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 #24

Tried to push myself harder today. Fell back into a rut with my same order versus chaos schtick that I need to get away from; I believe it’s very accurate, but it’s also not enough by itself to fully explain things and to delve deeper I will need to break out of the rut.

Aphorism 40

Art is a one-sided conversation with the unobserved.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes

Interpretation

This is not my first attempt to reflect on this aphorism, put previously I have never been satisfied by the conclusions that I reach.

There’s a question of what is the “unobserved” subject of art. This is what has always been the sticking point for me when I try and think about this. Is the unobserved that which does not fit neatly into an empirical understanding of the universe? Is it that thing peculiar to the artist which they cannot fully explain? Is Taleb just blowing hot air?

There’s also another question of the unobserved. Is the unobserved that thing which we are striving to move toward? Is it that interstitial space between order and chaos that we spend much of our lives in? Personally, I like this as my interpretation, though I don’t think it’s the original point.

When I was in college, I study studied Romantic literature. No, that doesn’t mean literature about people falling in love with each other, though such events often happened in Romanticism’s key works. Rather, it was a sort of protomodern movement. It focused heavily on experience as the basis for understanding, but in an emotional sense. It wasn’t about being rational and calculating, but always focused on what people felt.

One of the great things emphasized in Romanticism is the notion of the sublime. The sublime can be beautiful, but it would be better described as terrible. Not in the sense that has a negative value for people, but rather in the sense that it defies our comfort. It should scare us. There’s a great painting of a man standing looking out over a valley from the top of the cliff, painted by Caspar David Friedrich. This is often used as the examplar of romantic art.

Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, from Wikimedia Commons. In public domain.

In this painting, the foggy valley represents an encounter with the sublime; anything could exist within the clouds, and the potential excites the mind. There is danger, too, in the potential to be lost in the fog.

The biblical commandment to “fear God” is possibly an injunction to view Him as a sublime being; to remember that there is not only beauty but also unlimited power contained within.

I think this is the sort of thing that Taleb is referring to. More earnestly than others of art (the Romantics valued honesty, even if they did not care about certainty), they represented the notion that their goal was the pursuit of the unknown. They never sought to hide this, indeed they professed it with great vigor.

The predominant difference between the Romantics and the modern is that what they sought to do with emotion, we do with reason.

My Life

I consider myself in some ways an artist. Much of my work is what I would describe as technical, in the sense that I am not pursuing anything outside what has already been done, but that I am merely trying to do it slightly better than the other guy.

However, I do try and pursue art as well. I don’t write prolifically in what we would call an artistic sense. I have written some poetry, I sometimes write stories, though not as much as I say I will (bringing my action in line with my word is a key priority for me), but I do often work on games that focus on storytelling.

I think that storytelling can lead to the greatest expressions of art. Some of that comes from the fact that it’s the form I do most, so I have perhaps a subtle bias in that direction. However, I think that storytelling doesn’t just refer to writing stories. It’s any creative endeavor which has as its purpose the act of communicating information.

This active communication extends Beyond what one does without intent. If someone asks me how my day was, I seldom tell them a story.

Resolution

Embrace art as heroic.

See the act of creation as the act of discovery.

Don’t ignore the mysteries of life.

Aphorism 47

How good bad music and bad reasons sound when we march against an enemy.

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms.

Interpretation

There is a concept of the other that is often talked about in humanities. I think that sometimes it is taken to a platonic ideal and not fully appreciated for its nuance, but the basic notion is this:

People consider others to be either part of the in-group, and therefore friends, or part of the out-group, and therefore enemies.

Nietzsche is keenly aware of this. He faced no small amount of ostracism in his personal life, in part because he was willing to challenge accepted norms.

I had to read some Nietzsche when I was in college, and it was some of this work that focused on moral development, that is, how morality developed in societies. I do not know how well did Nietzsche’s work actually follows what happened. At the time, I thought that he sounded quite bitter. I don’t think I understood anything of his biography, nor did I really understand what’s this work.

One of the interesting things that I read then that stuck with me was the idea of resentment.

I was familiar with the notion of resentment on a very basic level, but I never understood it philosophically. I believe that resentment is a fundamental part of human nature. That doesn’t make it good, and I think that if everyone were able to suppress their resentments we would live in a much better world.

The thing about an encounter with the other is that it is easy to tally up resentment when chances for civil contact are limited. People are already predisposed to fear that which is unfamiliar, so a mixture of resentment and fear can quickly create hatred.

