Again. And Again. And Again.

This is a very depressing post. It is, in basically every way, inadequate to the task it undertakes. It is not an exhaustive treatise either on my thoughts and knowledge or the subject area at large. It is a plaintive cry into the internet, where such cries are about as useful as they are satisfying. Nevertheless, I can only hope and pray that speaking is better than silence. And hope and pray for a better world

In the season following Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to say a few words. Not directly about that holiday–the misrepresentations and illegitimacy of which is discussed here, among a number of other places. While the spirit of the holiday seems innocuous enough to me, a white American, and I think the concept of thanks-giving is worth celebrating, the day is plagued by a kind of rose-colored and deliberate ignorance. It’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about but it’s relevant and I encourage you to educate yourself.

The summer after my senior year of high school, I spent two weeks on a mission trip in Kigali, Rwanda. My senior capstone course for undergrad was called “Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing.” For graduate school, I completed a program in Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict. All this to say that the definition of genocide is one of those things that I have memorized because of course.

…intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such…

Sometimes people are like, “That’s genocide” and I’m like, probably not, actually. Other times, people are like, “That’s a bad thing” and I’m like it’s genocide. You get into things like “acts of genocide” and ethnic cleansing. There’s a lot to unpack and this is not really the place. All the same, I just want to say something about it because it has been weighing on me.

Something you hear a lot, usually in reference to the Holocaust, is “never again.” Something you see a lot if you spend any amount of time looking at the world around you is again. And again. And again. Historically, whether you look at native peoples in the Americas, the Herero in German Southwest Africa, Armenia around the First World War, or the Nazis and Japanese in the Second. Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Myanmar right now. Certainly acts of the Islamic State. Possibly the Uighur detentions in China and the war in Yemen. So many places, so many people.

I don’t know, exactly, what can be done. Would I support committing money and lives to a military intervention? I don’t know, possibly. Do I feel powerless? Yes. Do I think that anything I might do would have negligible effect, if any? Probably. Should something be done even so? Yes.

And so here we are. This may not be a particularly Christmasy topic but I’ve felt for a while that I ought to say something. These words probably don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. My readers, I don’t imagine, walk international halls of power with authority to respond to anything I say. I don’t know that I really expect you to do anything about it, other than perhaps read world news a little more often.

I guess in all my learning in the subject area, I have two general knowledge take-aways for you. First, do not think that the Holocaust is somehow unique in the story of human history. While it has many unique aspects, it follows naturally from a long chain of events. Second, do not think that it could not happen again. Do not think that it could not happen here. Do not think that ‘never again’ was a promise the world ever expected to keep.

And, because I firmly believe in hope: let us all work toward a world in which such crimes never happen again.

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A Love of Books

I have found another link in the chain of my past lives in the person of Richard de Bury (24 January 1287 – 14 April 1345). He seems to have been an exceptional man and I can only hope to approach his love of books as epitomized in his grand work, The Philobiblon. Writing and subsequently reading this work, which I’d like to discuss at some length, appears to be about the best possible use of anyone’s time in the fourteenth century.

I just need you to be prepared for what will follow. I will elaborate upon that volume and that is all that the rest of this post contains.

First, I would like to share with you the titles of the twenty chapters because each and every one is so wonderful and delightful.

  1. That the Treasure of Wisdom is chiefly contained in Books
  2. The degree of Affection that is properly due to Books
  3. What we are to think of the price in the buying of books
  4. The Complaint of Books against the Clergy already promoted
  5. The Complaint of Books against the Possessioners
  6. The Complaint of Books against the Mendicants
  7. The Complaint of Books against Wars
  8. Of the numerous Opportunities we have had of collecting a store of books
  9. How although we preferred the Works of the Ancients we have not condemned the Studies of the Moderns
  10. Of the Gradual Perfecting of Books
  11. Why we have preferred Books of Liberal Learning to Books of Law
  12. Why we have caused Books of Grammar to be so diligently prepared
  13. Why we have not wholly neglected the Fables of the Poets
  14. Who ought to be special Lovers of Books
  15. Of the advantages of the love of Books
  16. That it is meritorious to write new Books and to renew the old
  17. Of showing due Propriety in the Custody of Books
  18. Showeth that we have collected so great Store of Books for the common Benefit of Scholars and not only for our own Pleasure
  19. Of the Manner of lending all our Books to Students
  20. An Exhortation to Scholars to requite us by pious Prayers

This guy seriously loved books and, therefore, is a hero. Loving books was neither a common nor a generally acceptable pastime in medieval England.

I must confess, I have not read The Philobiblon in its entirety. However, I have perused a large number of quotations and have found them, one and all, to be exceedingly correct and meaningful and wow. I will not here present all of them but I do want to call a couple to your attention.

How highly must we estimate the wondrous power of books, since through them we survey the utmost bounds of the world and time, and contemplate the things that are as well as those that are not, as it were in the mirror of eternity.

The chapter goes on to relate how, in books, the whole of the world is opened to us, from digging minerals and jewels from the earth the the North Pole to the Milky Way. Through history and the lessons of those who came before; through  science and a growing understanding of the world around us; through diligent study of literature and scripture–a mind and a world are opened.

An argument oft repeated in his work is that the whole of wisdom is contained in books, and thus the title. You may know that philosophy comes from the Greek for love of wisdom and, accordingly, philobiblon is the love of books.

This second quotation, which I encountered via a picture of the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library as inscribed over an entrance, inspired my journey of getting to know the venerable Richard de Bury. It says,

Books alone are liberal and free, they give to all who ask, they emancipate all who serve them faithfully.

LAlibrary

Books cannot give you everything in life, I confess. But what they can give, they will provide without fail. The freedom of the mind is the freedom of the soul, and books are one of its favorite tools. A love of books has always served me well. In times of loneliness or companionship, melancholy or joy, faith or doubt; reading has seen me through. May we all be grateful for the gift of books without which life would be that much darker. Books are not perfect but they are, I think, perfecting. They continuously add to the global body of knowledge and they lift us as a society when we need lifting.

They give to all who ask.