Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Remembering Ashoka: Confronting Suffering, Desire, and Progress in History

I recently listened to a story on the radio show Speaking of Faith from NPR. It was an interview with Pankaj Mishra (right), an Indian novelist, essayist, and journalist. Mishra's newest book, An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World, details his travels through southern Asia and his own spiritual journey of self-reform and self-discovery from a Buddhist perspective through a collage of commentary on politics, religion, and history, both ancient and modern. The interview was interesting not so much for Mishra's own views on the state of affairs in south Asia or even his own perspective on the Buddha, but for his rather erudite distillation of how religion shapes politics, especially at the local and personal level. What most fascinated me was his brief discussion of Ashoka, the 3rd century BCE emperor of the Mauryan Empire, and how Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism led to sweeping reform throughout the Indian subcontinent.

Without going into too much detail, and at risk of over-simplification, Ashoka (below) was the emperor of the sprawling Mauryan Empire which in the 3rd century BCE covered most of India and Pakistan as well as parts of Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Known as a ruthless conqueror with a will towards domination, Ashoka invaded neighboring kingdoms one by one until most of the Indian subcontinent and much of South Asia came under his domination. The final military conquest came in the mid-260s BCE with the utter destruction of the country of Kalinga in east-central India, the pretext of which was Kalinga's supposed granting of asylum to the relative of one of Ashoka's enemies, though modern scholars have suggested that it was access to the Ganges that enticed Ashoka. Whatever the reason, Kalinga was subdued with particular brutality, and the result was the wholesale slaughter of its people, totaling by some estimates over 100,000. Following this event, according to the legendary interpretation of Ashoka, the emperor was eager to survey his new domain, but instead, seeing only burning villages and scattered corpses, was reduced to horror at what he had done. In an Augustine-like sudden conversion, Ashoka adopted Buddhism, then only around 150 years old, and became one of the first major Asian rulers to do so. In keeping with Buddhist teachings, Ashoka made non-violence a state policy that included leniency in the punishment of crimes and prison sentences, the banning of any warfare not necessary for self-defense, the outlawing of harm to animals in any way other than provision of sustenance and a promotion of vegetarianism, among many other changes. For the rest of his more than thirty year reign, Ashoka went from being hated and feared to being revered as one of the greatest rulers the subcontinent had ever seen.

Mishra's point in discussing Ashoka for several minutes in the midst of his lecture on Buddhism and its modern bearings on politics seems to be that Ashoka, though he is a well-known historical figure in India, is not as well-known or well-regarded in global history or in world history as has been manifest in the Western curriculum. Mishra compares Ashoka to his near-contemprary Alexander the Great (Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta Maurya overthrew Alexander's successors in Central Asia), and asks why he is not given the same scholarly interest of the admittedly greater conqueror. Both men conquered wide swaths of land and presided over enormous empires made of myriad diverse peoples. The major difference, as Mishra points out, is that Ashoka finally quit, whereas Alexander's desire to continue over the horizon was so great, that only the near mutiny of his generals convinced him to turn back. It was the self-control through Ashoka's new-found Buddhism that reigned in his hostility. Mishra blames the 19th century "great men" historiographical theory for promoting the study of figures such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and Napoleon Bonaparte over figures such as Ashoka. In fact, Napoleon, and later Hitler, studied Alexander intently. It seems the amount of land one conquers is directly proportional to one's later historical relevance, provided that the conquests remain edifying accomplishments following one's death.

It is perhaps odd that the 19th century saw such an interest in the study of these "great men," for although these figures represented to the colonial and imperialist powers who promoted their study a counterpart to the spirit of progress the age embodied, the major intellectual figures of the day were in many ways more concomitant with Buddhist thought than with the modern Western trends, at least according to Mishra. He calls the Buddha a "kindred spirit" with a surprising array of intellectuals ranging from David Hume (left) to Adam Smith. Hume, who like the Buddha, considered the self "ever changing and relative," came to the conclusion that "we are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity... The mind is a kind of theater where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations...." Permanence is an illusion; change, the only constant. Smith, the founder of modern capitalist theory, meditated heavily on the Buddhist concept that desire is the origin of suffering, and wondered publicly if an economic system based on the desire of the individual could be sustained. He optimistically concluded that educated men would be able to deduce the difference between wants and needs, though practically he realized that the system would fail without self-control (Do you hear that Wall Street?).

Buddhism, as Ashoka realized, could be envisioned as a reformist movement within oneself. In the 19th century context, this presents a paradox of thought. On the one hand, the perceived greatness of the Western world was built on desire in the form of progress -- scientific, political, religious, philosophical -- and the rest of the world was being pulled up by it bootstraps as, to paraphrase Kipling, the white man endured this burden. The history of the West from the Crusades through the Age of Imperialism, according to Mishra, may be viewed as a result of this desire in the communal, civilizational, and cultural sense, and the resulting suffering that comes from uncontrolled desire demonstrated itself in the destructive power of World Wars I and II. Scientific and social progress is a "good" thing, which can go very badly when used for misanthropic purposes. On the other hand, Buddhism necessitates only a reform of the self, as opposed to the major collectivist Utopian movements in the West, from Fascism and Marxism to even capitalism and democracy. All ostensibly require control not over the self but over the other.

