The Devil to pay

Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira les aristocrates à la lanterne! Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira les aristocrates on les pendra!

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Suddenly overwhelmed with fear that I am not very smart.

I feel like I should explain this a little.

I am an American. As you can probably guess. In my little American town, I am considered extremely intelligent. I have always taken pride in this. However, I know that there is a *sigh* big stereotype overseas that Americans are very vapid and unintelligent, and I know a lot of people from elsewhere in the world say that people who are smart here would only be average where they are from. And that makes me nervous. I am smart in my little town in scenic nowhere Indiana because I know who Nietzsche is and because I can comprehend literature. But let’s be real here, this is not impressive in any way. I can tell you where all of the European countries are on a map. Where I am from, this is impressive, considering I knew a girl who asked if Germany was in America. Elsewhere? Nah. I am afraid I got an ego and I would just be laughed at elsewhere in the world.

Also, all I ever seem to do in school is take tests. All it is is memorization. People tell me I am smart because I can memorize well and get good grades just because I memorize and turn in my homework. Maybe I am not smart at all. Maybe I am just a really unintelligent person who knows just enough vocabulary words and can reference enough historical events to pass as intelligent.

What if what my peers and teachers have labeled me as all my life is just a lie on a global scale?

Okay so:

1- Everyone feels like this. People sometimes tell me I know lots of things and somewhere in my mind I always go “no, the fact that I know a few random historical facts doesn’t really count as knowledge.” I have never read the Republic or Aristotle or Plutarch. I barely understand latin. I can’t speak German. I have no knoweldge of math or physics. 

2- So no one really knows everything that there is to know and most experts only know deep, meaningful things inside their own fields. And Even for people who have knowledge of many subjects there’s always another ocean of subjects that they know nothing about.

3- What you’re feeling is fear of the unknown. It is incredibly frightened to be considered really smart or well read and then realise that there’s a whole world of people who know much more than you. You feel that you’ve been told a lie. “I’ve always thought I was really smart but I’m a potato with teeth compared to this or that person that I just met or am going to meet.” (This is how I feel when I read everything George Steiner ever wrote). Again, everyone feels like this. There’s always someone smarter or more well read than you. There’s always someone who’s travelled more or who’s been to India, or climbed Mount Evereste, or been to the Viennese Opera. Or who beats you at chess and plays 5 instruments.

4- Now what the actual smart people do in these situations is to just accept it. And try to improve. Certainly you don’t know as much as many people. But it is within you to know more. To read more, to be curious, to research. Do not let the standards on which you have lived so far, or that idea that perhaps now you are more knowledgeable than most of your peers prevent you from wanting to know more. That would be a mistake, that would be arrogance blinding you. There’s always going to be someone who knows more than you. What I believe is that while we are trying to learn more in order to know as much as they do, we end up by forgetting them and focus on us, on what we are learning and what we have gained from that knowledge. Knowledge is empowering not because of others but because of how it makes us feel, of how it feeds our minds. And if you believe that sort of thing, of how it uplifts our souls.

Filed under I feel inspired today have a textpost another one

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People who think Marie Antoinette is an overrated historical character have clearly never read Tudor historians speaking about Elizabeth and how she’s basically the second coming of Christ and how she fought the evil powers of evil Catholic Spain.

Wait, I don’t understand? Can’t I poke fun at the hallowed Elizabeth I of Protestant historiography AND criticize the popular media’s inordinate focus on Marie-Antoinette? Or am I missing something here?

But let’s be honest, even if Elizabeth was no Jesus Christ, neither was Antoinette an Elizabeth I. Their positions are incomparable given their respective statuses of regnant and consort - it’s rather like comparing apples to oranges.

Of course you can. Actually you should.

The post was not meant to compare them personally or their value as historical characters in their own time. It is only to stress out that it is much more noticeable for me that while I do see people saying that portrayals of MA are often highly romanticized or just plain wrong I rarely see people on tumblr (or even in media but that hardly happens with M. Antoinette too) trying to demystify Elizabeth. Except of course the occasional Spanish person who goes, “yes, can we please not do this again.”

And yes you are right, Elizabeth played a great role in History and this role has given her a very symbolic status. However, this symbolic status which was in great part, built in the 16th century for religious/ideological/propagandistic reasons has become part of the popular imaginary but as all propaganda is little more than a carefully crafted construction.

