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Category: Commonplacing

Statistics and Tears

In fact, the more who die, sometimes the less we care, [Paul] Slovic said in an interview. In greater numbers, death becomes impersonal, and people feel increasingly hopeless that their actions can have any effect.

Statistics are human beings with tears dried off," Slovic said. "And that’s dangerous because we need tears to motivate us.”

William Wan and Brittany Shammas

Leadership and Trust

Trust is fundamental, reciprocal and, ideally, pervasive. If it is present, anything is possible. If it is absent, nothing is possible. The best leaders trust their followers with the truth, and you know what happens as a result? Their followers trust them back. With that bond, they can do big, hard things together …

George P. Schultz

Children Watching

“The Children Were Watching,” dir. Robert Drew and Richard Leacock, USA 1961, 25 min. — This documentary doesn’t feel as old to me as I wish it did. In part that’s because I watched it in Trump’s America during an especially difficult year, but something deeper is at play. The film’s ongoing relevance represents an ambiguous answer to its directors’ main question: What were the children of a New Orleans neighborhood learning as they watched their parents during the conflicts surrounding school integration in November 1960?

To stand in Mann’s study today, with editions of Goethe and Schiller on the shelves, is to feel pride in the country that took him in and shame for the country that drove him out—not two Americas but one. In this room, the erstwhile “Greatest Living Man of Letters” fell prey to the clammy fear of the hunted. Was the year 1933 about to repeat itself? Would he be detained, interrogated, even imprisoned? In 1952, Mann took a final walk through his house and made his exit. He died in Zurich, in 1955—no longer an émigré German but an American in exile.

— Alex Ross, “The Haunted California Idyll of German Writers in Exile,” The New Yorker, March 9, 2020 issue.

“Naomi [who denounces ‘climate alarmism’] said her political activism was sparked a few years ago when she began asking questions in school about Germany’s liberal immigration policies. She said the backlash from teachers and other students hardened her skepticism about mainstream German thinking.”

— Desmond Butler and Juliet Eilperin, “The Anti-Greta: A Conservative Think Tank Takes on the Global Phenomenon.”


Yes, our cognition is bound up in our social existence, as Ludwik Fleck noted in 1935.

False information gains strength from its roots in stories that make sense to a lot of people; mow down the latest false facts and more will soon sprout until we address those stories themselves—and the reasons people believe them. – Paul, J. Croce, “What We Can Learn from Fake News,” History News Network, July 23, 2017, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/166400.

Blogging

…The iterative practice of regular blogging has its own set of joys. For me, writing begets writing. The blog doesn’t distract from my formal academic or scholarly work. It feeds it. It becomes a form of discipline, like doing sit-ups every morning, a practice I long ago abandoned. My abdominal muscles are flabby, but when I sit down to write, whatever the context, I feel strong.

David Perry, “3 Rules of Academic Blogging,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 11, 2015

Global History’s Blind Spot

From Jeremy Adelman, “What is Global History Now?,” Aeon, March 2, 2017: “Global history preferred a scale that reflected its cosmopolitan self-yearnings. It also implicitly created what the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in Strangers in Their Own Land (2016) called ‘empathy walls’ between globe-trotting liberals and locally rooted provincials. Going global often meant losing contact with – to borrow another of her bons mots – ‘deep stories’ of resentment about loss of and threat to local attachments. The older patriotic narratives had tethered people to a sense of bounded unity.… Read more Global History’s Blind Spot

A hard thing to teach

“What was once seen as standing ‘outside’ history, demanding silent contemplation but resisting explanation or contextualisation, has now been firmly historicised. Comparative genocide studies, histories of colonialism and genocidal violence, studies of western penal practice and more besides have demonstrated that the processes which led to the Holocaust were integral to modern history, not an aberration from it.”

Neil Gregor, “‘To Think is to Compare’: Walther Rathenau, Trump and Hitler,” History Today, February 20, 2017

Assault on Facts and Credibility

All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.

The Russian dissident and chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov drew upon long familiarity with that process when he tweeted: “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”

Charles J. Sykes, ”Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying,“ New York Times, February 4, 2017

Totally Normal

Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinow­ski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”

Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein, and Marc Fisher, “Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump,” The Washington Post, January 31, 2017