. In its structure and form, it follows the conventions of a prayer: invoking the god or goddess whose help is sought, celebrating their noble lineage and superhuman powers, reminding them of their past relationship with the person making the prayer, and finally imploring them to use their full powers to help with the current problem. Sappho slyly takes this formula and turns it into a love poem about the anxiety of unrequited affection. With a little gentle self-mockery, she pictures herself repeatedly falling into one-sided love and Aphrodite as the long-suffering friend who comforts her when things don’t work out.

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Quotes: The Templars, Who Were My Friends

The following story is related by Usamah Ibn Munqidh, a twelfth-century Muslim writer who lived during the time of the early Crusades, about his interactions with some of the Knights Templar who occupied Jerusalem in his day.

Whenever I visited Jerusalem I always entered the Aqsa Mosque, beside which stood a small mosque, which the Franks had converted into a church. When I used to enter the Aqsa Mosque, which was occupied by the Templars, who were my friends, the Templars would evacuate the little adjoining moseque so that I might pray in it.

One day I entered this mosque, repeated the first formula, “Allah is great,” and stood up in the act of praying. Then one of the Franks rushed to me, got hold of me and turned my face eastward, saying, ‘This is the way you should pray!’

The Templars came up to him and expelled him. They apologized to me, saying, ‘This is a stranger who has only recently arrived from the land of Franks and he has never before seen anyone praying except eastward.’

– Usamah Ibn Munqidh, Autobiography

 

Ibn Munqidh’s experience is certainly not typical of Christian-Muslim relations in the Crusade period, but it is a useful illustration of the kinds of friendly and respectful relationships that could be forged between individuals of different backgrounds, even in times of war.

From another point of view, it is useful to note that the Templars were effectively enforcing an anti-harassment policy on their own members. If a militant religious order in a war zone could do that, then there’s no excuse for modern fan conventions not doing the same.

Translation from Philip K. Hitti, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, 160.

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Quotes: Cribbage Boards Are as Common as Wooden Spoons

Cribbage boards are as common as wooden spoons in the kitchens of this island. Children raised in this part of Maine often learn to play cribbage before the can tie their own shoes.

Linda Greenlaw writes about Isle Au Haut, Maine, not far from where one part of my family has its roots in the rocky coastal soil. This was one of many parts of the book that had me nodding in recognition. I can’t honestly say whether I learned to play cribbage (a curious card game for which you keep score on a wooden board) or tie my shoes first, but I can say that I don’t clearly remember a time in my life when I couldn’t do both.

Greenlaw, Linda. The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island. New York: Hyperion, 2002, p. 111.

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Quotes: Our Real Journey in Life Is Interior

Trappist monk Thomas Merton apparently was very concerned with silence and retreat from the world and its opposing force, that of engagement with the world and its ourward pull.

Current Reading Silence

“Our real journey in life is interior. It is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts. Never was it more necessary for us to respond to that action.”

– Thomas Merton, 1975

Apparently this quote is from a collection of journal entries Merton made in Asia shortly before his accidental death during the trip.

Not being a philosopher or a spiritual person, I couldn’t tell you what I think of “the creative action of love and grace”. However, the conclusion I’m more and more leaning towards is that the most important thing in life is one’s internal growth and what external actions (hopefully positive or beneficial to others) stem out of that.

Merton, Thomas. “Serious Communication”: The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, eds. Naomi Burton, Brother Patrick Hart and James Laughlin, p. 29. New York: New Directions, 1975. Quoted in Brox, Jane. Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements if Our Lives. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019, p. 225.

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