… it’s easy to think, “Oh, people had it so much better in the past! Now we’re all cramped in planes like sardines!” But once you read the text, you’ll surely change your tune.
Consider this, for example:
Imperial Airways appealed to the consumer who desired the most luxurious way to travel. But it wasn’t always very pleasant, despite the most advanced technology of the time. People would often get sick, and bowls were discreetly placed under the seats to ensure that passengers had a place to throw up. The widespread pressurization of cabins wouldn’t occur until the 1950s, so altitude sickness often meant that people needed to receive oxygen.
The temperature inside the cabin was also a major consideration, since horror stories of incredibly cold flights were common in the late 1920s.
Nearly 50,000 people would fly Imperial Airways from 1930 until 1939. But these passengers paid incredibly high prices to hop around the world. The longest flights could span over 12,000 miles and cost as much as $20,000 when adjusted for inflation.
A flight from London to Brisbane, Australia, for instance, (the longest route available in 1938) took 11 days and included over two dozen scheduled stops. Today, people can make that journey in just 22 hours, with a single layover in Hong Kong, and pay less than $2,000 for a round trip ticket.
This excellent blog post on Kant’s various crazy views by UC Riverside philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel details some of the crazy views that I covered in my recent broadcast on Kant’s views on sex. It’s worth reading though for its tidbits on including on organ donation, women in politics, and more.
At the end of the post, Schwitzgebel draws two lessons, both worthy of consideration:
First, from our cultural distance, it is evident that Kant’s arguments against masturbation, for the return of wives to abusive husbands, etc., are gobbledy-gook. This should make us suspicious that there might be other parts of Kant, too, that are gobbledy-gook, for example, the stuff that transparently reads like gobbledy-gook, such as the transcendental deduction, and such as his claims that his various obviously non-equivalent formulations of the fundamental principle of morality are in fact “so many formulations of precisely the same law” (Groundwork, 4:436, Zweig trans.). I read Kant as a master at promising philosophers what they want and then effusing a haze of words with glimmers enough of hope that readers can convince themselves that there is something profound underneath.
Second, Kant’s philosophical moral reasoning appears mainly to have confirmed his prejudices and the ideas inherited from his culture. We should be nervous about expecting more from the philosophical moral reasoning of people less philosophically capable than Kant.
I added the bold, because I think that’s so damn true. Kant does not merely handwave on occasion. So many of Kant’s arguments are rationalistic, pie-in-the-sky handwaving, where mere associations between words are supposed to give the force of argument.
My only point of disagreement is that I strongly suspect that the various horrifying ethical claims surveyed in the blog post were significant worse than the prejudices of his culture. For example, children born out of wedlock might have been stigmatized, but I doubt that more than a few crazies thought they could be killed with impunity. Then again, maybe I’m overestimating the moral culture of Königsberg.
This is just an amazing short documentary about the video taken of a successful crash landing of a reconnaissance pilot in World War 2. These pilots flew into Germany to photograph sites… unarmed and unescorted. Wow.
Incredible colour footage of 1920s London shot by an early British pioneer of film named Claude Frisse-Greene, who made a series of travelogues using the colour process his father William – a noted cinematographer – was experimenting with. It’s like a beautifully dusty old postcard you’d find in a junk store, but moving.
Music by Jonquil and Yann Tiersen.
I love early color photographs and videos. The past seems so much more real in color.
Now that I’ve gotten to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” I have a question… I’ve heard various people (of the non-interventionist bent) claim that Britain, France, and the United States should not have allied with Soviet Russia. Undoubtedly, even if that alliance was necessary to win the war, turning over eastern Europe to the Soviets at the end of the war was a major, major evil. (The alliance did not necessitate that, from what I’ve read. Instead, FDR appeased the Soviets as much as Chamberlain did Hitler.)
I’ve also heard such people say that we should have allowed the Nazis and the Soviets to destroy each other. But what does that mean? It seems to mean that when Germany attacked Russia, the Allies should have left Russia to fight its own war, without any coordination with them.
In that case, given how close Hitler came to Moscow, wouldn’t it be very likely that he would have defeated Russia, such that the Allies would have faced a much, much greater threat from Hitler — perhaps an undefeatable threat — even with help from the United States?
I’m sure that I’ll come to my own answers as the narrative progresses, but I still want to understand this “we should not have allied with the Soviets” view better. Right now, it seems wildly unrealistic to me.
I’m enjoying The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (paperback, kindle, or audible) so much more than I thought I would. It’s an intensely detailed history. I’ve seen some people criticize it as “journalistic,” but I vastly prefer such fact-rich histories to those light on facts but heavy on interpretation. When the author draws conclusions, I want those conclusions to be overwhelmingly supported by the evidence drawn from primary sources.