So, what can we learn from Ashoka? Mishra centralizes him in the context of politico-religious history and asks what it means to be on the "winning" side of history. Surely, Ashoka would be considered a "winner," but is he more valued historically because of his conquests or because of his self-reform? The wielding of power has gotten us far, if progress is indeed the propeller of history, but violence always begets more violence. If desire is necessary for progress, Mishra's argument seems to imply that suffering is also an inevitable by-product. In studying history for nearly a decade, I've grown particularly wary of any generalizations, but one thing I've found that is difficult to argue against is that there is rarely a war that does not lead to more violence, and non-violent movements, when they are not violently crushed in their infancy, often achieve political and social goals if given the chance. And Mishra reminds us that the disposition towards violence exists or has existed in all cultures and that treating one form of violoence as endemic to one particular culture or ideology (Islamic terrorism, Western militarism, authoritarian despotism) misses the point in that it views violence from the perspective of the perpetrators and not the victims. The lesson to be gleaned from the life of Ashoka is that true reform, what has often been attempted from the top down in the form of communism and fascism, must proceed from the bottom up to be truly effective. Non-violent movements, organized civil disobedience, democracy itself is a process that works best when it develops locally, and it must be localized in the individual before it may spread. Unlike other systems of government, democracy cannot be imposed -- we must learn this before we attempt to introduce much of the world to its ideals. Reinhold Niebuhr, (above) whom our current president counts as an intellectual influence and who is perhaps among Mishra's "kindred spirits" with the Buddha, was an early recognizer that the ills of the world cannot be solved simply by "converting" the world to democracy and capitalism, that this was a failure of imagination, and that political and economic proselytization was not the answer. It is no surprise that 19th century historians an politicians looked to figures like Alexander the Great as models because they represented the great progress that Western leaders of the period wished to emulate. Let is return to the implication that desire is necessary for progress. If desire truly is the beginning of suffering, must progress always be coupled with it? Because suffering is a reality, it is one thing, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof ,that we must confront in this world. I want to end with an extended quote from Mishra's work, during his visitation of a madrassa in Pakistan, that in part illustrates the difficulties in interpreting suffering in the world: where it comes from, how we might deal with it, and why violence as a solution will only create more problems if we allow it to become our primary weapon of change. Progress, in the sense of self-reform as a Ashoka so championed, seems to be a viable option for our uncertain future.

I hadn't expected to be moved by the casual sight in one madrassa of six young men sleeping on tattered sheets on the floor. I hadn't thought I would be saddened at the human waste they represented--the young men whose ancestors built one of the greatest civilizations in the world, and who now lived in dysfunctional societies under governments beholden to, or in fear of, America, and who had nothing to look forward to except possibly the short career of suicide bomber. The other kind of future once laid out for them had failed. This was the future in which everyone in the world would wear a tie, work in an office or factory, drive a car, practise birth control, raise a nuclear family, and pay taxes. There were not nearly enough secular schools to educate these young men in the ways of the modern world--and few jobs awaited those who had been educated.... But the fantasy of modernity, held up by their state, and supported by the international political and economic system, had been powerful enough to expel and uproot them from their native villages. This had also been the fate of their fathers and countless others like [them]. But the journey from the old to the new world had become harder over the years for most people. Now, this journey seemed never-ending, and it seemed to consume more and more people as it lengthened: hundreds of millions of stupefied and powerless individuals, lured by the promise of equality and justice into a world they had no means of understanding, whose already strained and partially available resources they were expected to exploit in order to hoist themselves to the level of affluence enjoyed by a small minority of middle-class people around the world.... Having lost the protection of the old moral order, their particular bonds and forms of authority, they hoped to stave off chaos and degeneration by joining such authoritarian movements as Hindu nationalism and radical Islam, by surrendering their dreams to demagogues like Bin Laden.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

An Historical Perspective on Torture

On January 22, in only his second full day in office, President Obama signed into law an executive order forbidding the use of torture in government interrogations. More than a repudiation of the policies of the Bush administration, the order is nothing short of a statement recommitting America to the Constitutional principles on which it was founded--equality under the law and the right to a fair trial. Certainly, introducing these prisoners into the justice system, where the innocent can be set free and the guilty sent to jail where they belong, will strengthen our resolve and make the US a safer, not more dangerous, place. If the goal of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was "to destroy America's way of life," then didn't the Bush administration play right into their hands with its flaunting of these supposedly hallowed principles? By sanctifying the use of torture, we said to our enemies not that they should fear us, but that we would inadvertently bow to their wishes by condoning that which we supposedly stand so stridently against. By way of life, bin Laden likely referred more to our economic and foreign policies, but if the foundations of these crumble, the house cannot be far behind. And, if America is truly weakening as a nation relative to China and the European Union, our reassertion as a moral leader in a dangerous world can only bolsters our credentials on the world stage. This is desperately needed in the aftermath of Iraq. The moral argument against torture seems apparent enough, and the point, at least for the meantime, is hopefully moot, but I'd like to point out how it has failed pragmatically as well. So, for the moral relativists, a practical argument against torture:

Many historical societies, at some time or another, have used torture either as a way to extract confessions among the accused or as a form of punishment, usually as a prelude to execution. In some societies it may have been a continuation of religious human sacrifice; in others, born out of the militaristic nature of the culture. Roman torture first took the form of military-style punishment and was later utilized privately as the aristocracy employed it as a fear-inducing weapon designed to keep the lower-classes and slaves in their socio-economic places. Some of the most historically memorable instances of Roman torture in the first few centuries of the common era were a point of entertainment for the masses--gladiatorial games, the participants of which were almost always either prisoners or slaves. And of course, as anyone who has studied early Christianity knows, the brutality of the first and second century Romans against the first Christian martyrs was legion (no pun intended).

Torture has been variously outlawed in the past and the Geneva Convention is by no means new in its interpretation and moral outrage against the practice. In the late 6th century, Pope Gregory I famously declared all confessions extracted during torture to be inadmissible in courts, but this proclamation was not far reaching, applying only to those courts under the jurisdiction of the Church, and torture continued to be used for the purposes of punishment, as well as in the recently converted Germanic peoples. In the case of this culture, which had yet to be fully synthesized with the Romano-Judeo-Christian one, the use of compurgations or ordeals, from which we get our modern word, was commonplace to determine the innocence or guilt of convicted persons. The process usually involved enduring some sort of physical pain, after which one would be judged on that endurance. One process involved grasping a hot iron or dunking one's hand into a pot of boiling water. The wound would be bandaged and if it healed quickly, innocence was presumed, whereas a lengthy recovery or the development of a particularly nasty scar would result in a conviction. Gregory the Great's proclamation did not touch this practice and ordeals were commonplace until at least the early 13th century. Still, torture, in its modern definition, was a feature of Roman rather than Germanic law. In the year 1215, Pope Innocent III forbade the use of ordeals at the Lateran IV Council (Canon 18) and negated their efficacy in courts. The implementation of this rule was, however, not out of compassion, but an attempt to diminish the significance of "planned miracles" because the standard belief of the Church was that miracles should be spontaneous and should not be expected to prove the worth of common people. Around the same time, the polymath emperor of the sprawling central European Holy Roman Empire, Frederick II, also outlawed ordeals for a more practical reason, stating that they would only determine who was stronger, not who was morally right.