We identify this process with chaos. I’m a believer in the idea that there is an association between order and chaos as parts of a diametrically opposed process. People don’t consciously appreciate this balance unless they have been made aware of it.

The other creates the sort of existential chaos, they are constant reminder of the unknown. Order is represented by that which is known as the in-group.

It is this that makes up Nietzsche’s bad music and bad reasons. Something which a rational person would reject may seem necessary when chaos intrudes on order.

This is not solely responsible for the totalitarianism that nearly killed us all in the 20th century, but I believe that it’s at least closely related. Both extremes breed fear, but in chaos this is associated with the unknown and in order this is associated with oppression.

The unexamined response is to pursue the opposite extreme. If everything seems chaotic, then surely more lot and Order must be the solution. Of course, this is a failure of reasoning. It is actually an induction into more chaos, as now further changes are being pursued instead of a better understanding of what is here already.

Governance does not make society.

In some ways, a totalitarian government creates more chaos with its arbitrary concentration of power into an individual. It may be dressed in the language and styles of tradition, but it creates no more certainty.

It is the society that swings dangerously back toward order. On an individual level, in countless day-to-day interactions, people begin to lose their tolerance for the unknown. It is as if there is a balance of order & chaos that must be preserved, and the centralization of power into one arbitrary figure or institution makes it so that no other uncertainty can be permitted.

Because people cannot trust their governance to provide order, they return to the trappings of order. Arguments that worked well for the past, the styles and social conventions that served that predecessors well, return to visit the sins of the fathers upon their children. These are representations of archetypal order, and the best tangible manifestation of order you can find if others are denied to you. They are also outdated, at least some of the time.

There’s also a second point here to be made entirely independent from the question of order and chaos. It is the question of “mine”. If there is one trait that humanity has perfected over the years, it is greed. We have managed to find an infinite capacity within ourselves for desire.

Desire is good at a fundamental level. Without it, we would never dream. Even a certain amount of self-serving greed can be helpful when channeled through the right lens. It is a balance against completely losing oneself in the collective or in apathetic nihilism.

The problem is that desire leads us to immorality. What we want to take is elevated to a higher value then our moral values. I call this the “mine” question. We’ve all seen children who will attach themselves to a particular object and fixate on it. Even if it belongs to someone else, they will consider it their personal property.

This is not necessarily worrying when they are at a young age, because it is a part of the process of psychological development to realize that such things are not true and would bear disastrous consequences.

The problem is that we grow up still believing that we know the answer to the “mine” question, and our preferred answer is that it’s all ours.

All that we need is a better pretense to satisfy our desire. If we are socialized to the point that we are willing to pretend to behave, but we do not really have the virtues that lead us to see the danger in our actions and desires, we will cling to anything that seems like it justifies our actions.

I think there are also ties to Hannah Arendt’s statement about acting in place of thinking here, but I already covered them just yesterday, so I’m not going to retread the same ground.

My life

It sounds petty in light of the greater scope I’ve covered, but this topic makes me think about my diet.

I have a serious problem with willpower. Admittedly, I’m currently in a state for my diet is actually being followed, or at least mostly so. I’ve lost a few pounds I found in the previous few months, but not yet so far back on the routine that I am not tempted by every little thing.

Often, I will justify my decisions that I make to pursue what brings me the most pleasure immediately instead of follow the plan that I know the dogs to the best outcome. This generalizes all the way up, so my tendency to argue that going to the gym means that I can sneak a few chocolates throughout the day is mirrored by a similar tendency toward rationalizing decision-making in the big picture.

I think that it’s important that people lead examined lives as a defense against this. Of course, there’s always the danger that people who believe they are philosophizing are instead rationalizing. However, I believe that we’re better off striving than falling into laziness. Besides, failure is a common experience. To argue against trying to think may actually just be thinly-veiled rationalizations assuming that people cannot become more skilled at the process of thinking.

It is also important to consider what is good. I don’t just mean what we like, but rather what is good for us.

To continue the example, I only rarely feel any particular concern about my weight, since I don’t usually have any health issues or feel like I can’t accomplish what I want to accomplish because of my weight. However, I know that if I am disciplined about diet and exercise I will achieve a better potential than I can otherwise.

The seed which has sprouted into much rationalization is that I cannot be entirely certain about this.

