a little light in dark times


We live in a dark time in America right now. It has been dark before. It is dark again. I am thinking of the open expressions of ignorance and hate which have been enabled by the last election. It is very easy to feel discouraged right now, at least it is for me.

But last night I was reading about slave fathers in The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist. He was pointing out how the enslaved would choose “to protect their role as husband and father” instead of “protecting their own bodies alone” through running away or rebelling.

He tells one especially poignant story that he seems to have figured out from documents about Joe Kilpatrick. Joe Kilpatrick was sold away in North Carolina from his wife and two daughters, Lettice and Nelly. He ends up building a building to live in on his enslaver’s cotton labor camp near Tallahassee. He takes in a young five year old boy, George Jones, “orphaned by trade.” Jones grows up, gets married and fathers two daughters named Lettice and Nelly. Baptist speculates on what kind of stories Kilpatrick told to Jones as he raised him. He wonders when Jones decided that Kilpatrick’s two daughters were his sisters. Kilpatrick, in raising Jones “sought redemption for his own losses not in domination, nor in acceptance of despair, but in long-term, patient hope.”

Wow. Baptist quotes the author Todorov who wrote about the concentration camps and calls Kilpatrick’s “patient hope” “ordinary virtue.”

Image result for facing the extreme moral life in the concentration camps

Todorov wrote that people in the camps sometimes chose “transcendence by displaying kindness toward other people. Through small, everyday acts that committed them to the survival of other human beings—even at the cost of lowering their own chances—they demonstrated their own commitment to an abstract yet personal value. Although heroic acts were as suicidal in twentieth-century death camps as they were in nineteenth-century slave labor camps, even in hell there was still room to be a moral human being.” (p. 282 of Baptist’s book where he is paraphrasing Todorov)

Ordinary virtue is a good name for what it takes to stay sane and behave with any integrity in the USA right now. And to my way of thinking, even though times are dark, they are not as dark as they were for people in concentration camps and slave labor camps.

This brings me to my second glimmer of hope.

I don’t watch enough TV to know who Van Jones is, but I was listening to the New Public Library Podcast linked above and became intrigued. By the way, this podcast is amazing.
Van Jones seems to be seeking a different approach to the darkness in America right now. Although he is a little bit goofy in a TV way, I like what he has to say. What he is saying is not particularly new or profound. He tries to listen beyond disagreement.
Image result for van jones newt gingrich
His description of his friendship with Newt Gingrich, with whom he disagrees 90% of the time, is worth thinking about.
Image result for beyond the messy truth van jones
I put myself on the waiting list for his book at the library this morning. I am curious about it.  I suspect Van Jones of “ordinary virtue” and “patient hope” in a dark time.

Introduction to Classical Greek

Many thanks to my brother, Mark, for pointing out this fantastic web site.

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