Friday, January 22, 2021

#22 / Thank You, Amanda Gorman

That poem she read. Amanda Gorman. Poet Laureate of the Inauguration. 

That poem speaks to me. 

That poem speaks to us. It speaks to all of us. That poem is here, in its entirety, below. And you can read it. You can watch her recite it. You can see her present it. That poem is published and linked right here. 

But first, let me just give you a few picked out lines from her poem. These lines speak to me. These lines speak for me. 

I hope they speak for you. I hope they speak for all of us:

Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished ...
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside ...
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made ...
The hill we climb ...
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe ... prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be ...
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it


The Hill We Climb

When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished
We the successors of a country and a time
Where a skinny Black girl
descended from slaves and raised by a single mother
can dream of becoming president
only to find herself reciting for one
And yes we are far from polished
far from pristine
but that doesn’t mean we are
striving to form a union that is perfect
We are striving to forge a union with purpose
To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and
conditions of man
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us
but what stands before us
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside
We lay down our arms
so we can reach out our arms
to one another
We seek harm to none and harmony for all
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew
That even as we hurt, we hoped
That even as we tired, we tried
That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious
Not because we will never again know defeat
but because we will never again sow division
Scripture tells us to envision
that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid
If we’re to live up to our own time
Then victory won’t lie in the blade
But in all the bridges we’ve made
That is the promised glade
The hill we climb
If only we dare
It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,
it’s the past we step into
and how we repair it
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
This is the era of just redemption
We feared at its inception
We did not feel prepared to be the heirs
of such a terrifying hour
but within it we found the power
to author a new chapter
To offer hope and laughter to ourselves
So while once we asked,
how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?
Now we assert
How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?
We will not march back to what was
but move to what shall be
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free
We will not be turned around
or interrupted by intimidation
because we know our inaction and inertia
will be the inheritance of the next generation
Our blunders become their burdens
But one thing is certain:
If we merge mercy with might,
and might with right,
then love becomes our legacy
and change our children’s birthright
So let us leave behind a country
better than the one we were left with
Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest,
we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one
We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west,
we will rise from the windswept northeast
where our forefathers first realized revolution
We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states,
we will rise from the sunbaked south
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
and every known nook of our nation and
every corner called our country,
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge,
battered and beautiful
When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

Image Credit:

Thursday, January 21, 2021

#21 / Turnabout Is Fair Play - Could That Be Right?


I feel certain that this saying, "turnabout is fair play," must be familiar to most of those who are reading this blog posting. The Grammarist dates the saying to the 1700's: 

The phrase ... originated in reference to gaming, meaning [that] taking turns assures a fair game. At that time, turnabout was rendered as two words as in turn about. Today, the term has taken on the connotation of revenge or retaliation, in the sense of two parties taking equal advantage of each other. Occasionally, turnabout is fair play is used in a friendly, teasing manner as an admonishment to keep things fair and equal.
Setting aside the occasional use of this phrase in a "friendly, teasing manner," I'd like to focus on its use as a justification for revengeful and retaliatory actions against those who have wronged us. Let's consider the possibility of that, as we think about the behavior of our former president, Donald J. Trump, and how we will respond to his behavior, now that he is gone. Is turnabout fair play?

Few people know how to humiliate like Donald Trump—he told his Twitter followers to check out a sex tape; he instructed Chris Christie to stop eating Oreos and forced him to assume the role of doting butler—but even fewer take humiliation as personally as Trump does. For eleven months, the Hillary Clinton campaign—as well as almost the entire Republican establishment—waged a war against Trump by attacking and undermining his claims that he was rich and smart and had a working penis. But you have to have shame to be humiliated, and Trump lacks it completely. The only thing these attacks achieved was the inevitable retaliation.

As The New Republic observed, Trump is a master of humiliation, and during the last four years, humiliation is exactly what Trump has so often dished out to others - and in great abundance. If that "turnabout is fair play" rule applies to politics - and why wouldn't it? - shouldn't we feel more than comfortable in trying to humiliate our former president right back? 

By extension, shouldn't we also feel quite comfortable in seeking to humiliate his followers, too, millions of whom have rallied to him, and to his false claim that the 2020 election was some sort of gigantic fraud. Shouldn't we, in particular, seek out ways to humiliate and pay back those elected officials (take Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley as examples) who pandered to Trump's untruths, and who helped set in motion the events of January 6th?

The idea of seeking the humiliation of our former president, and of his followers, came to me as I read a recent article in Psyche, titled, "The History of Humiliation Points to the Future of Human Dignity." The article began as follows: 

Humiliation is more than an individual and subjective feeling. It is an instrument of political power, wielded with intent.

Our former president certainly used humiliation as a political weapon, and in what appears to have been a very effective manner. Surely we all remember Jeff Sessions. After that example, who would want to cross Trump? Not very many people! So, shouldn't we take a "turnabout is fair play" approach now, and give Trump and his supporters exactly the same kind of treatment the president gave to others while he was in office? 

The Psyche article suggests that we should not, and the article is well worth reading in its entirety. Here's a short excerpt:

Mass opposition to the politics of humiliation began from the early 19th century in Europe, as lower-class people increasingly objected to disrespectful treatment. Servants, journeymen and factory workers alike used the language of honour and concepts of personal and social self-worth – previously monopolised by the nobility and upper-middle classes – to demand that they not be verbally and physically insulted by employers and overseers.

This social change was enabled and supported by a new type of honour that followed the invention of ‘citizens’ (rather than subjects) in democratising societies. Citizens who carried political rights and duties were also seen as possessing civic honour. Traditionally, social honour had been stratified according to status and rank, but now civic honour pertained to each and every citizen, and this helped to raise their self-esteem and self-consciousness. Consequently, humiliation, and other demonstrations of the alleged inferiority of others, was no longer considered a legitimate means by which to exert power over one’s fellow citizens (emphasis added).

I read this article yesterday, on a day that our new president called for "unity." Maybe that word, "unity," is not quite the right word - or, at least, it is not the most important word - because the divisions of thought, opinion, and circumstance in the public are profound, and real, and an appeal to something that is not widely felt or acknowledged will be unavailing. 