As such, when I am out of breath or tired, I will say “but I am suffering from allergies” or “but I didn’t sleep well last night” to mask the symptoms of a less than ideal lifestyle. That’s a rationalization.

When I’m disciplined and at the top of my game, I am not out of breath or tired. It simply requires seeing beyond what I can immediately conceive as desirable and thinking to the second order consequences of things.

What are the consequences of what I am doing?

That is the question we should ask.

Resolution

Learn to despise bad music when it comes has a comforter.

Never rationalize things that cannot stand on their own merit.

Don’t be afraid of others because they are different.

Reflections on Aphorisms #18

Aphorism 27

One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake.

Anton Chekov, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

When I go through the Viking Book of Aphorisms, I just open it to a random page, or to something that thematically aligns with what I’ve been discussing, but I don’t typically pick out an aphorism as particularly profound. I do try and choose ones that look fruitful, but often I just choose something that serves as a starting off point for something else.

This aphorism, however, is one that particularly stands out to me. It aligns with my interests, I guess one could say. One of the notions that I’ve struggled with as I’ve grown in understanding is how one deals reality. I’m an objectivist (no relation to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism), meaning that I believe that there is unifying underlying truth, but I also have the good sense to recognize that I am limited as a person by what I am capable of perceiving.

One oft-neglected factor in this is the question of how one even goes about figuring out what is right and wrong and what is good and what is not.

Chekov raises a very good point here. There’s limitations in our perception that stem from things which are deep beyond the point of comprehension. To draw a comparison to science, there are things which are common knowledge today like many of the advancements in chemistry, which would have been absolutely unimaginable two-hundred years ago. While I am certain that many people can recognize revolutionary changes when they occur, how many of us have noticed smaller evolutionary changes? How many of us have the wherewithal to assess them correctly?

There’s a “love of the new” that I believe to be one of the most dangerous elements of our social culture. Take, for instance, our smartphones, the harbingers of the interconnected age. There is great value in this, namely all of the opportunity that it provides, but it also brings with it tremendous risk. We have changed our way of life so tremendously in the past Century that is going to have second-order effects that we are not even prepared to discuss.

Think about the fact that we no longer are able to check out from our daily life and enjoy quiet moments. Without deliberate effort, those who have never known to seek such a thing will now never benefit from it: they cannot discover it by accident, unless they are incredibly fortunate.

However, it is important not to idolize tradition.

While we bemoan the loss of private spaces and being contemplative, there are benefits to this constant connection to others.

I think that we do not give people enough credit. Those of us who choose to carry constant interruption devices have not done so in base ignorance. Rather, we recognize that there is an opportunity to being reachable by anyone at any time it is a trade, one whose outcome will only be made clear once the deal is complete. As such, I do not believe in reactionary overzealous abstention.

We would do well to remember to be humble. No man may know what tomorrow may bring.

My Life

I have learned is sort of humility over the years. I do something which I know to be at least not wrong, and I do not worry about the outcome.

There’s something of Kant’s categorical imperative in this, though I am not as hardcore as Kant. If you do what you know brings good, it doesn’t matter if individual actions have much fruit. Overtime, the law of averages will apply. It is the whole, not the part, which brings results.

Resolution

Pursue constant little goals.

Do not obsess over the result of any single action.

Diversify my portfolio of worthwhile deeds.

Aphorism 28

Most of the grounds of the world’s troubles are matters of grammar.

Michel de Montaigne, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

I find myself recommending the essays of Montaigne to everyone I meet. This may be a testament to the quality of Montaigne, or may simply show me to be relatively simple, with only one thing on my mind at any time.

This quote is a grand illustration of Montaigne’s wit, at least in my opinion. I envy his ability to create such short statements which also hold such deep meaning while keeping a flippant air.

People have always had communication problems. In the Bible, this is what makes Able preferable to Cane. Able listens to what God desires, while his sinful brother does what he believes will be pleasing to God.

While on the surface Montaigne may seem to be talking about mere copy-editing, the deeper meaning is clear. We do not understand how to communicate with ourselves and each other in a way that improves the world.

There is a Greek concept of the Logos which carries into ancient Gnostic perceptions of the world. It is even influential in Abrahamic religions, as they are at themselves based around the notion of a single omnipotent knowing creator, and in some interpretations may even be referred to as the Logos.

The Logos as a divine concept is associated with the word, with knowledge. Our understanding of the world is the first step in our ability to change it. If you cannot comprehend something, you cannot work willfully with it.

