14 January 2013

Why David Brooks should read more history.


From his review of The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond, NY Times Book Review, Jan. 13:


The anthropologist Allan Holmberg was with a group of Siriono Indians of Bolivia when a middle-aged woman grew gravely ill. She lay in her hammock, too unwell to walk or speak. Her husband told Holmberg that the tribe had to move on and would leave her there to die. They left her a fire and some water and walked away without saying goodbye. Even her husband had no parting words for her.
Holmberg was also sick and went away to get treatment. When he returned three weeks later, he saw no trace of the woman. At the next camp, he found her remains picked clean by scavenging animals.
“She had tried her utmost to follow the fortunes of the band,” Holmberg wrote, “but had failed and had experienced the same fate that is accorded all Siriono whose days of utility are over.” Tribes at this subsistence level just don’t have the resources to care for people who can’t keep up.

From Varieties of Religious Experience by William James:

Cotton Mather, the New England Puritan divine, is generally reputed a rather grotesque pedant; yet what is more touchingly simple than his relation of what happened when his wife came to die?  "When I saw to what a point of resignation I was now called of the Lord," he says, "I resolved, with his help, therein to glorify him. So, two hours before my lovely consort expired, I kneeled by her bedside, and I took into my two hands a dear hand, the dearest in the world. With her thus in my hands, I solemnly and sincerely gave her up unto the Lord: and in token of my real Resignation, I gently put her out of my hands, and laid away a most lovely hand, resolving that I would never touch it more. This was the hardest, and perhaps the bravest action that ever I did. She … told me that she signed and sealed my act of resignation. And though before that she called for me continually, she after this never asked for me any more."

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