What will heal us, ultimately, will not be an appeal to a "unity" that many don't believe exists. What will heal us, instead, will be our recognition of the dignity of every person, whoever they are, wherever they come from, whatever they believe. Using  that approach to restoring a functioning democracy will require us to do the opposite of trying to humiliate those with whom we disagree - and who are, in fact, "wrong."

This is not, really, saying anything different from what I wrote about yesterday, in my posting on "Talking With Strangers," or that I wrote about on Monday, in "Trust Me On That." 

Talk and trust. That's what we need. We need to talk with those whom we believe have made a mistake - and who have made a mistake. We must trust that from such conversations can come conversion and real change. However tempting - however justified - we must try to avoid lording it over all those who have been mistaken, and wrong - Trump supporters, for instance, who don't think that "white privilege" even exists, and who are resentful and aggrieved for reasons we don't judge to be worthy. With all such persons, with everyone, we must talk as equals, and with no thought to humiliate. The opposite of humiliation is what is called for, conversations that provide no intimation that those with whom we disagree are "deplorable," or unworthy. 

I am hoping that our new president, who has chosen the word "unity" to describe what I am talking about, will be a model for this kind of healing approach, an approach that aims to repair all those things that have so disproportionately divided us. The responsibility for such conversations cannot be delegated entirely to our Chief Executive. That responsibility must ultimately fall on every one of us. 

We are, each one of us, as citizens, responsible for the maintenance of democratic self-government, and that requires us to treat with dignity all whose with whom we share the world, and especially those with whom we differ. That is, of course, the hard part! Despite how hard it is to turn away from the "turnabout is fair play" response to legitimate grievance, it is our responsibility to acknowledge and triumph over our differences by elevating the dignity of every other person, and by setting aside an easy recourse to the humiliation of those with whom we have disagreed, and disagree. 

Image Credit:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

#20 / Talking To Strangers


As political candidates know, each interaction with a stranger holds the seeds of a transformation, and each of us already has far more political power within our grasp than we acknowledge or allow.

The statement quoted above, a statement that I believe is profoundly true, is found on page 168 of Talking To Strangers, by Danielle S. Allen. Allen's book, which I highly recommend, was published in 2004, and is subtitled, "Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education." 

Allen is the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, Harvard's highest faculty honor, and she is also the Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard in 2015, Allen was UPS Foundation Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. 

Allen's book is unusual. While quite properly seen as a work of political theory, Talking With Strangers includes a literary analysis of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and undertakes a detailed discussion of Plato and Aristotle, with quotes in Greek. It is also, most centrally, a deep reflection on the "reconstitution" of the United States after Brown v. Board of Education. It is also, in many ways, a kind of practice guide to life within a democratic society.

The quotation I begin with, above, is found in the Epilogue, and serves as a summarizing statement. Of course, I particularly appreciated Allen's assertion that "each of us already has far more political power within our grasp than we acknowledge or allow." Not only is that true, but I think that this realization is the single most important thing that "we, the people," need to understand as we contemplate the future of our democratic republic. Still, while it is worthwhile to get to this summary, that is probably best accomplished by starting at the beginning. 

Allen begins by addressing the issue I wrote about yesterday, the issue of trust and distrust:

Within democracies...congealed distrust indicates political failure. At its best, democracy is full of contention and fluid disagreement but free of settled patterns of mutual disdain. Democracy depends on trustful talk among strangers and, properly conducted, should dissolve any divisions that block it (page xiii).

When theorists argue that democracies are based on consent, they mean that the entirety of a democracy's legitimate strength and stability derives from the allegiance of citizens. That allegiance endures only so long as citizens trust that their polity does generally further their interests; minorities must actually be able to trust the majorities on whose opinions democratic policies are based. When distrust among electoral minorities endures over time and congeals, such that citizens recognize themselves as constituting a disaffected group, only four outcomes are possible: (a) distrust of the electoral majority will be dissolved and converted into trust; (b) the group will leave the polity; (c) the group will rebel against the polity; or (d) the group will be retained by repressive acts of state force. (When distrust flows in the other direction, and the majority distrusts the minority, there is the possibility that the minority will be expelled or eradicated). The first eventuality - the conversion of distrust into trust - alone suits democratic practice (pages xviii - xix).

The greatest part of Allen's book discusses how best to build trust between those who differ on what should be done. The recognition that we are different - a "plurality," as Hannah Arendt would say - is one essential ingredient. So is the realization that sacrifice is central to our ability to live together. That word, "sacrifice," while it can extend to the willingness to "give one's life for one's country," is most honestly seen as a willingness to let some other group get what it wants, even while you and your group don't. However, a willingness to make that kind of sacrifice depends on trust - a belief that sometime in the future, the group for whom you and your group has sacrificed will makes its own sacrifice on your behalf. 

I could go through the book, outlining the entire argument that Allen makes. Better for you to read this book yourself. Think, though, whether or not what you have gotten from this blog post doesn't ring true, and doesn't describe our current situation. Today is the day we inaugurate a new president, with a new opportunity to forge a trusting relationship between citizens who are in different circumstances, and with different perspectives. We must not lose this chance!

If we are going to maintain a democratic politics in the United States, we are all going to have to sacrifice (in the way Allen uses the term). To arrive at a renewed and healthy democracy, we must above all else build trust among ourselves - among our differences! We need always to remember that it is trust that initiates the process of mutual sacrifice that makes democracy possible. Realizing this, those who have the most should be first in line for the sacrifice. Those who have the most must make the sacrifices that can restore the trust that will make our common life possible. Today, it is the political victors who have the most. Let us not forget that!

Did I say this before? This book is recommended!

Image Credit:

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

#19 / Trust Me On That

Kevin Vallier, a philosophy professor at Bowling Green State University, has written a book called Trust in a Polarized Age." I haven't read the book (let me confess that immediately), but I have read Vallier's own summary, by way of a column in The Wall Street Journal

In the early 1970s, says Vallier, half of Americans believed that most people could be trusted. Today, fewer than one-third of Americans would say that. The United States, in fact, is the only established democracy to see a major decline in social trust, which Vallier defines as a "faith that strangers will abide by established norms." 

