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MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.
A tourist generally has an eye for the things that have become almost invisible to the resident.
The debate over whether or not there is a place for political correctness in modern society is not always black and white.
- Political correctness is often seen as a debate between two extremes, but there are nuances in the middle of the spectrum. Is there such a thing as being too PC, and if so, where is that line?
- While philosopher Slavoj Žižek, comedian Lewis Black, and actor Jeff Garlin acknowledge that some topics can be hurtful or even oppressive and should thus be approached with "good taste and self-restraint," they also argue that PC culture has tipped the scales far beyond being balanced. "If we continue to move in that direction," says Black, "then we're going to be living between uptight and stupid and there'll be no in between."
- Simultaneously, others—including Paul F. Tompkins, Jim Gaffigan, and Martin Amis—argue that political correctness aims to change things for the better, especially for groups who have been marginalized and discriminated against, and that not being sexist and racist, for example, is not actually a heavy lift. "The fact of the matter is these people are the people of today and you might be a person of yesterday if you can't adjust and you can't be in tune with what people think is funny anymore," says Tompkins.
The philosopher who praised a simple life and inspired the worst of the French Revolution.
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss Enlightenment philosopher with some radical ideas.
- He argued passionately for democracy, equality, liberty, and supporting the common good by any means necessary.
- While his ideas may be utopian (or dystopian), they are thought-provoking and can inform modern discourse.
The State of Nature<p> Like other philosophers at the time, Rousseau was very concerned with what the world was like before the creation of societies. This was very important for political philosophers because it could be used to explain the motivation for creating and supporting a state.</p><p> If you, like the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, thought that a life in the "<a href="https://www.the-philosophy.com/hobbes-vs-locke" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state of nature</a>" was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," you're probably in favor of anything that keeps the state of nature at bay, no matter how tyrannical or brutal. This is why Hobbes supported a ruler with absolute power, typically a monarch.</p><p><a href="https://www.the-philosophy.com/rousseau-philosophy-summary" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Rousseau</a>, however, went the other way. He suggested that the state of nature wasn't all that bad, proposing that the people in it were self-sufficient, fairly solitary by choice, sympathetic to others, and peaceful. With nothing to fight over, they don't fight much. Since morality hasn't been invented yet, they are innocent and incapable of being malicious. </p><p>Importantly, people in the state of nature are free in that they can follow their own will all the time, and equal — the various sources of inequality haven't been invented yet.</p><p>He argues that it is only when we move into society that human nature becomes corrupted, and many of the vices and evils we know all too well can flourish. He thought that many of the problems society claims to solve, like protection from theft, can only be problems after society, and thus the notion of private property, already exists.</p><p>Beyond this, he asks us if the things society provides us are really beneficial in the first place. </p><p>In his first significant work, "<a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/files/46333/46333-h/46333-h.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Discourse on the Arts and Sciences</a>," Rousseau argues that art and science haven't improved most people's moral fiber — a shocking position to hold in Enlightenment-era France. Instead, he suggests that they arose from vices such as vanity and only serve to continue the degradation of morals. Given how many civilizations seem to have reached decadent heights before being brought down by their barbarous neighbors, he questions how desirable they are for other purposes as well.</p><p>Private property, another concept made possible by society, earned Rousseau's ire as an institution that encouraged greed and egotism. He expresses how terrible he supposes the invention of private property was in this striking paragraph from the "<a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11136/pg11136.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Discourse </a><a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/11136/pg11136.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">On The Origin And The Foundation Of The Inequality Among Mankind</a>":</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!"</p>
The Social Contract<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/R2YM5_o6PRo" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Now, you might be wondering why, if the state of nature is so pleasant and people in it so moral and decent, anybody would ever create a society or join up with one. Rousseau suggests this is a natural evolution caused by the need for individuals to cooperate. Eventually, people will figure out things like agriculture and industry, which require working with your neighbors or creating rules for living near them. </p><p>In fear of worst-case scenarios, Rousseau thought that people agreed to societies dedicated to protecting them from threats, real or imagined, that then took away their freedom and protected the inequalities that further led everybody, including the rulers, into vice. He saw this as a cure nearly so bad as the disease, leading him to lament that "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains."</p><p>His alternative is to create a <a href="https://www.thoughtco.com/social-contract-in-politics-105424" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">social contract</a> that will allow all members of the society to be as free as they were in the state of nature, that is, to enable them to follow their own will all the time while still living in a society. It will remove the unnatural inequalities that degrade both the rich and the poor. It will ensure that everyone is equal before the law that they create.</p><p> To achieve this, he formulates one of the more radically democratic systems of government ever to achieve widespread consideration.</p>
