Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Of Heroes, Villains, Nobility, Innovation, and Backwardness

I ran across an interesting few sentences in a chapter about the challenges of archeology in the Middle East by Archeologist Neil Silberman.

Consider this: 
Ottoman history [14th to 20th centuries] .... was filled with ups and downs, heroes and villains, nobility, innovation, and backwardness—in short, a history that is fully as vital as that of the ancient Middle East or the modern West. ....
We live in a vital period. The American empire, with its roots in the 16th century, has been ascendant on the world stage for nearly two centuries now. That vitality, like the vitality of any vital power of the past, is filled with ups and downs, heroes and villains, nobility, innovation, and backwardness. It's something to think about as we watch the Republican primary field this year. The villainy and backwardness we see on display there comes with the territory. The fight for nobility and innovation and progress is never done. True heroes are rare. The fight is never done.

...and this:
What makes the study of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern historical archaeology so intriguing is the possibility that it might offer some concepts and historical formation utterly outside the experience or even analytical categories of the European colonial and, later, capitalist world. For the Ottoman Empire seems to have been based on the maintenance of cultural diversity as the fulcrum of imperial coherence and profit—not in the tendencies toward rigid hierarchization and centralization one sees in the West (Lewis 1995; Brummet 1994). And maybe part of the reason we are today so utterly confused by the surging nationalisms and religious passions of the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Balkans is because we have been trained as archaeologists—both New World and Old World--to disregard the history, function, and vitality of Middle Eastern religions and cultures as inconsequential or irrelevant to our own experience. 
I look at that and I think--myopic and parochial views of the world, as one sees too often in our political discussions, go hand in hand with backwardness and villainy and down cycles in our national life; and to be mindful and appreciative of cultural diversities, and aware of the history, function, and vitality of other cultures goes hand in hand with nobility and innovation in our problem solving.