Economic inequality is related to this lack of trust among the "strangers" who are actually our fellow citizens. Corruption and ethnic segregation also play a role, but Vallier doesn't think that corruption, ethnic segregation, and economic inequality tell the whole story. They just aren't the full explanation. He believes that one likely cause of our growing social mistrust has been political polarization, which hasn't been as well studied as those other factors:

Growing up under polarized political institutions may lead young people to generalize from partisan distrust to social distrust. Americans are sorting themselves into social silos, seldom interacting with unlike-minded others, leading to less moderation and more radicalization. This may be due in part to social media, though recent research on the effect of social media has reached mixed conclusions on this question. But the effect is clear: In 2017, around 70% of Democrats said that Donald Trump voters couldn't be trusted, and around 70% of Republicans said the same of Hillary Clinton voters...

Some measures can help. When people witness better enforcement of the law—including the protection of clearly defined property rights and less manifest nepotism and favoritism at high levels of government—social trust can rise. The U.S. can also do more to break up patterns of ethnic segregation, including cracking down on inequitable mortgage lending and adopting school vouchers, which give parents more freedom to choose where their children are educated.

But political leaders have an especially important role to play. Some research connects having a largely symbolic monarch with higher social trust, perhaps because having a widely recognized and respected nonpartisan leader gives diverse people something in common. American presidents can’t play that role, and in general American elites are heavily polarized on both sides; they disagree with and dislike one another, and arguably pass those attitudes along to the rest of us.

If our leaders can defuse this hostility, rather than creating the impression that we’re on the brink of civil war, Americans may find it easier to develop clear expectations and norms for how people should behave, rather than anticipating that their fellow citizens will deceive or oppress them.

Tomorrow, we are expecting the inauguration of a president who has made it absolutely clear that he is committed to exactly what Vallier is recommending. Our outgoing president, and his supporters, quite to the contrary, have been suggesting that we are, indeed, on "the brink of a civil war," and the events of January 6th are probably not going to help restore the "trust factor" that Vallier emphasizes is so important.

I have a lot of faith that we can learn to trust each other more, but a greater appreciation of our ultimate and final "equality" is going to be required if we want to get there. As a young man from Duluth put it, way back in 1971:

I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everybody’s brother and son
I ain’t different from anyone

As is so often the case, Bob Dylan is right on the mark.

There is a fundamental equality between us all. That's the truth. That's the truth that was recognized in our Declaration of Independence, and this fundamental equality between us is the essential foundation of our democratic union. 

We are all equal. That's the way we have to think about each other. That's the way we have to treat each other.

Trust me on that! 

Image Credit:

Monday, January 18, 2021

#18 / Intersectional Justice + NEPA And CEQA

Pictured above is Raul Garcia, the Legislative Director for the Healthy Communities program at Earthjustice. As Earthjustice likes to say, "the Earth needs a good lawyer." 

Maybe more than one!

Luckily, Earthjustice has a rather large legal staff, and if you're not familiar with its work, I invite you to click this link to find out more. I have supported Earthjustice for many years, and thus get information in the mail. The latest bulletin I received - the Fall 2020 edition of the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine - included a conversation with Garcia that was titled, "Environmental Law for Intersectional Justice." 

In case you haven't heard about "intersectionality," the article just linked will provide some background. Demanding that we recognize the "intersectionality" of the problems we face is one way to point out that John Muir was right, a long time ago, in saying that:  

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

I think my own, often-repeated claim that "we are all in this together" also acknowledges the importance of "intersectionality" in our human affairs.

I particularly appreciated something that Garcia said about NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. Telling his interviewer how he first came to work at Earthjustice, Garcia told this story: 

When I interviewed with Earthjustice, Marty Hayden (Earthjustice's vice president of policy & legislation) asked me, "What do you know avout NEPA?" I'd never heard of it, or read it. He told me, "Take a look and let me know if you'd be interested in helping us protect it." I was hesitant at first because I wasn't an environmental lawyer, but that changed after I read it. When we met again, I told him it didn't read like an environmental law. To me, NEPA sounded more like a civil rights and civil engagement law. 

And that it truly is! NEPA, and the even better version that operates in California, CEQA, the California Environmental Policy Act, both give ordinary people real power to challenge proposed projects that the government "just knows" will be great. Without the procedures that NEPA and CEQA provide, those who are potentially affected by a proposed governmental action have the right to comment - to object - but there is no process to make the government actually pay attention to any protest received.

In fact, when NEPA and CEQA are not available, government agencies and elected officials typically ignore objections and questions. They say, "Thank you for your comment," and then they do what they have already decided that they want to do, anyway. 

When NEPA and CEQA are involved, if the government wants to do something that "might" have an adverse environmental impact, the government can't just ignore questions and objections and do what it has already decided is a good idea. Before approving and implementing any project, the government must first issue a "Draft" Environmental Impact Statement (EIS - NEPA) or a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR - CEQA) and circulate it for public comment. Then, when comments are received, the governmental body proposing the project must respond, substantively, to each and every comment received, and issue a "Final" EIS or EIR. The government must then consider the Final EIS or EIR before taking action. In the case of CEQA, which is stronger than NEPA, the government must actually modify the proposed project if the Final EIR shows that there are feasible ways to reduce or eliminate negative impacts. 

The Courts have been willing to make the government follow through, too, so the government can't easily dodge these obligations. That does mean, just like Raul Garcia says, that ordinary people can demand and obtain environmental justice. It's a "civil engagement law," and the law is on their side!

Development and business interests, and governments dedicated to advancing those interests, can't get away with it if ordinary people will get organized and get involved, and demand that the government actually respond substantively to environmental concerns.*

So, if you ever hear that CEQA, or NEPA, is just some way for "NIMBY" anti-everything people to stop good things from happening, don't believe it. It's always hard to hold "our" government accountable, and to prevent the government from making decisions that ignore real impacts to real people, and to the physical environment. 

Thanks to NEPA and CEQA, it can be done. Take it from Raul Garcia! 

Image Credit:

* For folks from Santa Cruz, the University of California has just recently released its proposed "Long Range Development Plan" (LRDP), which proposes adding almost 10,000 new students to the Santa Cruz Campus. The EIR process just described will have to be followed. Click right here to be directed to a website where you can obtain a copy of the LRDP and the Draft EIR. The deadline for comments is March 8, 2021.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

#17 / Hurry Up And Kill


Dustin John Higgs, whose photo is at the bottom of this blog posting, was executed yesterday, Saturday, January 16, 2021.  

