BOOK REVIEW: “The Storm Before the Storm” and the seduction of lessons from history

We have a tendency to look at the past as a mirror, to see ourselves reflected in it rather than recognize the past as a foreign country — even when, indeed, it’s both.

This leads to methods of historical divination that try to read the past closely and thoroughly enough that the present is entirely recognizable and therefore the future will be foreseeable.

Sometimes this is presented merely in aphorism (“history repeats”, “it rhymes”, “people repeat history”); sometimes pseudo-scientifically (“these are the six economic indicators that will predict the next president”). Previous societies would sacrifice animals on an altar and from their entrails suss out messages they already wanted to find. We’re much more advanced nowadays, so we substitute cherry-picked data in place of viscera.

Roman history, though, is especially at risk for this sort of confirmation bias because there is so very much of it and it influenced so many successor states, all of whom could reasonably claim to have inherited part of its legacy.

As much as anyone, the United States has intentionally drawn those same parallels since our very founding.

Rejecting absolutism, we were a republic with the highest ideals of personal liberty, representation, and equality under the law. Yet, like the Romans, we only cared to extend this to some, and freedom didn’t preclude seizing territory by conquest or wiping out whole peoples. In Rome’s Italian territory, perhaps a quarter of the total population was enslaved at its height. In the Deep South, it was more like half.

When hobbyist podcaster, now graduated to a professional popular historian, Mike Duncan set out to write his 2017 book The Storm Before the Storm, he admits he went into it with an eye toward resonant parallels between Rome and the United States. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: “The Storm Before the Storm” and the seduction of lessons from history”

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Politics is too important not to be treated like a game

The central problem with modern American politics is not that people are unengaged or politically inactive.

It is the case that most people are not effectively engaged or usefully active.

It’s much easier to Like, Retweet, or argue with someone online than to volunteer, donate to an underfunded campaign, or organize canvassers. That’s in part because social media is literally designed by professionals whose job it is to make them addictive and neurologically rewarding.

If we want to make politics better, we need to harness our worst instincts to serve our better angels. We need to turn politics into a literal game. Continue reading “Politics is too important not to be treated like a game”

Steve Bannon, NAMBLA, and free speech: when ‘neutrality’ is picking a side

‘Steve Bannon Accepts Invitation to Speak at the University of Chicago’

HUMAN 0
This is bullshit.

I’m calling the administration to register my displeasure, and I suggest you do too if you’re an alumni.

I’m not going to ask the University to block the invitation, but I at least want a statement that he does not represent the University’s views.

If you’re an elite foreign student, someone who’d create a successful business but aren’t white, Bannon doesn’t want you in the United States.

A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”

The exact quote starts around 17:40, but the link starts earlier than that for full context.

HUMAN 1
You should listen to the whole context. It’s a much more narrow scope than you are representing it to be:

“What do you think about this situation where you have American companies, particularly technology companies, that are letting go highly-trained American IT workers, blowing them out, having them train their replacements and hiring foreign workers. Just generally what’s your sense of that?”

That being said, I still disagree with his comment, but I don’t think you are being fair to it either.

Continue reading “Steve Bannon, NAMBLA, and free speech: when ‘neutrality’ is picking a side”

U.S. Rep. John H. Reagan: A moderate pro-slavery advocate circa 1860

The Congressional Globe

The Official Proceedings of Congress, Published by John C. Rives, Washington, D.C.
House of Representatives, 36th Congress, 1st Session
Feb. 29, 1869

Page 924

The CHAIRMAN. When the committee rose it had under consideration resolutions of reference of the President’s message. On that question, the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Reagan] is entitled to the floor.

Mr. REAGAN. Mr. Chairman, I avail myself of the general range of debate, in Committee of the Whole on the President’s message, to discuss some topics which concern the whole nation. And, as I cannot expect to occupy the attention of the committee soon again under our rules, I shall have to try to discuss a greater number of questions than may be conveniently considered or clearly presented in one speech.

Continue reading “U.S. Rep. John H. Reagan: A moderate pro-slavery advocate circa 1860”

‘ “Teaching women to be safe” Why don’t you just teach men not to rape?’

The issue with teaching women how to protect themselves from rape is not that it isn’t a practical concern worth considering & acting accordingly.

The problem is that by doing so, it frames rape as a force of nature no one in particular is responsible for committing but people are responsible for protecting themselves from, and in fact they are the ones to blame if they don’t protect themselves properly.

Continue reading “‘ “Teaching women to be safe” Why don’t you just teach men not to rape?’”

Life hangs by the hairs on a chinny chin chin

The idea of when personhood begins and ought to be respected is a sort of Zeno’s Paradox —like how many hairs it takes on someone’s face before they have a beard.

We have a commonly understood idea we all agree on, but defining the exact moment where something crosses over is always absurd and any given number of people will have different, contradictory, even self-varying opinions on where they draw the line.

If you say that someone with 3,017 chin hairs is still beardless but 3,018 has a beard, that’s ridiculous. But it’s also ridiculous to say that the first hair on someone’s chin is what makes them bearded if you want that concept to have any utility and align with anyone’s intended meaning.
Continue reading “Life hangs by the hairs on a chinny chin chin”

We have to grade the past on a curve but not the present

Mother’s concern of ‘divided nation’ forces school to pull classic books

ACCOMAC, Va. (WAVY) —Two classic American novels have been temporarily pulled from book shelves in Accomack County Public Schools.

Superintendent Warren Holland confirmed to 10 On Your Side that a parent filed a complaint about “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Continue reading “We have to grade the past on a curve but not the present”