I have a new piece out – my thoughts on Hagia Sophia’s (re)conversion into a mosque.
Today is the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene. I love this image of her, by Italian artist Carlo Crivelli, circa 1470. She is giving some excellent side-eye. FYI, this is a detail of a larger painting.
Maybe we should enlarge the lens. Frankly, I’m weary of the whole category ‘white people’, which throws folks of wildly different backgrounds, from Russians to Jews to Scots, into one big indiscriminate pot. So let’s talk about people, full stop. As a species, we’ve been treating each other like shit from the year dot. The horrors to which we’ve subjected one another, including slavery but a great deal else, are so incomprehensibly dreadful that no one, as an individual, could conceivably bear the crushing weight of all that torture, mass murder and sadism. If guilt is inherited, then every last one of us should be condemned to Dante’s nine circles of hell.
None of us chose the world in which we emerged. We didn’t pick our race, sex or natal nationality; any inbuilt leg-up or disadvantage these traits conferred at birth was not of our making. We didn’t select which awful history soaks the ground at our feet. It’s insensible to feel ‘guilty’ or ‘ashamed’ about something you didn’t do. It’s entirely sensible to feel regret, sorrow and abhorrence about the likes of slavery. It’s commendable to be informed about the past and to try to understand the nature of its wretchedness, as it’s also commendable to strain to leave the world a little better than you found it. But claiming that what happened before you were born is all your fault is not only ridiculous. It’s vain.
Dear readers, I am currently in the thick of this amazing book, Hope and Memory: Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Tzvetan Todorov. Here’s an eminently sane Romain Gary quote from the book:
The bombs I dropped on Germany between 1940 and 1944 maybe killed a Rilke or a Goethe or a Holderin in his cradle. And yes, if it had to be done over, I would do it again. Hitler had condemned us to kill. Not even the most just causes are ever innocent.
The great actor Sir Ian Holm died recently. He was wonderful in Chariots of Fire, of course and people tell me he was fine in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I haven’t seen. But the movie I most loved him in was The Emperor’s New Clothes, a movie that imagines Napoleon coming back to France from St. Helena, and not being recognized. The former Emperor, down on his luck, meets and falls in love with a fruit vendor, and decides to help her fix her failing business. This has to be my favourite scene in the film, a moment that captures the importance of leadership and planning. So inspiring – whatever you do, do it well!
I try to take a long walk each day, usually while listening to an audiobook – I learn and burn calories! I occasionally select books I have already read, especially if I remember enjoying them or taking in a lot of information from them. One such book is Niall Ferguson’s Civilization. Here’s a relevant to today’s news (and to other things) paragraph (and a bit):
For some reason, beginning in the late fifteenth century, the little states of Western Europe, with their bastardized linguistic borrowings from Latin (and a little Greek), their religion derived from the teachings of a Jew from Nazareth and their intellectual debts to Oriental mathematics, astronomy and technology, produced a civilization capable not only of conquering the great Oriental empires and subjugating Africa, the Americas and Australasia, but also of converting peoples all over the world to the Western way of life – a conversion achieved ultimately more by the word than by the sword.
There are those who dispute that, claiming that all civilizations are in some sense equal, and that the West cannot claim superiority over, say, the East of Eurasia. But such relativism is demonstrably absurd.
Yeah, listen to him. A voice of sanity in this madness.
Adding to my comments in the post below, I will direct you to John Palmer’s post on the topic. It is worth your time. This last paragraph, in particular, resonates for me. I am reluctant to engage with anyone about this issue (or many others), as I hate the flame wars, but I have rarely unfriended due to differences of opinion.
I’m lucky. I have friends from all over the place, politically, geographically, religiously, racially, LGBTQ-wise, etc. I am confronted by conflicting arguments and flame wars all the time. They upset me and disturb me, but I rarely unfriend or block anyone involved in these events. And yet, they tear me apart inside.