Reflections on Aphorisms #35

Yesterday’s reflections blew up, but today I didn’t feel like returning to my usual sources of aphorisms. Instead, I began reading the Meditations, and it is from them that I will draw today’s focus.

Aphorism 58

Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Photographic reproduction of a Roman coin. Left: Antonius Pius. Right: Marcus Aurelius, his adopted son. Image is in public domain.

Interpretation

I’ve heard this statement by Marcus Aurelius before, but I’d never seen it in the context of the work.

At first, this could look even to be a cynical statement, since there’s a definite negative tone to it.

However, it comes at the start of the second chapter of Meditations, and in context it takes on a different light:

The first chapter of Meditations is focused on thanksgiving and praise of others (as well as tracing the emperor’s personal development).

In this sense, I don’t think it’s fair to say that Marcus Aurelius is complaining here, he’s preparing himself.

I have to do a similar thing before going to the gym, especially if I’ve let myself get out of the habit. I’m not much for physical activity (I fight hard battles with inertia), and when I lost a lot of weight I had to do it by dieting and just not letting myself have access to things I shouldn’t have.

The power of a statement like this is that it’s a memento mori, a reminder of mortality. There will never be a perfect day, but nobody has ever had a perfect day. There will be a limitation or an obstacle or an inconvenience, or maybe even an actual threat or danger or serious loss.

That doesn’t mean that one forgets everything else.

The Stoics, of whom Marcus Aurelius is a leading figure, were philosophical thinkers who believed heavily in the role of contemplation and preparation.

By making oneself confront suffering and loss before it happens, one is able to bear it better when it occurs.

The positive element here is that one looks over everything that will occur, and in the end comes to the following conclusion:

Life will be full of pain. My goals may be impossible. My dreams may crumble. Those I love may be taken from me. But I can remain myself, and I can carry myself well under the weight. It is better to suffer nobly and live in reality than it is to flee to fantasy and escape.

Resolution

Do not overlook the importance of confronting suffering.

Remember that the goal is to be the best me, not someone impossibly great.

Make efforts to be grateful for that which rises above the dross.

Reflections on Aphorisms #34

Got carried away because I got to writing about consciousness. It’s a fascinating subject, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully written about some of my philosophical curiosities about what consciousness is in any serious form, though I might have jotted down a couple quick sketches of ideas a while back.

In any case, Oscar Wilde obliged.

Aphorism 57

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Oscar Wilde

Interpretation

I believe in the immensity of the unknown.

What exists is orders of magnitude greater than what we perceive to exist. This remains true if we cut down the sheer volume of the cosmos by focusing only on the things which have value to us (i.e. those that impact our lives).

I am often fascinated by the amount of unknown information that exists in the world. I’m not sure if this is something that is regular, or if there’s something in me that pushes me toward this. A large part of it is probably down to the fact that I grew up playing video games all the time, and while the games I played were quite complex they were still only knowable.

It terrifies me to think that I do not know what is in other peoples’ heads. That’s a bit of a strong wording, since it falsely implies that I form some distrust of others or have a phobia.

Rather, I think it’s a form of encounter with the sublime. I realize that those around me have things going on internally that are inscrutable to me, even with conversation. I’m not the most socially aware, though I’m not particularly bad at it (I like to describe myself as average in this way, as I am in many things), and while I can catch on-to things when they’re obvious I don’t have any Sherlock-esque mind-reading or subconscious body language mastery.

However, while this will sometimes consume my thoughts, I find it more interesting to see what we know.

I’ve read a few interesting things about consciousness, and all that I really know about it is that it’s quite an incredible thing.

One of two things in particular that I’ve thought a lot about is the classical philosophical question of similarity in perception: that is to say, the question of whether everyone perceives in universally similar ways.

For instance, if the sky is blue to you and blue to me, is the sensation that we get in our eyes the same essential blue, or does each person’s particular perception of it form based on a different conscious structure? It may seem self-evident that all people perceive similarly (since, after all, we can universally represent these concepts barring some barriers in communication), but on the other hand it may simply be that everyone has fundamentally similar responses to the same stimuli but the actual conscious representation of that stimulus is different.

The other is the accuracy of consciousness. How well do we actually perceive our world?

If I see a snake, is my perception shaped by something biological, or is it a strictly absolute perception? The same caveats as above apply (e.g. we can represent a snake in pictures), but again the nature of consciousness itself may play tricks upon us.

I also get to thinking about physics. What are the odds that there are whole phenomenological structures that underlie the fabric of reality that we simply cannot attune ourselves to? Things like time, for instance, are nearly there (since we perceive time only from a particular point at any moment) , but what is to say that there aren’t other systems and rules that we simply will never know because we aren’t the sort of being to interact with them?

We know that the brain is full of cheap hacks and tricks; this is why I see flickers of my cat, who has been deceased for over a month now, in the corner of my eye when I begin to move around. My brain is reminding me to look for the cat lest I trip over her (she was quite fond of causing such accidents, though she usually came out on the worse end of such exchanges), and still expects to see her despite her absence (and the conscious permanence of it, since I held her cold body in my hands). Years of life with her are not easily overwritten by the conscious over-mind.

Another thing that I have questions about is dreams.

There’s a phenomenon with dreams where the dreamer sees the future, or things that they will only see in the future.

There are three possible responses to this:

  1. These people are credible, and they have seen through time.
  2. These people are frauds, and they are delusional or trying out a con.
  3. These people are experiencing a phenomenon from the intersection of the conscious and unconscious mind.

Of these three, I am predisposed to the third option, at least in the majority of cases.

My skepticism prevents me from fully ruling out the first. Just as it does not prescribe me to believe such accounts, I cannot reject them without examination. The only absolutes I hold faith in are moral absolutes, and since I believe in an omnipotent God there’s no reason why one couldn’t get a vision of the future (assuming God chooses to grant it), though I haven’t necessarily believed in any particular case I’ve seen.

The second is the cynical view. It may be true that some people who believe themselves to see the future are delusional, and that some are charlatans claiming to be true believers. However, the knowledge that this is a possibility should not be transferred into an absolute, and delusions are only delusional if evidence exists to the contrary; it is possible that someone believes themselves to have seen the future but has no evidence to the contrary and therefore is perfectly logical in their beliefs, which doesn’t meet the standards for a delusion. In our enlightenment we would frown on this, but I still think that it’s possible.