To be clear, I don’t merely dislike interpretation-heavy histories when the underlying ideology is, say, pro-Marxist. Such histories are so unreliable as to be useless. Rather, I dislike any interpretation-heavy histories — even when the underlying ideology is Objectivist. I don’t trust anyone to come to conclusions for me, even when we share the same basic philosophic principles. While I’d be interested to hear what an Objectivist historian would say, ultimately, I want to make my own integrations and draw my own conclusions. I’ve got my own brain, and I’m not interested in any convenient pre-packaged history.
Perhaps my college years in St. Louis rubbed off on me. I’m a one-woman “Show Me State” … and darn proud of it too!
In last Friday’s Philosophy in Action Newsletter, I recommended three books on the Holocaust that I’ve read recently. I thought I’d post those recommendations here, with a reminder that you can get the special offer of a free 30-day trial subscription with Audible at AudibleTrial.com/PA.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading — or rather, listening to — books on the Third Reich and the Holocaust. I’m particularly interested in personal narratives: I want to know what it was like to live through that inhuman era, including the warning signs available to ordinary people of the coming disaster.
It’s difficult but rewarding reading. I’m not just acquiring knowledge: I’m honoring the victims of the Third Reich by listening to their stories.
Here, I’ll just recommend three books:
Life and Death in the Third Reich by Peter Fritzsche (Amazon & Audible)
I’d strongly recommend this book as a from-the-ground overview of the Holocaust. It focuses on people’s experiences of the Third Reich — drawing heavily on letters and journals — against the background of major political and military events. It’s also an excellent intellectual history: it looks deeply at the ideology and goals of the Nazis, in order to make sense of their actions. (Thanks to this book, I understand that so much better than ever before now.) It includes thoughtful discussions of the moral culpability of ordinary Germans too.
This was a painfully poetic personal narrative — and it’s a classic for good reason. It’s short, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust by Lyn Smith (Amazon and Audible)
I just finished listening to this book yesterday morning. It consists of small stories told by Holocaust survivors, organized chronologically and topically, with the narrator providing an overarching context. In the audiobook, the stories are just segments of the interviews, and they’re often so much more emotionally moving as a result. I couldn’t stop listening.
Except on occasion, I won’t be replicating these tidbits from the Newsletter blog posts or elsewhere, so if you’d like to see it, be sure to subscribe. By doing so, you’ll receive weekly announcements of upcoming broadcasts, posted podcasts, and exclusive tidbits of advice.
If I had to pick any time in which to live, I’d choose right now. Although I want to live centuries into the future, I wouldn’t want to jump to some unknown future, only to find humanity eradicated or enslaved to some alien species. Mostly though, I wouldn’t wish to live in anytime in the past.
I’d not wish to live in the past because past societies have been rigidly stratified by family, sex, and race. People from poor families, women, and ethnic minorities were severely limited in their powers to make something of their lives. I could not tolerate living in a society where racism and sexism were the norm — let alone oppression of gays, slavery, and religious homogeneity.
I’d not wish to live in the past because the politics would not be nearly as free as most people suppose. In early American history, the federal government was much smaller, but severe violations of rights by state and local governments were commonplace. Individual rights were not even known in Greece and Rome.
I’d not wish to live in the past because life was far, far more brutal and rough. Abject misery and suffering, including at the hands of others, was accepted as perfectly ordinary. Little could be done to alleviate it, due to the lack of wealth and technology.
I would not wish to live in the past because access to art was severely limited. In centuries past, you were grateful if someone in your family or social circle could sing well. Today, we can watch fabulous movies on demand, instantly download masterpieces of chamber music, browse gorgeous painting and order prints, and read any novel ever written on a Kindle.
I’d not wish to live in the past because so much awesome technology has been developed in the past century, the past decade, and even the past year. Heck, I don’t want to go back to the days of dial-up — or the days before computers — or the days before ball point pens. The thought of going back to medical care of 10 or 20 or 100 or 1000 years ago should make anyone’s skin crawl.
The simple fact is that humanity has made so much fabulous progress in the last century. So if you ever feel depressed about America’s political decline, take a moment to contemplate how much better your life is now, thanks to an amazing slew of social and technological developments over the last century. In fact, I’m doubtful that the politics is much worse than ever before: it’s better in some ways, worse in others.
Oddly, I was inspired to write this post after watching this video of women’s uneven bars from the 1950s to 2010:
This video of gymnastics from 1928 to 1968 is also revealing:
I’ve seen some amazing and inspiring performances in women’s gymnastics in these Olympic Games. Just imagine if one of today’s top gymnasts travelled back in time to perform in a competition from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s. Everyone would be utterly flabbergasted because she’d be performing at a level so beyond their capacity to even imagine. That marked increase in human athletic ability — also evident in this infographic on the men’s 100 meter sprint — is another form of fabulous human progress that makes me so happy to be alive today.
The Seikilos epitaph is the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, in the ancient Greek musical notation, was found engraved on a tombstone, near Aidin, Turkey (not far from Ephesus). The find has been dated variously from around 200 BC to around AD 100.
That’s pretty darn awesome. You can read more about it here.