There’s a deeper social level to this that needs to be explored. Much of our life is seen through the lens of other people. Even our perceptions of ourselves are influenced by how other people view us. If we cannot communicate, we cannot understand.

My Life

I am, of course, as an English teacher by trade inclined to see the value of good grammar. Communication, likewise, falls into my domain of specialty, even if I have not acquired such a mastery of it as I would like. What I find has been the greatest problem of my adult life is figuring out what my problems are and getting them to a point where I can communicate them.

Only once that first step has been completed have I found myself able to make changes that improve my life.

This has also been a key part in overcoming what I would describe as anxious tendencies within myself. I do not know if I suffer from them any more than the average person, but I frequently find myself in a place where worry overcomes the ability to act. Being hyper-conscious and continuously vigilant in identifying what I truly desire and what I truly suffer from has been key.

Being able to explain something, even if only to oneself, makes all the difference.

Resolution

Be able to speak about what I need to speak about.

Hold no deception toward myself.

Seek to understand the meaning.

Aphorism 29

To take upon oneself not punishment, but guilt–that alone would be godlike.

Friedrich Nietzsche, as quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

I believe that it is a fundamental part of human nature that leads us to avoid blame. There are strong social benefits to being blameless, and stark consequences for being in error.

However, being able to accept blame ties into the notion that I just discussed earlier of communicating clearly. Guilt is the consequence of the wrongness of an action. If sin is falling short of moral perfection, guilt is the consequence of that. Guilt is the fall that accompanies error.

If one managed to find what brings suffering, and remove the consequences, they would essentially undo entropy. This is likely impossible.

It is equally impossible to transfer guilt from one person to another. The act which causes harm is a product of moral agency.

To illustrate:

If I were to throw trash in the street, it would have a wide-ranging variety of negative consequences. It might harm the environment. It might start a downward spiral of disorder, with other people more likely to litter on account of my example. It harms property values, as no one wishes to live in a neighborhood full of trash. Each of these is likely a negligible impact from a single action, but by the time you add up many small consequences, the harm caused by even a small negligence may become quite profound.

If someone were following behind me, they could pick up my trash and throw it away. Assuming that they followed relatively close behind me, they might even be able to entirely prevent the consequences from taking effect. In a sense, the only consequence would be that someone had to pick up after me, which has a much less profound cost, we could hope. Obsessing over the butterfly effect is not a good use of time. However, if a police officer were to see me do this, they would not consider me less of a litterer because someone followed behind me cleaning up.

The person who cleaned up after me could remove my consequences, essentially taking the punishment (except that which society place is upon me on account of my guilt), but they cannot remove my moral agency in the situation.

My Life

I have never been a practicing Catholic. I spent a semester student teaching at a Catholic school, and it was an experience that interested me in religion beyond just my own personal practice. The Catholic Church talks about mysteries hidden within the example of Christ and other events portrayed in the Bible, something which my own Protestant upbringing did not ever mention.

The greatest mystery of them all, at least as I see it with my limited understanding of the Catholic mysteries, is how Christ managed to take responsibility for believers’ sins.

I believe that it is this which Nietzsche talks about.

As someone who works with children, I often find myself wishing that I could impart my own moral superiority upon them. This is not possible, which is probably for the best, since those who believe themselves possessed of moral superiority usually do not actually have such an advantage over others.

However, it pains me when I see people make the same mistakes that I made in my own ignorance.

If everyone could share with everyone else the heights of their virtues, the sum of their ability to improve the world and avoid sin, they would make the world a better place, perhaps even the dreamed-of utopia.

Resolution

Accept what I earn, good and bad.

Seek to do that which bears no guilt.

Remember that the goal of moral perfection is in the self, but that the benefit is for everyone.

Reflections on Aphorisms #16

Tomorrow I’m going to get back into doing multiple aphorisms per day. Until then, this is the last single aphorism reflection for a while.

Aphorism 23

So long as men praise you, you can only be sure that you are not yet on your own true path but on someone else’s.

Friedrich Nietzsche, from The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

One of the things that keeps drawing me to Nietzsche is that he manages to make good on what Rousseau claims to do in his Confessions. Nietzsche may not always be right, and probably is not always even good, but at the very least he is interesting.

Nietzsche is a firm believer in the individual, and while he his work is often corrupted for the purpose of collectivists, he believes heavily in the purpose of finding one’s own destiny. It is this that the psychoanalyst Carl Jung would take from his teachings and apply to his concepts of the self.

