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Month: July 2022

“The object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.” – Benedict de Spinoza, A Theological-Political Treatise and A Political Treatise (trans. R.H.M. Elwes)

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“The universe, the real universe, might actually be much, much larger than the part we see today, because the velocity of light is finite and therefore we cannot look infinitely far. By looking into the sky with a telescope, we can only see as far as light can have travelled since the beginning of the universe…. it could be that the real universe is an extremely large domain, and that what we are seeing now is perhaps what has been started by some disastrous experiment performed some twenty billion years ago by a post-graduate student in order to test the structure of a vacuum of another universe. Then what happened was that the vacuum was suddenly changed, and the result is our universe.” – Johann Rafelski and Berndt Müller, The Structured Vacuum: Thinking About Nothing

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“Some married people report pain or inflammation, and others will tell you that a well-adjusted partner feels no need to touch the other. To me, though, marriage had always seemed more like one of those medical procedures that, once performed, could never be undone.” – Garielle Lutz, “Fathering”

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“Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of the errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive.” – Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

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“If a society believes that the most important thing is to be first, much that is evil will pass for good, while the voice of the truly necessary innovator gets lost in the general hubbub of originality. In the meantime, for better or worse the world is speeded up, perhaps to the point of panic and totalitarian slowdown.” – John P. Sisk, The Quarterly 2, Summer 1987

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“Perhaps the most striking fact about the organized religious life of the colonials in the eighteenth century is the large number of people who were left out of it. Whether they had lost their faith before migrating or had been torn loose from church life in the business of moving, or whether they resented the authority of the dutiful ministers or the loose ways of the less dutiful, or were lost through the inability of the churches to establish viable church-community life in the open spaces and diffused settlements of America, surprisingly large numbers in the English continental colonies enjoyed little or none of the amenities and comforts of a religious community, and many seemed not to be trying very hard to get them. America has always liked to dwell upon those who came to win religious liberty or to realize some other religious ideal. But the extraordinary number who were content to live either without organized religion or with only a weak or a token relation to it suggests the majority of white colonials may have come for very mundane reasons—not to reach the glories of the other world but to relieve the hardships of this.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“The ideal of the simple yeoman living close to nature, applying himself with loving care to the soil, and supplying virtually all his modest needs with his own labor and that of his family was an ideal first of the educated elite who read pastoral poetry and later of agrarian ideologues and politicians who wanted to claim a moral superiority for the farmer. It was never an ideal of the yeoman farmers themselves. They might pride themselves on being able to meet the demands of self-sufficiency, but they were in haste to get out of their original lean-tos and log cabins into comfortable frame houses which they might hope to furnish with a respectable share of the world’s comforts.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“The Negro as beast: it is always convenient and comfortable to believe that those who are about to be either killed or exploited mercilessly are something less than human, and hence available to be used for the benefit of humans. The dehumanization of the object is an important psychological precondition of destruction, and it is convenient to make the victim the embodiment of evil, indeed to project upon him one’s own worst and most feared impulses, to make him an externalization of one’s own beast.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“Before the arrival of Europeans the peoples of West Africa had lived under a number of remarkable empires of considerable diversity. Many of these peoples were pastoral, some were agricultural; they fished, they traded extensively, they developed skilled craftsmen, well-articulated codes of law, and highly sophisticated sculpture and music. Some African cities, such as Benin, Djenné, and Timbuktu, were complex societies, particularly Timbuktu, which was a notable center of Muslim learning. But the Africans had not developed their own written languages, and their isolation from Europe, protective though it was, shut them off from the scientific thought and mechanical invention of the early modern world. Their great cities were built of clay and wood, and in time they crumbled; a considerable portion of their history and institutional lore was lost for lack of records; their artifacts were carried off to museums.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“For many thousands of servants their term of indentured servitude was a period of enforced celibacy. Marriage without the consent of the master was illegal, and the crimes of fornication and bastardy figure importantly in the records of bound servitude—not surprisingly, when we realize how many of the servant population were between the ages of eighteen and thirty.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“Among the by-products of English Social change of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was a very substantial pool of criminal talents. The laws devised to suppress the criminal population were so harsh—scores of crimes were defined as felonies and hanging was a standard punishment for many trivial offenses—that England would have been launched upon mass hangings far beyond the point of acceptability had it not been for two devices that let many accused off the penalties prescribed for felons. One was the benefit of clergy—a practice inherited from the Middle Ages and continued until the early nineteenth century—which permitted a convicted felon to ‘call for the book’ and prove his literacy. On the ancient assumption that those who could read were clerics and thus exempt from severe punishments by the secular state, the relatively privileged class of literate felons could be permitted to escape with the conventional branding on the thumb. A second practice, the predecessor of convict transportation, was to secure royal pardons for ordinary offenders deemed by the judges to be worthy of some indulgence. Until the end of the French wars in 1713 it was customary to send them into the army, but in peacetime England did not know what to do with felons and drifters. In 1717 Parliament passed an act which in effect made royal clemency contingent upon transportation to the colonies for a term of labor; in consequence the large-scale shipping of convicts began which continued to the time of the American Revolution. To America at large, including the island colonies, around thirty thousand felons were transported in the eighteenth century, of whom probably more than two-thirds reached Virginia and Maryland.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

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“Led by a young lawyer, Francis Daniel Pastorius, who was charmed at the prospect of taking a community to lead ‘a quiet, godly, and honest life in a howling wilderness,’ in 1683 a pioneer group settled in what was to be called Germantown, not far from Philadelphia, which became a center where German immigrants collected before moving out into the neighboring counties of Pennsylvania. Pastorius’s pioneers were followed by a smaller group led by Johann Kelpius, a hymnographer and mystic of ingratiating saintliness and eccentricity, one of the first of a long line of visionaries to be drawn to America, One of Kelpius’s associates, a distinguished astronomer who died en route, had projected that the millennium would come in 1694, and hoped to greet the end of the world in America. Kelpius himself, who was given to withdrawing to a cave for prayer and contemplation, hoped to achieve a kind of immortality, but confessed himself mistaken on the eve of his death in 1708. For some, America has always been a land of disappointment.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“One legend of the Yurok people says that, far out in the Pacific Ocean but not farther than a canoe can paddle, the rim of the sky makes waves by beating on the surface of the water. On every twelfth upswing, the sky moves a little more slowly, so that a skilled navigator has enough time to slip beneath its rim, reach the outer ocean, and dance all night on the shore of another world.” – Julie Phillips, “The Fantastic Ursula K. Le Guin”

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“The English colonies of the North American mainland, the rude provinces that would in time form the nucleus of the United States, were the elements of the first post-feudal nation, the first nation in the world to be formed and to grow from its earliest days under the influence of Protestantism, nationalism, and modern capitalist enterprise. This was the transcendentally important reality about this new country.” – Richard Hofstadter, America at 1750: A Social Portrait

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“With the act of naming that which is in flux, what is in movement becomes shaped and what is inside becomes manifest. To give a name is to bring into existence and recognition. In Indian mythology, Brahma created apparitions from his unconscious; then the world guardian, Daksha, gave the apparitions names so that they might be known and their functions assigned to them. In Sumerian mu-lugal means ‘man’s name’ and also ‘life-giving properties.’ To give a name to something is to bring it into a second (and conscious) existence.” – Diane Wolkstein, “Interpretations of Inanna’s Stories and Hymns”

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