The story of Higgs' last day of life is told in the entry below, from SCOTUSblog. That website, by the way, publishes a free daily bulletin, to keep interested persons advised of what is going on at the United States Supreme Court. 

Here's what's going on.

The Court intervened in an extraordinary way to accelerate Higgs' execution, thus making Higgs the thirteenth person to be executed in the last six months. Higgs' execution concluded a push by President Trump to administer the death penalty to as many persons as possible, while the president was still in office. The whole story is found in the SCOTUSblog posting. This short excerpt provides the "bottom line" for those without the time to read the whole account: 

[Justice] Sotomayor began her dissent by listing the names of the 13 people executed by the federal government since last July, when the Trump administration ended a 17-year unofficial moratorium on federal executions. And she accused the court of essentially rubber-stamping these executions.

“Sadly, it is not surprising that the Court grants this extraordinary request,” she wrote of the decision to allow Higgs’ execution to occur. “Over the past six months, this Court has repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the Government’s request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions. With due judicial consideration, some of the Government’s arguments may have prevailed and some or even many of these executions may have ultimately been allowed to proceed. Others may not have been. Either way, the Court should not have sanctioned these executions without resolving these critical issues. The stakes were simply too high” (emphasis added).

Hurry Up And Kill 

The Supreme Court on Friday allowed the federal government to execute Dustin Higgs, reversing lower-court orders that had put the execution on hold and drawing strongly worded dissents from two justices.

Higgs’ execution was the third federal execution this week, and it concludes a push by the Trump administration to carry out death sentences before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who opposes capital punishment.

In a brief, unsigned ruling issued around 11 p.m., the justices reversed a federal district judge, who had concluded last month that he did not have the authority to green-light the execution. And the justices bypassed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which had granted a stay of execution this week to allow time for that court to consider the final legal issue in the case.

The issue was a technical one: whether the government was permitted to administer Higgs’ execution in accordance with the law of Indiana, even though Higgs was convicted in Maryland and his sentencing order did not specify that he could be executed under Indiana law.

A majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s plan was permissible. The court relied on a rarely used procedure to take over the case from the appeals court and designate Indiana as the governing law – a decision that allowed the government to immediately begin carrying out the execution.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan indicated that they would not have permitted the execution to go forward. Breyer and Sotomayor each wrote dissents lamenting the recent flurry of executions – and the court’s role in allowing them to happen. In the past six months, the federal government executed 13 people, and it prevailed in every death-penalty appeal that reached the Supreme Court during that time.

“After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully,” Sotomayor wrote. “When it did not, this Court should have. It has not.”

Higgs, 48, was given a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 1:23 a.m. on Saturday morning.

The Supreme Court’s Friday-night ruling came about 24 hours after the court denied an emergency appeal filed by Higgs and another person on death row, Corey Johnson. Both Higgs and Johnson had recently contracted COVID-19 in prison, and they argued that lung damage from the virus would create a risk of excessive suffering during their lethal injections. The court denied their request to suspend their executions while they recovered from the virus. Johnson was executed late Thursday night.

But one final legal obstacle stood in the way of the government’s planned execution of Higgs on Friday. Under the Federal Death Penalty Act, death sentences handed down in federal court must be implemented “in the manner prescribed by the law of the State in which the sentence is imposed.” If the underlying state does not have a procedure for capital punishment, the federal court that imposes the death sentence must designate another state as the relevant law to govern the execution.

Higgs was convicted in 2000 in federal court in Maryland for the killings of three women – Tamika Black, Tanji Jackson and Mishann Chinn – in the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge. At the time he was sentenced, his formal sentencing judgment implicitly provided for Maryland law to govern his execution. But Maryland abolished capital punishment in 2013. That meant there was no longer any Maryland law for the government to apply under the Federal Death Penalty Act.

Last year, when the Department of Justice decided to move forward with Higgs’ execution, it asked a federal judge to amend Higgs’ sentencing judgment and designate Indiana law as the governing law. The federal execution chamber is located in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Higgs was in prison there for nearly 20 years.

On Dec. 29, U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte ruled that he lacked the authority to grant the government’s request to amend the sentencing judgment. When the government appealed, the 4th Circuit scheduled an oral argument on the issue for Jan. 27 – nearly two weeks after the government’s planned execution date. Then, on Wednesday, the 4th Circuit issued a stay of execution, formally putting the execution on hold while it reviewed the case.

The government came to the Supreme Court, asking it to lift the stay and designate Indiana law as the relevant state law under the FDPA. In a four-sentence order without an explanation of its reasoning, the court granted the government’s request.

Procedurally, the court’s ruling was highly unusual. It was an expedited decision on the merits of a case that came to the court as a petition for “certiorari before judgment” – legal jargon for a procedure in which the justices can intervene and resolve a case before a court of appeals has ruled. Such interventions are uncommon, and on the rare instances when the court does consider cases in that posture, it typically resolves them only after an oral argument and extended deliberation, neither of which occurred here.

In their dissents, Breyer and Sotomayor said the court was taking unusual and “extraordinary” measures to avoid fully confronting serious legal issues. Breyer accused the majority of adopting a “hurry up, hurry up” approach in this case and in other recent death penalty appeals.

“How just is a legal system that would execute an individual without consideration of a novel or significant legal question that he has raised?” Breyer wrote. Problems surrounding capital punishment, he continued, raise questions about its constitutionality – a point he has raised before.

Sotomayor began her dissent by listing the names of the 13 people executed by the federal government since last July, when the Trump administration ended a 17-year unofficial moratorium on federal executions. And she accused the court of essentially rubber-stamping these executions.

“Sadly, it is not surprising that the Court grants this extraordinary request,” she wrote of the decision to allow Higgs’ execution to occur. “Over the past six months, this Court has repeatedly sidestepped its usual deliberative processes, often at the Government’s request, allowing it to push forward with an unprecedented, breakneck timetable of executions. With due judicial consideration, some of the Government’s arguments may have prevailed and some or even many of these executions may have ultimately been allowed to proceed. Others may not have been. Either way, the Court should not have sanctioned these executions without resolving these critical issues. The stakes were simply too high (emphasis added).”

