Quote For The Day II

Nov 23 2014 @ 7:51pm

“Maybe it’s not metaphysics. Maybe it’s existential. I’m talking about the individual US citizen’s deep fear, the same basic fear that you and I have and that everybody has except nobody ever talks about it except existentialists in convoluted French prose. Or Pascal. Our smallness, our insignificance and mortality, yours and mine, the thing that we all spend all our time not thinking about directly, that we are tiny and at the mercy of large forces and that time is always passing and that every day we’ve lost one more day that will never come back and our childhoods are over and our adolescence and the vigor of youth and soon our adulthood, that everything we see around us all the time is decaying and passing, it’s all passing away, and so are we, so am I, and given how fast the first forty-two years have shot by it’s not going to be long before I too pass away, whoever imagined that there was a more truthful way to put it than ‘die,’ ‘pass away,’ the very sound of it makes me feel the way I feel at dusk on a wintry Sunday— …

And not only that, but everybody who knows me or even knows I exist will die, and then everybody who knows those people and might even conceivably have even heard of me will die, and so on, and the gravestones and monuments we spend money to have put in to make sure we’re remembered, these’ll last what—a hundred years? two hundred?—and they’ll crumble, and the grass and insects my decomposition will go to feed will die, and their offspring, or if I’m cremated the trees that are nourished by my windblown ash will die or get cut down and decay, and my urn will decay, and before maybe three or four generations it will be like I never existed, not only will I have passed away but it will be like I was never here, and people in 2104 or whatever will no more think of Stuart A. Nichols Jr. than you or I think of John T. Smith, 1790 to 1864, of Livingston, Virginia, or some such. That everything is on fire, slow fire, and we’re all less than a million breaths away from an oblivion more total than we can even bring ourselves to even try to imagine, in fact, probably that’s why the manic US obsession with production, produce, produce, impact the world, contribute, shape things, to help distract us from how little and totally insignificant and temporary we are,” – David Foster Wallace, The Pale King.

Face Of The Day

Nov 23 2014 @ 7:04pm

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Adriane Ohanesian photographed the women of Burma’s Kachin Independence Army (KIA):

In Kachin State, in northern Myanmar, the anti-government sentiment runs particularly strong. In fact, rebels have a strong enough presence that control over Kachin is effectively split between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KIA is the last remaining major rebel group in Myanmar that has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. While the country at large has begun opening its doors, the government has simultaneously banned UN agencies, international NGOs, and even foreigners from entering into KIA territory. Effectively, this leaves the people of Kachin with little access to the outside world.

The women of Kachin have few opportunities in this isolated region, outside of serving the KIA. From the age of 16 women are eligible to join the army, and often remain there until they are discharged for marriage. While some join out of dedication to their people, others are forcibly recruited. This is a look into the lives of the young women going through their first experiences of military training with the KIA.

In an interview, Ohanesian describes how she got access to her subjects:

Read On

Burke’s Leftist Leanings?

Nov 23 2014 @ 6:44pm

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In his new biography, The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke, David Bromwich claims that “no historian today would repeat the commonplace that Burke was the father of modern conservatism.” Jonathan Green unpacks how Bromwich defends that assertion:

After a rich discussion of Burke the philosopher, Bromwich considers his entry into politics. Here we see Burke as the British Parliament’s foremost critic of royal prerogative, as a steadfast defender of American Independence, and as an important strategist for the Rockingham wing of the Whig party. Along the way Bromwich unpacks Burke’s Thoughts on the Present Discontents, in which he defended organized parties as an essential check on executive power, and gives us a sympathetic account of Burke’s intransigent, oft-maligned opposition to George III. …

Throughout his narrative Bromwich keeps the Reflections on the Revolution in France in view, but he is keen to re-situate Burke’s critique of the revolutionaries’ ideology within the context of his earlier writings and speeches. The result is a Burke that is significantly more liberal—and more republican—than recent interpreters have acknowledged.

Samuel Moyn, in a long assessment of Bromwich’s hopes for a “Burkean left,” notes that after 9/11 he’s especially picked up on the British statesman’s criticisms of imperialism – which cuts across today’s party lines:

Read On

Jesus Amidst The Ruins

Nov 23 2014 @ 5:47pm

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Alice Su has spent six weeks reporting from Iraq, where, as she puts it, “faith seems saturated in hatred and blood.” In an essay about coming to terms with what it means to believe in God in the face of the devastation and suffering she’s witnessed, Su re-reads the gospels’ accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus:

What the hell is this Gospel? Why would the disciples believe it, as Jesus died and Roman rule continued? Why should I believe it, as I stand in front of a Yazidi woman whose daughter is enslaved, counting atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel and Sudan, feeling like the smallest person in the world, taking notes and knowing they’ll do nothing but elicit some fleeting public sympathy and exert a featherweight bit of pressure on military and political powers?

In Iraq, I consider this unlikely message: Jesus did not end suffering and injustice, but He will end them. He did not fight the way the world fights, with swords and guns and drones and jingoistic anthems. He did not win an ethno-nationalist victory for the Jews. He did not stop Lazarus from dying, nor did he heal every person or raise every Beloved from the dead.

Christ rejected Pharisees and went to the sinners, even to the Gentiles. He was like a Palestinian going to the Israelis, a Sunni going to the Shia, a Kurd going to an Arab, a Yazidi going to an ISIS fighter. He crossed all the lines. He didn’t form a new club to supersede all the others. He said, being in a club won’t save you. Nothing you do will ever save you. Stop trying to be good. Seek God, repent and ask to be saved.

He washed feet.

Then He died.