Carl Jung recounts an event where he was waiting for a book on alchemy and he saw symbols from the book in his dreams before it arrived. He claims to have had no prior exposure to these symbols, and that on multiple occasions similar events occurred.

Now, I’m not a believer in the paranormal (see my skeptical position above), and I don’t think that Jung is necessarily much of one either (though he certainly is a little New-Agey at times), but I think that this is perhaps an example of an intersection of psychological elements.

If we go on the theory that consciousness is a black box; it takes stimuli that are not necessarily known and produces results that may not actually resemble the original stimuli, things that are perceived in dreams may actually be capable of coming true in real life. The memory and perception of the dream will then switch over to match the phenomena as it is observed in consciousness (altered memory being irreversible and effectively as good as the stimulus being altered), or the stimulus will be altered to match the subconscious perceptions from dreams.

A crappy illustration of my theory of perceived dream precognition. Pardon my handwriting. The first is supposed to illustrate a remembered dream being transformed so that the memory , the second the inverse and less likely case that a dream shapes later perceptions of reality.

This could be disproven by a number of tests, like the transfer of one of these dream stimuli to a concrete form before the actual event that the dreamer claims occurred in their dreams before it happened in reality, but I have never seen a credible example of this in my readings or studies. Esoteric accounts, like those cited by the people who claim that Nostradamus had prophetic visions, are unconvincing to me because they do not withstand Occam’s razor.

How perceived dream precognition could be proved to be something other a product of memory revision, though not necessarily ruled out as an unconscious process being mistaken for something else. Pardon my handwriting. I think in the future I will use vector graphics instead of my pen.

The problem with this is that the accurate representation of something within a dream that would be satisfactory as a proper proof of precognition would be too difficult for most people to execute. If we could actually see into dreams it would become a trivial thing to prove, but this is subject to the other issues with consciousness.

Another issue is that the brain is a prediction engine. Dreams can predict something without having absolute foreknowledge of the future; if you know that someone is sick, you may dream of their death without being certain of it, but having enough evidence for an unconscious anxiety to become concrete and break into your psyche.

There’s also a chance that something that someone thinks they don’t know and have never been exposed to has actually crossed their path before; Jung had possibly witnessed some of the symbols of alchemy in art or literature before he had actually received the book, and had dreamed of unfamiliar symbols that he subconsciously knew to be related to alchemy, which just so happened to also be within the contents of the book.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter in practice (this is the answer to most philosophical questions), but it sure is a fascinating point of study.

In any case, I think that Oscar Wilde is making a point about consciousness being a great mystery, I agree with him entirely, and I can certainly ramble and lose track of my point quite a bit.

Resolution

Don’t take observations for granted.

Don’t worry about what lies behind the veil, take in what I see and understand that.

Stay curious, but don’t let it get in the way of my life.

Reflections on Aphorisms #33

Going to try to write as much as I can and still be coherent. I’ve been going to bed late because of poor self-discipline, and then sleeping in for the same reason (one of the bad things about not having a fixed daily schedule). Today I forced myself to get up early to go on a nice long walk, but I’m in something of a sleep deficit now, so this will be shorter than usual so I can get to bed early.

Aphorism 56

Mathematics demands an uncontrolled hunger for abstraction, philosophy a very controlled one.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Mathematics is something that I struggled with as a child, despite being relatively adept in many ways with the subject. While I certainly didn’t enjoy learning math and I have a propensity to make errors in mental math (solution: write it down and use calculators), I find many of the concepts to be tremendously easy, at least in terms of visualizing and comprehending them.

As a game designer, I’m a fan of math for the simple reason that it leads into good clean designs.

I think that some of this is because it’s abstract. When you’re making a game, you’re really searching for the platonic ideal of something, and it’s not always even something that really exists.

The result of this is that you create broad overarching systems so that each individual event can be represented within those systems. Of course, you don’t necessarily need to do this with great resolution (I write tabletop roleplaying games, so for me I leave almost all of the specifics to the people who play my games), but you do need to have it be coherent in the final picture.

In reality, this coherence is absent. There are broad overarching abstracts (for instance, the concepts of honesty and entropy which illustrate both philosophical and physical abstract concepts), but there is no individual “ideal” because there is no individual who fits the rule.

Even those who fit the rule may actually be nothing more than the creation of a new and individual rule; there is no path to guarantee anything because the universe has never been the same as it is in this moment.

Don’t mistake this for there being no paths; there are paths, and they generally lead in the direction they are supposed to. However, a great hero can be felled by a tragic flaw, and the wicked may be saved by some virtue that is hidden in the depths of their hearts waiting for the right call.

In philosophy, one can’t pass judgment on the basis of abstraction. Montaigne is great about this, because he will find the “general path” (i.e. where something usually leads) and then present both examples and counter-examples in his essays.

I think that there’s a commonality here with the concept of squaring the circle.

Image of squaring the circle, image courtesy of Wikimedia, originally in the public domain. Rasterized by me.

The problem with this is that it’s a matter of precision. You want to try and get a square whose length is equal to the square root of pi, but pi is not something which can be neatly calculated as such (it has infinite length, unless our understanding of it is incorrect).

Squaring the circle is one of the great classical problems of geometry. It has also taken on mystical connotations over the years, as a perceived impossibility, and was one of the common goals of late medieval and Renaissance alchemy.

I think it’s a great illustration for a key point:

Sometimes you have to accept the limits of knowledge.

I want to clarify, because I don’t think that’s necessarily true.

One of the distinctions between an alchemist and modern scientists (and the rational scientism that many espouse) is that the alchemist sought out cosmic mystery (“as above, so below”), and was aware that much of what they knew was unknowable.

There’s something of value to this, because when I say one should accept the limits of knowledge I don’t mean that one should stop dreaming of greater knowledge.

At the same time, it’s simply not always possible to achieve the results one desires dearly. No alchemist successfully completed their magnum opus (and likely none ever will, unless we see people start using particle colliders for alchemy in some weird future), and if they did they were wrong about what they created from a chemical standpoint.

The best example we can get here is that in mathematics, you can hit a “good enough” for the problem of squaring the circle, especially with modern computer-based calculations. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be within tolerance for all but the most demanding applications (and then the better course is error correction as needed, or merely increasing the precision until it’s satisfactory).

