Marginalia, no.224

For what is war? …What is it but the getting together of quiet and harmless people, with their swords in their hands, to keep the ambitious and the turbulent within bounds?

~ Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy

Rather than kill their enemies, Indians of the great plains would sometimes count coup on them – which meant to approach near enough on the battlefield so that they might have killed or injured them, but only to tap them with a stick instead. It was a symbolic deathblow, a humiliation. In the western world, since the age of chivalry, we’ve been more concerned to preserve the honor of the ambitious and turbulent than to preserve their lives. This we call civilization.


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