Filed under ah william cecil you really were a genius I've got to give you that History teaches never trust a cecil

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Will Everyone Shut Up Already About How the Nordic Countries Top Every Global Ranking?


Here’s the article.

While the writer does make some good points, overall this was a very annoying article.

Oh god what kind of shit logic is this?

"Scandinavian countries are not the paradise you think they are. They are still pretty good but not as good as we think. Also they have much less people so how can we possibly compare it to the US?"

Gee, I don’t know, I mean large segments of people in the US still talk as though 18th century’s reality applies to the 21th century so I’m sure that with a little bit of mental gymnastics they could try to apply the rule of Proportion.

Also my favourite thing is that there’s this comment from an American who’s living on one of the Scandinavian countries who basically says that “yeah things are not perfect but you know I’ve got paid maternity leave and free education” and someone answers this by saying and now I’m quoting: ” not convinced that such an expansive welfare state is compatible with the sort of economic dynamism that has worked so well for the US.”

Hum, yes I guess that 1-concept of taxes doesn’t sit well with you does it? Because in those systems you pay a lot of taxes but then the state provides services that are deemed necessary for people to have the minimum living standards. Like you know education and health. 2- Are we actually saying “so our country is much bigger and has much more people and so we’re just not going to offer basic welfare and services for the people who live here because that’s too much of a expense. I mean there’s A LOT of us so there’s bound to be a LOT more homeless people.”

I mean, following this logic one might say that hadn’t americans taken so much land from the Indians they might have ended up with a smaller country, less people and so better living conditions for the people who actually would live in this smaller America. 

Don’t get me wrong, Scandinavian countries have lots of problems as we have lately seen with the demonstrations in Malmo. A few years ago, everyone and their mother talked about the high suicide rate in Sweden which I’m certain is still a problem, so of course these countries have problems but this article insults the intelligence of the reader because it’s basically saying “The US doesn’t have the conditions to be better so why compare ourselves to countries that are indeed better?”

Lastly, the person who wrote this article is studying at Oxford.  I suddenly want to go to Cambridge.

Filed under I shouldn't talk about the US politics because I always get angry

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I think that the times are too recent for the historian to be able to comment with all due freedom: all the actors are still living, and it is difficult, in wanting to speak the truth, not to offend this person or that. Roughly, one can say only this. The discontent Poles confederated in order to dethrone the king whom the Russian empress had given them; certain propositions regarding religious tolerance had outraged them to the point that they wished to murder their own king; when the court of Vienna through its seizure of the region of Spiš caused the partition of the kingdom, the Russian empress deemed herself to have the right to avenge herself for the intractable defiance of the Commonwealth. To go into detail would require going into personal trifles, which only posterity shall reveal with absolute certainty.
Friedrich II, in response to Claude-Carloman de Rulhière wanting to receive a copy of his memoirs for his work Histoire de l’anarchie de Pologne through d’Alambert(via Władysław Konopczyński)

(Source: poniatowskaja)

Filed under Frederick the historian

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It is true that David Starkey has a lot of flaws but my favourite thing was when he said he was sure Hilary Mantel was a very good writer but he wasn’t able of reading her books because he was a Tudor historian.

Filed under Oh man

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You know what I’ve just realised?

That people think that character development supposes an evolution. Which is why Jean Valjean is seen as the “epitome” of character development.

But for me that’s a gross mistake.

Character development shouldn’t be connected to a positive development, to a evolutive view of a character. Character development is when a character changes in sequence of a set of events/people/feelings etc. It doesn’t have to be an evolution, the change doesn’t have to be good. In fact, it can be much more interesting when it’s not good.

Which is why, my dear friends, Alexei Alexandrovitch Karenin is the real epitome of character development. He doesn’t seem to change at all, he then changes in a very positive way, and then suffers a regression. And then he might or may not change again for better in the end, we don’t know it, it’s open to interpretation. I think this is much more realistic than believing that characters are lines of evolution and then once a character changes, no matter the adversities, it  can never go back or it can never change again in a way that is not so positive.

Filed under les miserables anna karenina literature alexei karenin jean valjean

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Okay when I rise to power the “Why we love…” blogs are going to be the first thing to go