This is How Democracy Begins to Die

You might think it’s aristocrats and the rich who most threaten democracy. But actually democracy tends to die the hands of angry working people, who turn against elites and their own constitution and follow an authoritarian leader. That leader destroys democracy, or injures it so much that it begins to die.

The Acropolis - Athens: mother of democracy and of tyrants
The Acropolis – Athens: mother of democracy and of tyrants

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Governments can’t stop terrorism any more than lions can stop flea-bites.

When a single man can kill eighty-four with a truck, it’s time to let go of the illusion that governments can keep us safe from political violence. Lone-wolf terrorist attacks have become part of modern life, and no one can change that. We should accept it and at the same time recognize that we Westerners still live far safer lives than any people in the history of the world. Instead of sacrificing civil rights in favor of persecuting suspected minorities — in a doomed attempt to stop lone wolf terrorists — we should focus on preventing the most devastating attacks, by denying terrorists access to nuclear power plants, airports, and weapons of mass destruction. Continue reading “Governments can’t stop terrorism any more than lions can stop flea-bites.”

Star Wars and History: Divine Conception in Myth

~ This is the fifth of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for a list of the six titles.) ~

In The Phantom Menace, we learn that the Force conceived Anakin Skywalker in his mother’s womb, without a father. That divine conception puts him in company with the Buddha, according to some stories, and of course with Jesus Christ, along with a long list of pagan heroes. For instance, in The Secret History of the Mongols, a radiant being descends through the roof of a lady’s yurt and fathers Bodonchar Munkhag, founder of Genghis Khan’s dynasty. And in Greco-Roman myth, Zeus conceives the hero-king Perseus by descending on a virgin as golden rain — while Mars conceives Rome’s Romulus and Remus when his phallus emerges from a sacred fire tended by a virgin priestess.

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Perseus’ mother, Danae, and the golden rain

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Star Wars and History: Father vs. Son in Myth

~ This is the fourth of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for the six posts’ titles.) ~

In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker fights his father, Darth Vader. Revenge of the Sith repeats this father vs. son theme when Darth Sidious (Palpatine) reveals that Sith apprentices often kill their masters: their figurative fathers. That aligns Star Wars with a common theme from myth. Many mythic heroes confront and kill their fathers. Mordred, for instance, kills his father, King Arthur (and is killed by him). And of course, the Greeks’ Oedipus kills his father and takes his place as king of Thebes. Gods battle their fathers too, including the titan Cronus, who overthrows — and castrates — his father, Ouranos, the sky god. But a similar fate awaits Cronus; he’s later overthrown by Zeus, his own son.

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Mordred and King Arthur

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Star Wars and History: Joseph Campbell and the Urban Myth with a Thousand Faces

~ This is the third of a six-post series called Star Wars and History. (See below for the six posts’ titles.) ~

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell argues that the same basic stories and themes appear in all the world’s myths. It’s widely believed that George Lucas built Star Wars around these “monomyth” elements from Campbell. For instance, Campbell says the hero in any myth at first refuses “the call to adventure” but then relents — just as Luke Skywalker refuses Obi-Wan’s invitation to Alderaan but later agrees to join the quest (after finding his aunt and uncle slaughtered). Campbell’s hero also finds a wise mentor — Obi-Wan or Yoda, for Luke — as well as an animal familiar — presumably R2D2. And the myth hero confronts a father figure and must reach atonement with him. Luke, of course, fights Darth Vader, his father, but they reconcile as Vader lies dying, in Return of the Jedi. Continue reading “Star Wars and History: Joseph Campbell and the Urban Myth with a Thousand Faces”

Ancient Man-Made Global Warming and Environmental Engineering

Many Americans doubt man-made global warming because they don’t think humans could so fundamentally change the world. Some believe only God could alter the climate. But small groups of Homo sapiens have been re-engineering the environment on a massive scale for thousands of years, using only primitive tools. Many scientist think that includes ancient man-made global warming.

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The bison: greatest beneficiary of Native American environmental engineering?

Most of us know that humans have been cutting down forests and wiping out animal species for millennia. But we rarely recognize the scale of past people’s impact Continue reading “Ancient Man-Made Global Warming and Environmental Engineering”

Torture

Every tyrant throughout all history could argue that torture prevented war, stopped terrorism, or otherwise saved lives. That’s not the point.

None of us is safe under a regime that uses enhanced interrogation — under a government that tortures.

The Magic of History

Last year, I spoke at a TEDx Youth conference — to an audience of smart, motivated high school students. My topic was the magic of history. I told the students many of my favorite short stories from past times. I wanted to reveal history’s endless well of fun, excitement, and humor, and to explain how reading history might enrich the kids’ lives. The message applies with equal force to adults and to younger kids. Check it out:

(Don’t be confused by use of the name “David Carthage” on the screen. It’s a former pen name.)

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© 2013 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.