Image Credits:
(1) and (2) -

Saturday, January 16, 2021

#16 / Protesters Are Like Your Children

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. has written a column in The Wall Street Journal about the profoundly upsetting mob action that occurred in Washington, D.C. on January 6th. He tells his readers, whom I believe he knows are upset, disheartened, and outraged - as I certainly am - "Don't Expect Police to Shoot at Crowds." That's the title of Jenkins' column. The police didn't shoot at the crowd on January 6th, of course, and perhaps had the police shot at the crowd, the actual invasion of the Capitol Building would have been prevented. Or maybe not. 

I am having a bit of a hard time figuring out exactly what to think about what happened on January 6th - and even more important, to decide, with any sense of certainty, what I think should happen now. I wouldn't be surprised if readers have similar feelings. I seem to be thinking lots of different things, simultaneously, and they don't add up to any easy to define and consistent judgment about either the past or the future. I am trying to work that out.

I do hold the president responsible for what occurred on January 6th, because he encouraged a huge crowd to move towards the Capitol, and his directions did not suggest any limit or restraint with respect to the kind of action that he wanted his supporters to take. He didn't actually say, "go kill Mike Pence," but he didn't tell the crowd that they needed to go "in peace," either. He only said that after five people had died and those who actually invaded the Capitol Building had failed to carry out what seems clearly to have been their objective - stopping the certification of the Electoral College ballots that officially gave Joe Biden the election.

I suspect that what happened after Trump sent his huge crowd on its way to the Capitol was not just a spontaneous occurrence. I suspect there was a plan, and I also suspect that the president and his close associates were involved in the planning. I tend to believe, in other words, that what happened on January 6th was an "inside job," as some news reports are now claiming. Anyone who schemed or worked to bring down our democratic government should be tried, and should be punished if found guilty. And some are guilty of exactly that - at least, that is my deep suspicion. That includes, perhaps, the president himself.

But what other persons should be held responsible in this drama? Anyone who actually planned or acted directly to prevent the transfer of power according to the Constitution should be tried and punished, if found guilty of doing that. I find no big problem there. But were Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who led the fight against the certification of the Electoral College ballots, part of a coup attempt? And what about those Republicans in the Senate and the House who voted against certification of the ballots? Were they, too, part of a coup attempt? That is certainly one possibility, I suppose, but maybe these elected officials were acting, in a typical fashion, as self-interested and self-aggrandizing politicians often do. In other words, maybe they were acting not that much differently from the way most politicians act from time to time. Maybe we ought to let the normal electoral process deal with those elected officials, even though their actions indisputably contributed to the incredibly dangerous events of January 6th.

Those who broke into the building and caused damage, if they can be identified, are clearly guilty of various criminal acts. But what about the rest of the demonstrators? How do we think about them? There were thousands of demonstrators in Washington, D.C. that day, though an accurate crowd size estimate is difficult. The picture above shows men and women who came to demonstrate and protest in Washington, part of the huge crowd that surged to the Capitol with the president's encouragement. Were the people pictured here part of an "insurrection?" They didn't bring weapons, and they didn't actually enter the Capitol Building. They are, in fact, a church group from Martin County, Kentucky.

Virgil Ferguson, one of the members of that church group, was distraught at what happened: 


"We thought we would come and just show our support by helping Trump and then later on, it just went, after he got through his speech, it just went down from there," Ferguson said.

What do we think of, and how do we treat people like those in the Kentucky church group? Here is how Jenkins approaches this issue, in his Wall Street Journal column, comparing what happened on January 6th to events at the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville:

In the end, most of the invaders of the Capitol behaved more like tourists than insurrectionists, allowing themselves to be herded out when police had assembled a superior force. It could have been much worse but wasn’t because sense was prevalent on both sides. 
A careful postmortem in Charlottesville showed that protesters are like your children: Each one is different. Political activists, gawkers and journalists show up as well as hatemongers of every description, drawn by a hope of mayhem and not overly observant of partisan narratives adopted for the convenience of the media (emphasis added).
Evan Osnos was on the ground with the demonstrators, or protesters, or insurrectionists (you pick the label that you like most), and here is an excerpt from his write-up in the New Yorker. His column is titled, "Mob Rule in the Capitol." 


As another puff of tear gas wafted over the melee with police, Sharon Krahn, a grandmother from Dallas, looked on approvingly. “Our congressmen should be shitting their pants. They need to fear, because they’re too posh,” she said.“Their jobs are too cush, and their personal gain has taken priority over their sense of duty. Maybe they all started off with a good heart, you know, but power corrupts. Our government is proof positive of that.” 
She wore a plaid scarf and a gray wool hat, studded with sequins. I asked if the violence in front of us was going too far. “Whose house is this? This is the house of ‘We the People.’ If you do a bad job, your boss tells you about it,” Krahn said. She nodded toward the Senate, where the elected officials had already evacuated to safety: “We’re not happy with the job you’ve done.” She drew a distinction between the scene in front of her and the domain of enemies she called “Antifa and B.L.M.,” who, she said, have “no true aim except destruction and anarchy.”
What should we think about misguided churchgoers who came to Washington, D.C. to support their president, believing that there was fraud in the election that left him defeated? And what about non-church members who showed up for the same reason? And what about that "Kick Ass Grandma" who talked to Osnos? Aren't they, in fact, a lot like me (and maybe a lot like you, depending on how you are)? I have been to a lot of protests, and I have been just as mad as that grandmother - though our political views don't match. I actually like the idea of church groups engaging in political demonstrations - and "disruptive" demonstrations, too. Demonstrations about global warming, for instance; or against nuclear weaponry. 

I really liked what Jenkins said: "Protesters are like your children. Every one is different." Looking ahead, maybe we need to respond as if these protesters were members of the family. After all, they sort of are, unless we want to concede that there isn't any common cause between citizens who disagree, even profoundly disagree, on political issues. 

We do love our children, don't we, even when they act in ways we don't approve? Don't we have to love (or at least tolerate) those who get engaged and who demonstrate for their political positions, even if we disagree with those positions, and even if their manner of demonstrating is not to our liking? After all, we all want that kind of treatment for ourselves, and for our own causes. Black Lives Matter demonstrators went marching right through the rich white sections of town, in demonstrations that happened early in 2020. I was so happy to see them do it! Lots of people didn't like it, though!

