“That’s the way they liked it.”

July 13, 2012

This was a repeated, punctuating line that a Roman history professor of mine used in an opening lecture he gave in one of the classes I took with him.  Mr. MacMullen was trying to undermine some of our pretty ideas about the Romans, and when he revealed a fact seemingly at odds with a slide he showed and with received interpretations about what was in it, a fact that would tend to make the Romans seem pettier and more crass and less refined than we often take classical culture to have been, he would say that they did the thing because “That’s the way they liked it.”

I haven’t kept up with Ramsay MacMullen and I don’t know what he’s been up to for years, but I was thinking about this line of his today because what I was encountering was the apparent truth that people who persist in behaviors and attitudes that I don’t like do so probably because they do like them.  This thought is helpful to me because it suggests that they are not very likely to change the behaviors and attitudes.  That, in turn, suggests to me that I need to find another way of dealing with them.

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