Category Archives: E — MEDITATIONS SERIES

Seventh Meditation on Democracy [written October 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SEVENTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYA few days ago, I was in the sub­way, and I over­heard a con­ver­sa­tion about our cur­rent nation­al elec­tion. Two boys who, from their appear­ance, could have been no fur­ther along in school than grade nine or ten, were dis­cussing the tele­vised debates between the lead­ers of the five major polit­i­cal par­ties. What struck me, as I lis­tened in, was that the dis­cus­sion was cogent and intel­li­gent. One of the boys, who seemed the youngest, was par­tic­u­lar­ly artic­u­late, and his opin­ions were not the sim­ple par­rot­ing of some adult he had heard, or the pur­suit of a par­ty line. In fact, his analy­sis of the debate showed keen­er obser­va­tion and judg­ment than that of the pro­fes­sion­al com­men­ta­tors who dis­sect­ed the debate after the broad­cast. Read more »

Second Meditation on Dictatorship [written March 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DICTATORSHIP

The argu­ment behind this series of med­i­ta­tions is that aris­to­crat­ic elites, whether they are dressed up in mil­i­tary uni­forms, busi­ness suits, or the regalia of roy­al­ty, are iden­ti­cal in pur­pose and func­tion. Dif­fer­ences between them are triv­ial and cos­met­ic, not struc­tur­al. The term “dic­ta­tor­ship” applies equal­ly to all places where an unelect­ed gang of hood­lums rules over peo­ple and ter­ri­to­ry, what­ev­er their sup­posed ide­ol­o­gy or what­ev­er style they chose to prance around in. I fur­ther con­tend that they are nei­ther moral­ly legit­i­mate, nor “gov­ern­ment” in the sense that demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed admin­is­tra­tions are. Dic­ta­tors are mere­ly crim­i­nals, no dif­fer­ent from the crim­i­nals that rob con­ve­nience stores or attack women in dark­ened car parks. The only dif­fer­ence is the amount of mon­ey they steal and the num­ber of peo­ple they mur­der or maim.

Next, I have argued that rule by aris­toc­ra­cies is a con­stant dan­ger to human soci­ety in any time and any place, inde­pen­dent of a society’s lev­el of wealth, or avail­able tech­nol­o­gy. I argue that there are no nec­es­sary or pre­des­tined “stages” in the orga­ni­za­tion of human soci­ety. Moral­ly good and ben­e­fi­cial demo­c­ra­t­ic social arrange­ments can be made at any time and in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Lan­guage, eth­nic­i­ty, loca­tion, and degree of wealth are not struc­tural­ly rel­e­vant to demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tice, and demo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tice does not orig­i­nate with, or “belong to” any par­tic­u­lar cul­tur­al group. Sim­i­lar­ly, dic­ta­tor­ship can occur in any human group. Immoral, dis­eased soci­eties can be made at any time, in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Both pos­si­bil­i­ties always co-exist.

Read more »

First Meditation on Dictatorship [written Thursday, February 7, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 - BLOG Memorial-at-Lidice-1st-Med-on-Dic

Mon­u­ment at Lidice.
The faces of the chil­dren are not gen­er­al­ized abstrac­tions. They are care­ful­ly recon­struct­ed from pho­tographs to rep­re­sent the indi­vid­ual chil­dren as they were in life.

We are so hamyd,
For-taxed and ramyd,
By these gen­tlery-men!

― The Wake­field Sec­ond Shep­herds’ Play, c.1425–1450 [1]

We are men the same as they are:
Our mem­bers are as straight as theirs are,
Our bod­ies stand as high from the ground,
The pain we suffer’s as pro­found.
Our only need is courage now,
To pledge our­selves by solemn vow,
Our goods and per­sons to defend,
And stay togeth­er to this end…

— Robert Wace, Le roman de la Rou et des ducs de Nor­mandie, 1160–70s [2]

On my return to Prague, last year, after tramp­ing in Hun­gary and Tran­syl­va­nia, my friend Fil­ip Marek took a day off for some more explo­rations of the Bohemi­an coun­try­side. This turned out to be the most emo­tion­al­ly charged day in my trav­els, and I’ve delayed describ­ing it because of its per­son­al impor­tance to me.

