What’s in a name?

Probably the most frequent question I get is “What’s ‘Esty’ short for?” I have even gotten this question from people at conventions when all they know about me is my name badge.

Uh, well, actually it’s short for “Estelendur” (that is, this blog’s URL and my general screenname).

“So what’s ‘Estelendur’?”

Before I answer: keep in mind that when this story starts, I wasn’t even twelve yet.

It’s Elvish, as in Tolkien. Fellowship of the Ring came out when I was a little pre-teen, and the books had previously been read to me. My father wanted us to experience the books before the movies, you see. To make a long story short, I was completely in love with Middle Earth — and after the first movie came out I was completely in love with Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn. Piece #1.

At some point I went and read the Appendices behind Return of the King. When he was growing up in Rivendell, Aragorn wasn’t called by his name, because Elrond wanted to spare him the weight of being Isildur’s heir during his youth. Instead he was called Estel, which means ‘hope’ in Quenya. Piece #2.

At another point I got my hands on Ruth Noel’s “Languages of Middle Earth.” I was a little linguistics dork already, and I was positively gleeful. One feature of this book is a dictionary of many Elvish words and word-parts (I don’t recall if they are separated into Quenya and Sindarin or not). Piece #3.

There were these two suffixes. I provide here the much more nuanced definitions from the Quenya-English glossary available on Helge Fauskanger’s Ardalambion site, because it’s on my computer and the book is upstairs:

-ndil (also -dil), ending occurring in many names, like Amandil, Eärendil; it implies devotion or disinterested love and may be translated “friend” (SA:(noun)dil); this ending is “describing the attitude of one to a person, thing, course or occupation to which one is devoted for its own sake” (Letters:386). Compare -ndur. [….]

-ndur (also -dur), ending in some names, like Eärendur; as noted by Christopher Tolkien in the Silmarillion Appendix it has much the same meaning as -ndil “friend”; yet -ndur properly means “servant of” (SA:(noun)dil), “as one serves a legitimate master: cf. Q. arandil king’s friend, royalist, beside arandur ‘king’s servant, minister’. But these often coincide: e.g. Sam’s relation to Frodo can be viewed either as in status -ndur, in spirit -ndil.” (Letters:286)

If I remember correctly, Noel glosses both of these as more or less “lover of __” in a way that I did not perceive as having sexual connotations.

By now you might see where this is going. “Estel” + “-ndur” + an epenthetic ‘e’ to make it sounds good = “Estelendur” = “Aragorn fangirl.” Yes. This was the name by which I chose to represent myself online at approximately the age of 12. At the time, it was completely appropriate.

It happened that I joined an online community full of kind, intelligent, amusing people around this time. Eventually people addressed me enough that they started shortening my name, usually to “Este”. Some sense of aesthetics popped up and informed me that I didn’t like that, that “Esty” was much better, so I settled into that nickname online. Around the beginning of 8th grade, I realized that “Esty” felt much more my name than the name my parents had given me. It just fit me better, somehow, and felt more correct. Thus it happened that when I started high school, I also changed names.

My conception of the meaning of the name changed as well, over time. Eventually I noticed that according to the more nuanced definitions of -dur and -dil, I should really have chosen -dil when I made my screenname. I did not mean to call myself, after all, a servant of Aragorn. But a servant of hope? I am a determined optimist, sometimes putting forth great effort to avoid becoming jaded or cynical (and sometimes failing). So perhaps a servant of hope is a thing I could be. Since that realization, I have been doing my best to live up to it. It’s nice to have something intangible to strive for, and I am only a little embarrassed by my name’s origin story.

Embodiment, Reality, and Sheer Delight (Coming of Age in Second Life book report)

Over the last several days I read Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. It was very enjoyable and also fascinating! By way of commentary and response I am going to tell a seemingly unrelated story.

In August 2013 I was at the Mysterium convention in Rochester, NY. This is an annual convention for fans of the Myst series of games (which is interesting for another reason: there is a real community built around an entirely virtual place, most of which only exists in single-player mode (Avery, unpublished)). One attendee had brought an Oculus Rift. For the unfamiliar, this was an open-source 3D-display virtual reality headset (it has since been purchased by Facebook). I put it on. I looked around. I was standing in a little cabin.

