Abraham Lincoln the Practical Mystic (Francis Grierson)

HISTORIANS HATE HIM!! GRIERSON REVEALS LINCOLN’S ONE WEIRD TRICK TO SAVING THE UNION.

(Spoiler: “practical mysticism”)

There’s little to no substantive content here, but some of the emphatic and flowery language is amusing. Here’s one of my favorite selections, from the thrilling conclusion:

“It is time to know the truth about Lincoln’s supernaturalism. Your favourite historian avoids the subject. He will not touch on a matter so dangerous to his neutral agnosticism. He avoids the details of the supernatural events of that wonderful time. He will discuss anything but that; he knows that once thinking people become acquainted with the facts they will begin to form their own conclusions.”

Grierson goes on to recount that Lincoln once approved a successful venture that was so dangerous, insane, and high-risk that he wow, gee, form your own conclusions. I mean, to say yes to such a thing he must have been some sort of practical mystic!

Sadly, there’s no evidence presented of Lincoln ever engaging in anything supernatural, just lots of excellent proclamations like these, which I would comment wryly upon were I a man of leisure:

“A knowledge of the influences which ruled the life of Lincoln, the greatest of practical mystics, is essential now that a new form of paganism and slavery threatens humanity.”

“Abraham Lincoln, the greatest practical mystic the world has known for nineteen hundred years, is the one man whose life and example ought to be clearly set before the English-speaking peoples at this supreme climax in the history of civilisation. The thoughts, incidents, manifestations, which the majority of historians glide over with a careless touch, or sidetrack because of the lack of moral courage, are the only things that count in the life of that great seer. His whole existence was controlled by influences beyond the ken of the most astute politicians of his time. His genius was superhuman. And since this world is not governed by chance, a power was at work which fore-ordained him for his unique mission.”

“That Lincoln possessed intuition and illumination without resorting to human aid is clear and irrefutable. His words were simple and his actions were simple, like those of the Hebrew seers. He announced and he pronounced, without subtle explanations or mysterious formulas.

All which proves that practical mysticism can nourish as much under a Democracy as under any other form of government.”

“With Lincoln, humour was made to serve a high, psychic purpose. By its means he created a new atmosphere and new conditions through which he could all the more freely work and act. He brought humour into play for his own good as well as that of others. He was not a theorist, or a dreamer of dreams; he was a practical mystic.”

“This is only one of Lincoln’s prophecies which proved true. In stating them he did not pass into an abnormal state. He spoke as one would speak of the coming weather. He did not consult the stars, nor any person, before making a prophetic statement. Seeing clearly was as natural to him as eating or sleeping. He was not a psychic machine, uttering thoughts which seemed strange and enigmatical to himself, because his intellectual and spiritual powers were part of himself.”

First Encounter:
I wish I knew what sort of bizarre rabbit hole I fell down that ultimately led me to consume this entire book. It looks like I leisurely read it from 11/2016 until 3/2017, and as I write this I vaguely recall keeping this open in a Project Gutenberg tab at work that I’d glance at while programs were loading, Excel spreadsheets were calculating, phones were ringing, etc. I honestly have no idea why I thought this was a good idea, but it happened.

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Future Imperfect: Technology and Freedom in an Uncertain World (David D. Friedman)

Future Imperfect is a broad-ranging, multidisciplinary exploration of potential future technologies and their possible ramifications, written by an intellectual renaissance man* (okay, medieval man). If this is the sort of thing that you find interesting or entertaining, I think you’ll enjoy this book and the author’s unique perspective.

My primary concern before reading it (in 2020), was that the book was published in 2008 — would it still be worth reading in 2020?

After reading: yes. The book largely holds up, and the author has thoughtfully added several postscripts to the recently recorded audio edition to comment on developments since the original publication. (Unfortunately, they are relatively short.) Many technologies speculated upon are still speculative, or they have been somewhat realized, and we are beginning to face some of the issues that the author described. Some are out-of-date or not particularly relevant, but these are the exception. (E.g. there’s a chapter describing possible methods of creating “e-cash.” Given the explosion of cryptocurrencies since then and my relative ignorance of both topics, I couldn’t always tell which of his predictions were realized, which were made obsolete, and which were still potentially in the future.)

