Monday, January 21, 2008

The "Great Man Theory" of History

Our national celebration of the life and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds me of one of my favorite books, War and Peace. In War and Peace, one of the things that Tolstoy tries to debunk is the historical myth of there being a "great man" or hero of historical events. He uses the Napoleonic Wars to illustrate his point. The defeat of French troops in Russia and their previous success throughout Europe, could not, contrary to the popular belief of Tolstoy's time, be attributed to Napoleon. Instead, the spirit of the French and Russian troops was the defining force of the war, just as the sentiment and actions of "the people" are/were the defining forces of history.

I do not mean any disrespect to Dr. King--he was a great man, from what I can tell, who devoted his life to doing what the Lord asked of him. However, there were thousands to men and women who did the same thing fighting for civil rights, and who will never be recognized. Dr. King gave voice to their beliefs. However, the organization and education of people throughout the country, something in which Dr. King was not directly involved, was just as important, if not more so to the success of the civil rights movement, than providing a public face for it.

Ella Baker, who was a grassroots organizer for civil rights beginning in the 1930's, focused on empowering individuals to lead and organize in their respective areas--a "teach a man how to fish" approach to change. I enjoyed learning about her and some of the smaller, yet crucial, organizations of individuals within the civil rights movement in her biography. It gave me a better understanding of the myriad of roles needed to affect meaningful change, as well as the equal importance of everyone fulfilling their individual callings. Just like the unified body that Paul presents in 1 Corinthians 12, there were many different parts of the civil rights movement that were necessary to affect change--each part playing an essential role.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Following MIT

MIT makes many of its course syllabuses and reading lists open and free for public use, which I think is great. While having access to reading lists isn't necessarily the same thing as having an awesome professor lecture and teach on a subject, I think in many cases it can be just as good, or better to follow a self-directed line of study. Following MIT, and also my personal desire to share more of my life, I wanted to post what I will be reading in the courses that I am taking this quarter. I won't do them all at once, but I'll start with a class that I have on the History and Theory of Drama in the 19th-20th centuries in Europe. We will read and discuss the following plays: A Doll's House , Miss Julie, The Cherry Orchard (I was in the play my senior year in high school), Major Barbara, Mother Courage, Endgame, The Homecoming, Cloud Nine, Travesties, and Angels in America. I have not read all of these plays yet, so I am not necessarily recommending them. I'd love to hear thoughts from people who have read any of these.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Chance or the Dance

I read Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism by Thomas Howard after my senior year in high school and found it interesting, yet difficult to read and comprehend. After 3 years in college and an increasing interest in art and holism, I decided to try and read it again to see if it made more sense to me. I have yet to finish it as I'm back at school and should be doing my assigned readings, but it is a perfect articulation of a lot that I have been thinking about over the past few years. One of the main things that the book does is contrast the new, secular myth, that "everything means nothing" (i.e. that images abstract reality), to the old Christian myth, which is that "everything means everything" (i.e. that images reflect reality). Instead of acedemic analysis, which breaks things down into parts, fragmenting our understanding of the world, story, poetry and art synthesize the world and fill it with glory. This book is thoroughly refreshing to read right now while I am in the middle of an academic world that is full of analysis but seems devoid of life. I highly recommend the book!