This legal standard was not to last though, and the use of torture as a weapon of the powerful would return with legal sanction as the Inquisition came into the fore. Less than forty years after Lateran IV outlawed ordeals, Innocent IV's papal bull Ad Extirpanda (1252) authorized papal inquisitors to confiscate property, imprison, torture, and execute suspected heretics. Two centuries later, as the specific category of witchcraft (maleficarum) evolved, first the use of ordeals began to resurface and then the use of torture in extrication of confession reemerged as a serious practice in Western Europe. Scholars such as Norman Cohn have pointed to the example Rome set for the medieval world and argues that the same techniques used by the Church to deal with heretics had precedent among, ironically, the Roman persecution of Christians. More to the point, he argues that, while "financial greed and conscious sadism" were certainly aspects of these torturous trials, the real motivation was religious zeal, and that torture as a practice was not only legitimate but a necessity, because it was required to extricate the devils from the perpetrators. The practical implications here are the most suspect, but unfortunately, the historical record of common people from pre-modern times is usually scant. There do exist, however, some telling examples of the futility of torture as a reliable tool for information gathering. One occurs in 1587, when the mid-wife and widow Walpurgia confessed, under considerable duress to copulating with the devil, denying the name of Christ, terminating pregnancies with a magical ointment, and a number of other fantastical crimes that she certainly did not commit. Her case is representative of a great many witchcraft trials from the late 16th and early 17th centuries: a woman, usually older, sometimes illiterate and oftentimes a widow or mid-wife, is accused by men of the same socio-economic class, authorities (usually secular in England and religious on the Continent) are called, and under torture, patently false accusations are confessed to after which the persecuted person is put to death (usually by hanging in England and by burning at the stake on the Continent). From the hand of Junius, a male accused of witchcraft in 1628, we have an actual letter written to his daughter and smuggled out of his prison detailing the torture he endured: "Innocent have I come to prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent I must die. For whoever comes into the witch prison tortured until he invents something out of his head. When I was the first time put to the torture...I said 'I am no witch, I have a pure conscience on the matter; if there are a thousand witnesses, I am not anxious.' And then came also--God in highest heaven have mercy--the executioner, and put the thumb-screws on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood ran out at the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing.... Thereafter they stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up in the [strappado]. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end; eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony.... And so I made my confession...but it was all a lie."

The methods have little changed over the years, and neither have the results.

The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what's best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand...

-Rush, "Witch Hunt"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Some Post-Inauguration Thoughts

So, I'm sure that everyone on the blogosphere has been writing about this, and it's an extraordinarily unoriginal topic, but I thought I'd write a short note about the Obama inauguration and the politics of the past few months/next few years in general. It's difficult to put into words how January 20th made me feel: on the one hand, I couldn't happier that the Bush years are finally, FINALLY, over and the fact that he's being replaced in one of the most historic ways imaginable is just icing on the proverbial cake. But it was also a day with a gnawing in the back of my mind that there is no possible way that Obama can live up to all the expectations this nation has of him. Has any other president come to office with such lofty goals, most of which have been projected onto him by a populace yearning for a leader? I had to remind myself over an over again during the election, as I projected my own hopes and dreams onto him, that he was not a messiah but a politician, and given my usually cynical disposition regarding American politics, this was constant reality-checker. I do think Obama will be a good president, but with a system as dependent on money and the pursuit of power, can any politician, even the righteous, survive without making moral compromises? I got emotional on election night as the results came in and immediately felt bad for letting personal feelings triumph intellect in an arena which should be reserved for rational thinking. Then again, after eight years of irrationality, I'm willing to let my emotions receive some benefit of the doubt. The 20th was no exception and I found myself getting emotional in the oddest moments, notably John Williams' absolutely gorgeous arrangement of Copland's "Simple Gifts". But as a good citizen, I feel I must not let my admiration of the man get in the way of my better judgment and not prevent me from recognizing mistakes and missteps, as I'm sure there will be some.

We shouldn't forget that Obama won in large part due to the economic crisis, the nation's intense distaste for the Bush administration, and the ineffectiveness of the McCain campaign. Certainly, he was an extremely strong candidate, appealing to disparate groups and spawning the greatest grassroots organization in the history of the Internet, but I can't help but think that the election would have been much closer were it not for the former factors. Politically-speaking, I'm not sure this is a "transformational" election or not and I'm not sure we can know until it recedes into history, though, for obvious reasons, it is an historic election. Randy mentioned the other day how perturbed he was that the 4th graders in his class didn't appreciate the "enormity" of this inauguration, but in a sense, I think for the future this is a good thing, because the more "normal" the election of an African-American to the presidency seems the better.

A few things I found especially interesting about this election (I know it's about two and half months late for this discussion, but I wasn't blogging in November so humor me): Obama did better than John Kerry among every demographic in the country except gays and voters over 65. The gay vote may have been due to the fact that overall, Obama has been less vocal about this issue that Kerry was, and by the fact that, other than California's Proposition 8, gay rights was not promoted as a national issue to the extent that it was in 2004. The lower numbers of Democratic voters over 65 is the only instance I've seen that racism may have played a role in the election (I have seen no convincing data that it was direct result of racism--after all, it could simply be that, with McCain's age, the elderly identified more with him). If it was race, it probably means that once the generation born in the pre-Civil Rights era begins to die off, racism as a factor in elections will have become significantly marginalized.

I also wonder where Republicans will go from here, and I think they are now certainly as weak as they have been since before 1980, but the reports of their utter demise have been drastically overstated. The unilateral arrogance of neoconservative foreign policy has likely run its course, but the ideals of small government and lower taxes are not simply going to go quietly into the night. If I may play conservative's advocate for a moment, my worries as a Republican would be not in the future of the party but in the make-up of it. Watch McCain's concession speech. One of the most noticeable differences between the crowd there and any crowd at an Obama speech is it's lack of diversity. Whites made up 74% of the elctorate in 2008, its lowest number ever in a US election, and whites were the only racial demographic to vote for McCain over Obama. These numbers will only continue to decline as blacks, Latinos, and Asians compose more and more of the population of America, to the point that, somewhere between 2040 and 2050, people of European descent are expected to make up less than 50% of the US population for the first time ever. If Republicans can't find a way to reach out to and appeal to people of all colors, they run the very dangerous risk of becoming nothing more than a jingoist, neo-imperialist party and descend into irrelevancy.

