Our idea of the self becomes a consumerist one, which means a passive and diminished one. I’m all for jellied eels, but the pleasures of the body are as nothing to the joys of the soul.
Summers in Portland, you can’t walk out the door without tripping over a public festival of one kind or another. Street fairs, art walks, flea markets, farmers markets, parades. There’s Baconfest, the Naked Bike Ride, the Adult Soapbox Derby. There are stilt walkers, buskers, bicycle jousters, Native American drum circles, tumult, commerce, cooking smells, face painting for the kiddies, and the MarchFourth hipster marching band. Some of it may be a little precious, a little self-conscious, a little annoying. But it all adds up to something a lot bigger.
Some years back Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett joined forces for a comic novel about the apocalypse called Good Omens. Almost immediately, fans of this jeu d’esprit, in which the newly born AntiChrist is mixed up at the hospital with an ordinary baby, clamored for a sequel. Though it seems unlikely that such a book will ever be written, the two authors do have a title—664: The Neighbor of the Beast.
It isn’t that I do not wish success to Occupy and what it stands for. It’s just that we’ve been here before—twice in the last 10 years alone. “Everything is different now,” we said after 9/11. Well, everything was different, but not in the ways we thought. There was going to be a new birth of national seriousness, national unity, national purpose. How did that work out? “Everything is different now,” we said after the 2008 election. That was the last time the new progressive era was scheduled to start—so much so that no one seemed to lift a finger after that to make it happen. How did that work out?
To judge from the responses I’ve gotten, Millennials like to define themselves against the baby boomers—in other words, their parents. They fail to see, apparently, just how much they resemble them, for good and ill. The same idealism, the same countercultural mindset, but also the same self-regard, self-absorption, self-congratulation.
The Scholar has assembled select essays and letters in response to the news that the U.S. formally concluded its mission in Iraq today. As always, enjoy.
Point and Shoot by Andy Grundberg. As the Chair of Photography at Corcoran, Mr. Grundberg weighed in on the Abu Ghraib images and their impact on photography.
The Sack of Baghdad by Susannah Rutherglen. An essay on the plunder of the Iraqi National Museum in April 2003 and the beginnings of cultural strife.
Amman: The War Next Door by Ingrid McDonald. A letter exposing the trials of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan as a result of the War.
(Photo via The New York Times)
I was standing, like a good Northwesterner, in the produce section of my locally owned organic-food supermarket—this was a couple of years ago, not long after I had moved to Portland from the New York City area—when I heard a voice in my ear.
“Excuse me,” it said. “You’re a Jew, aren’t you?”
(photo via David Wieprecht)
Most important is the significance we attribute to race and the interpretations we impose on it. When we are told only that a person is, say, Asian-American, we often jump to a whole list of conclusions regarding that person’s looks, intelligence, work ethic, character; we make the same sort of jumps for Native Americans, blacks, and other races. Many things follow from these kneejerk characterizations: whether we will fear or like this person, whether we will wish to have him or her as a neighbor or as a spouse for one of our children—all on the basis of race. In short, we load on to race a great deal of social importance that is not a reflection of the “objective” biological differences that exist. To paraphrase the UNESCO Constitution, racial divisions are made in the minds of men and women, and that is where they will have to be ended.
From Amitai Etzioni’s “Leaving Race Behind,” The American Scholar.
[He] didn’t choose to learn Esperanto, nor did his son, but everyone else at the conference did. Somewhere along the way they’d decided it worth their time to learn this Utopian pip-dream language, and I wanted to understand why.
Arika Okrent, “A Visit to Esperantoland,” The American Scholar