The General Will<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nGAO100hYcQ" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> The key to Rousseau's social contract theory, and his biggest idea, is a take on the "<a href="https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/General_will" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">general will</a>." While he wasn't the first philosopher to talk about it, his conception of it is the most famous and consequential. He posits that any legitimate state must be based on the general will, which is the fundamental source of sovereignty. All laws and actions the state undertakes must be in line with it. </p><p>It is akin to the notion of popular sovereignty, with a few differences. </p><p>The general will is the will of the entire body politic, which exists independently of the will of any one member or any group of people that comprise it. It is also not just the sum of individual wills. Because an individual contributes to the general will as a citizen, the general will is, at least partly, their will. It is a universal, generally applied concept and, when done correctly, will be used to create laws that apply to everyone in the community equally. </p><p>In principle, a person can follow it and still be following their will, since they helped to forge it. In the ideal case, a person fully understands that the greater good is also in their interest and there is no friction between their interests and that of the community. This is how Rousseau supposes people can be as free in society as they are in nature. However, if the shift between being able to follow the individual will and the general will is one that is quite so easy to make is a point many philosophers have raised.</p><p>How we find what the general will even is creates another problem. There are generally two approaches to figuring it out, with a third splitting the <a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">difference</a>. All of these interpretations are supported by Rousseau's writing — his style is famously contradictory even when it is working towards a clear point. </p><p>The first is a highly democratic model, featuring the citizenry discussing legislation at town hall meetings every time an issue comes up. While magistrates would exist to run the government day by day, they would be elected and duty-bound to follow the will of the people as determined by the debate and votes at these meetings. Minorities will exist, but their participation in the debate assures that they helped forge the general will and that the resulting laws will be good for them, too. </p><p> Going the other way, the general will could be a somewhat transcendental thing that just exists for every political group that only some well-educated people can grasp without the help of well-made social institutions.</p><p>Rousseau suggests that a "legislator," a person who knows what good laws and morals are, can help people understand what the general will is by either guiding discussion and putting the vague ideas of the people into politically actionable terms, or by assisting individuals to identify with the common cause that is the general will if they are incapable of doing it themselves. In that case, the magistrates would still follow the general will, but it wouldn't be quite as democratically determined. </p><p>The hybrid of the two is a procedural model, where citizen-legislators discuss issues and realize why the common good is also their own good when making law.</p><p>As an example, imagine a neighborhood association's members discussing what trees to plant. Some of them will realize that their preferred choice of tree is a poor choice when they learn that most of their neighbors are allergic to it. After further discussion, not only do they agree to the new option, they will also end up agreeing that the new choice is in their best interest. They'll be happier when their neighbors aren't grouchy from allergies. The voters want what the community wants because what they want has shifted.</p><p>The general will is also very expansive, and a government based on it can do many things that others couldn't justify. While this means a Rousseauan government can do many good things others can't, it also means that it can be uniquely oppressive. The general will could call for abolishing or redistributing private property, press censorship, or mandatory attendance at morality plays among a variety of other harsh mandates. In principle, it could even call for ending democracy if that is in the best interests of the whole. </p><p> Whatever it calls for, it does so on everybody equally and because they called for it. </p>
What would living in a Rousseauan society look like?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/obts3Y-XRjg" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> On the bright side, since the general will has to be applied universally and generally, the society that forms along these lines will be very equal, with the law applying to all citizens in the same way. Major inequalities would be swept away, and there would likely be a significant democratic element to the government, depending on how the people decided to organize the state. It would probably be a small society, as Rousseau feared that a large country would not find the common cause he thought was so important.</p><p>The people themselves would share a common cause, be highly educated in how to carry out their various civic duties properly. They would enjoy being able to act freely within a sphere decided by the general will.</p><p>However, since the general will can be applied to nearly any facet of life, the people, or the legislator in some cases, may decide to create a very oppressive society devoid of things they don't like or think will lead to vice. </p><p>Individual rights only exist as far as the sovereign, the general will, thinks they should. While it is probable that the application of all laws equally means that everyone would have to choose to make it oppressive for themselves; that remains a risk that could come to pass. Democracy might also go out the window, and a monarch who follows the general will could be appointed. </p><p> Furthermore, Rousseau suggests that people can be "forced to be free," so even if your interests are quite different from those of the general will, you can be dragged along with it. Some later philosophers, such as Jacob Talmon and Isaiah Berlin, have thus suggested that a Rousseauan state would be a "totalitarian democracy" with the individual always being subject to the whims of the majority or whoever claims to speak for the general will. </p><p>Despite the extensive reach that the Rousseauan state would have, he does argue that some limits on what a sovereign can do exist.</p><p>Most notably, he expressly states that people have the right to their religion alongside a civic faith that promotes solidarity, that pluralism is inevitable, and that a variety of religions can improve morals. He suggests that toleration should be held sacred. He does not extend this toleration to atheists, however, who he suggests be exiled. </p>