All in all, I'm very hopeful and excited about the next four years, and though I expect to be underwhelmed by the results at times, I can't deny that I have never been this excited about a politician in my lifetime. This marks the first time ever that I have actually voted for the person who won the presidency, so this is also the first time in which I feel like I have some personal stake in how well he does. Here's hoping...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Clash of Civilizations or Ignorance? Pt. 3

"Civilizations die of suicide, not murder." -Arnold Toynbee

In his rebuttal to all of the rebuttals, Samuel Huntington responds to his critics by asking "if not a conflict of civilization, then what?" He primarily criticizes his detractors for not offering an alternative paradigm for understanding post-Cold War global politics. Utilizing Thomas Kuhn's famous theory of paradigm shifts from his seminal work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Huntington harnesses the scientific theory for the purposes of his political one. In Kuhn's words it states that for a theory "to be accepted as a paradigm, [it] must seem better than its competitors, but it need not, and in fact never does, explain all the facts with which it is confronted." Huntington seems to specifically emphasize this final point, noting that his political paradigm does not explain all of the facts, but that it does explain more of the facts and does so better than any other. However, though I am no Kuhnian, I would imagine if Kuhn were alive today, he would make mention of the fact that "truth," whatever vague concept we might imagine that to be, also need not be the prime criterion for a theory to be accepted. According to Kuhn, Copernicus's view of the heliocentric universe was not "right" because it was "true," it was "right" because it satisfied more data than the prevailing geocentric model. If we extend this metaphor to Huntington, it means that his thesis of civilizational conflict is also not "true" in the metaphysical sense, but Huntington believes that it satisfies more evidence than any other conceptual construct. The danger of this simplistic thinking is, of course, that it fails to concede that cultures and civilizations are all pluralistic, dynamic, and constantly changing. Pigeonholing and segregating the world's cultures into distinctly definable, edifying, and oppositional models simply does not account for the most realistic view of the world: an increasingly interconnected, diverse, and, yes, dangerous place.

Huntington does, perhaps reluctantly, admit that his theory has its flaws and that as a predictor, it may be untenable (he give the example of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 as a paradigm-breaker). But, holding true to the Kuhnian motor of his argument, he maintains almost defensively that his theory describes the world far better than any competing theory can or will. The two primary adversaries to his exemplar are what he calls the "statist paradigm," which he calls a "pseudo-alternative," and the "one-world paradigm," which he calls an "unreal alternative." The former theory continues the 20th century model of a world dominated by nation states as the primary bearers of power, but he rather effectively squashes this by asserting that his civilizational theory already accomodates this viewpoint and that, while nations will continue to be the primary actors on the global stage, they will do so within the context of their own civilizations. The second theory, which he completely rejects, states that a universal civilization is emerging or will emerge in the near future that will override other civilizations as the primary identifier. Certainly, this is not a viable surrogate for Huntington's theories, but it at least accounts for some of the complexities of civilizational encounters.

I think that a more likely alternative, and one which sadly I do not see expressed as much as I imagine it should be, is one that envisions a complex relationship among states, political groups, corporations, economic organizations and other entities the interplay amongst which could give rise to a lessening of conflict, a reduction of genocide and preventable disease, and the creation of a sustainable global economy and energy policy. Certainly, this may sound pie-in-the-sky and a description of the role that, presumably, the UN is supposed to play. But what I am proposing as an "alternative paradigm," if I am to play into Huntington's chimerical exercise, is a view of global politics that emphasizes the commonalities amongst all peoples around the globe, and I don't mean that in a "deep-down-we're-all-the-same" type of way. What I mean is that the interconnectedness of the global economic superstructure, the interconnectedness of the global communications network, and the fact that environmentally, all nations, cultures, and civilizations are effected by the actions of everyone else, supercede anything a "conflict of civilizations" can explain. This complex interconnectedness will describe the future conflicts that will surely occur once we begin to scramble for things such as basic energy, arable land, and water (Could the Iraq War be a shot across the bow?). Though Marxist and neo-Marxist historiography strikes me as a bit too self-consciously fatalistic and deterministic, the assessment that many conflicts throughout history may be viewed as a struggle for economic gain is not that far off the mark. One of the problems with their solutions is that it narrowly envisions "economics" as only the story of class struggle. The 21st century requires recasting and re-imagining the major struggles across the globe as not just "striving for more" in a monetary sense but, to use Huntington's term, as a "clash" between groups attempting to meet energy, agricultural, and environmental needs.

It would also behoove us to understand how much conflict has changed in such a short time. Huntington's thesis implies that global conflict is inevitable and predicts that the alignments will follow a civilizational pattern. This may be so, but it will not be simply because they are from the same civilization. It will likely be based as much on historical partnership and geographical and political commonalities as it is on language and religion. But conflict today is not what it once was. Gone are the days when soldiers from comparably equipped armies duked it out over battlefields and the winner was determined by who didn't retreat or who lost fewer soldiers. In a sense, this ended with World War II, and indeed most of the wars since then have been asymmetrical: the UN conflict in Korea, the United States in Vietnam, the French in Algeria, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. In almost all cases the country who has started the war has lost, the more technologically advanced army has failed, and the country on whose soil the war was fought has won. The reality of asymmetrical war has been described more aptly elsewhere, and I will not attempt to rehash it here, but suffice to say that the future of warfare in the near future appears to be certainly asymmetrical, and the supposedly great ideological struggle of our time, the War on Terror, certainly fits that mold. (In fact, Gary Brecher, the "war nerd", describes only two major instances in the last half century of what we think of as traditional war: Ethiopia's conflicts with Somalia and Eritrea in the 1980s and 90s in the Horn of Africa and the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s--I might add the ongoing Congolese Civil War.) The point is that a clash of civilizations does not exactly describe this state of affairs. One such vision of the future that does, at least more so than Huntington's, is Thomas Friedman's description of the interplay among "superpowers, supermarkets [not grocery stores, but electronically-linked financial centers around the world] and super-empowered individuals." Friedman is often sloppy in his thinking, but at least in his basic descriptor, I think he hits the nail on the head. Currently, the United States is the world's sole superpower, but in the coming decades it is likely that this status will be rivaled by a more united Europe and an emerging China and India. And markets do not necessarily have to follow superpowers as places like London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Singapore, and Seoul wield considerable economic clout independent of the power of thier respective states. And, the biggest wildcard is what Friedman calls the "super-empowered individual," who through increased communication tools, increased knowledge of global interconnectedness, and increased access and exposure to global news may enact change for good, such as Muhammed Yunus and his micro-economic theories enabling the poor to get small loans in the Third World, or for ill, such as Osama bin Laden and the network of al-Qaeda.