In philosophy, however, you can’t get around the abstraction. Squaring the circle is an important concept for a philosopher because it represents the pursuit of the unknowable. The medieval alchemists were trying to find God (at least, the later ones) as much as they were trying to find gold; their texts were esoteric to protect them from a society which failed to appreciate the independent contemplation of the divine and to force them out of comfort in their understandings. They saw in terms of value, not particles.

Philosophy always must in the end pursue the individual. It cannot be abstracted, because within the individual lies meaning.

Resolution

Know when to follow the rule, know when to see the exception.

Don’t be afraid to try either way to square a circle.

Remember that every outcome, good or bad, is unique. Be thankful for the good, overcome the bad.

Reflections on Aphorisms #32

I’ve been trying to get back into reading Montaigne’s essays. They’re a hard thing to get back into the swing of if you let your inertia slip. I figured I’d take one of the quotes from Montaigne that I highlighted in my volume and go over it today.

Montaigne’s tower. Image from Wikimedia Commons courtesy of Henry Salomé.

Aphorism 55

To follow another is to follow nothing: “Non sumus sub rege: sibi quisque se vindicet.

Montaigne

Interpretation

The Latin portion of this quote comes from Seneca (probably not a coincidence that I would highlight this passage, though my conscious appreciation for Seneca is newborn), and from a larger section of the text in which Montaigne talks about the adoption of philosophical tenets.

I’m somewhat of a follower, insomuch as I have found myself in a situation where I have managed to find people that I agree with, at least in part. Jung, Montaigne, Taleb, and the like are all right in at least part of their assays, their attempts to understand the universe.

In the sentence prior to this statement, Montaigne says that he can agree with people without subjecting his self to oblivion because he has come to an agreement by reaching his own conclusions that match theirs.

There’s truth to this.

Followers make poor members of society.

One of the things that I’ve noticed in almost every book on success is that there’s a tendency for successful people to be servant leaders; they take initiative and do things, but they operate with their own priorities subordinated to others’.

There’s a reason why it makes sense to do this: on one hand, the leader still comes out on top (and so it is that servant leaders are looked to as successful people, because their ability to serve makes them valuable), but it also is very pro-social.

The reason why I bring this up is that servant leaders don’t follow. They lead (and not from behind).

Being able to lead and take initiative is what is required to come to one’s own opinions. If you don’t have this, you will be pulled into the philosophical position of a follower, always floating in the wake of a large movement.

In my own life, I had a long process that led to me becoming who I am today philosophically. I’m fairly agreeable, and I also tend to believe whatever I’m reading at the moment (though not in place of larger existing notions, merely a sort of credulous trust), so I have this follower trend in me. I’m also not the most self-starting; I’m plenty industrious when given directions, but not what one would call a natural leader.

It took a lot for me to begin to pursue my own path. Some of that is a sign of humility (good) and understanding that other people knew more than me (true), but some of it was also sloth (bad) and feeling unworthy of complex judgment and inspection (false, hopefully).

The greatest skill people can have is to be able to make decisions. Preferably they’d do this well, but making decisions instead of going along passively is good by itself.

Resolution

Act, don’t react.

Lead for the benefit of others.

Inertia is either miserable or great; do what it takes for inertia to be great.

Reflections on Aphorisms #31

Got too sucked into Seneca today to really do much else. Generally busy with chores. Slept in for the first time in basically months, and it really helped me get back to equilibrium but not with accomplishing much today.

Aphorism 54

What once were vices are manners now.

Seneca

Interpretation

Social values change over time, but I don’t believe that’s what Seneca is solely referring to with this statement.

Rather, I believe it is an indictment of our tendency to forget moral values.

I think the greatest value that we have lost in our age is that of condemning that which ought to be condemned.

We have built our society upon the cornerstones of freedom, but we have forgotten what it is that freedom protects. We have replaced the freedom to act as one sees best with the freedom to act as one wants.

The consequence?

Moral silence.

I tend to be timid and reserved in my personal life, but one of the things that I have found served me best is a policy of radical honesty.

There are times when this was a personal benefit. For instance, when people know how you really feel they often respond with respect to that feeling.

In my third year teaching, I finally felt comfortable enough to implement this with some of my students. After school one day, a student who I had in my class was following me around and talking to me, as students tend to do. I mentioned that I had something after school that I had to get to, so I couldn’t stay and talk much longer. Middle school students being as middle school students are, there were insinuations that I was in a relationship with one of the female teachers at the school.

While nothing that they talked about was terribly improper–the students all knew at some level that it wasn’t true–it was sort of thing that got in the way of teaching because students would bring it up constantly during class, and of course one typically doesn’t pursue romantic relationships at one’s place of work for practical reasons and having people imply that you do is a good way to wind up talking with HR.

This kid made the assertion that I was leaving to hang out with my co-worker after school, with the regular puerile romantic undertones.

In part because I knew the kid could handle it, and in part because of my own frustration with the topic of the conversation, since it was the sort of thing that middle-schoolers will dwell on for longer than it deserves (and after the matter has been laid to rest), I simply told him in quite direct language, to “stop being annoying” directly to his face, without embellishment.

With a look of disbelief on his face, he immediately asked if I had called him annoying.

My reply was: “I don’t find you annoying, but the way you choose to talk is.”

The next day came and I had not been fired, so I figured that was the end of it. However, during class the same student informed me that what I had said the day before had hurt his feelings. Expecting some sort of apology, he got a very different answer than he probably wanted.

My response was summed up in a single word: “Good.”

This was the only part that I regret, but only because it happened in front of his classmates (I find that it is better to handle such things face-to-face, but to follow the lead of others if necessary). However, my relationship with that student, and many other students in that class, improved afterward as they saw that I was willing to do but most teachers would not be willing to do: Put my neck on the line to tell them how to behave.

I do not know if people of the past were more prone to statements like this, or if it is merely something that I perceived to be a dead art that of old that never really lived begin with.

However, I think we could do better as a society if some of our new manners were unlearned. We’ve developed a very permissive attitude towards misbehavior, which in the long run will only cause us trouble. We’ve lost some of our ability to tolerate differences in opinion, and we’ve also begun to take things public which were previously handled in private.

