Despite what my children used to claim, I did not grow up fighting off dinosaurs or sabretooth tigers. I have, however, always been fascinated by history; not so much the facts of events but what history reveals about the nature of human beings. For the same reason, my library holds a large number of books – poetry, novels, non-fiction – spanning most of the Dewey Decimal classification, but which have in common that they all shine some light on some corner of what it is that makes us what/who we are. Perhaps as a child I found adult behavior puzzling and have been trying ever since to better understand it. And when I contemplate not only our current world but the long, chaotic march (stumble?) of mankind, it seems to me it finally comes down to one simple question: Am I my brother’s keeper?Continue reading →
One of my favorite blogs is Justin Smith. He’s always worth reading but this is particularly good.
One of the memes circling around the French Internet shows the mayor of the town of Roanne telling a huddled group of refugees that they cannot stay, since they are not Christian. “Neither are you,” is the reply.
Yes, some people are so ignorant as to believe that all Syrians are Muslims, but the most relevant clarification is not that some are not, but that that is irrelevant to the refugee crisis.
At the popular level in Europe, there is both dispiriting xenophobia and its opposite, a seemingly unprecedented preparedness to welcome the refugees and to take responsibility for their well-being. State officials have so far tended to play to the interests of the xenophobes, mostly not by expressing outward xenophobia (with plenty of exceptions of course, as with the mayor of Roanne, or with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán), but by classic buck-passing, insisting that the crisis is someone else’s problem. This is particularly the case for the poorer countries of the EU to its south and east, which are of course also the countries that are so placed as to first receive the refugees travelling by land (and, more perilously, by water). The absence of any obvious authority, either at the union-wide level or in each individual member state, reveals, like no other situation has since the EU’s expansion to include former Soviet Bloc states, that transnational body’s utter impotence and irrelevance.
American liberals and progressives love to fawn over the great liberal democracies of northern Europe with their advanced welfare states and their commitment to fair distribution of resources to all citizens. Yet as long as these societies continue to adhere to a sharp political and moral distinction between citizens and outsiders, between those who are in the system and those who are outside of it, what they have accomplished is scarcely any more worthy of praise than the sort of ‘socialism’ we see practiced within major corporations. European social democracies that extend medical care and education to everyone who has theirpapers in order, while expelling irregular migrants in nighttime raids and strong-armed police operations, are not truly egalitarian societies, but protection rackets. The extent that European citizens are today, en masse, resisting this arbitrary distinction between citizen and non-citizen, in order to come to the direct aid of the Syrian refugees, is precisely the extent to which Europe is living up to its claim to be Christian.
Somewhere in cyberland, I recently saw an article that the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump reflect the fact that a large part of the population recognizes that the wheels have come off our society and its political processes. This should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention to the faltering of America and the world in general. Both Bernie and Donald are essentially populists – they just disagree about causes and cures.
One type of populism is based on recognition of one’s humanity and the humanity of others, a brotherhood-of-Man feeling. The other type is based on recognizing only one’s own self and group. For one, power means the ability to benefit everyone. Fo the other, it means the ability to benefit one’s self. One type founded the utopian communities in the 1800s; suffered and died for other peoples’ rights, safety and quality of life; union organizers, civil rights supporters, etc. And National Socialism was a populist movement of the second type. Continue reading →
As down the glen one Easter morn
To a city fair rode I,
Their armed lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by.
No pipe did hum, no battle drum
Did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus’ bells o’er the Liffey swells
Rang out in the foggy dew.
Right proudly high in Dublin town
Hung they out a flag of war.
‘Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of Royal Meath
Strong men came hurrying through;
While Brittania’s Huns with their long-range guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew.
The bravest fell, and the requiem bell
Rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Easter-tide
In the springing of the year.
While the world did gaze with deep amaze
At those fearless men but few
Who bore the fight that freedom’s light
Might shine through the foggy dew.
And back through the glen I rode again
And my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men
Whom I never shall see more
But to and fro
In my dreams I go
And I kneel and pray for you
For slavery fled
Oh, glorious dead
When you fell in the foggy dew
Like everyone, my life has seen multiple transitions from one stage to another. My recent experiences seem to have imparted a flavor somewhat different from previous changes, in that for the first time, the changes are physical rather than intellectual or emotional. It got me thinking back about what Willie Nelson called: Running through the changes
Going through the stages
Coming round the corners in my life. Continue reading →