Reflections on Aphorisms #100

Short aphorisms today because I’m hoping to get to bed a little earlier than I did yesterday.

This is day 100 of the aphorism reflections, and I’m still as in love with it as I have been. I’ve been focused on Rochefoucauld quite heavily recently, but when I manage to get my output up a little I’ll add more variety in.

Aphorism 140

It is far easier to be wise for others than to be so for oneself. (Maxim 132)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the great mysteries about our power of perception is that we are able to see things outside our own life more clearly than those that are in our own life.

I think that a large part of this is because we’re storytelling creatures, and it’s easier for us to see the patterns in other peoples’ lives because we only see the important information. It’s easy to over-fit our interpretations to the information that we have, coming to a conclusion and then looking for evidence to support it instead of finding evidence and then drawing conclusions objectively.

I think another thing that Rochefoucauld gets at here is the fact that it’s a lot easier to be objective when your emotions aren’t flaring up. I think that emotions have a very strong role in the decision making process, but the problem comes with passions.

It’s easy to be dispassionate with another person’s life decisions.

For this reason you may make better decisions for someone else than you would for yourself.

Of course, there’s another dilemma here: other people will also make the best decisions for themselves if they are able to see for themselves. They can’t make the best decisions if they just listen to other people.

One of the best things you can do for other people is to pool your resources with theirs; to humbly present your perspective that you have acquired through your own serious contemplation.

You can’t make decisions for other people, that’s not going to work. Coercion and force always ends in tragedy; think of all the people who grow up to do what their parents wanted them to do, yet never considered the proper path for their own life.

But the important thing is that an extra set of eyes works to extend the potentials of a single individual. Two people together are stronger than one, so long as they are connected by shared purpose and not by a desire for one to dominate the other.

Resolution

Help others earnestly and without conceit.

Look to advice from those who want the best for me.

Seek always to be what others need within the framework of myself.

Reflections on Aphorisms #91

Today was a moderately successful day. I didn’t get as much physical activity or writing done, but now that I have classes (which I’m very much currently ahead on) I can justify that a little.

I also have been getting better at trying to spitball some of the writing I’ve been doing instead of waiting to perfect it in my head. I’ve been listening to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and trying to follow some of the advice there.

Aphorism 129

The passions possess a certain injustice and self interest which makes it dangerous to follow them, and in reality we should distrust them even when they appear most trustworthy.

François de La Rochefoucauld 

Interpretation

One of the things about emotion is that it tends to lead us toward things that further emotion.

If we want to feel good, we tend to lead ourselves in paths that gratify us, and we slowly develop an attachment to our own pleasure.

I forget who once said that we tend to continue doing whichever behaviors we reward in ourselves, though I’m sure that it’s a common sentiment enough that it’s been echoed and repeated to the point that you could lose yourself in a rabbit hole. Maybe Jung, or even Nietzsche? It follows some of the biological nature of the brain as a system that tends to follow both chemical processes and associations between neurons, and I’ve definitely heard it described in that language by someone who has been in the 21st century (Jordan Peterson?), though I feel like its origins may even be classical.

To a certain extent, one could also extend the idea to Rochefoucauld.

Passions are generally bad not because we should stifle our emotions and get rid of them, but because passions represent the emotion as the sole driver of our decision-making process. We need emotions so that we can prioritize things. Of course, emotion serves as a simplifying heuristic; “liking” or “disliking” something based on experience or prediction is much simpler than making a rational decision every time it comes up, but can often lead to equally good results. Going further, however, emotions are part of what makes the human experience worth living through.

Yes, emotions often include suffering, and passions are dangerous, but they’re also responsible for everything we perceive as good. Happiness in itself has no place on the scale of vice and virtue, but the purpose of virtue is to foster as much happiness as possible on a grand cosmic scale (even if it means sacrifice and struggle in the short-term) made possible through an understanding of truth and meaning.

Passions are often the result of seeking happiness above seeking virtue. It’s the desire to have the meal without the work, metaphorically speaking. There’s a children’s story in the vein of Aesop in which I believe a chicken (I should remember; animal symbols often carry archetypal significance) works to sow seeds of corn but the other animals do not help, despite being asked to help. Of course, when the harvest comes, everyone asks the chicken if they can share in the food, but the chicken keeps the grain for itself.

Without delving into the morals of the story, acting on passion is similar to desiring that which is unearned. Although passion is not necessarily innately wrong, since there are justifiable reasons for the actions that can be ascribed to passion flowing out of a desire for justice and righteousness, the fact remains that the passionate are prone to be deceived and preyed upon by those who can manipulate their emotions.

Worse, passions tend to undo the clarity of mind that would be needed to safely act upon them. Even if a wise person can rely on their feelings above the knowledge they have acquired and the counsel of peers and sages in a single instance, in repetition they wind up preparing themselves to act on passion when they believe they are simply considering the input of their emotion.

Resolution

Make emotion one counselor among many.

Avoid entitlement.

Don’t do something in an emergency that I would not do in principle.

Reflections on Aphorisms #88

Wrote this earlier in the day, so I haven’t had a chance to see how the day went yet. By all indications, though, today will be a good day. I forced myself to just sit on the couch and write for a few hours (a handful of ~5 minute breaks aside), which means that my productivity has hit a level that I am honestly a little surprised by myself.

At the time of writing I’ve written around three-thousand words (perhaps even a good chunk more) and it’s not even noon.