So, where does civilization fit into all of this? As intangible as it is, "civilization" is real and is certainly an important factor in the global structure. Perhaps it is better to talk about Civilization with a capital "C"--that is, the entirety of human civilization, even if that is as intangible, if not more so, than civilization with a lowercase "c". If we return to Toynbee once more, he says the lifetime and the prosperity of civilizations depends upon their ability to respond to challenges such as "hard country, new ground, blows, pressures [both internal and external], and penalizations." Certainly, these types of stimuli seem to be more applicable to the various civilizations around the world, however we may define them. A more modern approach, and one that enmeshes better with the interpretation of an interconnected world, is the one on display in Jared Diamond's marvelous book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Diamond's concern is nothing less than Civilization with a capital "C" and the warning that, for the first time in the history of the world, we as a single global community face the same possibilty of collapse that dozens of societies have faced in the past. Except of course, the stakes are far higher--about seven billion times higher. According to Diamond, several of the most spectacular civilizational collapses in the past--from Easter Island to the Anasazi to the Maya to the Greenland Viking--have occured because of an inability or, more alarmingly, an unwillingness of the society to deal with its environmental problems. Perhaps, if there is a "clash of civilizations" as Huntington seems so keen on, it will take the form of a fight for survival, as more arid countries (from the Sahel, the Middle East, Central Asia) fight wars over water while the great energy consumers (the US, Europe, China, India) may fight for dwindling energy sources. Indeed, all of our most pressing challenges are now global. The "clash of civilizations", if we are to survive as a species, as a Civilization, may have to become a war for sustainability in agriculture, energy, and economics. And this clash is one that will be more easily won if the civilizations of the world can actually work together.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Clash of Civilizations or Ignorance? Pt. 2

So, what is a civilization? I may have breezed over that question a bit too quickly in the previous post, but I believe it is at the core of Huntington's argument. "Civilization" is often used synonymously with "culture" but I don't believe this is what Huntington means. If this is the case, he could theoretically be talking about the differences between Western civilization and the Guarani Indians of South America or the Ainu of the northern Japanese islands or Hippies or the manga/anime lovers across the United States. All could legitimately be called "cultures." Civilization means something both much broader than these subsets but also much more specific: to Huntington, it seems to be about the relationships amongst several specific aspects of culture that constitutes specific civilizations. He enlarges his circle of definition to the point at which he feels he can enlarge it no further without somehow redefining his meaning. Like Toynbee, Huntington views religion as the single most important defining characteristic of any given civilization.

Let us examine some glaring fallacies is his own definition. First of all, if religion is the most important determining factor in the delineation of civilizations, how does he explain the division of Western Christianity from Orthodox Christianity? (Again, here is the map.) Certainly, there are major distinctions between the two branches--culturally, hierarchically, historically, linguistically--but how much more distinct are they from one another than between Catholicism and Protestantism, the two primary divisions of Western Christianity? Have these divisions not caused extraordinary conflicts (the Thirty Years War, conflicts in Northern Ireland)? What distinguishes these as "inter-civilizational conflicts" versus wars between Eastern and Western Christians? Similarly, Latin America is predominantly Catholic, yet is considered its own civilization. Does ethnicity, geography, and political ideology abrogate religion in this instance? And what about other religions? Why is Islamic civilization unified? The distinctions between the Shi'ite and Sunni versions have been the source of numerous conflicts, and continue to do so today. What overriding issues have caused Huntington to keep Iran (distinct from Arabs ethnically and culturally and the majority of Islam religiously) in the civilization of Islam, but not keep Greece or Bulgaria in the West? Is Huntington saying that Malaysian Muslims have more in common with Moroccan Berbers than with a Malaysian Buddhist? The ubiquity of proselytizing religions around the world also confounds this theory. Millions of Christians live under neither Western nor Orthodox nor Latin American civilization. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Korea, Israel, and other Middle Eastern nations (the Ahl al-Kitab) are home to many Christians, several of whom do not fit neatly into the Western/Orthodox dichotomy. Are these people somehow unwitting expatriates of one of the previous three civilizations or are they anomalies of "their own" civilizations? America, the most multi-cultural nation on the planet, contains significant populations from all of Huntington's civilizations, and I think the vast majority of them would identify themselves as much as Americans as they would identify themselves with wherever else it is they come from. Huntington views Mexican immigration into the U.S. and African and Middle Eastern immigration into Europe as an example of a clash of civilizations rather than a domestic issue that can be resolved through domestic means.

There are no neat answers to these questions, just as there are no neat divisions between civilizations. Is civilization like obscenity: something which has no specific definition, but something which one will know when one sees? Or can the entire concept be subjected to the structuralist abstract of binary opposition, with a definition something akin to Ursula K. Le Guin's statement that "Primitiveness and civilizations are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war." The greatest critique of Huntington's thesis has been made by the inimitable intellectual and cultural critic Edward Said. His article for The Nation, "The Clash of Ignorance," which informs the second part of this post's title, convincingly dismantles many of the primary cornerstones of Huntington's contentions. He especially derides Huntington's failure to imagine a complex world where black and white divisions do not exist as many would like to believe and chides him for having little "time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization, or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization." Indeed, it does. Said spends most of the article, however, not offering an alternative to Huntington's way of thinking, but by affronting the "us-vs.-them," "ours and theirs" mentality. In the aftermath of 9/11, he asks if Osama bin Laden's followers have more in common with the Branch Davidians, Timothy McVeigh, or the Reverend Jim Jones rather than with Islamic nations supposedly belligerent to "the West". Said implicitly asserts that the dangers posed by these types of threats are related not to culture or civilization at all, but to the pitfalls of fundamentalism; and the irony is that the mutual hatred shared between radical Islam and the fundamentalist Right of the West (and the U.S. in particular) is between two groups who are, with the exception of religion, ideologically congruent.