I disagree with Nietzsche in general, but not in particular. Receiving praise may actually mean that one is a visionary, pursuing one’s path does not necessarily result in any ostracism. Of course, he is correct in a sense. Sometimes pursuing goodness and purpose, particularly in the realm of morality, does come with social rejection. This is especially true in a corrupt society.

The fact that Nietzsche believes this way may come from two points:

  1. That he was frequently misinterpreted, and
  2. That he didn’t manage to make many friends on account of his willingness to make bold statements.

One of the things that sent out to me from this is a counterpoint from the Bible. In Galatians, there is a statement about the “fruit of the Spirit” found in believers’ lives.

In a secular sense we might call these the virtues that come from good living and philosophical examination, though they are presented strictly as religious goals.

The fruit of the Spirit consists of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The writer of Galatians then states: “Against these things there is no law.”

Now I believe that verse itself could be subject to interpretation, in that it is ambiguous as to whether there is no law which bans those virtues, or whether any law that decides to ban those virtues is itself not lawful. Personally, I lean to the former interpretation.

In the sense that virtues and social praise coincide, it is actually possible to walk the path of virtue, be oneself, and be praised for doing so.

It is simply that most people are not willing to elevate themselves to virtue because it comes at other personal prices.

I haven’t posted anything about music in a while, so I’ll bring up Project 86’s song “My Will be a Dead Man” which talks about the conflict between desire and moral life, in lieu of wasting too much of the reader’s time on the particular prices that come with virtue.

My Life

Part of the reason that I disagree with Nietzsche is because I do not feel that this assertion that he makes is backed up in my own life. Other than some people who have questioned my judgment in minor decisions, I do not generally find that people judge me when I make decisions that I find to be the best. As such, I have walked my own way, and others seem to approve. Now, I am open to the idea that I may be incorrect, and that I will need to change this opinion at some point, but until some tremendous evidence comes, I am comfortable in contradicting Nietzsche.

I do think, in some ways, that it is correct in part. When I left my teaching position to return to school, something which I feel an intense personal draw to do, several people expressed consternation. However, I do not think so much that this was disapproval of me as an expression of my importance and influence in their lives.

One thing that I think confuses people is that we draw too much association between what we consider good and bad events in our lives. It is the tendency to focus on the immediate consequences rather than the more nuanced effects of any action which leaves us with problems determining what we really believe and want.

This confusion is the root of many ills.

Resolution

Make mistakes costly, then avoid making them.

If what you do attracts attention, it is probably significant.

When you make a decision, pay attention to how others respond. It is not necessarily how they respond, but that they respond, which you should observe carefully.

Reflections on Aphorisms #14

Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.

Aphorism 21

It takes less time to learn how to write nobly than how to write lightly and straightforwardly.

Friedrich Nietzsche, from The Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

Nietzsche has interesting thoughts on writing. I’m actually surprised to see how profound they are, not because I disparage Nietzsche, but because they are sublime.

Writers are often focused on appearances. When people focus on appearances they do not always consider fundamentals. One of my observations is that students often use thesauruses when they write in ways that do not improve their writing one iota. This is because they pursue writing has something to impress others with.

What I have discovered as a writer, especially one who is currently planning to write multiple books more or less simultaneously, is that it is not the writing itself that matters. That is not actually correct, but it is a simplified version of the truth.

The good writer doesn’t without their writing. They do not sweat individual pieces of punctuation they do not obsess before anything in there text or at least, if they do, it is not their highest priority. The highest priority is to convey information that is worth knowing.

If there is one thing that I could teach students who want to learn how to write well, it is that they must focus on what needs to be said. Nothing else matters.

We teach formulaic writing in this day and age. There’s nothing wrong with this, I even recommend it. However, when you teach writing in that way, the formula is merely to free students from worrying about the adiaphora, to remove their concerns about what they have to do so that they can do what they have to do.

We assign praise to those who present the greatest prose, but we should praise those to present the best ideas.

My Life

I have written over a million words in my life. This is the verifiable count. Since I tend to squirrel of my lots of little writings on various projects, organization is not my strong suit, and I do not care to waste too much time on metrics, I do not know how much I have actually written. It seems likely that I may have actually written more than 3 million words in my life, but I do not want to making erroneously exaggerated claim, as much rather stick to the known and conservative estimates.

