This Is What Courage Sounds Like
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
An Egyptian acquaintance wrote me from Cairo this morning. I'm passing on his warning to journalists and foreigners about gangs of pro-government thugs roaming the streets there. This morning, as he walked around deserted streets, a gang of a dozen or so got him. "Got beaten up, big time," he said. His clothes and backpack got ripped up, but he managed to save his camera. He was writing with a bag of ice on his face and nursing his bruises and aching jaw. "Emptystreets, ghost city, hordes of outlaws at each intersection, and fear, fear, fear, all over," he reports. Oh, and also: He's exhilarated and full of hope: "Do not worry, we already made a huge step forward, and it's not over yet."
That was a little like his last note, reporting shortages of money and food. No salaries, no banks, no cash. But, at the end, "no worries. It's all, hopefully, for the very best." He made me think of the French field marshal who once messaged headquarters: "My right is retreating, my center is giving way. Situation is excellent, I am attacking." Days like this remind us that we didn't evolve (or weren't designed, if you prefer) to sit within a little temple of the self, tending to our little lives. He writes that he's ready "to continue this essential legitimate fight against the manipulators," though he feels "a little chickened out after the beating." Sure doesn't sound that way to me.
Illustration: Tahrir Square Protesters with a Banner saying "Leave!" Essam Sharaf, via Wikimedia
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