In the final post, I will attempt to answer a question, as best I can, that Huntington himself poses in his rebuttal to all of the rebuttals: If not a clash between civilizations, then what? Certainly, as erudite as Said's rejoinder is, it certainly does not offer another conceptual framework with which to imagine a "new world order." I don't think that's Said's style. But it is mine, and I'd like to explore, though not necessarily extrapolate, another vision of the future, taking into consideration some things that Huntingon ignores such as environmental concerns, issues of sustainability and energy needs, and the increasingly globalized economic system, as global politics unfolds into the 21st century.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Clash of Civilizations or Ignorance? Pt. 1

Perhaps it was fate that Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order fell into my reading pile when it did, the day after Christmas. It's been on my list of interests for several years now, since I first heard of it in the aftermath of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. I actually read several rebuttals of it before I read the actual article by Huntington in Foreign Affairs magazine, upon which the book is based, and the concept has intrigued me ever since. Huntington died on Christmas Eve of 2008 and I began reading shortly after the fact.

The reason it's come to the forefront of my mind is that, for years, I had heard nearly everyone I knew who had read or read about this article or book, describe it as a legitimizer of the neoconservative version of foreign policy, or at least of the theory that Western civilization was at its core mortally and naturally opposed to the civilization of Islam, and that the new 21st century wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were manifestations of this concept. Huntington himself seems not to be a neoconservative (he used to work for the Carter administration), but he certainly is a war-hawk and Westophile who believes in a pseuodo-colonial way that the West is the best and it's therefore the West's goal to preserve the essential values of our civilization at all costs, even if this means the utter destruction of other civilizations in our way. Needless to say, I immediately plunged into this book, trying to keep an open mind despite the knowledge about the author and topic I had going in. Here's part one, of what I hope to be a three part series of my analysis of the book:

The thesis of Huntington's argument is that the ideological struggle between capitalist liberal democracies and authoritarian communism was an aberration of global politics and that the end of the Cold War marked a return to the "natural" state of political struggles on the planet which takes the form of a clash of civilizations. Huntington's definition of civilizations is a bit murkier, and he borrows a bit haphazardly from the likes of Braudel, Spengler, McNiell, Durkheim, and others, but in the end he seems to draw mostly from Toynbee--that civilizations are the broadest cultural entities with which one can identify. That is, I can identify myself as a Midwesterner who has some differences from a Californian, but we both may identify ourselves as Americans with more in common with each other than, say, a German. But, Germans and Americans, drawing from the same cultural well, have more in common with each other than a Westerner does with someone from China or the Middle East. He argues that commonalities between people beyond the civilizational level are essentially biological and that the common objective elements that help to define a civilization include language, history, religion, customs, etc. Huntington argues that throughout most of history the principle fault-lines of conflict have not been ideological, as they were in both World Wars and the Cold War, but civilizational, as it has been with Western European conflicts with the Islamic world in the Middle Ages, between subcontinental Indians and Muslims during the Islamic expansion, between China and the Buddhist kingdoms to its South and West, and between European colonists and the Africans and Native Americans displaced by their settlement. With the fall of communism throughout most of the world, Huntington contends throughout the bulk of this book that the struggle between civilizations is about to ascend back to the top as the force behind foreign policy decisions the world over.

In many ways, this book reads as a rebuttal of Francis Fukayama's other neoconservative theory concerning global politics, enunciated in his book The End of History and the Last Man. Fukayama's argument was that, with the fall of the communism, the world had entered a sort of final stage in political and ideological eveolution in which liberal democracy and the free-market system had proved themselves as the penultimate form of human government and economics; and history was effectively over, insofar as history could be defined as a teleological progression from hunter-gather society through successions of monarchies, various forms of feudalism, nationalism, and all the other -isms that pervaded global political structures. As ludicrous as this sounds, it was taken seriously for a brief period by many intellectuals in the late 80s and early 90s. While Huntinton's arguments obviously have their drawbacks, among policy wonks and conservative thinkers, his concept of civilizational conflict filled in the gaps in thought that Fukayama seemed to forget about--the cultural, linguistic, and religious divisions that were, in his mind, far more important than political and economic ideologies. In that, at least, Huntington seems to be right.

Where he fails to understand or even imagine a different type fo world, is in his lack of a coherent understanding of what makes a civilization. What is a civilization? In the broadest historical and etymological sense, the word civilizations derives from the Latin word civitas which means "city" and replaced the Latin word urbs, the original word for a city. The reason for this replacement seems to have been prestige oriented, perhaps because of the notion of citizenship in the Roman Empire. Civitas came from the word civis which meant a city-dweller. In any case, the early meaning of the word "civilization" which did not appear in the English language until 1704, certainly connoted a society that reached a pinnacle in which surplus of food and an organized class structure had created a hierarchy where the building of cities, the creations of laws, the maintaining of a professional army, and so on had been achieved. This implicitly leaves out any society in which city building and complex structuring of social relations had not been achieved, and indeed, Europeans during the Age of Discovery did not regard any of the peoples with whom they came into contact, such as Native American and African tribes, as civilized. At the very least, the cultures of China, India, and the Middle East, though they were thought of as lesser peoples thatn those of Europe, were at least regarded as civilized. Henry Kissinger once said that "History is the story of states" and by this he seemed to mean, as Huntington does, that only civilizations are worthy of having their stories told. The problem with this, of course, is that it purposely leaves out the stories of all the peoples and cultures in the world, a great many of which did not encounter "civilization" until relatively recent times.

