Ashoka’s moral empire


How an ancient Indian emperor, horrified by the cruelty of war, created an infrastructure of goodness.

In the Khyber valley of Northern Pakistan, three large boulders sit atop a hill commanding a beautiful prospect of the city of Mansehra. A low brick wall surrounds these boulders; a simple roof, mounted on four brick pillars, protects the rock faces from wind and rain. This structure preserves for posterity the words inscribed there: ‘Doing good is hard – Even beginning to do good is hard.’ The words are those of Ashoka Maurya, an Indian emperor who, from 268 to 234 BCE, ruled one of the largest and most cosmopolitan empires in South Asia. These words come from the opening lines of the fifth of 14 of Ashoka’s so-called ‘major rock edicts’, a remarkable anthology of texts, circa 257 BCE, in which Ashoka announced a visionary ethical project. Though the rock faces have eroded in Mansehra and the inscriptions there are now almost illegible, Ashoka’s message can be found on rock across the Indian subcontinent – all along the frontiers of his empire, from Pakistan to South India.

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Sonam Kachru — Aeon

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The Antidote to Prejudice


There has been a lot of debate happening on the Kashmir issue. Friendship tested over political views.

Yet a people without prejudices, a people with altogether neutral vision, is so unthinkable in any civilization of which it is useful to think, that no scheme of education could be based upon that ideal. Prejudice can be detected, discounted, and refined, but so long as finite men must compress into a short schooling preparation for dealing with a vast civilization, they must carry pictures of it around with them, and have prejudices. The quality of their thinking and doing will depend on whether those prejudices are friendly, friendly to other people, to other ideas, whether they evoke love of what is felt to be positively good, rather than hatred of what is not contained in their version of the good.

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Maria Popova — Brain Pickings

44 AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO SHOOK UP THE WORLD


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This is a great list.

This is not a list of The Greatest African-Americans of All Time or The Most Influential Blacks in History. Or even The Dopest Brothers and Sisters Who Matter Most This Week. It is a list — fervently debated among our staff, chiseled and refined — of 44 blacks who shook up the world or at least their corner of it. We recognize that this is not a complete list of jaw-dropping black achievers; we know that such a list would never run out of names. Why limit ours to 44? It’s an homage to the first African-American president, whose own stunning accomplishment was something our mothers and grandfathers and great-grandmothers never thought they’d see in their lifetimes.

The complete listThe complete list

Intro by Kevin Merida / Portraits by Robert Ball — The Undefeated

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The ghosts of Mrs Gandhi: Amitav Ghosh looks back at the 1984 massacre of Sikhs


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Happy New Year to all! At the beginning of the year, we remember the not so good part of history so that we learn not to repeat it.

Writers don’t join crowds – Naipaul and so many others teach us that. But what do you do when the Constitutional authority fails to act? You join and in joining bear all the responsibility and obligations and guilt that joining represents. My experience of the violence was overwhelming and memorable of the resistance to it. When I think of the women staring down the mob, I am not filled with writerly wonder. I am reminded of my gratitude from being saved from injury. What I saw at firsthand – and not merely on that march but on the bus, in Hari’s house, in the huge compound filled with essential goods – was not the horror of violence but the affirmation of humanity: in each case, I witnessed the risks that perfectly ordinary people were willing to take for one another.

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Amitav Ghosh — Scroll

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Is the Term “People of Color” Acceptable in This Day and Age?


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So in the United States in 2016 our language still reflects the continuing racialization hierarchy—with white at the top. The use of “people of color” may be less offensive to some than, say, specifying one’s country of origin (Mexican-American, African-American, and so on). Some people that I have asked say they prefer the use of country-of-origin terms because they provide a connection between one’s ancestral country and where they live now. So a question from me is, if we replaced “white” with “European-American” or “Iranian-American,” for example, could we then do away with the word “white” as well?

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Yolanda Moses — Sapiens

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How This All Happened


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A great narrative of what happened to the U.S. economy since the end of World War II.

If you fell asleep in 1945 and woke up in 2018 you would not recognize the world around you. The amount of growth that took place during that period is virtually unprecedented. If you learned that there have been no nuclear attacks since 1945, you’d be shocked. If you saw the level of wealth in New York and San Francisco, you’d be shocked. If you compared it to the poverty of Detroit, you’d be shocked. If you saw the price of homes, college tuition, and health care, you’d be shocked. Our politics would blow your mind. And if you tried to think of a reasonable narrative of how it all happened, my guess is you’d be totally wrong. Because it isn’t intuitive, and it wasn’t foreseeable 73 years ago.

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Morgan Housel — Collaborative Fund

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How Have Plants Shaped Human Societies?


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Britain prospected Peruvian bark trees and grew them in India, having first transplanted them to Kew, one of many botanical gardens that served as a center for medical and colonial botany. In fact, the success of British rule in India depended partly on the control of malaria through the establishment of local Cinchona plantations. In Jules Verne’s 1874 fantasy novel The Mysterious Island, the sulfate of quinine that miraculously saves the life of one of the main characters turns out to be a gift from the reclusive Captain Nemo. Yet far from being a pure gift, Cinchona, like so many other botanical discoveries, was both a cure for suffering and an instrument of power.

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Yota Bataski & Alex HumphreysScientific American

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The Typo That Helped End World War II


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Cryptogamist vs cryptogramist

At some point, it occurred to Tandy that the Ministry may have made a mistake. The exact details are lost to history, but it became clear that someone had mistaken his job of cryptogamist for a cryptogramist—a codebreaker, which is exactly what men like Alan Turing were doing at Bletchley. The mistake led to a moss specialist being deposited into one of the most intense covert operations of the war.

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Jake Rossen — Mental Floss

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Ten photos that changed how we see human rights


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Often, the power of seeing someone very different from ourselves can create a sense of proximity, and the recognition of another’s full humanity. For example, after Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1838, he became a leading campaigner in the abolitionist movement in the United States. He believed in the power of his dignified and serious photographic portrait to counter racist caricatures, and became the most-photographed man of the 19th century.

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The Conversation

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What Did Ancient Romans Do Without Toilet Paper?


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Just plain old curiosity.

In the same way that we use an American-style toilet, a Roman user would sit down, take care of business, and watch number two float blissfully away down the sewer system. But instead of reaching for a roll of toilet paper, an ancient Roman would often grab a tersorium (or, in my technical terms, a “toilet brush for your butt”). A tersorium is an ingenious little device made by attaching a natural sponge (from the Mediterranean Sea, of course) to the end of a stick. Our ancient Roman would simply wipe him- or herself, rinse the tersorium in whatever was available (running water and/or a bucket of vinegar or salt water), and leave it for the next person to use. That’s right, it was a shared butt cleaner. (And of course, there were other means of wiping as well, such as the use of abrasive ceramic discs called pessoi.)

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Stephen E. Nash — Sapiens

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