“OH MY GOD I want to LIVE here!!!!” was my immediate reaction. The elation didn’t fade as I used the game controls (controller? keyboard? don’t remember, doesn’t matter) to run around, up the stairs, down the stairs, outside to the little yard, around and around the house. I spun myself around with the controls and looked the opposite direction to make myself incredibly dizzy. I tried it with my head looking in the direction of spin and didn’t feel it nearly as much. I looked up, I looked down. I ran some more. It was amazing. It was wonderful. I wanted to live in VR.

The next day the Starry Expanse devs hooked up the Rift to their real-time walk-around-in-able build of Riven’s Prison Island. It was, again, totally amazing. The only thing missing was my hands! Now, this would be a technically fixable thing: add a camera to the outside of the Rift headset, put motion-capture-marked gloves on, program some hand textures into the game. There are ways. My friend T and I immediately started dreaming them up. “Oh my goodness. I want to live here. I want to live in this game.”

prison-island

Why? Why did I have such a strong positive reaction to putting on a Rift and looking around? I didn’t have words to explain it.

Thanks to Boellstorff, I now do. It comes down to embodiment.

I experience plenty of sheer joy when I’m doing intellectual work, as many of my friends will attest (my former advisor remarked that giggling while reading Marx was the sort of thing that, properly worded, *could* go in a letter of recommendation). But moments of completely transporting joy and “OMG I want to LIVE HERE” experiences? They’re all about feeling competently embodied. I’ve felt this a few times playing capoeira, when I was able to let my muscle memory and instincts take over. I’ve felt this when I was strapped into the rotating hip harness, doing ball-bearing flips on a wire. I feel this almost every time I hop on my bike. What all these moments have in common is that I can stop being conscious of the fact that I’m operating a body, and simply experience the way the body operates.

I have had this kind of experience in third-person video games, as well. When I play the hang glider minigames in Ratchet & Clank (on PS2), I do briefly almost feel like I’m flying. I can almost play the hoverboard race minigame in the first R&C by feel, even though I get zero haptic feedback. It’s very cool.

I have never, ever, EVER had this experience playing a real-time first-person point of view video game. I rely far too much on my peripheral vision to be comfortable substituting the rectangle of a computer screen for my entire field of view. Even now I can consciously notice the place where my ankles cross on the chair, the recycling bin in the corner, the dog’s crate in the other (diagonal) corner, the white square of my power brick on the carpet, without moving my eyes from the computer screen. I feel half-blinded in first-person video games, with their narrow, flat field of view. Consequently, I’ve never adapted to the controls, and when I do play I usually bump into things, fall off ramps and stairs, can’t aim to save my (virtual) life…

The Oculus Rift let my body fall away. For the first time in my life, I was effortlessly embodied inside the head of a digital person, a virtual person. It was a virtual embodiment, but felt no less real for the pixellation of the world around me.

In fact, that the virtual and actual are both real is a major theme of Boellstorff’s book; it feels as though he returns to it over and over because he thinks that his audience is unlikely to understand and accept this. I cannot say he is wrong, either. I know the virtual is real because I, like most SL residents he discusses, have sustained friendships and loving connections by communications in virtual spaces (usually chat boxes). And now I, too, have experienced a virtual embodiment that felt as real as the actual one.

I want to go back.

But I Am Not To Blame: Witchcraft Among the Azande, Litigation Among the Americans

Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande, by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, is a classic of ethnographic literature, or so I have gathered. Although I have only read part of it as yet, I was struck by the way the Azande use witchcraft to explain misfortune, which distinctly parallels that honored American cultural institution, the lawsuit.

A disclaimer: I will be using the present tense, because that is how one talks about the contents of books, and Evans-Pritchard uses the present tense because ethnography, but he did his research in the 1920s. It is long outdated. However, as a description of ways in which human ideas and behaviors can coherently arrange themselves, I find it fascinating and still relevant today.
EDIT: Apparently they still do the thing actually! I find this more amusing than maybe I should. (Thanks to David Graeber for the correction.)