Those who came to Washington, D.C. on January 6th, to support President Trump, absolutely contributed to what seems to have been a fairly serious effort to topple democratic government in the United States. But I can't really fault them for coming out to demonstrate (even though I think that their support for the president's false claims about the election was terribly and tragically misguided). The demonstrators who came to the Capitol, and other people like them, are properly upset with the United States government. The "Kick Ass Granny" is right on target, too, when she says that too many Members of Congress put personal gain ahead of good public policy. And she's right that the Capitol is our house, not the property of those politicians whom we send there.

We are not going to save our democracy by turning the United States Capitol into a building defended by wire fences and guns - currently the approach being taken to provide security for the Inauguration of President-Elect Biden on January 20th. In order for our democracy to endure, we are going to have to remember that most of the protesters who showed up in Washington, D.C. on January 6th are "different," just like our children are. Differences admitted, they are still part of the "family." Let's not forget that. 

In his column, Jenkins makes this important observation: 

Let's focus on a general trope among the Trump opposition: Because I dislike X about Trump, therefore his supporters like X.

When talking to Trump voters or surveying them, the evidence overwhelmingly shows they disliked X too. They disliked most of what non-Trump voters disliked but they voted for him anyway for reasons critics were too lazy and self-satisfied to recognize.

In other words, as I read Jenkins, there is likely to be some significant common ground between those who are still supporting President Trump and those who don't, never have, and never will. Let's think about the implications of that. 

As I have already said, I think we need criminally to prosecute and punish anyone who can be proved to have planned and/or acted to overthrow democratic government in the United States. That might even include President Trump. For those who can be shown to have violated laws, as they invaded the Capitol, existing criminal penalties are appropriate. For those politicians who played such an ignominious role in helping to make possible the events of January 6th, those Senators and House Members who acted like blatant untruths needed to be taken seriously, I suggest we let the normal political process take care of them. 

But the biggest group is the most important. I am talking about those demonstrators who came to Washington, D.C. to support the president, but who didn't invade the Capitol Building themselves. This group includes "Kick Ass Grannies," church group members, and others. We might also include those who didn't come to Washington personally, but who sympathized with and agreed with those who did. That is a very large share of voters who are registered as Republicans, as I understand recent polling. A column in my hometown newspaper, this morning, written by one of those Trump-supporting voters who didn't actually go to Washington on January 6th, but who sympathizes with and identifies with those who did, suggests some sort of effort at reconciliation might be worthwhile. 

I think those of us who are upset, disheartened, and outraged by what happened on January 6th, need to start talking to our Trump-supporting fellow citizens. 

Let's listen to what they have to say. Let's see what we can work out. I don't think that there is really any other good choice. 

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Friday, January 15, 2021

#15 / Computational Politics


Sometimes, I write these blog posts mainly to alert anyone who might be reading them to some article, book, story, or poem that I think is worthwhile. For instance, back on Mother's Day, I recommended a story that will make you cry (that's my prediction) and that will likely stay with you forever. Click this link if you want to be reminded!

Today, I am recommending an article from 2014, by Zeynep Tufekci, who is pictured above. I have also linked to one of her related TED Talks at the bottom of this post - related, but not the same. I consider Tufekci to be a truly insightful commentator on issues involving politics and technology. As a final recommendation, if you'd like to go "all in" on Tufekci, the next link will take you to her periodic blog, Insight. That is recommended, too!

I teach a Capstone Thesis class at the University of California, Santa Cruz. My class is titled, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom," and Tufekci's article, "Engineering the public: Big Data, surveillance and computational politics," is always an assigned reading. As the class discussed Tufekci's article most recently, I thought to myself that I should try to let others know about it. In my opinion, Tufekci brilliantly outlines how the accumulation of "big data" has generated "six dynamics" that are transforming our politics - and in very disturbing ways:

#1 - The rise of big data 
#2 - The shift from demographics to individualizd targeting 
#3 -  The opacity and power of computational modeling
#4 - The use of persuasive behavioral science 
#5 - Digital media enabling dynamic real-time experimentation 
#6 - Power brokers who own the data

The pathologies that were so evident in our last presidential election are all directly related to the changed political terrain that Tufekci discusses. We are going to have to figure out how to deal with the "dynamics" she has identified. We are going to have to think about it. 

One good way to start thinking about it is to read Tufekci's article

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Thursday, January 14, 2021

#14 / The Unlived Life



“Unled lives are a largely modern preoccupation."... It used to be that, for the most part, people lived the life their parents had, or the one that the fates decreed. Today, we try to chart our own courses. ... Among secular people, the absence of an afterlife raises the stakes. In “Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life,” the psychologist Adam Phillips warns that “once the next life—the better life, the fuller life—has to be in this one, we have a considerable task on our hands.” Given just a single shot at existence, we owe it to ourselves to hit the mark; we must not just survive but thrive. It’s no wonder that for many of us “the story of our lives becomes the story of the lives we were prevented from living.”

The quotation above comes from a book review written by Joshua Rothman. I recommend it. The book Rothman is reviewing, by Andrew H. Miller, is titled, On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives. Rothman is an American historian; his review appeared in the December 14, 2020, edition of The New Yorker

The topic addressed by both Miller and Rothman is a topic with which I have wrestled, too. This is not, of course, very surprising. Our "unlived lives" are, truly, a "modern preoccupation." I would not be surprised to hear that you, too - you who are reading this - have also had to grapple with that famous "path not taken" thought.

My blog postings on this topic - or at least some of them, the ones I could easily find - are listed as follows: 

#239 / Ballerina Or Brain Surgeon - August 28, 2010

#253 / FOMO At A Certain Age - September 10, 2015

#168 / Where Did I Go Wrong? - June 16, 2020 

#207 / The Path Not Taken - July 25, 2020

You can see that I have been somewhat preoccupied with this topic, and for a long time, too. Basically, I have been thinking about the issue during the entire ten-year period I have been writing this blog - and before that, too, undoubtedly. Whether you call it the "Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)" or "unlived lives," or "the path not taken," I believe many of us have to struggle with this issue as a reality that irks us, as soon as we start thinking about it. 

I am well-acquainted with the life I have. But what about the life I don't have? The one I could have had? The better, more fulfilled, more productive, more important life I could have had? Where did I go wrong?