Many of our trends are responses to previous social ills, like intolerance, and in a sense it is good that we developed better ways to take care of these problems. For instance, we can deal with racism and sexism more effectively now that it’s easier to record and communicate such events as they occur. However, we also find it easier to be outraged, and the same tools that can champion truth can be used for evil.

I think the greatest trouble however one frames it is a transition to a sort of utilitarianism which has been combined with post-modernism in a dreadful way. If there were one word for this vice, it would be expedience.

Resting at the intersection of sloth and impatience, it’s the notion that we should do whatever makes us feel happy, or what makes the immediate pressing problem go away.

I think of it like flying. I’m not a pilot, but I fell in love with flight simulation at an early age. One of the skills that one has to be a good pilot in simulations or reality is the ability to avoid the expedient by preparing carefully.

It a lot of flight sims, I fly helicopters. Helicopters have this thing called collective, which is the angle of attack of the blades that spin through the air to provide lift. The idea is that as you increase the collective, the blades have more resistance in the air, which increases lift because more air is being displaced (I am not a physicist, so take this explanation with a grain of salt).

One of the easiest ways to crash a helicopter is to confuse collective with altitude. Collective doesn’t govern vertical movement, it governs the change in vertical momentum relative to the helicopter’s orientation.

If one needs to go down, one lowers the collective. This permits the helicopter to reduce lift, and slowly descend. However, the only time the collective should be reduced to zero when midair is if the rotor engine has stopped working. This is because when the collective is reduced, the lift (and helicopter) falls dramatically.

Unless one is very close to the ground, or already on the ground, the loss of lift means that gravity takes over and helicopter will reach an unsafe speed. It may be possible to increase the collective again to avert catastrophe, but one is fighting one’s previous momentum. In theory, one can easily reach a point of no return at which even increasing the collective will have no effect. At this point, you may actually damage the helicopter by increasing the collective, since the blades may come under too much strain and the rotor may fail. I don’t know how common this is in practice, since I believe most helicopters are over-engineered with this potential scenario in mind.

Trivia: The only time you reduce the collective to zero in air is the reason why I question how common this issue is in practice: in the event of an engine failure, the blades continue to spin. You reduce the collective so that they keep their rotational momentum, and increase it to reduce the rate of fall before making a landing, spending the spent momentum while close to the ground to reduce descent instead of continuing an ascent/hover in mid-air. This is called “autorotation”, and can be accomplished in almost any situation by a skilled pilot. See the following video:

Expedience is like shoving the collective all the way in one direction or another to affect small changes in altitude. It may achieve the desired effects in the short term, but even if it doesn’t cause disaster in the long run it at least courts it foolishly.

Resolution

Don’t rely on the quick fix.

Extricate myself from vice before it becomes habit.

Learn to avoid making a mistake.

Reflections on Aphorisms #30

Forced myself to write a little more today to make up for some previous short entries. I’ve now been doing this for basically a month straight, and it’s been really good. I think it’s helped me find my compass a little better than I had been.

Aphorism 50

In a conflict, the middle ground is least likely to be correct.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from the Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

We falsely praise compromise as a virtue because we associate it with the ability to change one’s mind when better evidence is presented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that compromise is worthless, but I think people don’t understand what a good “compromise” really is.

It is difficult to actually realize an improvement by moderating one’s values. It is much easier to achieve such a thing by remaining true, but being realistic. To permit one’s values to be breached, even in part, will only lead to resentment.

Settling for a compromise only leads to two unhappy parties, rather than one.

Compromise leads to a decreased ability to adapt.

Instead of accepting the fact that one’s values may not actually improve the world, and that they should be reconsidered, instead the half measures are blamed rather than a flaw in their foundation. We can see this in basically every political issue in modern American politics. The compromise only creates a further point of contention, and both sides claim the success of their views and the failure of the other’s.

The solution to this is to concede rather than to compromise. Of course, one should never sacrifice one’s highest values lightly, but it may be better to have a short-term defeat then a long-term compromise that adds up to be equally bad. Don’t take a half-measure if the half-measure is not substantially better than having nothing.

It’s also worth noting that I’m not calling for extremism. Go only to the point at which desired effects are achieved, not further. Going too far for the sake of avoiding compromise is not any better than compromise.

Rather, one should fight vociferously to achieve their goals until those goals are achieved.

One should also think carefully before forcing others into a compromise that will breed resentment. This is a great way to amplify every ill, and should be avoided.

Resolution

Identify what would satisfy.

Eat until you are no longer hungry, but do not continue past that point.

Never sacrifice a value for expedience.

Aphorism 51

For a man to achieve all that is demanded of him he must regard himself as greater than he is.

Goethe, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

I value humility highly. I believe that being humble is a great way to guard against being wicked.

I do not think that Goethe (especially the Goethe of his later life) disagrees with this. However, being humble in and of itself is not necessarily a goal.

There are those who assert that the biblical injunction to be meek is more properly rendered as being able to use power, keeping it restrained. It is not a virtue to be harmless if one has no other choice.

So it is that being humble means recognizing one’s potential and capacities but not fooling oneself into believing that one is living up to their potential. Otherwise, it is just a lack of confidence.

I think that this is what Goethe is referring to when he says that someone must regard himself is greater than he is to achieve what is demanded of him. He must see that he has what we would call a heroic potential, I must be willing to struggle to bring that into being.

In my own life, I have been struck by the need do this. As someone who would happily think of himself as ordinary, I need to keep in mind that my potential is incredible and constantly move it forward. If you had told me ten years ago that I would be where I am today, I don’t think I would have believed you. At the same time, it was the striving that I did five and ten years ago that has gotten me where I am. Where I will be in five years is a direct result of what I do today.

It is necessary to blend many ideas of the self together. The past self, weaker and less experienced but also with more potential, the future self, who will reap the rewards of today’s labor, the current self, who must act in accordance with both the past and the future, and the hero, who represents the fusion of all three into one personage, must act as one.

This is a tremendous force, and it requires faith and will to bring it to bear.

Resolution

Bring myself into balance with my past and my future.

Do those things which fall into the domain of the hero.

Live as if I could one day command millions.

Aphorism 52

No one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant.

Nietzsche, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

People have a problematic relationship with the truth. Even those with the best intentions often have difficulty figuring out what it is, and emotions can complicate things. We generally consider sticking to the truth as a moral good, but it is a good which we are oft-tempted to subordinate to other purposes.