If you’re curious about the book or the topics covered, there’s a “webbed version“, but I do recommend the new audiobook edition. The production quality is not top-tier, but it’s read by the author, and that lends it a bit of charm: it feels just a step or two away from attending a lecture or being in conversation. It’s written not as an academic textbook, but in a more informal tone, with personality and some enjoyable (and much appreciated) splashes of humor — so despite the depth of the ideas within, it’s not hard to follow aurally.

I’ll definitely be checking out some of the author’s other works.

*From wikipedia: David Director Friedman (born February 12, 1945) is an American economist, physicist, legal scholar, and anarcho-capitalist theorist.

First Encounter:
DDF posted his offer of free audiobooks in exchange for reviews on an internet forum. (I took him up on it.)

Ghost of Perdition (Opeth)

After graduating from college, I called in some familial connections to land a cushy finance job* walking distance from my new digs**. One of my first major entertainment outlays was a concert ticket for a band which, at the time, was my favorite, and which had broken up years before and suddenly, to my great surprise and delight, reunited. That is a story perhaps better reserved for another post (INSERT LINK HERE), but suffice it to say, it was an incredible disappointment.

Out of the ashes of my expectations, however, rose a completely unexpected new favorite. I was browsing MySpace late at night in the basement, when I stumbled upon this fascinating new sound. Although I hated the death metal vocals, I immediately LOVED everything else. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard, yet it felt like exactly what I’d always wanted to hear. It was Ghost of Perdition, and hearing it for the first time set me on a new course in my aural life. Opeth soon became my favorite band and almost 15 years later I’d still say that they are the current “lifetime favorite.” More on that in another post, perhaps? (INSERT OTHER LINK HERE)

If you think you will hate anything with “harsh vocals” aka “growls,” that’s okay, I don’t blame you at all, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I will present you with an instrumental version of the track first.

If you, however, would like to attempt indulgence in the full experience, I will assure you, that eventually you will come to appreciate and even enjoy the strange noises that come out of Mikael Akerfeldt’s mouth (?). It takes some time and effort, but one day, you will find it a soothing respite from the daily grind, a meditation and lullaby that you literally fall asleep to every night. Also, please note — there is “regular” singing in this too, which you miss out on in the version above.

* Teller at a Currency Exchange
** My old bedroom at my parents’ house

First Encounter:
MySpace browsing, as mentioned above. The album had been released the previous year and was being promoted on the band’s MySpace page, which is how the world worked back in 2006.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses (Tom Standage)

A short, but wonderful world history centered around six drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola.

At most times in my life up through this point I had almost no interest in reading this book or a book like this, but for some reason that has completely changed as of late, and I managed to love this. Though this is non-fiction, the prose is, correctly, not dry. I learned a good deal of history (not all drink related), and have a newfound interest in drinks and drinking customs.

Some memorable facts from the book:
* Mesopotamians would drink beer through straws stuck into a shared bowl.
* The closest modern equivalent to the coffee drunk in 17th century British coffee is the day-old coffee found in your office breakroom percolator.
* The British Navy’s adoption of rum as their shipboard beverage may have contributed to their eventual naval superiority.
* Almost no Britons drank tea at the beginning of the 18th century and almost no Britons didn’t drink tea at the end of it.
* Plugs for patent medicine dominated newspaper advertising in the US at the turn of the 20th century.
* Greeks diluted their wine with water prior to ingestion.

First Encounter:
Hoopla has been pushing this book on me for a long time and they finally broke me.

Mr. Blue Sky (Electric Light Orchestra)

An all-time favorite, this genre-bending masterpiece is simultaneously uplifting and ominous (is that a personal impression only [likely due to the association detailed below] or is that a shared feeling?). It’s an appropriate song in almost any context; truly music for all seasons. It was one of the first songs that came to mind when I created a ‘Good Morning’ Spotify playlist for ante-school invigoration, elevation, and entertainment of the children earlier this year.

First Encounter:
I actually remember the first time I became conscious of this song. I was sitting in a movie theater, watching a preview for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, meaning it must have been 2004 or 2003. I felt like I’d known it all my life, and I couldn’t tell if I actually had memories ties to the song or if it was brand new to me but happened to be supremely resonant. I’m still not sure. It seems very possible that I’d at least heard the song before but it had never bubbled to my awareness. On the other hand, I could have just perpetuated that myth to myself in order to seem cool and cultured.

Maybe it was this?