(Image: The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross, by James Tissot, late 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons)

Racial Justice In The Real World

Nov 23 2014 @ 4:58pm

In a wonky but rewarding interview, political philosopher Charles Mills asserts the need for liberal theory to better grapple with racial justice. He turns to a term – the “epistemology of ignorance” – from his book The Racial Contract to help explain the complexities of doing so:

The phrasing (“epistemology of ignorance”) was calculatedly designed by me to be attention-getting through appearing to be oxymoronic. I was trying to capture the idea of norms of cognition that so function as to work against successful cognition. Systems of domination affect us not merely in terms of material advantage and disadvantage, but also in terms of likelihoods of getting things right or wrong, since unfair social privilege reproduces itself in part through people learning to see and feel about the world in ways that accommodate injustice. “Ignorance” is actively reproduced and is resistant to elimination. This is, of course, an old insight of the left tradition with respect to class. I was just translating it into a different vocabulary and applying it to race. So one can see the idea (and my later work on “white ignorance”) as my attempt to contribute to the new “social epistemology,” which breaks with traditional Cartesian epistemological individualism, but in my opinion needs to focus more on social oppression than it currently does.

Mills goes on to make a related point, that we “need to ask how it came about, and has come to seem normal, that ‘social justice’ as a philosophical concept has become so detached from the concerns of actual social justice movements”:

Read On

Mental Health Break

Nov 23 2014 @ 4:20pm

So. Many. Colors:

The Mid-Life Rebound

Nov 23 2014 @ 3:34pm

Jonathan Rauch isn’t alone in preferring his 50s to his 40s:

Studies show quite strongly that people’s satisfaction with their life increases, on average, from their early 50s on through their 60s and 70s and even beyond – for many until disability and final illness exact their toll toward the very end (at which point it’s hard to generalize). In a 2011 study, for example, the Stanford University psychologist Laura Carstensen and seven colleagues found that “the peak of emotional life may not occur until well into the seventh decade” – a finding that is “often met with disbelief in both the general population and the research community,” despite its strength. …

Rauch adds, “In my own case, what seems most relevant is a change frequently described both in popular lore and in the research literature – for some reason, I became more accepting of my limitations”:

Read On

We’ve featured the work of Matthew Vines many times before, and want to highlight a speech given at a conference recently held by his organization, The Reformation Project. A keynote speaker, David Gushee, one of the foremost evangelical ethicists in the United States, used the occasion to announce his support for the full-inclusion of LGBT Christians in the Church. The above video of Gushee’s remarks is longer than we usually post, but it’s worth watching in full. (You can read a transcript of his remarks here.) For a sense of why this matters, Jonathan Merritt sketches Gushee’s place in the evangelical world:

It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection. His Christian ethics textbook, “Kingdom Ethics,” co-authored with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year. He serves as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries, and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.

While other pro-LGBT Christian activists — including Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines, author of “God and the Gay Christian” — have been dismissed in some circles as wet-behind-the-ears youngsters without formal theological training, Gushee, 52, is a scholar with impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed.

Gushee summarizes his approach to the issue this way:

Read On

Famous At Eighty

Nov 23 2014 @ 1:25pm

Reviewing Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, a new biography of the British novelist, Alan Hollinghurst reminds us of her late-in-life flowering as a writer:

She published her first book, a biography of the artist Edward Burne-Jones, when she was fifty-eight; her first novel appeared when she was sixty. She was, as she said, “an old writer who had never been a young one.” How different it would have been if, like her close contemporaries Muriel Spark, Angus Wilson, and Anthony Burgess, she had started publishing fiction in the 1950s, if she’d moved in the shifting currents of influence and allegiance and left her mark on the literary history of those decades. But as it happened she made her debut at the age when others are going off or giving up, and after diffident beginnings rapidly emerged as an utterly distinctive talent, with no obvious debts to anybody. In America she achieved fame at the age of eighty with The Blue Flower, her finest and most demanding book, and also her last. She died, aged eighty-three, in 2000.

This triumph of late productivity is unavoidably tied to loss, the paradoxical freedoms of bereavement. Edward Burne-Jones was written immediately after her father died. Dedicated to her children, it reaches back into the cultural world of the generation before her own that she had always found so fascinating: it is a passing on of knowledge. Her first novel, The Golden Child, a “joke” as she called it, was written to amuse her gravely ill husband Desmond Fitzgerald, and is dedicated, posthumously, to him. Everything that followed is thus the product of a near quarter-century of widowhood.

James Wood, meanwhile, parses her distinctively stylish prose:

Read On

An Open Faith In Burma

Nov 23 2014 @ 12:38pm

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While attending a nat pwe – a festival devoted to the folk spirits, or nats, of Burmese tradition – Will Boast finds another side to the celebration:

I’d been told by locals that nat pwes were also “gay” festivals and to expect to see “many ladyboys.” The junta’s attempts to subdue nat worship had an unintended effect: the role of the nat wife [or nat kadaw] was embraced by an already marginalized group. Homosexuality is illegal in Burma and has been since its British colonizers instituted a late-nineteenth-century ban on “intercourse against the order of nature.”

Government restrictions opened a professional vacuum, says scholar Tamara C. Ho. Becoming a nat kadaw offered the achauk—a Burmese term for gay and transgender men—both “a vocation and queer visibility.”

Anthropologists differ in their readings of the gendered aspects of nat worship. Still, nowhere else in Burma, not even in vast, multi-ethnic Yangon, did I see any cross-dressing or open displays of affection between men. In a country marked by socially conservative, austere Buddhist ways, the nat pwe, it seems, provides a rare moment during which the usual rules can be suspended.

(Image of male dancer at nat pwe festival by Flickr user Thomas)