The most natural thing in the world is to defend self. Even someone who holds themselves in low esteem still grates at the offenses of anyone else.

We like to defend ourselves against criticism, even if it is deserved. In this ironic fashion, we impede our own growth.

I find out that I work as a freelance or independent game designer my first response to any criticism of something I have done is to come up with five thousand justifications as to why it is the best thing to do. Many of these justifications will be things that only occur to me once it was time to defend my work. While this is not such a grievous falsification, it shows this general mood well, and it also lets me to see if myself into thinking that I am better than I am.

A more honest response would be to internalize the sort of polite response that one gives a well meaning critic. To accept others’ feedback, and then immediately compare it to your own original motives, is to listen to what has been said. Otherwise, you get defensive and then you lie.

It is also worth noting that takes cultivated personal virtue to ward off other indignity without resorting to deception. Too often, we see people whose first response to criticism is to slander someone else. This shows weak character, and not much of a mind. This sounds harsh, but I will admit that I am of this tendency myself. I simply rarely get a chance to use it.

To remain honest under pressure is a sign of integrity, the ability to always act in accordance with one’s guiding values. Acquiring this integrity provides one with a bulwark against making expedient but destructive choices.

I’ve been listening to Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Amazon affiliate link), in which he recounts his time living under a fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini. One of the things that I find interesting is that he is able to discern how his critics are responding emotionally and falsely accusing him because he has disturbed their quietude, not because he has actually done the things that he is accused of (whether or not he had).

Resolution

Act with honesty, even in the face of shame.

Don’t attack others because I have been hurt.

Never assume that I will be virtuous.

Aphorism 53

Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies.

Nietzsche, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

This ties in, to a degree, with the subject of our previous aphorism. There is the potential for a great deal of self-contradiction in the human mind. One of the most powerful forces that can lead to this error is belief. As such, it is important to always examine whether a belief is being held in line with truth.

This is a difficult thing to do, as it requires earnest discussion with those who disagree with you. This makes it unpalatable to most people. It is much easier to pretend to debate, or to debate those who are in agreement with the conclusion you have already reached, than it is to enter at your own risk. It requires a respect for the person you are talking with which exceeds the strength of your own stubbornness.

I find that when I believe something I have a hard time rationally assessing the surrounding details. This isn’t a novel phenomenon, but it is something that is pretty common. There’s a really low-level breakdown of it in more detail than I care to go into here:

A great simple breakdown, if a little over-simplified.

There are various reasons that people give for this tendency: an evolutionary biology perspective that says that you will believe what you believe in light of conflicting evidence because it is better to remain with your in-group, traditional abstract vices like hubris, psychoanalytical concepts like the ego and superego.

However, the truth is this:

Everyone is willing to die for their beliefs, they just might not realize that they’re the ones killing themselves.

This is why all major religions have a large tradition of faithful doubters; people who challenge the assertions of the faith but do not leave it. They’re necessary for the health of any large group. I’m fairly orthodox in my perspective, but I see the merit of constant questioning in all things.

Resolution

Build my convictions on solid ground. Test the ground first.

Pay attention to emotion. It can be easily overlooked.

Be careful with beliefs, they cut like knives.

Reflections on Aphorisms #29

Aphorism 49

No man is rich enough to buy back his past.

Oscar Wilde, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms.

Interpretation

I have often found myself consumed by regrets for the past.

This is despite the fact that I try to view every experience as something that has value in context of my whole life. Even miserable, tragic moments contain some sort of lesson or prize.

However, even if making good decisions one is left with the tendency to ask the dreaded question: “What if?”

I think this question does more harm than good.

The one thing that is immutable is the past. No amount of success in the present can change the past, but it can build on it.

I think there’s also an element here of a call to act in accordance with what would not bring one regret. This takes a little bit of thought, and it definitely requires one to sort one’s priorities out. However, it’s also worth noting that sometimes it is better to abandon regret than to dwell on it.

Along the lines of an injunction to moral action, I think Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray serves to illustrate his point. It’s not that one should just run from the regret of the past, but that one should act in accordance with avoiding the regret of the future. Dorian Gray gets the chance to have all of the misery he causes taken out on a homunculus of himself, freeing him from the consequences of his own actions.

However, this Faustian pact protects his body but not his spirit. He eventually becomes so torn up by his regrets–incurring damage which he causes without thinking it will have a consequence for himself–that he destroys the painting that has given him immortality and becomes the withered man that he should be.

I think that one of the best antidotes to this sort of tragedy is to confront one’s feelings frequently. If they’re permitted to build up, they create the sort of toxic regrets that can destroy a person.

Resolution

Confront problems when they happen.

Ask myself if I end each day without regret. If I cannot, what do I change to make it possible?

Never let pride come in the way of self-knowledge.

Reflections on Aphorisms #28

I’m changing up the formula for these. I’m merging the sections that I had previously split for interpretation and talking about how I felt the aphorisms applied in my life. They were contributing to rambling because I’d forget something here or there and just go on and on.

Aphorism 46

I recently had a meal in a fancy restaurant with complicated dishes with fancy names ($125 per person), then enjoyed a pizza afterward, straight out of the oven, $7.95. I wonder why the pizza isn’t twenty times the price of the complicated dish, since I’d rather have the former–at any price–over the latter.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from the Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

It is easy to forget that cost and value are not one and the same. It’s a simple enough thing to remember on paper, but in practice one will always find themselves more attracted to something which is expensive than something which is cheap. The exception is in rare cases, like shopping for the best deal or when there is some loyalty to a particular brand or fond memories associated with a particular product.

Remember that value is what we would buy something for and price is what they would sell something for.

Some of this is because we live in a society now where it is easy to create near arbitrary volumes of anything. Barring at the very low end of the market in terms of price, most products don’t get a whole lot better as they increase in cost. Most people buy what meets their needs, and may occasionally splurge on versions of these things that are more pleasant than the alternative. As such, the best possible option is usually not that much more than the standard price, at least within the field of a single standardized good (as opposed to luxury variants of the same thing).

A good example of highly differing performance variants within a field can be found in electronics, but even then the average user gets as much utility from any particular example of a given object.

Take, for instance, a computer.