Necessary background knowledge: 1) What even is witchcraft? Basically a witch (who can be anyone, though usually men use it against other men and women use it against other women or their husbands) can psychically harm someone else, making them sick or otherwise messing things up. 2) How do the Azande use witchcraft socially in Evans-Pritchard’s account? Well, “witchcraft explains why events are harmful to man and not how they happen” (24). Evans-Pritchard describes two incidents attributed to witchcraft: a boy knocked his foot on a stump and got a cut, which became infected; and a man, while checking on his fermenting beer, accidentally lit the roof thatch on fire, burning down the hut. Evans-Pritchard points out that these are two perfectly prosaic accidents, which could have happened to anyone at any time. But it is that very fact which feeds into the explanation “witchcraft!” It could have happened to anyone, at any time, so why did it happen to those particular victims at that particular time?

What [the boy] attributed to witchcraft was that on this particular occasion, when exercising his usual care, he struck his foot against a stump of wood, whereas on a hundred other occasions he did not do so, and that on this particular occasion the cut, which he expected to result from the knock, festered whereas he had had dozens of cuts which had not festered. Surely these peculiar conditions demand an explanation. Again, every year hundreds of Azande go and inspect their beer by night and they always take with them a handful of straw in order to illuminate the hut in which it is fermenting. Why then should this particular man on this single occasion have ignited the thatch of his hut? (21)

To a Zande, witchcraft is an omnipresent possibility:

if, in fact, any failure or misfortune falls upon anyone at any time and in relation to any of the manifold activities of his life, it may be due to witchcraft. The Zande attributes all these misfortunes to witchcraft unless there is strong evidence, and subsequent oracular confirmation, that sorcery or some other evil agent has been at work, or unless they are clearly to be attributed to incompetence, breach of a taboo, or failure to observe a moral rule. (18)

As a result of this ordinariness,

When misfortunes occur [a Zande] does not become awestruck at the play of supernatural forces. He is not terrified at the presence of an occult enemy. He is, on the other hand, extremely annoyed. Someone, out of spite, has ruined his ground-nuts or spoilt his hunting or given his wife a chill, and surely this is cause for anger! He has done no one harm, so what right has anyone to interfere in his affairs? It is an impertinence, an insult, a dirty, offensive trick! (19)

The Zande thus attribute a social cause to all misfortune; anything bad that happens to them is a result of someone else’s malice (for all witchcraft emanates, of course, from a witch, whether they are consciously aware of it or not [this is one of the more fascinating facets of Evans-Pritchard’s ethnography, but outside the scope of this blog post], and obviously one would only use witchcraft against someone upon whom one wishes ill). Evans-Pritchard cautions the reader:

We must not be deceived by their way of expressing causation and imagine that because they say a man was killed by witchcraft they entirely neglect the secondary causes that, as we judge them, were the true causes of his death. They are foreshortening the chain of events, and in a particular social situation are selecting the cause that is socially relevant and neglecting the rest. If a man is killed by a spear in war, or by a wild beast in hunting, or by the bite of a snake, or from sickness, witchcraft is the socially relevant cause, since it is the only one which allows intervention and determines social behavior. (25)

There are two kinds of intervention possible. In the case of death, vengeance or compensation can be demanded or taken; the identity of the witch is determined via use of oracles. When Evans-Pritchard was writing, demanding compensation from a witch for a death was no longer legally possible, nor was execution of a witch by a prince, because the European-imposed legal system did not recognize the testimony of oracles as valid, while the Azande considered it the only relevant evidence. So during his fieldwork, a death was paid for with another death, but this was accomplished in secret. It is therefore less relevant to my argument.
In the case of imminent danger, or when a situation can still be gainfully improved, the procedure is thus: the name of the witch responsible is determined by use of oracles, as before. Then the witch must be asked to stop doing his witchcraft, and the usual procedure is to get a messenger to bring to the witch a wing of the bird that died to the oracle, to which the witch responds that he was unaware that he was causing trouble, that he’s very sorry, and that he wishes the victim health and happiness and so on, and blows water on the wing (41-42). Evans-Pritchard argues that the customary nature of this procedure, the customary politeness, and the layers of factors reducing potential friction between witch and sick man’s relatives, all combine to prevent violence and ongoing ill will between the parties. This is advantageous because after all they have to keep living as part of the same community, as long as the sick man doesn’t die.
In that way, then, witchcraft simultaneously creates and defuses frictions within the community, by providing someone to blame in the event of misfortune but also a way to repair the breach that results (and which probably existed previously, since nobody would use witchcraft against someone they weren’t upset with).

