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Turning Election Ugliness into Intellectual Pleasure

It is hard to settle on an attitude toward these ghastly presidential elections that satisfies me. The easy thing is to say, "Just ignore it. Why make yourself depressed or angry when you don't have to be?"

But this approach is too facile. We do, after all, live under a system of self-government. Something better than mere avoidance is called for. But don't worry: I'm not about to give you a pep talk that belongs in school civics class.
Rather, I want to be candid about how hopeless the USA is, and face up to the fact that we are looking into an abyss. Don't avert your eyes from it. Wallow in it a bit -- not for the mere sake of misery of course, but for the sake of moving on to something better.

For instance, lately I have been on a streak of books about Muslim history. Think how narrow public discourse is about Muslims as 'terrorists'. Does anyone ever define what a terrorist is? Isn't it just an example of asymmetrical warfare? Does anyone ever discuss the morality of Western imperialism? Who kills more people: terrorists or the non-terrorist Good Guys of the West? Does the average television viewer ever hear about the Sykes-Picot treaty, the Balfour Declaration, Washington's role in creating modern jihadis in Afghanistan, or its support of the bloody war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s?

I won't discuss these things because I don't want a book-long post. What matters is that Americans never get a chance to understand the history of Islam in its entirety, starting around 600 A.D. They only hear about the Here and the Now, and very propagandist versions of them. In fact it is a fascinating history. To see your mind opening up from a narrow sliver of some subject to a Big Picture is a real pleasure.

We normally think of pleasure as being something sensual and easy, but the human animal really is more capable than that. Because it is hard to feel genuine intellectual pleasure, anything that helps should be seen as a positive thing, even if that means wallowing in a bit of misery such as presidential elections. The misery doesn't last too long. And it whets your appetite for the pleasure of learning things that would otherwise seem like dry homework.


XXXXX said…
It's pretty easy to experience intellectual pleasure when reading history for those events are over and do not threaten one's comfort or security in any way now. Written history, of course, needs to be taken with a grain of salt as it is human nature NOT to be objective. But it's all we've got in that regard.
I've just finished studying the historical Jesus and that is an amazing occurrence, I can tell you. How circumstances were such that such a legend could be born and believed is absolutely incredible. I'm sure there are just as many twists and turns in the Islam religion as well. These are examples of why I think it is so interesting to ultimately study human nature instead of some outer subject (like Islam) because ultimately all these are simply manifestations of the human mind to create images and perceptions which could never pass any scientific test.

Sorry about the XXXX. I'm trying to figure out how to get it back. Well, maybe I won't bother. You know now who I am. Technology is no fun for me.

Perhaps historians should blend with social sciences a little more. I don't really know anything about the social sciences, but I am a bit skeptical about how scientific they really are.
Ed said…

History, as well as Economics, is one of many branches of social science. Using a VERY broad brush, every field of study at the university level that is not a Hard Science is a social science. The blending that you speak of I think is to be found in Historical Fiction where 'real', although fictional, people are living through a period that we think of as History.

Wikipedia says:
The social science disciplines are branches of knowledge taught and researched at the college or university level. Social science disciplines are defined and recognized by the ACADEMIC JOURNALS in which research is published, and the learned social science societies and academic departments or faculties to which their practitioners belong. Social science fields of study usually have several sub-disciplines or branches, and the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous.
Yes indeed, I forgot about the contribution historical fiction can make to humanizing cold dry history.
XXXXX said…
I try to avoid historical fiction for it makes a mark on my mind (since the author jazzes everything up) and then I have to sort through it all to figure out what's more likely true and what is pure imagination.
You know, there is plenty of stuff out there that attempts to present what is really known as compared to a standard history book. Surely these books you are reading, KB, must be an example. Are they historical fiction or an attempt to be honest about what is really known vs what is propaganda or something written by an author with an agenda?
When you get your hands on a book that attempts to get at the real truth, how can that not be a fascinating read?
Social sciences are based on observation and even when they involve some sort of testing of whole groups of people to determine a desired goal, these tests are fraught with error. I can write a book on it. It is what I did for a living.

Anonymous said…
George, I found your comments about studying the historical Jesus interesting and would like to find out what sources you researched. I have always wondered how, without any scientific proof, Jesus became so venerated. Would you mind emailing me at chorst_2000 at

Anonymous said…
"Americans never get a chance to understand the history of Islam in its entirety"


Anybody can study history by searching on the web or making a trip to the library. The internet has made researching even with primary documentation easy and as thorough as the effort taken.

Concerning Islam, unlike what seems to be your moaning about the effects of 'western imperialism, which was simply the centuries-extended self-defense from Ottoman aggression, you should also complain about Muslim imperialism, which has taken a obscure death-cult and turned it into a war of conquest that has forced conversion of over 1 billion people across the world. Now THAT is imperialism.
If the Ottoman Turkish empire were still in existence today, they would probably be having their problems with Iran and the Arabs. But the USA would be blissfully unconcerned about the Middle East and Muslims.

Therefore we are not being bothered by Muslim-ness or the inherent flaws of Islam; we are being bothered because we are over there, interfering with their culture and politics.
Anonymous said…
Analysis: false. We had our first encounter with Islam as a new nation. We fought two wars against the Barbary Pirates who were pirating ships and requiring ransom or enslaving our citizens, the usual Islamic practice for centuries. 1801-05 and again in 1815-16 You do not seem to have a clue about how consistently aggressive Islam is. If the Ottomans could have effectively reached North America, they would no doubt have undertaken an invasion. They only stopped when the US, along with European states kicked their butts in 1815.