The putative Savior and Redeemer of the world having been born yet again and justly celebrated for almost the 2000th time yesterday--I make it about 1,965 and counting--we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.
At Aeon, Rubin Naiman writes about Nyx and Hypnos (the Greek goddess of night and the god of sleep, respectively) and about our modern addiction to being awake:
Great philosophers have taught that most of us mistake the limits of our own perception for the limits of the universe. Nowhere is this conundrum more relevant than in our contemporary take on sleep. We are mired in a pre-Copernican-like, wake-centric era regarding consciousness. We presume waking to be the centre of the universe of consciousness, and we relegate sleeping and dreaming to secondary, subservient positions.
Looking at sleep solely through waking-world eyes is like looking at a glorious night sky through dark sunglasses. We are caught in wakism, a subtle but pernicious addiction to ordinary waking consciousness that limits our understanding and experience of sleep.
Naiman makes a compelling argument for sleep, but you’ll have to stay awake to read it.
A while back, Kimberly Alters (at The Week) extolled the many virtues of the public library, which may at this point be the only major institution Americans still trust. More than simply a repository of books, a library is a reflection of democratic ideals. Ms. Alters notes “the immense positive effects libraries have on communities, where they're sometimes the only available access to free computers and internet, or where after-school educational programs can act as informal child-care services for working parents. Ambitious kids can explore subjects that aren't offered in schools, while artists can take advantage of new technology they may not be able to afford on their own. And the more we invest in libraries, the more they can invest in us, with more working hours and increased foot traffic meaning more potential employees can be hired.
"There are few purer expressions of common endeavor in America than the system of public libraries," my colleague Paul Waldman once wrote. "Built in cities and hamlets, in places big and small, they brought knowledge of the wider world to anyone who wanted it, no matter his or her station."
For all the talk about wasted taxpayer money, it's wasted taxpayer opportunity we're dealing with here. So go: Check out your local public library.”
We’ve been told that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I think you can judge a community by the quality of its library and by the uses citizens make of it. If you’re lucky enough to live, as I do, in a city with both a first-rate public library and a university library (we have the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Library at the University of Montana): you should take Ms. Alters' advice and get thee to the library as often as possible.
[The] change from republic to empire was traumatic and transformed Rome (and thereby the West) forever. And it is arguable that a similar thing is happening today. Our republic, and the philosophies and social realities upon which it was built and by which it has been sustained, are giving way to an empire, an empire of desire. Whether one agrees (as I have come to do) with the arguments of thinkers like Patrick Deneen and Michael Hanby, who see the origins of our current situation in the very origins and ambitions of the American experiment, or whether one sees our current society as a disastrous malfunction of the same, there is surely consensus on the fact that things are changing in fundamental and permanent ways. Liberalism is in trouble, as is the republic built upon it. The empire of desire, of which both expressive individualism and populism are symptoms, looks set to triumph. A chaotic and unsustainable triumph, no doubt, but a triumph nonetheless.
Ciceronian times call for Ciceronian voices, says Trueman:
Thoughtful, learned, literate, historically and philosophically astute, cultured in the true sense of the word, and engaged in the public square. To address the present we surely need to avoid the clichéd pieties of political correctness that serve only to bolster special interests. But we must also resist the simplistic populist rhetoric of reaction. We have to address the present by drawing on the history and culture of our past. And we must do so in a public way that calls out those who abuse their power while giving good arguments to those who wish to work for a deeper, greater good than the myopic vision offered by the regnant gospel of immediate gratification.
Schooled in my youth as a Catholic, I grew up identifying the Roman Empire as the bad guy in my simplistic view of history; Rome’s villainous status was later reaffirmed when I read the book (and saw the movie) Spartacus about a slave revolt against the Romans. All of which is to say that I am no fan of empire; and I think Carl Trueman is exactly right when he categorizes our modern neo-liberalism as an empty, unsustainable “empire of desire”.
As Bobby Kennedy used to say, I think we can do better than that.