What does all this have to do with the American legal system? I find particularly striking the idea that all death is due to witchcraft. I’m hardly surprised, these days, when a news story about an accidental death is accompanied by a news story about a lawsuit. In some sense I even expect it.

There was a case in which two university students were fighting in the vicinity of a fraternity party; both had been drinking underage and if I recall correctly both of them had knives of a kind not permitted on campus. Certainly one of them had a knife, and killed the other. He was found not guilty of second degree murder by reason of self-defense. The father said after the trial, to a reporter, that he had offered the defendant’s mother congratulations (that her son was not going to prison); that he believed the defendant was not a murderer, but a coward; that he believed the judge had to go, on account of not valuing citizens’ lives; and that he wanted to get the university to adopt zero-tolerance policies on underage drinking and weapons on campus.

Two years later, the deceased’s parents sued the university, the fraternity, and the other boy’s parents, collectively, for over twenty million dollars. Their lawyer said, approximately, that when people suffer a traumatic experience, they deserve compensation, and this is the purpose of the legal system.

If compensation can be made, it must be that someone is responsible.

The Azande lived in a world that, although it was shaped and marked by human hands, was mostly made of the stuff of nature, inhabited by nonsapient creatures, and controlled by chance, physics, and biology. Nonetheless they found ways to attribute chance misfortune to human agency, albeit often (usually? always?) unconsciously controlled. How much easier, then, to identify the human agency whose malice or negligence causes misfortune when nearly everything we touch on a daily basis is made and controlled by human hands, human rules, human agency. Almost any misfortune includes a myriad of choices that could have been made differently. It is not so hard, then, for us to find the entity or entities who are ideally situated between culpability and ability to compensate (that is, there’s no point in suing someone who’s broke).

So what’s the argument? Both Azande beliefs about witchcraft and American use of lawsuits share these features: anything bad that happens must be someone else’s fault, and I can figure out who’s to blame if I care enough. Furthermore, if I can get good results from confronting them and demanding compensation/repentance, then I should do that thing.

Evans-Pritchard notes, “a man never asks the oracles … whether a certain man is a witch. He asks whether at the moment this man is bewitching him” (4); in other words, “a Zande is interested in witchcraft only as an agent on definite occasions and in relation to his own interests, and not as a permanent condition of individuals” (4). Similarly, Americans often only care about corporate culpability when it’s negatively affecting them, and it’s hard to get them to pay attention to issues like whether corporations create unsafe work conditions, as long as nobody they know is in danger as a result.

Any cultural institution that’s sufficiently present is going to leave its mark in some way. “Witchcraft is ubiquitous. It plays its part in every activity of Zande life; …; its influence is plainly stamped on law and morals, etiquette and religion; it is prominent in technology and language; there is no niche or corner of Zande culture into which it does not twist itself” (18). Similarly, litigation has left its influence visible everywhere. Any non-crime-related rule that exists governing use of public or private space is probably in place because somebody died or was injured, and somebody else got sued. Warnings on peanuts that they contain peanuts? Somebody had an allergic reaction, and successfully argued in court that they should have been explicitly warned in the same place every other piece of food packaging has allergy warnings. Neighbors reluctant to watch your kid? If your kid got hurt under their care, you could sue them. No climbing on the trees in the park? Someone, somewhere, fell out of a tree and successfully sued the municipality that owned it. There is a maze of legal rules and precedent determining what is and is not a valid lawsuit; most people aren’t willing to risk it, and quite understandably.

The Azande do not blame everything on witchcraft, of course: “Incompetence, laziness, and ignorance may be selected as causes” (29). However, because people are people wherever you go, “in all these cases the man who suffers the misfortune is likely to say that it is due to witchcraft, but others will not say so” (29). Similarly, some lawsuits just will not succeed, such as the several alleging that consumers were fooled into thinking that Froot Loops or Crunchberries contained actual fruit.

In at least one area, I suspect the Zande implementation of “how to blame other people for your problems for fun and profit” is, hmm, let us say more reasonable.
“As soon as a witch is today slain by magic, or in the past had been speared to death or had paid compensation, the affair is closed” (5). Some Americans, on the other hand, never give up.

A Wild Ethnography Appears

During the final semester of my undergraduate career, I worked on a small ethnographic study of the housing cooperative I lived in. I can’t actually publish it (I think) but I’m fond of the analytic structure I set up.