Computers cost anywhere from around $200, if you insist on buying them new and won’t wait for a sale, to as much as $40,000 for what might be considered the standard “personal computer”. Anything beyond that point leaves the frame of reference. It is either strictly a luxury product, using its price as a source of prestige (probably featuring diamonds or some other useless extravagance), or it has become a more specialized type of machine and ceases to be the sort of thing that we are talking about.

At the very bottom end of this range, you have devices that may not be able to do everything that one would expect a computer to do. It may have limitations in terms of substance, lacking particular hardware (like, say, wireless networking capabilities) or not being powerful enough to run particular software, or it might offer a subpar experience but generally be capable of completing most tasks.

The actual difference of value that a user receives depends on them using the computer to complete tasks that are more difficult on cheaper computers. You could have someone who never uses a computer, but wants to have one so they don’t feel left out, someone who uses it only rarely for correspondence, someone who uses it to play graphically intense video games, and someone who uses their computer to render advanced computer graphics and physical calculations.

A $200 personal computer would not be suitable for all these tasks, but the $40,000 computer may be. However, for the average user, $4,000 could almost always build a PC that would meet their demands and those of every other average user.

Of course, cheaper machines tend to specialize, optimizing their price by sacrificing the elements that a particular target market is not interested in.

We could classify anything above this $4000 point as a luxury or professional example of a computer, with the noteworthy copy out some applications do require more powerful computers. These computers are probably not what we will consider personal computers, being servers or workstations which we have separate expectations and standards for.

This is one of the more extreme scales. Take, for instance, food. Where I live, for between $5 to $8, I can eat dishes from almost anywhere around the world that fit almost any dietary criteria. If I’m not picky, I can get enough food to fill my stomach and a cup of tea for $3 and a little tax on the side. This is before we get into the concept of preparing my own food, which cuts out preparation costs, so we could say then. A meal costing over $8, in the area in which I live, is a luxury. I am not anti-luxury. I don’t seek the adoption of any sumptuary laws or even to guilt-trip anyone who enjoys the finer things in life.

However, luxury is not value. At least, it’s got the diminishing return on value. Wise people don’t buy a sports car if they can’t afford three months rent. The value provided by a car that easily can go faster than the law provides for in most jurisdictions is only a marginal increase in value above that provided by a more humble car, but the cost increases dramatically.

The economy is not a zero-sum game. Since I technically create goods which are entirely luxuries, working on games (to a lesser extent education may be considered a luxury too), I often feel a need to point this out.

The challenge with the luxury is this:

A luxury can be pleasurable, or it may simply be a status symbol. In the case of experimental dining, the cost of luxury can often not buy something which rivals the pleasure of simple comfort food, or even marginally pleasurable but more modestly priced offerings.

In this case, it becomes a simple status symbol. I do not understand the purpose of status symbols like experimental gastronomy in the realm of food (which all winds up the same way in the end), and will not cast premature judgment against them. I would have to try them first, and I am not willing to spend the money to do so.

However, I see them as the food equivalent of paying hundreds of dollars to go to a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”, in which an orchestra does nothing but sit around on stage for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

There are critics who can write wonderful and entirely meaningless treatises on the purpose and value of such a song, if you can call it a song. I don’t find it personally offensive. I have some concerns, perhaps, about the postmodern value structures that it represents, once again with the caveat of asking whether or not one can really call them value structures, but the real flaw that I see in it is that it fails to bring pleasure.

I would listen to anything else first. Heck, if I wanted silence, I’d go with the store brand. However, it’s worth noting that I don’t extend this to the entirety of what’s known as mother. I can appreciate even the very simple and abstract, if it is not entirely devoid of substance. For instance, I appreciate color studies, in which colors are painted without defining characteristics upon a surface. At least this is someone saying “Here, let me show you this color!”

However, I have gotten onto a tangent. To return to the point, any luxury is only as good as the pleasure it provides relative to the price. Anything else is just pretentious. There are, course, aspirational luxuries. I don’t begrudge these to people; they’re those things that you dream of as a kid that you may eventually become successful enough to have as an adult. That has real value to a person, does it represents the fruition of a dream.

However, I’ll close on this:

To hell with the fear of missing out. I have had more pleasure drinking a $0.20 cup of tea and sitting on a $20 plastic chair next to my cat than I’ve had in experimentation with the sorts of novelties that will be impossible to find in 20 years, going in and out of vogue as quickly as it was thought up. I’d take that $8 pizza with Taleb.

Resolution

Don’t waste money on something that you’re only buying because of a name.

Be content with what is good, but humble.

Don’t be afraid of missing out, be afraid of waste.

Aphorism 47

If there is any good in philosophy it is this: it never inspect pedigrees.

Seneca, as quoted in the Viking book of aphorisms.

Interpretation

I give very little thought to people’s reputations. Of course, if someone is notorious for something or other I make sure to adjust appropriately. However, there is an expression that no man is a prophet in his own land. The unspoken corollary is that in his own land the prophet is a dissident.

This is one reason why pedigrees can be dangerous. There are many great people who are virtuous, but who don’t meet the particular performance metrics of the day.

The other reason, of course, is that pedigrees are often bestowed upon those who have not really earned them.

I work in education, or rather once did and plan to again, and one of the things that struck me about many of my classmates in college is that they were not the sort of people one would trust with a room full of children. Of course, this may be uncharitable since my judgments are based solely on what I understood of them from my brief acquaintance with them, and I had no knowledge of how effective they were in the classroom barring practice sessions prepared for classes which none of us were overly concerned with.

However, while educational licensing is perhaps up there with medical licensing in terms of importance (namely, one of a few fields where one can even justify it), I do have to say that it seems at times too easy to get a license to teach.

Of course, in principle it would be nice to be able to do away with licenses and simply inspect people on their merits. I am skeptical that such a system will really be any improved over the current model.

The point is that one can become an English teacher with little knowledge of English, a teacher of history with little knowledge of history (or at least the objective and practical application of history, not just canned interpretations), and so forth. I haven’t had as bad an experience with my colleagues once I graduated as I did with many of my classmates, so there is a chance I merely judged too harshly, but I found the licensing tests and requirements to be insufficient to bar the path for the unworthy.

What I found among my colleagues, most of whom were more veteran teachers than I, is that they tended to be much better than most of my classmates. Perhaps some of that is molded in the student teaching process which takes place during the final semester of the teacher preparation program. This also happens to be the point at which you stop connecting with your fellow students, since it is a full-time position to the exclusion of other classes.

