Vol. 8 No. 3
December 2005/January 2006

Return to Contents

Library Past, Library Present
The age and angst of digitization

Comparing Libraries

Copyright foul or access fair?

"You can never let up on the acquisition of printed materials. Print is fundamental to the humanities, and the visual images are far better than anything yet available through an electronic purveyor. "

"The pressure is on from our scholarly communities, who for certain tasks want print, but for convenience, access, and other reasons want electronic."

Reading Reading Lolita
Memory, memoir, and history

Ethics and Incompetence
Lessons from Hurricane Katrina

Science Study Abroad
The Whys and Why Nots



The Western (Mis)Conception of Human Nature
For more than two millennia, the peoples we call “Western” have been haunted by the specter of their own inner being: an apparition of human nature so avaricious and contentious that, unless it is somehow governed, it will reduce society to anarchy. The political science of the unruly animal has come, for the most part, in two contrasting and alternating forms: either hierarchy or equality, monarchial authority or democratic equilibrium: either a system of domination that (ideally) restrains people’s natural self-interest by an external power; or a self-organizing system of free and equal powers whose opposition (ideally) reconciles their particular interests in the common interest. Beyond politics, this is a totalized metaphysics of order, for the same generic structure of an elemental anarchy resolved by hierarchy or equality is found in the organization of the universe as well as the city, and again in therapeutic concepts of the human body. I claim it is a specifically Western metaphysics, for it supposes an opposition between nature and culture that is distinctive to the West and contrastive to the many other peoples who think beasts are basically human rather than humans are basically beasts—for them there is no “nature,” let alone one that has to be overcome.

—Marshall D. Sahlins, Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, University of Chicago, from his talk, “Hierarchy, Equality, and the Sublimation of Anarchy: The Western Illusion of Human Nature,” October 6, 2005

Descent into neo-absolutism
When you look at the White House Office of Legal Counsel memos between Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Ashcroft, and Mr. Bush, it’s clear that their decisions about the position to take on the Geneva Conventions are made not on the basis of what’s right, not on what they’re compelled to do, but what will give them the greatest immunity against later charges of war crimes and foreclose any legal review. . . . The most grave evidence that the United States has become neo-absolutist resides in that fact of torture. The descent into neo-absolutism is visible not only in what the administration did and the Office of Legal Counsel did, but what some university law professors have said: that though they always regarded torture in the past as absolutely prohibited, now we were in a new world where it was suddenly necessary. The necessity defense has been around for a long time. It is always used by people who are ultimately convicted of war crimes to excuse their actions.

—Elaine Scarry, Distinguished Professor at Harvard and Distinguished Visiting Professor at Emory, from her talk, “Undoing Democracy: Military Honor and the Rule of Law,” September 13, 2005