I have found it I am happiest writing when I feel comfortable with this subject and I do not feel the need to describe what I am talking about. It’s not that I don’t like giving definitions and descriptions, but rather that what I have found to be most authentic is the writing which a reader will get without me needing to explain it.

I am guilty of the high and lofty school of writing. When I was in high school, I wrote an essay for a teacher in AP English class. one of the pieces of feedback that I received in the margin was a simple question: “When does this sentence end?”

I was proud of myself for writing a sentence that had lasted for more than a quarter of a page without encountering any grammatical difficulties. As an exercise in writing it was impressive. It was also foolish. There was no benefit to the reader from my having written such verbose sentences. Indeed, I don’t know that that sentence despite its length actually delivered any meaning beyond what a simple short sentence could provide.

I had forgotten that the best points are made in simple statements. It is natural that more complex concepts require more complex writing, but over-complicating writing does not make the point any more sophisticated. Simple statements for simple ideas. Long statements for complex ideas. This is natural.

However, the real master can convey the complex idea with a simple statement.

Resolution

Write with purpose.

Don’t bury my point beneath wasted words.

Think of goal before thinking of means.

Reflections on Aphorisms #4

Figured out yesterday’s aphorism that I couldn’t get a satisfying break-down of, so that’ll be one of the two today (it’s the Taleb one).

Aphorism 5

The most depressing aspect of the lives of the couples you watch surreptitiously arguing in restaurants is that they are almost always unaware of the true subject of argument.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (Amazon affiliate link)

Interpretation

I’m not really in a significant relationship, so I’m not going to cover the relationship aspect of this so much as a simple truth here:

You don’t necessarily know what you’re looking at until you put it into words, and even then you might have done it wrong.

I think that a lot of arguments arise from what goes unsaid on purpose, and what goes unsaid on accident, and this aphorism deals with the latter.

You need to have a good identification with a life of meaning to really notice when things have gone astray.

My Life

Today was my last regular day as a classroom teacher for the foreseeable future. I’m doing some freelance writing in the immediate future and then I’ll be getting back to school to complete a master’s or maybe a doctorate program.

And, to be honest, it’s painful to say goodbye. It’s been an emotionally draining week for a variety of reasons, and teaching is just emotionally draining in general, but the fact remains that it’s still something that brings a lot of meaning to my life.

I wouldn’t say that I regret leaving; this is the perfect time to make a move for me, since I still retain almost no financial obligations except to myself.

However, it’s certainly not easy. Most of the kids were pretty sad to see me go, even more so than I expected (to be honest, since almost none of them were going to have me next year unless something changed in my position, I didn’t expect quite so much of a response).

I’ve probably had something like two hundred and fifty or three hundred students in the past couple years, and it’s sort of crazy to think about not seeing most of them after next week.

But, of course, such is the nature of things. If there is any lesson I’ve learned at a dear cost this past week, it’s that you can’t always anticipate change, so the best you can do is accept it.

Reflections

Find the hidden and secret things that have a tendency to sneak up on my life.

Never forget how meaningful the teaching experience has been in my life, even if more lucrative opportunities come along later.

Value authenticity, pierce the veil of easy explanations.

Aphorism 6

A book calls for pen, ink, and a writing desk; today the rules is that pen, ink, and a writing desk call for a book.

Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in the Viking Book of Aphorisms

Interpretation

This is another aphorism that begs context. I think that it’s referring to the way in which we interact with books, namely comparing the act of reading and reflecting on things.

Nietzsche is often very concerned about the advent of modernity, and I think that part of this is the transition from having eyes on the past to focusing on the future.

Part of the old tradition is to go into texts as an end to itself. The contemplation on and analysis of the old masters is got necessarily lower than striving for personal mastery.

This is a lot of what Montaigne does in his essays, but while Montaigne may be “the first modern” in his philosophy and interests, he is also distinctly classical in his methods.

Now the fashion is to create and change, to pursue power before wisdom and influence before virtue.

My Life

I am beginning to write a book. I may not finish it, since I may find it unfit, but I am perhaps falling into what Nietzsche is warning about here.

However, I think that I’m not all bad.

Obvious self service aside, I feel blessed to have an inquisitive mind. I enjoy digging deep into everything, and I am reaching a point soon where I can pursue self perfection as a primary goal.

Resolution

Don’t waste my current shot at self improvement.

Learn from others.

Make sure that nothing I do stems from mere desire to do but rather from purpose.