Tuesday, September 1, 2015

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth

On the Eccentricities of John Wilkes Booth: As far as his theatrical career went, J. W. Booth was the Brad Pitt or George Clooney of his day. By the end of the 1850s, he was earning around $20,000 per year (which would be over 500K per year in today's dollars). Growing up in Bel Air, Maryland, Booth was very competitive with his brothers and classmates. He always had to be the best or first at completing a task, whether it was reciting Cicero or riding horses. Having been baptized Episcopalian, which was the Booth family's traditional church, his childhood religious experience did not follow one particular path. Booth's father, according to Asia Booth Clarke's memoirs, was more of a "free spirit" than actual practitioner of the faith. And yet there were rumors that J. W. Booth himself had converted to Roman Catholicism. Although evidence of such a conversion was sparse, it nevertheless fueled conspiracy theories regarding a Catholic plot to overthrow the U.S. government (similar to Guy Fawkes in England). After the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Booth became an outspoken supporter of the Confederacy. At some performances in the North, he even feuded with audience members who wished to have him arrested for treason. But when Abe Lincoln won reelection to a second term in late 1864, Booth believed it was time for Lincoln's "tyranny" and "aggression" toward the South to end.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

On Erik Erikson's Personality Theory

On Erik Erikson's Personality Theory: Building on Sigmund Freud's ideas concerning psycho-social development, Erikson concocted a comprehensive series of "stages" that depict personality growth. Regarding Freud, the id represents the irrational, unconscious, and pleasure-seeking aspect of an individual while the ego reflects reality, as it rationally/consciously tries to pursue what the id desires. Lastly, the superego symbolizes an individual's conscience, which attempts to mediate whatever conflicts occur between the id and ego. For Erikson, however, a personality consists of more than Freud's three basic components. In fact, Erikson's personality theory contains eight stages, as it describes how a person should psycho-socially develop from infancy to late adulthood. To simplify Erikson's stages, existential questions can be proposed to capture the gist of what each stage represents. For example, two questions of the adolescent stage (years 15 to 25) might be "who am I?" or "how can I become a contributing member of society?" And two questions of the middle-adulthood stage (years 35 to 55) could be "can I love another person?" or "how can I make life worth living?" Nevertheless, completion of each stage is NOT necessarily contingent upon answering its questions.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity

On Kierkegaardian Absurdity and Insanity: On October 16, 1843, Kierkegaard published three separate works. One of the books published was Repetition and another was Fear and Trembling, which is perhaps Kierkegaard's most well-known work. In many respects, neither book has much in common, except when referencing ideas like absurdity and insanity. If when Abraham took Isaac up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed (at God's command) can be considered a definition of absurdity, then Fear and Trembling was spot-on with its discourse. And if repeating the same process/steps (as the Young Man did) while expecting different results is a definition of insanity, then Repetition has certainly made an indelible philosophical mark. For Kierkegaard, who tried to determine whether repetition actually existed in the world, the process of repeating something served as a vehicle to "eternalize" what would otherwise be temporal. He also connected this idea to another concept which he referred to as the "Knight of Faith." Because Kierkegaard's conception of Faith is partially rooted in both absurdity and insanity, it only seems fitting that Abraham and the Young Man act as Knights of Faith in their respective books. In short, the Knight of Fight is the paradoxical individual who "gracefully embraces life" on the one hand, and places infinite trust in the possibility of divine salvation on the other.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME

Why James K. Polk Mattered BIG TIME: As perhaps one of the most overlooked and/or underrated Presidents in American history, Polk presided over the admission of two vitally important states into the Union: Florida and Texas. Elected in 1844, he served when the idea of "Manifest Destiny" (white America's God-given right to conquer the West) hit a fever pitch. With members of Congress such as David Wilmot (Pro-Free Soil) and John C. Calhoun (Pro-Slavery) choosing sides over how westward expansion should proceed, Polk remarkably managed to maintain a pragmatic, down-the-middle approach. He (intentionally) provoked a war with Mexico in 1846 by stationing/quartering troops along the Rio Grande, which permitted Texas to consolidate its newly acquired statehood. And when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, Polk had expanded U.S. territory by two-fifths (from Texas to what would eventually become California). Indeed, it would be another half-century before much of this territory achieved statehood, but Polk clearly left his mark.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad

On Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad: Born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, in 1822, not far from where famed African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born in 1818, Tubman had a rough childhood. Her mother "Rit" struggled to keep the family together, especially since she worked as a house servant on a large plantation while Harriet (and her brothers) frequently worked in the fields. Having been "hired out" to other plantation owners of numerous occasions, even after contracting the measles and suffering a serious head injury, Tubman vowed either to become free or die trying. Thus, on a September night in 1849, she embarked on a 90-mile journey northward along the Choptank River through Delaware and into Pennsylvania. The following year, Congress passed an infamous Fugitive Slave Law (as part of the 1850 Compromise), which allowed slave-owners to search for and forcibly retrieve their "runaway slaves" (stolen property) in any part of the country. Brushing aside the implicit danger of this new law to her freedom, Tubman sought to expand usage of the Underground Railroad (UR) for Southern slaves who wished to escape to the North. Although not literally an "Underground Railroad," the term referred to a network of safe houses or "stations" that harbored runaway slaves on their journey northward. In fact, slaves would often use the North Star as a navigational guide during their trips.