The land­scape around Prague is not much dif­fer­ent, at first glance, from that of South­ern Ontario. It’s rich farm­land, gen­tly rolling hills, and patch­es of mixed for­est sim­i­lar to those around Toron­to. Most of it was so pleas­ant that I couldn’t help replay­ing snatch­es of Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček in my head as the car rolled under the dap­pled sun­lit trees, past fields and vil­lages that seem to be both ancient and brand new at the same time. How­ev­er, our quest was to extract some­thing incon­gru­ous­ly dis­turb­ing and trag­ic from Bohemia’s woods and streams.[3] We were going to see two places that do not loom large in the his­to­ry books, but loom large in the kind of his­to­ry that I am con­cerned with. The first was the Voj­na Hard Labour Camp, in the for­est near the vil­lage of Příbram, and the sec­ond was the site of Lidice, a vil­lage that no longer exists. Read more »

Sixth Meditation on Democracy [written January 10, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SIXTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYFor this Med­i­ta­tion on Democ­ra­cy, the sixth in the series, I will under­take a cri­tique of some cur­rent­ly dom­i­nant ideas about the role of democ­ra­cy in human his­to­ry, and attempt to pro­vide a con­cep­tu­al frame­work for look­ing at democ­ra­cy in a dif­fer­ent, more real­is­tic way. This will mean that some of the ground cov­ered in ear­li­er med­i­ta­tions will be revis­it­ed. It will also draw on the col­lab­o­ra­tive work between myself and Prof. Steven Muhlberg­er, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of World His­to­ry, and on the World His­to­ry of Democ­ra­cy Web­site. I am exclu­sive­ly respon­si­ble, how­ev­er, for the views expressed in this series. 

Read more »

Fifth Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, November 5, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG FIFTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

It’s my con­tention that both hier­ar­chi­cal and egal­i­tar­i­an behav­iour are equal­ly “nat­ur­al” to human beings. These two meth­ods of inter­act­ing with oth­ers in a group have co-exist­ed in all human soci­eties, from the ear­li­est stages of our evo­lu­tion as a species. It is also my con­tention that, while there is a lim­it­ed place for hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing and behav­iour in a good soci­ety, it is egal­i­tar­i­an think­ing that has cre­at­ed civ­i­liza­tion and moral­i­ty. Any soci­ety that is dom­i­nat­ed by hier­ar­chy is essen­tial­ly back­ward, self-destruc­tive, and immoral. Read more »

Fourth Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, September 22, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG FOURTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYRecent­ly, two Cana­di­an high school stu­dents did a remark­able thing. It was remark­able enough to gen­er­ate a large amount of com­ment in the blo­gos­phere. Accord­ing to the orig­i­nal news item in the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald [1], a grade 9 stu­dent “arrived for the first day of school last Wednes­day and was set upon by a group of six to 10 old­er stu­dents who mocked him, called him a homo­sex­u­al for wear­ing pink and threat­ened to beat him up.” Any­one who has attend­ed high school knows the usu­al out­come of such sit­u­a­tions. But in this case, it was dif­fer­ent. Two senior stu­dents, Travis Price and David Shep­herd, were dis­gust­ed by this crude bul­ly­ing. “It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I want­ed to do some­thing,” David explained. The two stu­dents bought 75 pink tank-tops and, ral­ly­ing stu­dents through the inter­net, per­suad­ed half the stu­dent body to wear them, or to sup­ply their own. When the bul­lies next came to school, they were con­front­ed by an ocean of pink sol­i­dar­i­ty. “The bul­lies got angry,” said Travis. “One guy was throw­ing chairs (in the cafe­te­ria). We’re glad we got the response we want­ed.” Read more »

Third Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, August 18, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


A convivial gathering of men and women in ancient Pakistan. The style of art, known Gandharan, drew on influences from India, Persia and Greece.