I analyze continuity of organizations on three axes:
Continuity of Ideology: the organization should maintain interest in and keep working towards its goals, based on shared beliefs and values.
Continuity of Institutions: the community passes along rules, procedures, history, traditions, and objects.
Continuity of Fellowship: members maintain goodwill and friendliness among themselves.

I argue that in order to persist optimally, a community or organization must have healthy instantiations of all three types of continuity; a lack of any one can obviously cause problems, but each can also be realized in what I call “toxic modes.” For instance, the type of doctrinal rigidity that characterizes schisming religions is a toxic type of ideological continuity.

The bulk of the ethnography analyzes problems in “Squirrel Burrow” through this lens, showing how difficulties with all three continuities were interconnected by the effects they had on members’ interactions.

And here it is.

Following the analytical part, I have included some advice to the community based on the problems I lay out, including an excerpt on consensus decision-making from David Graeber’s Democracy Project (I also draw on his work to make my arguments in the body, so it was close to hand).

My hope is that the analytical framework I’ve set up can be useful to communities and organizations outside my sphere of experience. 🙂

Jo Walton’s My Real Children, and Thoughts About Choices

I recently read Jo Walton’s book My Real Children. First let me say that it is absolutely beautiful. A+, would read again, do recommend. You can read the first seven chapters here, for free, if you like.

It got me thinking about choices.

From a discussion thread I found my way to Jo’s discussion of Florence and it made my heart hurt (in a good way). There is so much world, so little time, and only one me; how can I ever find the time to see and learn all the things that make my soul sing now, much less the things I’ll discover later?

I can’t, of course. Jo has said that it’s kind of a book-length response to Mike Ford’s Against Entropy, and part of what I take from the pairing is that although I do get to choose, I don’t get to know what would have happened. Something else, too, is that whatever I choose, there are costs; and whatever I choose, there are rewards.

One of the choices currently facing me is this: do I try to go to graduate school as soon as I can (next fall)? Do I try to work to pay off my student loans and simultaneously catch up on some of the anthropology education I didn’t get in undergrad? Do I pursue something entirely aside from anthropology grad school? (Listed in order of descending preference.)

Something incontrovertible, which I resist knowing, is that every choice I make closes off others, and the safe choice is often not the one I truly want. It takes me a while to answer the question “what do I want to do, with every bone in my body?” because I’ve been resisting at least one of the answers for nearly half my life: with every bone in my body, I want to ride horses. But what do I want to do with every neuron in my brain? I’m not sure; I’ve been spending the last several years trying to figure that out.

Patricia Cowan’s life splits, at the making of one decision. One woman. Two worlds. Two lives. That’s what it says on the cover. And what lives they are. Both have good and bad, fulfillment and tragedy. The worlds diverge from each other, too, and from our own. (How? That would be telling.) It’s comforting, in a way; every path I see before me has obviously desirable aspects, and I believe that I could make a meaningful life on any of them. But which would I choose, if I were let know what would have happened?

Nobody ever gets to answer that, not really. But if I believe that the ideas I put into words have a chance of making the world better, then perhaps I should choose the path that leads to me having clearer, more informed ideas to put into words, and the ability to find a wider audience for my writing—and sooner, rather than later. “Regret, by definition, comes too late.” What will I not regret trying even if I fail?

The first half of the answer, I think, is “love.” My friends, my family, books and words and ideas. The second half? I’ll keep looking.

Soap Stores and Coffee Boxes: How Public is the Internet?

The US Supreme Court recently ruled that even though we’re carrying our entire lives in our pockets, we’re still entitled to keep aspects of those lives private. Ease of access does not entail expectation of access.

And let’s be real: someone who has 137 Tumblr followers mostly doesn’t expect anyone aside from those followers, and maybe one or two of their followers, to notice anything they post. Most of the original content or commentary I see my friends post is directed at, well, their friends. People they’re in a mutual follow with. Maybe they put things in the fandom tags.

But there’s always The Unexpectedly Successful Text Post phenomenon: things go viral, usually the most surprising things. Something I write today could be plastered across everything tomorrow. How can I tell? I can’t.

Switching gears for a minute: If I’m having a conversation with a friend in a coffee shop about the failure modes of capitalism, even though I’m in a public place and just anyone could listen in, I expect that conversation to stay private. I might be very wrong, but the likelihood is very small. I am probably safe assuming that my coffee shop conversation will stay essentially private.