All the same, then it goes to show that the actual education side, that is to say the education one receives in the classroom, of our program was mostly meaningless for us. Ostensibly, we got grades for these classes (mine were rather impressive and probably undeserved) as a sort of pedigree, but save for a couple classes which I remember fondly they dealt mostly with theories. Some of these theories had already been proven wrong when we were taught them, to make the matter even worse!

As a result of this experience, I can’t help but feel that many people are overrated, at least in the sense that they have pedigrees that they do not deserve. Rather, I don’t think it’s that the people don’t deserve a pedigree.

It’s just that the pedigree is meaningless. And this, I think, is Seneca’s point. It’s hard to give a one word label that indicates actual ability.

Even the best possible option, which I would think would be to call someone virtuous, is not descriptive enough in its own right. Someone may be virtuous in one context, but not universally so. They may be perceived to be virtuous but really just lack the power to be anything else. In such cases, the approval of those around oneself is more important than following one’s own compass and even the unscrupulous turn to virtue.

It is for this reason that Seneca’s statement rings true. By isolating itself from arbitrary displays, philosophy can become greater than any other field. I do not think Seneca would enjoy the state of modern philosophy, but then who does? The laypeople interested in philosophy remain true to Seneca’s vision and satisfy his criteria, even if those who consider themselves professional thinkers do not always appreciate the true nature of labels.

Resolution

Don’t worry about the label if the contents are good.

Always watch out for pretense in myself.

Accept that on a certain level everyone is equal.

There are diamonds in the rough.

Aphorism 48

Nature does not bestow virtue, to be good is an art.

Seneca, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms.

Interpretation

I think of virtue as being that which exceeds the standards.

In the Bible, there is an account in which Christ says something along the lines of “Which father among you would give his son a snake if he asks for bread?”

This line, from the Gospel of Luke, is the bottom threshold above which one must rise to be considered virtuous. It’s not virtuous to do a good thing for someone if doing so is in your interest. It’s not woefully wicked, but it’s not virtuous

Virtue is doing things that make life better for everyone. However, it goes a step further.

One who is virtuous makes the world a better place for everyone else. They themselves may or may not be included in this improvement.

Someone who is virtuous may have such an incredibly positive impact that without self-interest they manage to transform the whole world so that it is better for literally every person. Whether this has ever happened, I do not know. Of course, if one has a virtuous mindset, which cannot be acquired from nature since it requires self-sacrifice (sacrifice is natural, self-sacrifice is not), perhaps one could argue that death and incredible suffering is still an improvement for oneself if the reward is a significant benefit for everyone else.

And this is where it is important to note that virtue cannot be a natural process (in the sense of coming from the world rather than the spirit).

I think that it can be cultivated through self-evident outcomes, that is to say that one does not need divine inspiration to be virtuous (though it sure helps), but it would never be mistaken for acting according to one’s natural impulses.

The 20th century bears this out in crimson letters. When confronted with the greatest atrocities mankind has ever perpetrated, humanity was largely silent. We have actually chosen to do away with virtue rather than the horrors, at least if the postmodernists have their way.

This is because virtue can never be impulsive without the gift of conscience.

Virtue must be striven for, must be intentionally brought into being. It cannot suddenly exist following a sort of Big Bang of goodness.

One virtuous moment, a single virtuous impulse, does not create virtue. The good life, if consistent, creates virtue. Compromise destroys it.

Resolution

Wage a conscious war to pursue virtue in lieu of my nature.

Deliberately examine moral choices.

Do not be fooled by randomness; only accept as virtuous that which consistently bears the fruit of virtue.

Aphorism Reflections #27

Had something of a long/short day between church and then having a D&D game with some new players in the afternoon. I spent longer than I should checking out E3 stuff, so I’m just kind of a mess.

Aphorism 45

General principle: the solutions (on balance) need to be simpler than the problems.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

I have become convinced that simplicity is a virtue.

One of the reasons for this is that there is a relationship between the lack of simplicity and the presence of hubris. As such, it could be said that simplicity is not necessarily a virtue, but rather is a sign of virtue.

From a strictly practical perspective, simplicity is better than people give it credit for. We have a tendency towards action, but there are times our instincts hurt us more than they help us. For all the strengths one can attribute to gut feelings, one need also remember that things have changed a lot in the past thousand years, and the world we live in is primarily cultivated rather than natural.

Over-complication is actually the instinctual thing for humanity. Knowledge is generally better than ignorance, but when knowledge is not available sometimes your guess works just as well. If we are smart and remember that we are uncertain, our antidote to that is to make things more complicated than they need to be, because we actually deal with finding solutions to a number of guesses, rather than one accurate prediction.

If taken to its final extent, this leads to the moral flaw of hubris and to believing that every possible problem has been solved. Another problem here is that what one considers to be only partially certain may be taken as another to be a statement of absolute faith as it is communicated from person to person. Given enough time to stew, a misjudgment can grow into a more toxic thing than it originally was. Misconception grows while the correct parts of any observation may not be passed down.

From a practical viewpoint, it also stands to reason that solutions must be simple. Being able to actually execute a plan is as important as considering a plan. The more complicated something is, the more likely it is that the plan will fail to be executed properly, and that unforeseen factors will arise inhibit its success.

Difficulties in communication become exponential quickly, as do the possibilities that misplaced assumptions will interfere with plans. The failure in any part of a large mechanism can bring it to a halt. The best solution to this, given the tendency of the universe, is simply not to plan on anything dependent on factors that have too many unknowns.

My Life

I am a game designer, and I have found that anyone with the term designer in their job title, with the exception of the visual arts (and then not always), tends to over-complicate things while missing the big picture. This is true of anyone who works in planning as well. When you work with ideas, it’s tempting to be complicated because that’s how you justify being better than anyone else. If you can’t show that you’ve been working, how do you prove that your work is meaningful?

I am by profession an educator, and if you want an example of over-complication you need look no further than the education system. Some days I’m not even sure that anyone in the education system has a clear idea of the problem they’re trying to solve, myself included.

Of course, this would require a venture into philosophy.