A con­vivial gath­er­ing of men and women in ancient Pak­istan, dur­ing the Gand­ha­ran era, a time of intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic syn­the­sis. Gand­ha­ran art, dra­ma and phi­los­o­phy drew on influ­ences from India, Per­sia and Greece.

West­ern Europe, and lands cul­tur­al­ly derived from it, have made some rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful approx­i­ma­tions of democ­ra­cy and civ­il soci­ety, and com­bined them with notice­able pros­per­i­ty. Peo­ple both inside and out­side this favoured zone won­der why, and they have often sought the answer in two par­tic­u­lar areas: reli­gious tra­di­tions, and the dra­mat­ic intel­lec­tu­al era called “the Enlight­en­ment”. As some­one who has writ­ten about the uni­ver­sal aspects of democ­ra­cy, I’ve often felt some annoy­ance at what I con­sid­er parochial views of his­to­ry, and dubi­ous ideas of causal­i­ty. I feel great sym­pa­thy for peo­ple out­side the favoured zone, who are hope­ful that they can have a demo­c­ra­t­ic future, but are dis­com­fit­ed by the “sec­ond-banana” sta­tus that it seems to imply for their cul­tur­al her­itage. This is espe­cial­ly true in the Islam­ic world, where past cul­tur­al glo­ries and present embar­rass­ments com­bine to make the search for demo­c­ra­t­ic reform a touchy sub­ject. I think that an exces­sive­ly car­toon­ish view of the Enlight­en­ment, and of the rela­tion­ship between reli­gion and democ­ra­cy, is part of the prob­lem. Read more »

Second Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, August 7, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elect­ed par­lia­ment. Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elect­ed par­lia­ment.

Civ­i­liza­tion is the process in which one grad­u­al­ly increas­es the num­ber of peo­ple includ­ed in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreas­es those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that cat­e­go­ry has no one left in it.” — Howard Win­ters, an Amer­i­can archae­ol­o­gist who stud­ied ancient set­tle­ment and trade pat­terns [quot­ed by Anne-Marie Cantwell in Howard Dal­ton Win­ters: In Memo­ri­am]

“Voice or no voice, the peo­ple can always be brought to the bid­ding of the lead­ers. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the paci­fists for lack of patri­o­tism and expos­ing the coun­try to dan­ger. It works the same in any coun­try.” — Her­mann Wil­helm Göring, sec­ond in com­mand to Adolf Hitler. Read more »

First Meditation on Democracy [written Wednesday, July 25, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elic­it inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have anoth­er round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-post­ing them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Most­ly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updat­ing.


18-02-10 BLOG First Med pic 1

Har­mod­ius and Aris­to­geiton, the gay cou­ple whom the Athe­ni­ans regard­ed as the founders of their democ­ra­cy

All philoso­phies stand on choic­es that can­not be jus­ti­fied by proof. Any ama­teur Socrates can demon­strate that I can’t prove that two and two are four, or that free­dom is desir­able, or even that I exist. Ulti­mate­ly, ideas, no mat­ter how pas­sion­ate­ly held, rest on assump­tions that can­not be known with absolute cer­tain­ty. It does not fol­low from this that we should avoid act­ing on sig­nif­i­cant assump­tions, or that we should aban­don the analy­sis of ideas. If I’m stand­ing in the mid­dle of the street, and see a twelve-ton truck hurtling in my direc­tion, I don’t stand there, par­a­lyzed by epis­te­mo­log­i­cal uncer­tain­ty. I jump out of its way. Lat­er, seat­ed on a com­fort­able couch, with a cold beer in my hand, I might indulge in the lux­u­ry of reflect­ing that the truck may have been an illu­sion, or that I can­not prove with cer­tain­ty that being hit by a truck is worse than not being hit by a truck. All of us must choose our basic assump­tions, either in a con­scious process, guid­ed by rea­son, or uncon­scious­ly.