If I am standing on a soap box in Times Square declaiming my views about the failure modes of capitalism, I definitely expect those words to be public. I could be wrong; I could be ignored by everyone who walks by. (I think this is the fate of most street preachers around the nearby university campus.) But because of my mode of delivery, I cannot assume that my soap box preaching will stay private.

Everyone tells us, the internet is public! The internet is forever! Literally anything you put on the internet could go viral at any moment! And technically, they are correct. However, given that people who are supposed to be viral marketing experts don’t always succeed at creating virality, the likelihood I experience that anything I do is going to accidentally produce an epidemiologically interesting situation is essentially nil. It is essentially rational to treat most social media as coffee shop conversations, or, at worst, convention afterparty conversations, where more people might join in but they’ll generally be people who hold similar or compatible views, and whom I or others near me have probably already met.

And yet. And yet. If I do screw up and something I did gets out of control, I take the blame for not foreseeing the possibility. “CONSTANT VIGILANCE,” they thunder. It’s so easy to not screw up; all you have to do is carefully compartmentalize, just like you do in the other areas of your life, and make sure to be blameless in all ways at all times, just like… nobody, ever, not even St. Francis, who was basically Jesus without the allegations of divinity.

Constant vigilance is awfully tiring. As I’m sure many other women will testify if asked, it’s really hard to never let your guard slip around anyone who might possibly be inclined to assault you, especially because individual instances of actual danger are likely to be so irregularly spaced that you can’t possibly predict an incident before it happens. And although unlike people who do stupid stuff on the internet, it’s not an assault victim’s fault, they are blamed for their human imperfection about as consistently as people who do stupid stuff on the internet.

Further, to require constant vigilance places an additional and undue burden on those who are not currently-abled in body or mind. I have seen multiple people complaining that they are criticized overly harshly for using words that have fallen out of favor, when they cannot, for instance, simultaneously regulate their language to the current stringent standards and have the mental energy to discuss the ideas that need to be discussed (such as, potentially, ableism in online social justice venues!). And these are people who are intentionally inserting themselves into discussion. How much harder, then, to regulate one’s language in what one expects to be a casual conversation?

The question comes down to this: Is my risk assessment unrealistic, or are your expectations for my risk mitigation unrealistic? Is it actually okay to say, in a coffee shop, things you would never defend from a soap box in Times Square? In order to come up with new ideas and form nuanced opinions about real issues, don’t we need spaces in which dissent, uncertainty, and ideas not ready for the light of day can be tossed around? Would you condemn someone whose coffee shop conversation was quoted by Coversnitch if it revealed sensitive information and then went viral? Would you argue they never should have said it in the first place? Do you also discuss sensitive personal information in a coffee shop? (If you don’t, I suppose at least that’s consistent.)

Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms can be used, by one person, in one hour, as both soap box and coffee shop. On Tumblr the conversion is effected by the use of tags; if I put a popular tag on a post, I can be fairly certain a lot of people I don’t know will see that post. If I put no tags at all on the post, nobody but my followers will see it, unless someone reblogs. I could have one post that’s collected 30k notes between two posts with under five. As long as I only have a small number of followers, 99.9% of the things I say will remain in relative obscurity. Again: is it reasonable to demand constant vigilance against a threat that may never coalesce?

I ought to be able to treat my social media conversations like a coffee shop, and not a soap box. Similarly, all workers ought to make a living wage, everyone ought to be treated justly under the law, and so on. (And as long as I’m wishing, I’d like a pony.) But I do believe that to blame someone previously obscure for not anticipating a particular thing getting passed around like an interesting drink in a room full of geeks is to bypass a whole set of questions about constant vigilance, exhausting barriers of entry, expectation of privacy, and the need for casual conversations to spread and refine ideas.

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

Today’s post will be short and sweet, as I’m spending the afternoon in the kitchen.

Go read What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?, an address delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852. The oratory is gorgeous, the rhetoric is alternately subtle and thundering, and the subject could not pierce further to the core of what America is and has been.

If there’s any interest, I can discuss at a later date what the address means to me, how it does and does not relate to the America of today. For now, anything important I might say, Douglass says better. Go read.