Hurtling forward, looking back

“In individual experience immediacy is never fully enjoyed; satisfaction is a subsequent affair. Existence is ever-not-quite. We look to the past for the source of our enjoyment. That backward look, in fact, constitutes our enjoyment.” – David L. Hall, “Culture, History, and the Retrieval of the Past” (emphasis in original)

Time will let me

“Were I outside time, able to dip into it here or there at will, I should have little trouble in retrieving a specific past moment. I am, however, inexorably constituted by time, for without memory I should have no means of having, of being, a self. Only by remembering my self may I remain a self. In some crucial sense, I am my memories.” – David L. Hall, “Culture, History, and the Retrieval of the Past” (emphasis in original)

Form is function

“It is the essence of fascism to have no single fixed form—an attenuated form of nationalism in its basic nature, it naturally takes on the colors and practices of each nation it infects. In Italy, it is bombastic and neoclassical in form; in Spain, Catholic and religious; in Germany, violent and romantic. It took forms still crazier and more feverishly sinister, if one can imagine, in Romania, whereas under Oswald Mosley, in England, its manner was predictably paternalistic and aristocratic. It is no surprise that the American face of fascism would take on the forms of celebrity television and the casino greeter’s come-on, since that is as much our symbolic scene as nostalgic re-creations of Roman splendors once were Italy’s. What all forms of fascism have in common is the glorification of the nation, and the exaggeration of its humiliations, with violence promised to its enemies, at home and abroad; the worship of power wherever it appears and whoever holds it; contempt for the rule of law and for reason; unashamed employment of repeated lies as a rhetorical strategy; and a promise of vengeance for those who feel themselves disempowered by history. It promises to turn back time and take no prisoners. That it can appeal to those who do not understand its consequences is doubtless true. But the first job of those who do understand is to state what those consequences invariably are.” – Adam Gopnik, “Being Honest About Trump”

Not the building of walls

“Cosmopolitanism is not a tribal trait; it is a virtue, as much as courage or honesty or compassion. Almost without exception, the periods of human civilization that we admire as we look back have been cosmopolitan in practice; even those, like the Bronze Age, that we imagine as monolithic and traditional turn out to be shaped by trade and exchange and multiple identity.” – Adam Gopnik, “Being Honest About Trump”

They’ll be back

“The campaigns of the Mongol armies were the last and the most destructive in the long lines of nomad invasions from the steppes. In just over fifty years they conquered half the known world and it was only their adherence to tribal traditions and the rivalry of their princes that denied them the rest of it. Western Europe and Islam were not saved [on the battlefield], they were saved when Mongol armies halted in their moment of triumph. If [the Mongol leaders] had not died when they did, the largest empire that the world has ever known would have been bounded in the west not by the Carpathians and the Euphrates, but by the Atlantic Ocean.” – James Chambers, The Devil’s Horsemen

Same as a modern political party

“Unlike the masters of other great empires, the Mongols contributed little to the civilizations that came after them. They adopted the cultures of their subjects and when their empire disintegrated the world forgot them, but they had altered the course of history and they had left it scarred. Russia was torn away from Europe, and when the Mongols abandoned it after two hundred years it was feudal and backward. Poland and Hungary were so devastated that they never emerged to play their part in the renaissance that followed in the west. Bulgaria, like Russia, was isolated and then fell to the Ottoman Turks, whom the Mongols had driven out of Khwarizm and who were one day to stand on the banks of the Danube as the Mongols had done. The lands that once nurtured the great civilizations of the Persians were returned to the desert and they have never recovered. Wherever the Mongols rode they left an irretrievably ruined economy and wherever they ruled they left a petty, self-important aristocracy and an exploited peasantry.” – James Chambers, The Devil’s Horsemen

Music to soothe the beastly baby

“The positive benefits of music can be extended to infants before they are even born. For instance, from as early as the 24th week of an unborn infant’s life, their perceptual world is embedded within the sound of their mother’s heartbeat. The child is not grown in an acoustic vacuum, but rather in an environment textured by the regularly occurring beats of the mother’s heart and the melodic contours of her physiological states. These temporally regularized acoustic textures provide security to the infant as their regularity affords an environment in which the infant’s expectations can be repeatedly satisfied and secured. It is unsurprising, then, that one of the most stressful changes that occurs during the transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life is the loss of rhythm that the fetus has become accustomed to through months of being exposed to maternal movements, breathing, and heartbeat. Research has suggested that an infant’s transition from intrauterine to extrauterine life, and as a result, their transition from a more rhythmic to a more chaotic acoustic environment, has the unwelcome effect of disrupting the infant’s basic life processes [. . . and] adversely affects neonatal biorhythms which, in turn, affect sleep regulation and state lability. In short, babies have good reason to be kicking and screaming as they enter the new world; for the new world is acoustically unstable, unpredictable, and in a constant state of unharmonious disequilibrium.” – Adam M. Croom, “Music, neuroscience, and the psychology of well-being”, Frontiers in Psychology, January 2012 (citations and internal quotes omitted)