Throughout the first several sections of the book, I failed to see what was so neoconservative about Huntington's argument. In fact, I failed to see what was so political about it at all. Despite the fact that Huntington is a professor of strategic and international studies and the book is marketed as "political science," it reads much more like world history, and for the first several chapters I felt like I was reading a late twentieth century equivalent of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. Toynbee, like Huntington, was concerned with the division of the world into clear-cut and unambiguous civilizations, and he spends the majority of his magnum opus describing contemporary and historical civilizations. Western, for example, is described as beginning somewhere between the fourth and eighth centuries, as the Classical civilization of Rome and Greece came to end. Western civilization was a synthesis of this civilization with Germanic culture and Christian religion. This is mostly true and is in line with most medievalists visions of a creation of a particularly European society distinct from the Mediterranean oriented society of the previous several centuries. So, what are today's civilization that Huntington views as so black-and-white?

As this map shows, Huntington divides the world into fairly recognizable patterns of culture, language, religion, and geography. The West is made up of Western Europe, North America above the Rio Grande, Australia, and New Zealand; Islamic encompassed all regions where Islam is the dominant relgion, including places like Indonesia and parts of India and the Philippines; Orthodox civilization includes Russia and the other Orthodox Christian countries in Eastern Europe, and so on. Notice that civilizational lines do not necessarily correspond with national boundaries, and this is especially apparent in the line between Islam and African civilizations in the Southern Sahara and in the Sinic and Buddhist civilizations in Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau. As the book progresses, Huntington gives more and more analyses, criticisms, and predictions of the future of global conflict, and most of them revolve around intercivilizational conflicts. The book was published in 1996, well before the election of George W. Bush, 9/11, and the Iraq War, and in light of the direction of US foreign policy over the past eight years, many have hailed Huntington's prescience as nearly prophetic and many, especially those on the right, have embraced the concept of civilizational clash as the new motivating factor of politics and indeed, history in general. Bush's "with us or against us" attitude has unfortunately given credence to the more pessimistic and culturist facets of Huntington's arguments, and for some, the "War on Terror" is seen as a substitute for a more direct War on Islam. In my next post, I plan on deconstructing some of Huntington's specifc arguments, describing some fallacies, bringing light to some rebuttals, and giving Huntington's rebuttal of the rebuttals a closer look.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Reading Habits of Highly (Un)Effective People

I've been thinking about my reading habits lately, primarily because after some reflection, I can't remember the last book I read cover to cover. I think it was Elaine Pagels and Karen King's Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. A good book. Pagels, more than just about any other writer on theological topics, is capable of distilling information on extremely complex topics and elucidating them in simple language. However, sometimes this asset can be a weakness. I definitely wanted to hear more about how Judas was special because of his mission to hand Jesus over to the authorities, as some Gnostics and other non-Orthodox groups in the second century believed. If Jesus had to die to atone for human sins, I feel like this makes an exegesis of Judas' mission essential, and in light of the newly discovered (relatively speaking) gospel, it makes sense that some early Christians would view Judas as special--after all, he had to die for the cause just as Jesus did. Unfortunately, Pagles concerns herself less with a literary/critical interpretation and focuses on the more the political and social arguments raging amongst Christians at during the second century: the role of martyrs and martyrdom, the reasons provided by Christian apologists for Christ's death, etc. Normally, I'd be more interested in these historical aspects, but I've read several other works detailing those issues, and very few scholars do exegesis better than Pagels. But I digress...

The point is that I think I finished that book in August or September 2008 and even though I've read a ton since then, I don't think I've started on page one and ended on the last page of any of the books I've picked up. When I was younger, this was intolerable. When I started reading a book, it was a point of personal pride or possibly even a mild obsession that I finish the book. I once told this to my high school librarian and she nodded knowingly, saying she too had once been a compulsive start-to-finish reader but learned over time that there were simply too many good books out there to waste any time on the bad ones. I resolved then to allow myself the pleasure of saying "no thanks" and closing the book forever. This was back when essentially all I read was fiction. Now, however, fiction makes up probably somewhere between 10 and 15% of my reading list as history, philosophy, and science have taken over the bulk of books in my "to read" pile. This makes it more difficult to read books all the way through since with non-fiction it's much less a necessity than with fiction.

But that's not really the whole story. The real change in my reading habits, and what tends to prevent me from finishing things, is (drum roll please) the internet. I sit online reading stuff all the time. News articles, wikipedia articles, silly internet joke sites, stuff from JSTOR, blogs, Facebook posts, you name it. The hypertextuality and structureless randomness of surfing means that I retain less of what I read and that finality, that sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a book, is lacking. Has the instant gratification that comes with internet surfing turned even we voracious readers into mindless information consumers? I just started using Google Reader a few days ago and I think I read no fewer 25 articles yesterday. Maybe this will provide some semblance of structure but I doubt it. I don't begrudge the internet or feel that the medium is somehow less worthy than a book, but so far, nothing has replaced ink on dead trees for me. Unlike a book, you can't "finish the internet." Or can you? I'm currently reading Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order and it seems a likely candidate to be the next book I read to the end. Maybe I'll blog about that next...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Personal Statement

Here is the personal statement template I'm using for my application to graduate schools. Since every school asks for something slightly different, I'm trying to tailor each one to fit the specifications of each school. I thought I'd throw this out there in order to further demonstrate my goals and interests. Of course, any criticism/commentary is welcome.

I began my undergraduate career as a Journalism major for two reasons--firstly, because I was extremely interested in how the world functions, and secondly, because I simply loved to write. However, the deeper I immersed myself into the world of global events, the less I felt I understood them. By discovering a deeper awareness of historical perspective through the myriad history classes available at Indiana University, the world began to make sense as a consequence of all previous events and ideas. History's bearings on modern global issues--such as Western/Islamic relations and the perceived clash between institutionalized science and religion--facilitated a greater understanding of William Faulkner's dictum, "The past is not dead; in fact, it's not even past." Writing and researching history, particularly medieval history, became very natural to me, and I have decided that my ultimate goals lie in the research, writing, and teaching of history at the college level.

