Archive for November, 2015

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

During the last week, America has been paying an inordinate amount of attention to world events. On Friday night, terrorist attacks in Paris killed over 100 people. After the attacks, Americans started to (finally) pay some attention to Syria, where a Civil War has ripped the nation apart, giving Syria_areas_of_control_March_2014opportunities to groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) to find a territorial foothold.  Unfortunately, most US citizens ignored Syria and the instability of the region until the day ISIS began targeting areas outside the immediate region. Hence, a bomb going off in a marketplace in Beirut on Thursday passed through the 24 hour news cycle with nary a whisper, while the attack in Paris was front-page news with fully invested in-depth reporting.

For the most part, Americans have no idea what ISIS is, or what they want. Their story is too complex for most Americans to follow, and, to be quite frank, most US citizens just don’t care to follow foreign affairs.  The majority of the nation concern themselves with sports, video games and the lives of celebrities, and don’t worry about the world outside their immediate selfie-bubble.  The one thing Americans do seem to know though, is that ISIS is made up of some pretty bad guys.  Whether it be beheading those identified as heathen apostates in Syria, or shooting civilians randomly with automatic weapons in Paris, ISIS fulfills the Hollywood villain role quite nicely.  Of course, for most Americans, when this is happening ‘over there’, we can simply shake our heads and declare such actions monstrous, evil or devilish, and turn the channel. ISIS is not sticking ‘over there’ though. As Americans feel it hitting closer to home, our rhetoric of fear and aggression has intensified .

Evil. I never like to use that term.  Strangely enough, it is too comforting of a word. Labeling something or someone evil simplifies complexities.  It glosses over reality. If our enemies are evil, then we are good.  If they are

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Jim Acosta

 

evil, then they easily explained.  If they are evil, all we need to do is kill’em and the world will all go back to normal.  In President Obama’s press conference the other day, a CNN reporter spoke for all those who want to live in such a simplistic Manichean world. Jim Acosta stood up and asked the President, why can’t we  ‘just take out these bastards’?  It is a simple question, and it is begging for a simple answer. The problem is, the situation at hand is not simple. Hard problems often call for difficult, ugly, complex, time consuming and unpopular solutions.

With this in mind, I would hope Jim Acosta, and all those he speaks for would take 10 minutes and read an analysis of the problem by one of the world’s experts on the psychology of terrorists.   Anthropologist Scott

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Scott Atran

 

Atran has written numerous books on how we should understand terrorists, and how we can hope to defeat the social challenges that give rise to terrorist movements. A couple days after the Paris attacks, he published an important article in the New York Review of Books that should be required reading for all American policymakers.   To me, this is the most clear explanation of what ISIS is, what they  want, and why they seem to be so popular with young people around the world.  I highly recommend you read it.  I will attach it below.

Paris: The War ISIS Wants by Scott Atran and Nafees Hamid.

If you are interested in more, here is Atran speaking to the United Nations earlier this year.
Atran at the UN

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Troublesome

Posted: November 13, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty
I encountered an old Jewish myth that explains the origin of human suffering. Before life, each individual is taken to an enormous field of difficulties and instructed to select the bundle of troubles that he or she will take to earth. The most significant detail of the tale emerges when, after life, each person is brought back to the same field, only to select the same bag of troubles.

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“Sorrowing Old Man (At Eternity’s Gate),” Van Gogh

To be sure, each life comes with its own share of miseries. How does the conversation about the difficulties we face differ if we are lead to believe that we select our own troubles, and, after a lifetime of suffering, would still make the same choice?

The tale asks us to recognize of our own fallibility, and our tendency to choose, again and again, the same sorrowful path. The brilliant film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind offers a heartbreakingly beautiful exploration of this territory. We long for heartwarming, romantic love, but frequently allow ourselves to become mired in hurtful relationships. Choosing the same pain, over and over, oblivious, or at least in denial.

By virtue of being earthly creatures, we are subject to injustices of every type. Larger troubles, far out of our control, are created by worldly powers that exact a human toll throughout all of history. Each of us must constantly contend with the agonies of life.

The logical mind in us wants a reason; the creative mind transforms pain into art.

Blues music embodies our poignant endurance, blending knowledge, acceptance, and regret. “Trouble Weighs a Ton,” by Dan Auerbach, mournful, sweet, tells the same sad stories, and in listening we share in the common grief of humankind.
We rely upon the healing force of companionship, connection through art, and a community bravely moving forward; we can and must allow pain to transform us into more compassionate people.

Pain can also reveal our inner strength and determination. “We Shall Overcome,” has ultimately and astonishingly fulfilled its own prophesy.

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“Break Through Your Mold,” Zenos Frudakis

Suffering also builds empathy. Understanding the infinite difficulties in life allows us to connect with others, to share their suffering and ease their pain.

We must withstand tragedy after tragedy, but at least we do not have to do so alone.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty
I regularly ask my students to devote their time and attention to the crucial habit of reflection. In autumn, Nature herself asks us to reflect on death, and consider the ways that we allow death to coexist with life.

I am fortunate: most of the people I have ever loved are still on the earth. That will not always be so. Still, those that die are always present in our thoughts. And the many cultural traditions attached to the remembrance of the dead, The Day of the Dead among them, are necessary.

It seems appropriate to reflect upon the physical places and spaces reserved for death. The living must make these choices, since the dead cannot. Cemeteries tend to be lush and green, replete with old growth trees and acres of quiet elegance, and the habit of visiting and enjoying cemeteries as parklands is one of many ways humans have endeavored to practice philosophy. In “Our First Public Parks: The Forgotten History of Cemeteries” Rebecca Greenfield writes, “It gives you a sense of the finiteness of your life, the preciousness of your life. Cemeteries are places that make us reflect upon not just the mortality of those who are buried there, but on our own mortality.” Recently, I drove past Rosehill Cemetery in North Chicago, twenty acres of which had been re-purposed to include a nature preserve including biking and walking trails. The permeable border between life and death made manifest in this place confronts our need to understand and connect with the dead.

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Moreover, cemeteries are a lasting testament to the life of a people and a place. I was inspired by the tangible persistence evidenced in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. Like others, I visited Arlington national cemetery (when staying with my brother) and was moved by the solemn changing of the guards at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The devotion and dedication paid to the loss of one who represents countless others: a somber and poignant experience. And nearly every tourist in New Orleans considers visiting the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, home to Marie Laveau’s tomb, to entertain the notion that the dead might be able to intervene on our behalf.

Human must grapple with loss and death. The recent discovery of an early burial cave was a tremendously exciting archaeological and anthropological find because it evidenced a shift toward the ritualization of death. More recently, an idea to replace coffins with seed pods in order to create lush “memorial forests” appeals to the human desire to see new life spring forth, perhaps abating our grief in some small way.

Cemeteries remain among the few silent spaces, solemn and lovely, inviting us to remember those loved and lost, and to consider life’s inherent brevity, and attendant beauty.