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Learning About Them Is Learning About Us

Arcimboldo's, The Librarian (1566)

Scott Horton is The Librarian. He opens wide the doors and invites you to discover the details and texture of the sublime and the brutal creature that we are. Fluent in several languages, Mr. Horton uses his interest in art, music and literature to illuminate his analysis of law and politics. A recent post used an early 17th century sonnet and a period painting to introduce Galileo’s reflections on art as the "grammar" of the mind, and on music and science as the "language" of nature.

The comment is interesting as intellectual history (not David Brooks often faux version of it), and as a reflection on the "war" on science that religious and popular demagogues insist we fight, an intentionally distracting echo of the war Galileo fought with the Vatican.

The drive for an increasingly universal medium of communication leads Galileo to consider and value the graphic arts, poetry and music, in particular, as the other most promising paths. Galileo does not view them as rivals or alternatives to the scientific method which is his chief focus. Rather he sees them, well pursued, as essential adjuncts which will aid understanding, and—in the case of music and graphic arts—move it beyond the limitations inherent in words.

Another post complements Marcy Wheeler’s work on the secretive politico-religious cult housed on Capitol Hill’s C Street and known as The Family. (No record of whether members’ last names end in a vowel or whether they all share the same political Godfather, or whether, like Carly Fiorina, it has failed to register itself for business and tax purposes.)

Others discuss our social obligation to work for the common good, in the context of celebrating the 400th birthday of John Calvin, and the Justice Department’s oxymoronic Office of Professional Responsibility, where "investigations" of illegal and unprofessional conduct by DoJ lawyers are treated like guests at the Hotel California: they check in, but never check out.

If Mr. Horton is the Librarian, David Brooks is the special exhibits attendant. He hangs about outside the display hall, handing out glossy, single page, color brochures prepared by his latest corporate benefactor. He uses his knowledge of history, literature and sociology not to illuminate or entice us into further inquiry, but to substitute for it.

That contrast struck me in reading a side comment by Mr. Horton, made when describing the book that led to Galileo’s final confrontation with the Vatican. He notes,

Galileo…talks about the newly discovered Indies and the wondrous and alien civilization there. But his major concern is communication: how do we communicate our learning to them, and absorb also their attainments?

The need to absorb their attainments, as well as to transmit ours?. American public elites have lost their ability to listen (assuming earlier elites had it). They largely seek to protect and empower themselves, not those they are bound to represent. The Limbaughs and Becks and Bushes and Cheneys superimpose their thoughts on the supposed blank or corrupted slates of those they dominate – at home and abroad.

More troubling is the comment’s reference to Hispaniola. It’s not a beach destination or the poorest island in the Caribbean, but a metaphor for the horrors inflicted on those conquered by empire or deemed a threat to imperial comfort:

[T]he landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World initiated a genocide in which the indigenous population of Hispaniola [500,000] was annihilated….[T]his was the first stage of what was presented as a benign expansion of the new nation, but which involved the violent expulsion of Native Americans, accompanied by unspeakable atrocities, from every square mile of the continent, until there was nothing to do but herd them into reservations.

Once our elite immunizes itself from its own illegal behavior, it no longer needs to listen to its own citizens, even as a pretense. And the mistreatment it metes out to little brown Muslims over there becomes easier to make the norm over here, all in order to keep us "szafe".

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earlofhuntingdon

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