This all sounds a bit unrealistic in any case. Did anybody try to run anything like this?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mm8asJxdcds" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> According to Professor <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5soKkx-RZow" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Charles Anderson</a>, the decision-making process of the Quakers during their meetings is very similar to, but not quite the same as, the hybrid model of the general will. The Quakers seek God's will through discussion and end up in agreement on what that is and the wisdom of following it. In <a href="https://quaker.org/decision-making/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">practice</a>, it may be as close to that model as anyone has ever gotten, even if it is a religious notion unrelated to Rousseau's philosophy.</p><p> On a larger scale, The French Revolution can be viewed as an attempt to apply Rousseau's ideas in a situation where they were never going to work. Famed revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre studied many philosophers, but Rousseau's ideas were the ones that most inspired him. It is <a href="https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/robespierre-terror.asp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> that he slept with his copy of "The Social Contract."</p><p>The revolutionaries' Cult of the Supreme Being, a state religion based around a single deistic goddess, is based on Rousseau's idea of civil religion. Both centered on the existence of a deity, an afterlife, and the need for virtue, patriotism, and social solidarity. Robespierre, like his favorite philosopher, thought such a belief system was vital in a republic. </p><p>Additionally, Robespierre strongly agreed with the idea that the general will was the basis for state legitimacy and that people could be "forced to be free" by any means necessary if they weren't going along with it. Those who were actively fighting it, namely royalists, could be done away with as a result. This is part of the reason why Rousseau's <a href="https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/robespierre-terror.asp" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ideas</a> often get blamed for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The</a><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reign_of_Terror" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> Terror</a>. <br></p><p>On a more practical and mundane note, Rousseau was asked to submit ideas for the new constitution being written in Poland-Lithuania. His <a href="http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/eng/Considerations_on_the_Government_of_Poland" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suggestions</a> were conservative compared to his previous work, suggesting he grasped that his ideas could not be instituted in such a large state or that his previously hard-line stances had softened. Among his ideas that made it in were a federalized system of governance and a representative legislature. He encouraged the Poles to adopt a gradualist system of reform. <br></p><p>This may shed light on what he might have thought of his disciples leading the French Revolution, which occurred after his death. <br></p><p>As with most political philosophy, the real question may be how his big ideas are discussed in our society rather than on if anybody tried to follow his books to the letter. Other philosophers with great influence, like Kant, Marx, and Rawls, all sighted Rousseau as an influence.</p><p>Outside of academia, every time we discuss certain topics, like what it takes for a government to be legitimate, if modern society is good for us, or what we think should and should not be subject to a vote; we stumble across topics Rousseau considered and can benefit from his insights.<br></p><p>While a purely Rousseauan society probably isn't practical for many reasons, his writings continue to inform debate in our society, despite their often contradictory and confusing nature.</p>
Research shows that bone fragments of Jesus's (possible) brother belong to someone else.
- New research in Rome has found that bones purported to be from St. James the Less are impossible.
- The femoral bone fragments date to somewhere between 214 and 340 CE—a few centuries off the mark.
- The analysis was conducted on bone fragments, oil, and mummy remains in the Basilica dei Santa Apostoli.
a) Tibia of St Philip KLR-11036/C90 (femur of St James KLR-11030/C81); b & c) foot of St Philip KLR-12288/C18 and KLR-11029/C80
Credit: Rasmussen et. al<p>The contention that St James the Less is Jesus's brother is also contested. As the researchers note, the Lord's brother, <em>Iakob</em>, is not mentioned in any list of the 12 disciples. Pivotal to the Church of Jerusalem, with 11 mentions in the New Testament, James was part of the council that decided whether gentiles should be circumcised. His influence remains part of us—well, deciding what remains part of us.</p><p>The team notes that the potential conflation of Jesus's brother with St James is a red flag. Calling a divine sibling "Lesser" doesn't make sense considering his outsized influence on the Church of Jerusalem. Jesus's brother is textually referred to as "Lord's brother" or "the Just." Some even consider St James the Less to be a cousin of Jesus, not a brother. </p><p>As mentioned, we love a good mystery. </p><p>Regardless, the bones in the Basilica are not of any James we know of. Lead author Kaare Lund Rasmussen, an archaeometry professor at the University of Southern Denmark, <a href="https://www.livescience.com/st-james-relic-someone-else.html" target="_blank">says</a>,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our dates, although disproving it was St. James, fall in a dark period, between the time when the apostles died and Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire."</p><p>In a <a href="https://www.sdu.dk/en/nyheder/forskningsnyheder/jesu-apostle-videnskabeligt-undersogt" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement</a> released after the publication of the study, Rasmussen continues, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We consider it very likely, that whoever moved this femur to the Santi Apostoli church, believed it belonged to St. James. They must have taken it from a Christian grave, so it belonged to one of the early Christians, apostle or not."</p><p>The mystery continues. While we might never discover actual bones or grails, there's always a novel waiting around for Netflix to option. </p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">--</span></p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Waun Maun was an ancient Welsh stone circle that had an awful lot in common with Stonehenge.
