Saturday, May 31, 2003

Shi'a Pundit has posted some thoughts on the Islam and democracy poll discussed here. His comments are worth reading.

Kathleen Moriarty has an invigorating post on the importance of Byzantine history. In addition to those points people have made in the comments, I think there's an even deeper issue underlying this: the lack of medieval history in general, which affects the Byzantines because with limited space something has to get moved out.

There's a common perception that more recent events are somehow more relevant to the modern world that stuff that happened centuries ago. I disagree - in fact, I think developments of centuries ago might actually be more important to today, because their influence is so fundamental we don't even realize it. The rulings of the Supreme Court on church/state issues are often transient, but the development of the concept of separate spheres and the way those spheres are defined is fundamental to everything they're doing, and goes back to the Middle Ages. Modern history deals with nation-states, but in the Middle Ages you learn why there are nation-states.

I think this becomes especially important when we talk about other cultures. Americans, when looking at the outside world, tend to refer to events in their own history. Hence when they see an important role for religion in the Islamic world, they discuss the need for a Muslim "Reformation" and "Enlightenment" so they can catch up with an implicitly superior Western civilization. However, the reality is that the Islamic world got to this point by its own unique path, and in order to really start to understand, it helps to go back before the beginning and watch it being built brick by brick.

All of this leaves aside issues of simply valuing the human heritage and keeping a perspective on the world today. If we look closely, for example, we find that many of the major events of the world today have similarities with events in the past. These are of course not identical, but suggestive nonetheless. And, of course, the Middle Ages is simply really cool!

My new apartment's stove is giving me smoke alarm problems. At my old place, I set off the smoke alarm exactly once my first year when I was doing something that involved trying to fry peas. Here, it goes off all the time for the most innocuous things, and I'm convinced it's the stove's fault.


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