I am especially intrigued by the social and intellectual history of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages; the history of science and its relationship with religion and particularly the institutional Church; and the history of proto-sciences such as astrology and alchemy, their legal and moral statuses, and the change in scholarly attitude toward them in the late medieval and early modern era. Delving into how Western culture as a whole was able to reconcile its Greco-Roman heritage of empirical natural philosophy with Christian theology and how practitioners of these proto-sciences were able to justify their ideas in the face of censuring secular and religious authorities endlessly fascinates me. The synthesis and acceptance or qualified rejection among these varieties of medieval scholarship constitutes an important area of inquiry to which I ardently wish to contribute.

Historiographically, I would like to conduct a deeper examination of the Draper-White Conflict thesis of medieval science and understand more fully the rejection made by modern-day scholars such as David Lindbergh and Ronald Numbers. Questioning the methods of knowledge dissemination is also a keen interest of mine: How did conflict and cross-cultural encounters affect the reception and diffusion of scientific and philosophical ideas beginning especially in the twelfth century? In what ways did Western European contact with the Islamic world following the Crusades shape the sources of knowledge? I also look forward to exploring modes of critical analysis based on theories applicable to historical study. For example, can Thomas Kuhn's concept of paradigm shifts be applied to pre-Revolutionary science? Did the conceptual basis of medieval science change significantly within the Christian theological and cosmological framework when presented with new information, or was the prevailing schema too rigid to accommodate for dissenting ideas? Can the model of Jungian archetypes be applied to the construction of grandiose historical figures in medieval primary sources, such as Eusebius' Life of Constantine, Einhard's Life of Charlemagne, or Jean de Joinville's Life of St. Louis?

Professionally, I have been employed as an instructor of percussion for a total of five years and as a substitute teacher in language arts and social studies at several high schools for two years and have gained valuable experience in classroom instruction, mentoring, and leadership that I believe will be of tremendous significance as a potential history professor. Additionally, I have two years experience as a research editor, and this has reinforced my writing, revising, editing, and researching strengths. During my four undergraduate years, I was fortunate enough to attend an extensive range of classes allied with late antique, medieval, and early modern Western history across a broad spectrum of departments including not only History but also English, Comparative Literature, the History and Philosophy of Science, and the Medieval Studies Departments. In spite of my diverse interests, I heartily believe, as Malcolm X said, that of all our endeavours, "history is best suited to reward our research." Under the focused auspices of a History Master's program, I intend to bolster my credentials for application into a PhD program best suited to my interests and goals, and hopefully contribute to the scholarly success of that department.


This is my first blog. I used to keep a journal, several times, but it never quite stuck and I could never quite keep up with it. I hope this changes. I'm starting this blog for a few reasons. Firstly, though I tend not to make (or keep) New Year's resolutions, I resolved this year to start a blog because it's been a while since I've written anything other than Facebook posts, emails, or research papers, and a blog will give me the chance to jot down whatever. Secondly, I think that this is probably as good a way for my friends to keep up with my life as social networking is, and this will actually give them some insight into my thoughts and actions than the superficiality that Facebook affords. Finally, my girlfriend Kirsten is about to graduate with a Matser's degree in Speech-Language pathology and enter the real world and I am (presumably) about to begin my graduate school career and retreat from the real world (presumably) so in any case, our lives are about to change drastically, and the stability of sitting down at my computer semi-regularly and pecking out some thoughts seems like it will be a good catharsis. So, here's the format:

The Title

The title, "Conversations with Philemon," refers to the most important figure Carl Jung is said to have conversed with in his "confrontations with the unconscious." The phenomenon entails actually participating in one's dream or fantasy life to the point that literal conversations within one's own psyche can occur. The structure of the unconscious, according to Jung, is such that archetypes common to all cultures (the elderly guide, the reluctant hero, etc.) manifest themselves in our unconscious and are used as templates for all sorts of literary and personal creations--from myths and folklore to Star Wars to the figures we meet in our dreams. "Myths are public dreams; dreams, private myths." One figure for Jung was Philemon, specifically the incarnation of Philemon from Goethe's Faust, based on the Baucis and Philemon story from Greek myth. Through Philemon, Jung began to regard his own thoughts not necessarily as products he had created but a reality within himself that was dynamic and could be explored in much the same way Livingston explored Africa or Armstrong explored the moon. This reality, while subjective, could be investigated as if it were objective by conversing with these mythic figures in our own unconscious. As fas as my blog is concerned, I'm attempting to treat it as a dialogue or conversation with my own psyche, filtering the exterior through the interior.

The Objective

The objective of my blog is the objective of any blog I suppose: to record my thoughts. But I feel some caveats are appropriate. Though I don't want to limit myself in any way, what I'm going for in this blog is an intellectual conversation, with myself and anyone else who want to participate, about everything that interests me. Primarily, I imagine I'll write a lot about history and historical issues, topics on medieval thought and antiquity, philosophical issues (especially metaphysics and epistemology), the philosophy of science and in particular science/religion issues, and Jungian psychology, particularly the psychology of mythology. I'd like to keep the blog at least somewhat topical, though the more and more I read and surf the web, the further my interests move from the here and now. Is anyone still reading? I guess in general, I want the blog to be "intellectual," whatever that vague and somewhat pretentious term means. So, no topic is off the table, but I'll likely never write much of anything that can't be discussed intelligently. Think Underground article (for those who knew me from high school)/newspaper editorial with an even more personal bent, plus research paper with personal annotations included.

The Anti-objective

I suppose what I'm trying to avoid is two things: simple descriptions about what happened to me today and random thoughts without context. I'm not against those types of blogs at all, it's just not what I'm terribly interested in wrting about (or thinking about for that matter). If you couldn't tell from my profile and the previous thousand words or so, I'm a Jungian, and I feel the need to contextualize all of my thoughts with the greater collective unconscious that is our human culture. I used to despair at the idea that "nothing's new under the sun" but now I take comfort in the fact that we are all connected in some way by the structure of our minds. I'm sure that there will be plenty of times where simply relating the events of the day will be informative and the sort of self-reflection I'll need to make sense of everything. For now though, be prepared for tirades on medieval nominalism, the necessity of falsificationism, Chomsky's views on anarcho-syndicalism, and interpretations of synchronistic events in my own life. Seriously, is anyone still reading?