Rebirth of Reason

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Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 10:43pmSanction this postReply
Action springs not from ideas, but from a
willingness to accept responsibility.--Bonhoeffer

Frederick Roberts Reenstjerna
Sept. 30, 1948 ó Jan. 16, 2007
Frederick Roberts Reenstjerna died suddenly on Tuesday, January 16, 2007, in Corvallis, Oregon. He was 58. Fred was born on September 30, 1948, in Lexington, South Carolina, to Swannee (Roberts) and the Rev Otto F. Reenstjerna. On June 12, 1971, he married Hope Shields, who he had met in graduate school at the University of Maryland.
Fred attended Lexington High School in Lexington, South Carolina. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1969 from The College of Charleston in South Carolina, a Master of Library Science in 1971 from the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., a M.Ad. (Human Resources) in 1983 from Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and a Doctor of Education (Higher Education Administration) in 1991 from West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Fred had been the finance/operations officer at the Benton County Historical Museum in Philomath, Oregon, since August 2005. Previously he had been at the Douglas County Library and the Douglas County Museum in Roseburg, Oregon. In Huntington, West Virginia, he had been an assistant professor, an assistant manager of housing, and the business manager at the Autism Training Center, all at Marshall University. In Virginia, he served as the head of reference at the Roanoke County Public Library and the director of the Franklin County Library. He started his career as a special recruit at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., interning in all departments and continued there as a reference specialist in the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service for four years. One memorable assignment was when he served as reference support for the Watergate hearings.
Fred saw his diverse employment history as having the uniting theme of putting people together with the information they needed. He thrived in learning new skills and knowledge. Fred enjoyed working with his bonsai tree collection, tide pooling at the coast, and most of all entertaining his four-year-old granddaughter, Adrian who, by design, lived three blocks away from Grandpa, Fred in Corvallis. Fred is survived by his wife of 35 years, Hope; daughter and son-in-law, Elisabeth and Len Cerny; granddaughter, Adrian Cerny and grandson, Benjamin Cerny. All who knew him will miss him.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m., on Saturday, January 27, 2007, at the Corvallis Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Corvallis, with the Rev. Gretchen Woods officiating. Arrangements are by DeMoss-Durdan Funeral Home and Crematory. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Fredís name to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University, 2030 SE Marine Science Drive, Newport, Oregon, 97365.

Justice and Existentialism
Justice is the core value of democracy. Only in the presence of justice, can one experience individual freedom, equality, economic opportunity, and civic engagement. Justice must be a collective value--it must be valued by all in a society (or the substantial majority)--to operate successfully.
     It might be surprising that this idea of societal justice was most eloquently expounded by the existentialist writer, Albert Camus. Existentialism is a philosophy of individualism, a belief that all we know is our own perception of the world. Although Camus rejected the label "existentialist" as intensely as his compatriot Sartre embraced it, Camus' writings articulate critical existentialist principles. He is especially relevant in his assessment of the individual's relationship to society.
     In The Rebel, Camus argues that individuals' struggles against society have taken three principal forms, which he calls historical, metaphysical, and artistic rebellion. The first two are the "traditional" rebellions that we have all studied in history and philosophy classes: the succession of wars, uprisings, and differing theories about the ideal human society that has progressed through recorded time.
     Historical rebellion leads to the tragedy of warfare, the senseless destruction of people by people in the interest of some government (empire, nation-state) or other corporate entity. Metaphysical rebellion leads to the tragedy of purges and concentration camps, the senseless destruction of unbelievers or backsliders by "true believers" (in Eric Hoffer's words) struggling to achieve a perfect society. Metaphysical rebels believe that only by ridding the population of people not ideologically acceptable to some imagined philosophy can the perfect human society be realized. The twentieth century is overpopulated with the death squads, death camps, and other sordid death-dealings that are the inevitable products of metaphysical rebellion.
    Artistic rebellion, Camus concludes, is the only valid form of individual rebellion. Through artistic rebellion, the individual rages against the machine of injustice, calling the attention of fellow humans to the plight of others in the world. Artistic rebellion is an act of individuality, yet it is simultaneously a collective act of social justice, because it is an individual artistic expression made within a community. Every publicly expressed idea validates an individual's existence while rebelling against injustice.
     Within a just society, individualism thrives because all individuals are respected. Within a just society, economic opportunity flourishes because everyone is equal before the law. And within a just society, civic engagement is not a right but a responsibility of the individual--it is a form of artistic rebellion that expresses the unique values of each person but curbs that expression within the parameters of a community that values all of its citizens.
     Democratic government is inherently just, because it combines majority rule with protection of minority rights. To the extent that minority rights are reduced or suppressed--that is, to the extent that minorities receive less justice than the majority--any government is that much less democratic. Democracy is impossible without justice. Tyranny is impossible without injustice.
--Fred Reenstjerna, Corvallis
Oregon Council for the Humanities
Fall/Winter 2006 On Principle

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Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 11:05pmSanction this postReply
Fred Reenstjerna was a sophomore at the College of Charleston when I entered as a freshman.  I thought he was a senior. He became the editor of the school newspaper, The Meteor, and I wrote for him. Because of him, I majored in history.  Among the faculty at that time were Gyorgy Heltai who had been Imre Nagy's foreign minister in October 1956 and Dr. Alexander Lenard who translated Winnie the Pooh into Latin. 

Because of Dr. Heltai, the European history classes became exceedingly strong in a  school that had made a religion out of the War of Southern Secession. We had this old 19th century map -- I think we were surprised to learn that it was printed as recently as 1920 -- showing Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro, Ruthenia, and the rest.  Some of the history majors played Diplomacy in the student union every night. 

After I left the College of Charleston at the end of my sophomore year, I lost track of Fred.  We found each other online about 1989 or so, and maintained a correspondence ever since.  What brought Fred and me back together, actually, was the unraveling of communism and the Yugoslav republic.  We knew all those little countries, how their histories intertwined, how their borders changed.

As you can imagine from his article posted above, we had our differences.   We tended to agree (perhaps 100%) on culture and disagree (at least 100%!)  on politics.  He was the perfect foil.  He never surrendered an inch of territory, but made me feel like a worthy adversary.  When he did not reply to a point, I knew I had made it.  Even so, he always came back with something I had not considered.

Fred had no patience with ignorance but infinite tolerance for the ignorant.  His father was a Luthern minister.  I suspect that Fred was an atheist.  He probably would have disagreed, of course, and the fruit does not fall far from the tree.  In accordance with Christian justice, Fred hated the sin, but forgave the sinner. 

We never met in person after 1969, yet he helped me deeply and profoundly at a task that I had been performing since I was eight.  Fred sent me an article he wrote, whimsical as was his best style, about how people approach the reference librarian as if the desk were some kind of confessional.  In truth, the librarian can't wait to help, but people still shuffle, and hesitate, and worry, and think of not bothering her (or him).  He published that back in 2001 and it made me a happier patron.  I made the mistake of lending my original to a librarian who was going to make a copy for herself, but she never gave it back.  I think she framed it.

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