This is a med­i­ta­tion on democ­ra­cy, and democ­ra­cy only becomes a coher­ent idea when it rests on the assump­tion that human beings have rights. This, in turn, rests on the assump­tion that there is a moral dimen­sion to the uni­verse. Out­side of these assump­tions, polit­i­cal thought becomes arbi­trary. If indi­vid­ual human beings have no rights, then what­ev­er hap­pens is self-suf­fi­cient­ly jus­ti­fied, and any state of affairs that human beings find them­selves in is as desir­able as any oth­er. Effec­tive­ly, if there is no moral dimen­sion to the uni­verse, then it is a mat­ter of indif­fer­ence what hap­pens. Events just come to pass ― say, the Holo­caust, or the Slave Trade, or Abu Graib ― and there is no point in dis­cussing them. It is point­less to seek jus­tice or defy injus­tice, because the very idea of jus­tice depends on the assump­tion of a moral­i­ty that rests upon some­thing more sub­stan­tial than cus­tom or whim. In the absence of moral choice, peo­ple seek some sense of order in human affairs through some amoral orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple. Loy­al­ty to a group, obe­di­ence to author­i­ty, or the famil­iar­i­ty of rit­u­al become sub­sti­tutes for eth­i­cal con­science. Read more »

PREFACE TO THE MEDITATIONS [republished from 2010]

The extend­ed blog entries called “Med­i­ta­tions” have proven to be the most pop­u­lar items on this web­site. While some of these essays have some schol­ar­ly trap­pings (cita­tions, etc.), they are pri­mar­i­ly per­son­al doc­u­ments, and thus may con­tain col­lo­qui­al prose, pro­fan­i­ty, or oth­er non-aca­d­e­m­ic ele­ments.

Any­one is enti­tled to reprint these pieces, as long as they are not altered, and cred­it is giv­en.

14-03-18 BLOG PREFACE TO THE MEDITATIONS (2010)[Fred­er­ick Dou­glass (1818–1895), born a slave in Mary­land, U.S.A., secret­ly taught him­self to read, and suc­cess­ful­ly escaped slav­ery in 1838. His auto­bi­og­ra­phy cat­a­pult­ed him to promi­nence in the anti-slav­ery move­ment. Wide­ly known as the “Sage of Ana­cos­tia”, Dou­glass was the most promi­nent and influ­en­tial African-Amer­i­can of his cen­tu­ry, and one of the great­est philoso­phers of free­dom in human his­to­ry. In both word and deed, he strug­gled for the free­dom and equal­i­ty, not only of African-Amer­i­can males like him­self, but for women, native Amer­i­cans, immi­grants, and all oth­er human beings. One of his favorite quo­ta­tions was: “I would unite with any­body to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”]

From A Nar­ra­tive of the Life of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, an Amer­i­can Slave (1845):

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kind­ly com­menced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assist­ed me in learn­ing to spell words of three or four let­ters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once for­bade Mrs. Auld to instruct me fur­ther, telling her, among oth­er things, that it was unlaw­ful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, fur­ther, he said, “If you give a nig­ger an inch, he will take an ell. A nig­ger should know noth­ing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learn­ing would spoil the best nig­ger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nig­ger (speak­ing of myself) how to read, there would be no keep­ing him. It would for­ev­er unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unman­age­able, and of no val­ue to his mas­ter. As to him­self, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him dis­con­tent­ed and unhap­py.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sen­ti­ments with­in that lay slum­ber­ing, and called into exis­tence an entire­ly new train of thought. It was a new and spe­cial rev­e­la­tion, explain­ing dark and mys­te­ri­ous things, with which my youth­ful under­stand­ing had strug­gled, but strug­gled in vain. I now under­stood what had been to me a most per­plex­ing difficulty–to wit, the white man’s pow­er to enslave the black man. It was a grand achieve­ment, and I prized it high­ly. From that moment, I under­stood the path­way from slav­ery to free­dom.

else­where, Dou­glas said:

To make a con­tent­ed slave it is nec­es­sary to make a thought­less one. It is nec­es­sary to dark­en the moral and men­tal vision and, as far as pos­si­ble, to anni­hi­late the pow­er of rea­son.

From Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man:

Man has no prop­er­ty in Man.

These med­i­ta­tions are con­struct­ed with a par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline. Every effort will be made to ensure that their ter­mi­nol­o­gy is con­sis­tent and mean­ing­ful. The read­er will prob­a­bly notice the con­spic­u­ous absence of some terms that are else­where accept­ed. The terms “cap­i­tal­ism” and “social­ism”, for exam­ple, are not used any­where because I con­sid­er them to be buzz­words with­out iden­ti­fi­able mean­ing. The terms “left” and “right”, sup­pos­ed­ly rep­re­sent­ing a “polit­i­cal spec­trum” of ideas and prac­tice, have nev­er been used in my work. This clas­si­fi­ca­tion of polit­i­cal ideas is per­ni­cious non­sense, and its use reduces any polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion to inco­her­ent gib­ber­ish. Instead, I will rely on a ratio­nal clas­si­fi­ca­tion of polit­i­cal move­ments and ideas. The terms “West” and “West­ern”, along with their reveal­ing­ly ten­den­tious cor­re­late “Non-West­ern”, are also renounced. They are embar­rass­ing rem­nants of a nar­row-mind­ed past, still used with annoy­ing impre­ci­sion and capri­cious­ness. Worst of all, they came into use because of a pro­found mis­un­der­stand­ing of the world’s mosa­ic of soci­eties. My rea­sons for these judg­ments will be expound­ed in an appen­dix to the Med­i­ta­tions.

Apart from this dis­ci­pline, I’ll avoid cre­at­ing an idio­syn­crat­ic jar­gon of my own. I pre­fer plain lan­guage. When I use a word or a phrase in some way that dif­fers from gen­er­al cus­tom, or the rea­son­able expec­ta­tions of read­ers, I will make every effort to make my mean­ing clear. How­ev­er, lan­guage being a slip­pery thing, I can expect to fail at this now and then.

Works of seri­ous thought are not writ­ten with­out an implied audi­ence. The writer can­not avoid hav­ing some men­tal image, how­ev­er vague, of who is like­ly to be read­ing their words. Often it can be eas­i­ly rec­og­nized, for exam­ple, that a giv­en writer assumes that the read­er resides in their own coun­try, or is of the same gen­der, or has a sim­i­lar social or edu­ca­tion­al back­ground. The more seri­ous the sub­ject mat­ter, the more nar­row this assumed audi­ence is like­ly to be. Occa­sion­al­ly, a “we” or an “us” will appear in a work that makes it plain that the author assumes that “we” or “us” excludes most of the human race. This is not one of those works. It’s intend­ed for all human beings, every­where on the plan­et. If I had my druthers, I would pre­fer it to be simul­ta­ne­ous­ly writ­ten in every lan­guage. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I can only write expres­sive­ly and pre­cise­ly in one lan­guage, Eng­lish. For­tu­nate­ly, that lan­guage is the world’s most wide­ly dis­trib­uted, and a work writ­ten in Eng­lish can find it’s way into the hands of a diverse read­er­ship, scat­tered across the globe. I am more con­cerned that my ideas reach peo­ple in places like Papua New Guinea, Tran­syl­va­nia, Bourk­i­na Fas­so, or Bur­ma than that I gain pop­u­lar­i­ty among my own com­pa­tri­ots. I have friends and acquain­tances in all these places, and the men­tal pic­ture of a read­er that hov­ers in my mind, as I write, includes them. They have big­ger prob­lems to deal with than my own coun­try­men. The sub­jects I dis­cuss are more urgent for them. I live in the aston­ish­ing­ly lucky coun­try called Cana­da. Com­pared to most places in the world, it has no seri­ous polit­i­cal prob­lems to speak of. I will try not to for­get that, and I will try not to glibly dis­miss the expe­ri­ence of peo­ple for whom the def­i­n­i­tion and appli­ca­tion of democ­ra­cy are life-and-death issues.