The good artist borrows, the best artist steals

“No one owns anyone’s culture, and that to believe otherwise is to deprive us of the human fullness and richness we all deserve. To reconcile this insight with an equally compelling American truth—that racial injustice is our inheritance and our responsibility—is the challenge for every artist and critic, black or white.” – George Packer, “Race, Art, and Essentialism”

How it is to be done

“To obtain the right training for virtue from youth up is difficult, unless one has been brought up under the right laws. To live a life of self-control and tenacity is not pleasant for most people, especially for the young. Therefore, their upbringing and pursuits must be regulated by laws; for once they have become familiar, they will no longer be painful. But it is perhaps not enough that they receive the right upbringing and attention only in their youth. Since they must carry on these pursuits and cultivate them by habit when they have grown up, we probably need laws for this, too, and for the whole of life in general. For most people are swayed rather by compulsion that argument, and by punishment rather than by a sense of what is noble. This is why some believe that lawgivers ought to exhort and try to influence people toward a life of virtue because of its inherent nobility, in the hope that those who have made good progress through their habits will listen to them. Chastisement and penalties, they think, should be imposed upon those who do not obey and are of an inferior nature, while the incorrigible ought to be banished abroad. A good man, they think, who orients his life by what is noble will accept the guidance of reason, while a bad man, whose desire is for pleasure, is corrected by pain like a beast of burden. For the same reason, they say that the pains inflicted must be those that are most directly opposed to the pleasures he loves.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

Go figure

“Some people believe that it is nature that makes men good, others that it is habit, and others again that it is teaching. Now, whatever goodness comes from nature is obviously not in our power, but is present in truly fortunate men as the result of some divine cause. Argument and teaching, I am afraid, are not effective in all cases: the soul of the listener must first have been conditioned by habits to the right kind of likes and dislikes, just as land must be cultivated before it is able to foster the seed. For a man whose life is guided by emotion will not listen to an argument that dissuades him, nor will he understand it. How can we possibly persuade a man like that to change his ways? And in general it seems that emotion does not yield to argument but only to force. Therefore, there must first be a character that somehow has an affinity for excellence or virtue, a character that loves what is noble and feels disgust at what is base.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

Keeping them in line

“The natural tendency of most people is to be swayed not by a sense of shame but by fear, and to refrain from acting basely not because it is disgraceful, but because of the punishment it brings. Living under the sway of emotion, they pursue their own proper pleasures and the means by which they can obtain them, and they avoid the pains that are opposed to them. But they do not even have a notion of what is noble and truly pleasant, since they have never tasted it. What argument indeed can transform people like that? To change by argument what has long been ingrained in a character is impossible or, at least, not easy. Perhaps we must be satisfied if we have whatever we think it takes to become good an attain a modicum of excellence.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 9

That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh

“Pleasure is considered to be deeply ingrained in the human race, and that is why in educating the young we use pleasure and pain as rudders with which to steer them straight. Moreover, to like and to dislike what one should is thought to be of greatest importance in developing excellence of character. For in view of the fact that people choose the pleasant and avoid the painful, pleasure and pain pervade the whole of life and have the capacity of exerting a decisive influence for a life of excellence or virtue and happiness.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 10, Ch. 1

Let not their name be legion

“Ought we to make as many friends as possible? Or will the mot juste about hospitality, ‘not too many guests, nor yet none,’ also fit friendship in the sense that a person should neither be friendless nor have an excessive number of friends? The saying would seem to fit exactly those who become friends with a view to their mutual usefulness. To accommodate many people in return for what they have done to us is troublesome, and life is not long enough to do that. Accordingly, more friends than are sufficient for one’s own life are superfluous and are an obstacle to the good life, so that there is no need of them. To give us pleasure a few friends are sufficient.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 9, Ch. 10

Tending in this direction

“In our transactions with other men it is by action that some become just and others unjust, and it is by acting in the face of danger and by developing the habit of feeling fear or cowardice that some become brave men and others cowards. The same applies to the appetites and feelings of anger: by reacting in one way or in another to given circumstances some people become self-controlled and gentle, and others self-indulgent and short-tempered. In a word, characteristics develop from corresponding activities. For that reason, we must see to it that our activities are of a certain kind, since any variations in them will be reflected in our characteristics. Hence it is no small matter whether one habit or another in inculcated in us from early childhood; on the contrary, it makes a considerable difference, or, rather, all the difference.” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, Ch. 1

Uncomfortable in their own skin

“How do people come to know themselves? One way is by reading fiction. The profound act of empathy demanded by a novel, forcing the reader to suspend disbelief and embody a stranger’s skin, prompts reflection and self-questioning. But most people don’t read novels.” – Nathaniel Rich, “James Baldwin & the Fear of a Nation”