Cultivating an Existence

There is an irony in demonizing immigrants, migrant laborers, extraterritorial ethnic groups, or anybody whose way of living does not involve a fixed domicile. The irony is the forgetting of something very important about humanity.

To wit: we hominids tend to move around. A lot. We almost always have. Sedentary multi-generational existence restricted to a single bit of land, which many of us take for granted as the norm, is in some sense an aberration. Humans went over ninety millennia without it. For 90% of the time in which our species has walked this earth, such a form of existence was largely unknown. And it has been known only to a minority of humans for about half of the remaining 10%. The rigid forms of it we know today are of course even more recent.

When we engage in trades other than agriculture, when our resources aren't bound to particular pieces of land or to particular urban centers, and when we have the freedom to move if we want, we do move around. Consider how most Americans spend their adult lives in a different state from the one they grew up in.

Alongside from the ability to use language in order to utter completely novel sentences, something that makes humans exceptional as a species is our ability to move around into extremely different and diverse habitats, and find ways to survive in them not primarily by natural selection, but using these big heavy brains of ours. In other words, through culture. Culture is what happens when adaptation shifts from being a matter of the genome to a matter of the mind.

Daemones Angelique

The demons are more beautiful than angels.
They have no qualms of plastic surgery.
Their hair is stylish. They need not wear white.
Their black survives through Labor day and Easter.
Their wings swing into vogue as a tattoo.
Their gossamer a thread in cashmere suits.
They are well-spoken every Sunday morning.

The demons wear the angel wings in church.
They name-drop Yahweh and they reassure
And promise to deliver you from Evil
And poverty. Good deeds they charge you with
Minister to the very wish for good.
They shirk the menial. They are more pretty

And more real than the beings whose soft robes
They crib and don from our ancestral dreams.
They wear the halos, for they have no fear
Of seeming vain in such a church as yours
Where you can drop all charges on the heavens.
Blessed is the Lord's ventriloquist.


There are fun exploitable ambiguities, like how Russian Romani činel means both "cut down, mow" and "write." Or how English "enjoin" means itself and its opposite.

But then there are ambiguities that confuse me, make it impossible to know what you mean, and generally leave me feeling like a caveman trying to decide between cellphone providers. I submit that if you're writing about the languages of the balkans, you should just never use the word "Romanophone." That word means a) a speaker of a Romance language, b) a speaker of the Romanian language, c) a speaker of Romani, d) a speaker of Latin.

Any and all of these could come into play, in any and all combinations, when you're writing about Balkan languages. There have been people whose ancestors spoke Romance but now do not e.g. the Pannonians. There are the Albanians whose ancestors were bilingual in Latin at one point, but instead of switching to Latin like the ancestors of the Romanians, became monolingual in their local language. There are people in the Balkans, and in Romania even, who speak Romance languages other than Romanian. There have been Istroromanian-speaking Roma....

Why would you ever use the word "Romanophone" in this context unless you were secretly hoping that your ideas would remain a secret? Unless you were, say, trying to avoid taking a position as to whether Istroromanian, Aromanian and Meglenoromanian are separate languages from Romanian, the use of this word is about as graceful as a concussed ox trying to help a toddler rewire a fusebox.


When ideology is your alpha and your omega, when you are willing not only to believe an ideology but believe in it, abiding any charismatic charlatan or intellectual hipster if it will be of service not necessarily to the world but to the worldview, sacrificing intellectual rigor and moral instinct if need be, you are developing the capacity to feel like you have more important things to care about than a little bit of evil visited upon the innocent. When you yield all deeper moral interrogation to the demands of pure ideology, you are setting yourself up to behave sooner or later as an intellectual cripple and a smaller human being.

A curious irony

For Marx and Engels, Russia was the reactionary behemoth and America was the great hope of liberation. This is not something they teach you at school. In either country.

A Strange Case

The tale of Zionism and Fascism in the pre-war 30s is a weird, unpleasant and contradictory one. Parts of it have been told well enough, but not the whole. Very different historians have had very different ways of telling it very badly. This is in part because it is hard to see clearly when your view is obstructed by an enormous axe which you are forced to grind.

A good comprehensive book on this topic is sorely needed in a western language. It would need to take fascism into account for what it genuinely was: the only genuinely new political ideology of the 20th century, which influenced a broad array of movements with its centripetal power.

It would have to be written by somebody more interested in what actually happened rather than in either vilifying or beatifying the modern State of Israel. Somebody who couldn't be dragooned onto either side of the polemic war of attrition that has slowly engulfed all discussions of the history of Zionism. Somebody with a fanatical devotion to historical truth. Somebody able and willing to conduct tedious archival research in at least seven languages.

Good luck finding that somebody anywhere in the historiographic landscape of today.

Obi Wanna Go Craycray

I do not think Obi Wan is well. In Star Wars IV, he looks at R2D2 and says "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid." I contend that this is a sign that he was coming undone, and was only saved from the more obvious signs of psychotic senility by Vader's murder. If you cannot remember the droid who saved your life on multiple occasions, you are very near that climactic moment where you will be seen dropping your pants in the poultry aisle of your local grocery store and proudly declaring yourself to be a poached egg.