My thoughts on this matter, if you review my blog posts identified above, center on the idea that it is an error to think that we have failed in our lives because we have not had the lives we can now imagine, the lives we might have had, had we done something differently way back when. 

Just recently, as I gave final remarks in the Capstone Thesis course I taught during Fall Quarter at UCSC, I addressed this very issue with my students, all of whom are about to graduate. As I almost always do, I cited to the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado

Click the link below for his poem, for my translation, and for a link to a YouTube performance of the poem put to music

Caminante, no hay camino. Se hace camino al andar.

As I read Rothman's recent New Yorker article, I had a thought related to, but different from, the thought that I have always had when considering the "path not taken" problem - the thought that we should be grateful for the lives we have, instead of being preoccupied with the lives we might have had. 

What got me thinking was that statement that Rothman quoted, saying that "we have a considerable task on our hands" once we start believing that our lives are ones that we must be completely responsible for, so that every choice is fraught. That statement set my mind off in a somewhat different direction. 

Is our life, in fact, a "task?" Is it work? Is it a project that we do? If life is seen in those terms, the burdens are, indeed, considerable. However, what if life is a "gift," not a "task?" 

How ungenerous it would be to deprecate the gift we have actually received, as we look back, by comparing the gift that was given to us against some hypothetical gift we did not obtain. Rothman tells a story about how he was well on his way to a career in high tech, which could well have made him rich and famous - a Zuckerberg-type figure - except for the fact that he happened to meet a woman on an elevator, became attracted to her, married her, and ended up as a journalist with a lovely family, instead. 

Our lives are not construction projects. Much more, they are walks in the woods. They are walks across the sea. They are walks within this world into which we have been so mysteriously born. 

Our steps may go one way. They may go another. As we walk, the paths we make diverge. 

As Machado says, everything passes and everything remains, but it is our fate to pass on. Where we are going is never really known, so we make a mistake if we act like we are supposed to follow some map to some predetermined place. 

No. That is not the assignment. Put your good foot forward, on every step. Enjoy your walk.

Traveler, your footsteps
Are the path–and nothing else;
Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.

You make the path as you walk,
And when you look back
You will see the pathway that
You will never be able to travel again. 
Traveler, there isn’t any path,
Just the traces of your footsteps on the sea.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

#13 / Intentional


Malia Wollan published a little "tip" in her column in the November 1, 2020 edition of The New York Times Magazine. Her column was titled, "How to Build an Intentional Community." Because I anticipate that readers might confront a paywall problem if they click that link, and because Wollan's comment is short, I am reproducing the column in its entirety, below: 

“You need a dream,” says Shirley Meredeen, 90, a founding member of the Older Women’s Co-Housing Project, a group of 26 women over 50 who live together in North London. In 1998, Meredeen and a friend, both 68 and living alone, went to a presentation about co-housing, an outgrowth from the communes of the 1960s, which started in Denmark among private households clustered around shared spaces. Afterward, Meredeen and her friend imagined a place where women could age together and not end up in a nursing home, alone, “dribbling in the corner,” Meredeen says. “We wanted to be in charge of our own lives as we got older.”
Write down some guiding principles. For the Older Women’s Co-Housing Project, these include: counter ageist stereotypes; maintain balance between privacy and community; and no men. The women had all spent their lives in households or workplaces where men assumed leadership positions. “We didn’t want that sort of hierarchy,” Meredeen says. Keep membership to a maximum of 30 people, which will allow everyone to know one another and make decisions collectively. If you seek to build multiunit infrastructure and not just move in with roommates, you’ll most likely need a limited liability corporation, land, financing, architects and builders. It took years, but now the collective consists of 17 apartments owned by their occupants and eight more for renters on fixed incomes.

“You have to commit to doing work,” Meredeen says. Members rotate among various tasks: finances, gardening, coronavirus sanitizing. Decisions are made by consensus during monthly meetings. Though the pandemic has limited their socializing, they have divided up into small groups who check in daily. Younger members do the grocery shopping and prescription pickups. The women can donate money to a charitable trust that helps members who need assistance. That friend Meredeen first schemed with in a pub didn’t live to see the project completed — Meredeen moved in in 2016 — but she knows her friend would have been thrilled. “It’s working so much better than we ever dreamed,” she says.

Co-Housing provides one example of how "intentional" actions, done as community projects, can enrich and stregthen both those individuals involved and the community at large. 

My thought? What about some "intentional" community projects aimed at the kind of political transformations that we need to realize, if our fractured and fractious society is to survive?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

#12 / My Trump-Supporting Friends


Judge John Hodgman, who is not, as I deduce from his Wikipedia entry, actually a judge, shows up each week in The New York Times Magazine, his face, name, and bogus title associated with a column titled, "The Ethicist.

Upon closer scrutiny, it becomes clear that not only is Hodgman not a judge, he isn't even the author of the column. Kwame Anthony Appiah, a British-Ghanaian philosopher, cultural theorist and novelist, is the guy responsible for providing answers to the ethical, or quasi-ethical questions put to him by readers of The Times. You know, questions like this: "Should I tell my best friend's wife that her husband is cheating on her?"

I am a regular reader of "The Ethicist," so I saw Appiah's December 6, 2020, answer to a reader who asked this pertinent question: 

Should I Stop Speaking to My Trump-Supporting Friends?

What? I thought to myself. You have friends who support Trump? What state do you live in? Levity aside (levity being ever less appropriate after the invasion of Congress by a mob spurred on by our current president), the question goes to an important issue. How do we provide proper care and sustenance to a "body politic" that contains those who hold such extremely different and polarized opinions about politics and related issues?

Here is what "The Ethicist" had to say about the reader's question: 

The polarized state of our politics, alas, means that people are so taken up with their political identities that they’re unable or unwilling to consider the views of those outside their political tribe. Conversations on these topics tend to turn up the temperature while dimming the lights. And, given your principles, it’s easy to assume that your Trump-loving friends are morally defective — that they don’t take cruelty, xenophobia, intemperance, narcissism and dishonesty with due seriousness.

