“Having heard all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” — William Wilberforce, 1791
I came across this quote the other day while looking for something else, and it’s one of those perennial truths that stuck in my head.
Wilberforce, born into wealth in England in 1759, was a close friend of Pitt the Younger. He became politically active at 21, and in 1790 he became an Evangelical Christian which in turn led him to to the forefront of several social reform movements during his long political career (he retired in 1825) . These included eliminating vice, and supporting the RSPCA, but most notably, he used his position in Parliament to push for the abolition of the slave trade. It took until 1807 until the slave trade was finally abolished in Britain – but it was another 26 years before those that were already enslaved were freed.
This quote goes to the heart of my frustration with the willful ignorance that seems so common these days – we can choose to disregard the inconvenient or uncomfortable, but we are only fooling ourselves when we deny what we know.
Rainbow over my house at sunset on November 6, 2018.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement with Germany that famously ending the war at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Known variously as Armistice Day or Remembrance Day in Europe, it has been marked in the United States as Veteran’s Day, to honor all veterans, since 1954.
The United States formally entered WWI in 1917. In his April 1917 request to congress to declare German aggression as an act of was towards the United States, President Woodrow Wilson said, in part:
“It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured.”
View from the Walkway Over the Hudson, looking south on a cold & cloudy day.
Carl Sagan was born on this day in 1934. His insatiable curiosity about everything, and his unique ability to communicate science to those of us not as well versed in the subject matter (or the math – if I’m being honest, the math in his science fiction novel, Contact, drove me a bit batty) was a rare gift. His non-fiction books, particularly Dragons of Eden, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978, Broca’s Brain, and Demon-Haunted World, among others, helped to make science accessible, and meaningful, for a large group of people that otherwise never would have thought to bother. His television series, Cosmos, introduced an entire generation to astronomy and cosmology. It is unfortunate, but since his death in 1996, no one has really managed that same level of accessibility (although Neil DeGrasse Tyson comes closest).
In that vein, I leave you with this prescient thought from Demon-Haunted World:
“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”
Image of the Serpens Nebula borrowed from http://hubblesite.org/image/4236/gallery
“As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death — all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself. But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign countries still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.”
— Jon Stewart, “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction”
Yes, I know off-cycle elections aren’t very exciting for most of us, but keeping abreast of local politics, and participating, is actually the only way to understand what’s gone wrong at the state and national levels – regardless of your personal political persuasion.
So, if you are eligible to vote, and have an election happening in your area – please get out there and VOTE!
I failed (again) to finish the post that I’d hoped to publish today. But, on the bright side, we had a really nice visit from family this past week, and I’m doing very well with my NaNo project so far – so it’s still good, even if I’m somewhat overextended, and perpetually behind schedule.
Besides this blog, my NaNo story, and family, tomorrow I’ll have to get back to my volunteer tasks, and a few other home administrative things that I should stop postponing…. Oh – and those of us in the US should remember to vote on Tuesday!
But, first comes a reminder to just breathe…
“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh
Photo taken on 10/30/2018 during a late October drive thru Minnewaska State Park.
NaNoWriMo officially kicked off yesterday, and somehow between a very busy volunteering schedule, this blog, family life & getting a house ready to sell, I will plug away at the dystopian satire I’ve started this year. I’m reasonably sure I can juggle it all and actually finish NaNo this year.
I have a broader post planned for Sunday (assuming I can get it finished), but with an election coming up here in the US on Tuesday, it seems like a good time to dust off this quote from Mill that I’ve used in elections past. Just something to think about as we enter the final days of what has been yet another contentious election season, in a series of increasingly contentious ones. This is probably especially true for those who continue to feel that their voices aren’t heard, that their votes don’t matter. They are and they do when everyone who is eligible to vote actually does vote. A very tough nut to crack in the US where voter turnouts are poor in presidential elections and downright dismal in the midterms.
“To think that because those who wield power in society wield in the end that of government, therefore it is of no use to attempt to influence the constitution of the government by acting on opinion, is to forget that opinion is itself one of the greatest active social forces. One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.”
― John Stuart Mill
Photo taken Tuesday, October 30, 2018 near Minnewaska State Park in NY.