A mystery of dates solved<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY1MzI4Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTE4Nzk2OX0.7m_x0Sf1EGBnHt-pDD7C8SOnYZpKzOZlqlb8fEeJL6E/img.png?width=980" id="5a9f5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8f5585b5f6689d90fc94d20398aa1ac8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Ankit Sood/Unsplash<p>The theory has to do with Stonehenge's bluestones. These are the 43 smaller upright stones positioned at the inside of the structure. They're called "bluestones" not because they're normally blue, but because they take on a bit of that hue when they're wet. (The outer, taller, stones at Stonehenge are sarsens, and the stones laying across the tops of other stones are its lintel stones.)</p><p>It has been known for some time that the bluestones were dug from a quarry in the Preseli Hills of Wales 200 km away some 5,000 years ago. (The larger <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">sarsen stones </a>are believed to have come from about 15 miles away from Stonehenge.)</p><p>There's been a problem with dates, though. The rocks were extracted about 5,000 years ago, between 3400 BC and 3000 BC. That's 300 or 400 years before Stonehenge was built. Where were they all that time? "They're clearly not spending 200 years slowly moving them across the landscape," co-author of the research <a href="https://www.southampton.ac.uk/archaeology/about/staff/cjp1r10.page" target="_blank">Joshua Pollard</a> tells <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/england-s-stonehenge-was-erected-wales-first" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Magazine</a>.</p><p>The earliest writing about the origins of Stonehenge was Geoffrey of Monmouth's c. AD 1136 "History of the Kings of Britain." In it, the author suggests that Stonehenge was constructed from the stones of a dismantled Giants' Dance stone circle atop the mythical Mount Killaraus, having been moved to Salisbury under the command of Merlin. Fantasy, to be sure, but the distant origin of the bluestones may underpin the central idea that these stones were actually repurposed from another place and time.</p>
Waun Mawn<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY1MzMwNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjM4NjE5N30.esfI2abeHi5BZbt_MEXRc3yYcNR-wgV9ZuvB6wdGPK0/img.png?width=980" id="78345" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3e84e01b24068eadc6a19b140726320e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="898" data-height="1000" />
Credit: Denys Holovatiuk/Adobe Stock/Big Think<p>The "<a href="https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/things-to-do/stone-circle/stones-of-stonehenge/" target="_blank">Stones of Stonehenge</a>" project identified a possible Welsh stone circle in 2010, Waun Mawn, but had not excavated it. In 2017 and 2018, a research team led by Parker Pearson began serious exploration. They identified an ancient megalith quarry nearby and the toppled bluestone remains of the stone circle, estimated to be the third largest yet found after Avebury in Wiltshire and Stanton Drew in Somerset.</p><p>At Waun Mawn were socket-shaped pits that likely held other, long-gone bluestones. The researchers used optically simulated luminescence to determine how long ago the sediments buried inside the pits had been exposed to light, and radiocarbon-dated charcoal found inside. The shrine dates back pretty perfectly to 3400 BC, in line with the time the bluestones had been quarried.</p><p>The researchers mapped out the likely arrangement of the stone circle by extrapolating between the remaining stones and empty stone sockets. They arrived at a shape that measured about 100 meters across, the same as Stonehenge's original layout, the ditch currently surrounding it. (Stonehenge has been rearranged many times since it was first built.) Waun Mawn, like Stonehenge, was aligned on the midsummer solstice.</p><p>The researchers estimate that the missing bluestones were removed between 300 and 400 years after the stone circle was built, around the time Stonehenge was built. "We're quite confident the reason they come down is they've gone to Stonehenge," Parker Pearson tells <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/02/england-s-stonehenge-was-erected-wales-first" target="_blank">Science Magazine</a>.</p><p>Other clues? One of the Stonehenge bluestones has an unusual shape that matches one of the Waun Mawn pits perfectly. In addition, sone chips found in that pit precisely match that stone at Stonehenge.</p>