Perhaps that’s the case. But perhaps the gulf between you and these friends arises from differences in your epistemic capacities — the ability to gain reliable information. Our beliefs depend not just on our own brains but also on the social worlds we live in. One way of capturing this truth is what some philosophers have called the extended-mind hypothesis: Our minds don’t simply repose between our ears (the argument goes) but extend into the world around us, a world that may or may not include Fox News, Parler, talk radio, a voluble workplace colleague who has always seemed marvelously in the know, filtered Twitter feeds and the like. What’s obvious is that people can be epistemically disadvantaged by gaining their beliefs from social networks that are radically unreliable. We get many of our false beliefs in the same way we get true ones: by listening to the views of people we trust. You can be partially responsible for being in an unreliable network if there are signs that something is wrong and you don’t examine the possibility that it’s misleading you. But the misjudgment here may not reflect bad moral values (emphasis added).

It seems to me that "The Ethicist" is doling out some pretty good advice here. We need to be able to continue to provide entry to the very "big tent" that includes all of us, and our commitment should be, always, to be willing to meet with each other, and talk, whoever we are, whatever we think, and whatever the color our skin, our gender identification, or the size of our bank account.

Is that too idealistic? 

Some may think so. Call me an idealist!

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Monday, January 11, 2021

#11 / History In Three Dimensions

Reinhart Koselleck
A fairly recent article from Psyche, on the Aeon website, has introduced me to Reinhart Koselleck, who is pictured above. The article, by Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, is titled, "Repetition and Rupture." Hoffman identifies Koselleck as "the last great theorist of history," saying that Koselleck sought to find, in "the apparent chaos of events, a science of experience." 

I am somewhat chagrined to admit that I had never heard of Koselleck until I read that Psyche article. Wikipedia says that Koselleck "is widely considered to be one of the most important historians of the twentieth century." Here it is, twenty years into the Twenty-First Century, and I am just now getting the word. I guess it's a case of better late than never! I certainly recommend Hoffman's article, for anyone who cares about history and the study of history.

As I understand it, Koselleck thought that most historians were writing what amounts to "a secularised version of eschatology." Koselleck argued that any claim that we can uncover some sort of "law of history" is fundamentally in error. Those who have read a few of my blog postings will know that this is just what I think, too. Our innate ability to do things never thought of or accomplished before, stemming directly from the fact that "anything is possible" in the human world, means that there isn't any "law," or any "determinism," that can definitively predict our future.

Despite this insight, Koselleck does, apparently, want to make history into a kind of "science." Here is how Hoffmann explains Koselleck's approach to history, making clear that while Koselleck strongly opposed the idea that history moves towards some predetermined future, he still sought to find patterns that could provide guidance, and maybe even predictive power. Hoffman puts it this way:

For Koselleck, all modern ideologies claimed to have the ‘laws of history’ on their side to justify violence .... Dismantling the concept of history and coming up with a new theory of how histories actually unfold – chaotic, contingent, messy and ferocious, yet with discernible patterns – was therefore the most important task for historians. 
This remained a theme to which Koselleck would return time and again, up to his very last published essay. In ‘What Repeats,’ written the summer before he died unexpectedly in 2006, Koselleck claimed that we can make novel experiences only if there are structures of repetition within the chaotic stream of events that we call history. History is neither just more of the same – that is, constant and circular repetition (Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of ‘eternal recurrence’) – or the experience of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, in which we start over, again and again. Both repetition and rupture are conditions of possible histories. 
The urge to understand what’s new motivated Koselleck to identify structures of repetition in history: geographical and climatic preconditions that, independent of humans, make all life possible; biological conditions, such as birth and death, human sexuality and generations; our institutions, for instance work and law, but also language that captures human experiences; and finally historical events themselves (such as a worldwide pandemic), which contain their own repetitive structures. Only by understanding what repeats can we discern what’s new and unprecedented in our present. As we find ourselves again in a world of global convulsions and crises, in which events have surprised many, Koselleck reminds us to sort out what repeats in a moment of rupture.

One of Koselleck's ideas, as I get it, is that there are patterns of "repetition" in history, and that these patterns will appear even in times of historic "rupture," when the existing state of the world is undergoing major changes. I suppose that this could be a rather comforting thought - and that seems to be what Koselleck wants it to be. However, taking our current historic situation as an example, my eye moves quickly towards the "rupture," which fills my vision first and foremost. As I watch the disintegration of the current human reality that I assumed was pretty stable, my ability to find a few repetitive elements bobbing up here and there in the floodwaters is not as comforting as I might wish.

This pairing of "repetition" and "rupture" is not the only idea that Koselleck advances, at least the way Hoffman explains Koselleck:

According to Koselleck, three basic oppositions structure all historical experience. Every possible history is conditioned, first, by before and after, for example the anthropological span between birth and death that makes each life singular and part of a shared experience distinct from other generations, times and experiences. The possibility for new beginnings is as much a part of the human condition as the necessity of death or the ability to kill. Second, all possible history can’t escape the political difference between inner and outer (or, in a conflict, friend or foe). Hence, Koselleck’s repeated critique of the idea that human difference can be morally resolved and not just politically mediated. Only the recognition of difference allows for compromise. Finally, Koselleck claims that the opposition between above and below, ‘master’ and ‘slave’ in the terminology of Hegel and Marx, structures all social relations in history. This isn’t to say that more equality and freedom can’t be gained in the course of events, but that social hierarchies permeate all forms of human community, generating new conflicts and hence new histories (emphasis added).

Koselleck, in other words, suggests that we consider history, including our historical situation and historical events, in three dimensions. That seems to me to be good advice. These "three dimensions" are tools of analysis, helping us better to observe and understand what is happening, or has happened.

The best advice on how to consider history, however, is not really touched upon in Hoffman's article, perhaps because Koselleck didn't think in these terms. Pursuing a "science" of history is to avow that we should think of historical events, and history, as something to be first observed, and then understood. The hope, of course, is that if we have observed correctly, and have learned from all that we have come to understand, we will be best able to navigate the history that we must inevitably confront in our own lives. 

In fact, though, is is possible to understand history not as something that we observe, but as something that we ourselves create. It is we who "make" history. No "law" constrains what we can do, and the tripartite tools of analysis that Koselleck provides us do not determine how we ourselves will use these tools and the knowledge that they bring us. 

Through our actions and our choices, it is we who will make history. Depending on the choices we make and on those actions that we take, we will either bring our dreams - or our nightmares - into the world in which we live. 

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