It is to our credit if these are the Americans to whom we want to trace our moral genealogy. But we should not confuse the fact that they took extraordinary actions with the notion that they lived in extraordinary times. One of the biases of retrospections is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own–that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it–and someone always needs it–we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.”

Kathryn Schulz, “Derailed” The New Yorker, 8/22/16

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