However, if we start with the basic premise of education as being that people are ignorant about the world and need to be given the tools to become less ignorant, it is hard to see how the modern education system simplifies that problem in any way.

If we wanted to be more critical, we could ask if education even answers the problem. Note that I say answer instead of solve, and that’s deliberate. The chance that any attempt is successful is probably pretty low, but there’s always room for improving so that at least instead of an abject failure we have a partial one.

I find that I am susceptible to over-complicating my daily life. There is only one thing that protects me from this trend taking over entirely, which is that I am averse to anything which seems wearisome and burdening. As a result, only the simple can survive for long.

Resolution

Make a goal. Achieve a goal.

If you cannot say it in few words, do not express it solely in many words.

Do nothing out of hubris.

Reflections on Aphorisms 26

Shorter reflections today on just one aphorism because I procrastinated and I generally didn’t get a whole lot done. It was a good day of rest, though.

Aphorism 44

Your duty is to scream those truths that one should shout but that are merely whispered.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

Truth is the best antidote to corruption. It is not just corruption in the sense of governance but also moral corruption which is undone by truth. If one decides to be honest in all things, it creates a need to bring one’s life in tune with honesty.

Truth is associated with a fearless encounter of reality. Philosophers and religions have agreed since they came into being that truth is a virtue.

It is also possible to deduce what is right from the fruit it bears. Kant’s categorical imperative applies here at least in a corollary: The world is never harmed by truth.

Of course, this doesn’t mean truth is necessarily going to have great short-term outcomes, and it may at times be necessary to use deception to forestall evil. Of course, Kant’s response to this would be if you need to use deception to pursue merit you may actually simply lack the perspective you need, and I think that’s probably better than deceiving others, though in the event that one is incapable of doing so a deception for virtue may be a better solution than artlessness, with the acceptance that one should improve to the point that deception becomes unnecessary.

There’s a thought experiment where he is asked what one would do if one encounters a murderer searching for someone, they ask you where their victim can be found. If you have this information, according to the categorical imperative, you cannot lie.

The correct response, according to Kant, would be to say that you are not going to tell the murderer where their victim is. He may even express in a more extreme version of his regular argument that you are supposed to tell them that you know where the victim is before refusing to disclose the location, but this seems like a forerunner to unpleasant things.

Much like the shouted truths of Taleb’s aphorism, this shifts the cost for honesty onto the individual who is being honest. It’s a sacrifice, but, I think that radical honesty is a virtue to be desired. It pushes us towards moral perfection, and I have heard multiple people involved in psychoanalytical practice (such as Carl Jung and Jordan Peterson) say that one of the best thing someone can do for their mental health is to avoid doing things that they cannot tell people about. That is, at least, to avoid shameful things.

Keeping a secret for confidentiality’s sake, or of some altruism that might otherwise be rewarded, does not seem to have any negative side effects. This might depend on the severity of the secret. If one witnesses a great horror, it might be hard to remain quiet. Let us assume that the confidential material that one handles is not subject to any moral responsibility for disclosure. The correct course of action in these cases would likely vary from case to case.

One of the things that scares me about the 20th century is that people died with the praise of dictators on their lips. Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, or any respectable history of the Soviet era, can provide countless examples of this taking place.

Even in death, people returned to a great lie. They may have done this for reasons of personal benefit, seeking to protect their families from charges of disloyalty, but that does not mean that it was not a dereliction of their Duty.

I am convinced that if everyone told the truth, especially if they tell painful truths, the world would be a better place. It is not sufficient to do this quietly, in private. It must be done in such a way that others are required to confront the truth.

Mario Savio gave a great speech on standing for a cause during the Free Speech Movement, which I will include part of below in text along with the YouTube link:

There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

Mario Savio, “On the Operation of the Machine”

The sort of honesty which transforms the world comes at the cost. If it didn’t, then everyone would participate in the virtuous endeavor. I feel that every moral person has a duty to be willing to sacrifice. Truth is a reflection of cosmic existence, to risk of sounding New Age-y. What we perceive as truth is really our subconscious and conscious understanding of being coming together.

Savio wound up on an FBI watch list for his troubles. I am sure that there are many great and valiant people who will wind up on watch lists for the things that they say these days. Those whose words are so powerful that they can shake the world need to use them carefully, but it is also a moral dereliction to not use them.

My Life

I have a problem with telling the truth. Does not for a lack of desire to do so, and in fact, I strive for honesty in all things. However, my central issue is that I am a coward.

I think one example of this is shown in the way that I write about China. I followed news sources like Foreign Policy (which I have grown less fond of as their coverage seems to be drifting more political and less factual) and China Uncensored, to try and get an honest look at what’s going on in China, and while I am not the greatest mind at international policy, I have to say that what I see in China resembles the 20th Century’s greatest horrors to a frightening extent.

I understand that my public stance on this matter will have at most minor consequences in my life, and I have in the past actually had some minor friction with a co-worker who objected to some of what I said. However, I think that I have a duty to speak up when I see something that I feel is dangerous.

I try not to say anything simply because it is in vogue. For this reason, I don’t talk about things like the surveillance state, race relations, add some other political hot button issues. People generally know more about this then I can communicate anyway, which is a great excuse to stand back and avoid it. Me talking about it would just be trying to look like an expert, but there is also an element to which I have to admit cowardice here.

I have not discussed politics openly in a long time.

This is not because of the absence of beliefs, though I like to think of myself as a moderate in the vein of Cicero, but rather because I’ve grown tired of politics. I always took a more philosophical approach to political issues. I believe that what is right should take the highest value over any other consideration, but I’m not often willing to go to the lengths it takes to discuss such things. It results in wasted air, but it also could mean danger for me. We live in an era of political extremism, whether we want to admit it or not, and it is not one-sided. A cool head is the first one in line for the guillotine.

I also sometimes worry that I simply do not have the pursuit and striving in my daily life that is required to be able to shout truths to those who have not heard them. I consider this every bit as much a moral failing as being too afraid to speak up when the time comes. The difference between failing to prepare to do something and failing to do it when the time comes is morally insignificant. There is no absolution based on negligence.

Resolution

Never seek expiation by claiming unpreparedness. The duty is not to do the best at the time, but to do the best before and after.

Remember that truth is one of the most important things, if not the most important thing. After all, in a mystical sense God may be truth.

Use every word you speak to cultivate virtue, never diminishes.