All posts by history

Great Expectations

Just finished Great Expectations. First time I’ve read it since the fall of 1982. I have little memory of the book save for the charismatic English teacher who walked us through the early portion.

My highlights courtesy of kindle…

Great Piece on G Whitmer

The whole article/interview is excellent. I particularly appreciated these paragraphs near the end of the piece:

How did America arrive at this moment? Ronald Reagan famously cracked that the nine scariest words in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What started as a joke about federal overreach metastasized across the decades; government was not only inefficient, but unnecessary, suspect and even dangerous. This antigovernment posture was embraced by many in government itself. Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration that “the era of big government is over” became self-fulfilling: The less trust Americans had in the ability of government to take care of them, the less government was in fact able to do so. Failure bred cynicism, which bred disengagement. Big government became all government. By the time the pandemic hit, America had elected a president who was himself openly contemptuous of the very notion of good government.

The next paragraph begins with this sentence:

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by the virus could only be met by strong federal leadership.

Rewritten:

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by racial inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by educational inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented economic inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It has taken so long.

Two other pieces address this notion from a historical perspective. Why, with so many issues, does it apparently take a long, long time?

One, Nikole Hannah-Jones on reparations.

Two, Jill Lepore on commissions formed after civil disorder.

Protests and movements

Taylor Branch from yesterday’s paper:

“A movement is different from a demonstration,” said Taylor Branch, a historian of the civil rights era.

“It’s not automatic — it’s the opposite of automatic,” he said, “that a demonstration in the street is going to lead to a movement that engages enough people, and has a clear enough goal that it has a chance to become institutionalized, like the Voting Rights Act.”

Here is Ibram Kendi from How to be antiracist:

Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York: One World Books, 2019), 215-216.

The White Whale

I love these sorts of articles, where a writer uses a book you haven’t read in a few years to explain the world.

Melville feverishly scribbled a diagnosis, prognosis and prescription for the human condition. We are all Ishmael the ingénue and Starbuck the pragmatist and Ahab the maniac, stuck on a ship driven by winds we cannot predict, helmed by a mind not fully comprehensible, whose compulsions we don’t control. The world is an elusive whale; we might choose coexistence or destruction. And though we do not decide the outcome, the hands on those oars are ours; each stroke invites consequences. And lest we overlook the obvious: The men went equipped to do harm in their quest for — oil. If we are all Ishmael and Starbuck and Ahab, caught in our collective addiction, the whales exemplify a counterculture, a way of living weightlessly, of not draining the world that floats them.

Carl Safina, “Melville’s Whale Was a Warning We Failed to Heed,” The New York Times, May 2, 2020, sec. Books, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/books/review/herman-melville-moby-dick.html.