Aphorism 126

The evil that we do does not attract to us so much persecution and hatred as our good qualities. (Maxim 29)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

The other day (link to my post), I wrote about Rochefoucauld’s observations on jealousy and envy and I think that there’s some truth to it when you view it by means of this maxim.

I think that it’s particularly true in modern society, and perhaps in Rochefoucauld’s society too, that people have a tendency not to focus on the negatives that people do.

Some of this stems from good, some from evil.

On one hand, we ignore the faults in others because it would be hypocritical of us to condemn them. We still have faults in our own persons, and it is right that we hold off on a certain degree of judgment. We may also be overly optimistic, trusting others and giving them grace when their actions do not line up with their ideals. That we don’t know for sure what their ideals are is a problem that keeps me up at night, but it’s a matter for deeper philosophy than I have a desire to get into before noon.

We may also lack the virtue required to see faults for what they are. If we do something wrong, we justify and rationalize it, or at the very least shamefully hide it. When we see others in the same sin, we defend them as we would defend ourselves. We argue that it isn’t so bad. We come up with a legitimate goal that it furthers. We ignore it so we do not have to confront it.

More dangerously, we may also feel that it is not our place to help our fellow humans. We can look at those adrift and argue that we were never appointed as their moral arbiters. Of course, we should not trample on the freedoms of others.

There’s an idea in certain interpretations of Judaism and Christianity that there’s a provision of free will because God wants humanity to be free to choose or reject the divine will. All the evil and suffering in the world exists because without the ability to suffer we would never be able to reject God. Suffering flows from rejection of God, but a perfect world would be the destroyer of all virtue because nobody would do anything except absolutely surrender to God.

To force others to morality has the same effect as removing their free will. It may be necessary in certain cases (e.g. to prevent the violent from preying on the innocent), but it is not a morally good act of itself outside the context of protecting people.

One of the reasons why we turn criticism of people toward their virtues is that a flawed virtue is obvious but also something which is acceptable to talk about. If you tear into someone for being an alcoholic, you look cruel. If you point out that someone who is generally honest lied about something important, you look like a defender of those poor souls that they might exploit without your warning. You can argue that you are not condemning their character (even though you are) and instead claim that it is all about their actions.

Nobody is perfectly virtuous. My best “virtues” come from a lack of temptation and appeal rather than mastery of the self. I am sure that this is replicated in other people. When I was a youth, people praised me for my pursuit of wisdom, but I was really more afraid of being a fool than I was desirous of wisdom.

In this light, what is the correct course of action?

To recognize virtue in others and praise it.

To recognize vice in the self and in others and seek to eliminate it.

To speak openly without condemnation or flattery.

Resolution

Seek to pursue virtues where I have vices.

Don’t forget that evil motives can drive seemingly good actions; they corrupt them entirely, but that is not immediately obvious.

Grant some grace. Some. Do not go so far that you permit people to become victims.

Reflections on Aphorisms #86

Today was a productive day.

I’m glad to be able to say that.

I had probably the weirdest dream I’ve had in a long time last night. I’m not sure what the meaning is. Probably “Don’t eat anything spicy right before bed.”

For what it’s worth, I do kind of enjoy dreaming, when it is fantastic. It’s like a front-row seat at a really surreal theater.

Aphorism 124

The hate of favourites is only a love of favour. The envy of NOT possessing it, consoles and softens its regrets by the contempt it evinces for those who possess it, and we refuse them our homage, not being able to detract from them what attracts that of the rest of the world. (Maxim 55)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

Envy is one of my least vices, in part because I’ve always been a little frugal in my tastes and in part because I just find myself to be unusually grateful when I force myself to slow down and look at things.

Of course, I’m probably one of Rochefoucauld’s “favorites” in the sense that I’ve been lucky and fortunate, with a certain amount of prudence learned from others’ examples and a dab of talent that I don’t typically put to good use.

It makes sense then that I shouldn’t be too envious: my main goal is to be my best self, and while I’m not terribly good at that it also stands to reason that most other people are not going to be the best possible version of me and I won’t feel jealous of them.

Though, I will say, going to GenCon and seeing a bunch of other professionals in the games industry gave me perhaps the closest thing to envy I’ve ever had, though I was still more grateful to meet people than I was jealous of their success.

Reading Scum and Villainy (affiliate link), a quite excellent game that I picked up at GenCon, made me a little envious. It’s very similar in many ways to my Waystation Deimos (affiliate link) in terms of mechanics (I think they share some DNA, but I’m not really familiar with how Blades in the Dark and the Resistance system are related) but they have a lot of great ideas that I never even thought of, so I’m just a wee bit jealous of them.

Of course, that’s more of a “Oh hey, you had the idea I wanted to have” moment and I think there’s some room for healthy expression there. It’s not necessarily that one is envious, one learns from the masters.

What I think Rochefoucauld is getting at is when people become bitter over the differences between them in a social sense. Certainly I know people who seem to have had more success for their efforts than I have, and I think that this is a pretty common experience in the human condition.

Jordan Peterson once said something about comparing yourself to other people, and he pointed out that in every person’s life by the time they’re thirty you’re going to be able to draw something like a dozen different axes of comparison between you and them.

For every one in which you’re inferior, there’s probably one in which you’re superior.

And that overlooks the fact that any inferiority may be your own fault. Right now I’m not a famous or successful writer or game designer, but that may be as much due to my own skills as to any lack of exposure and networking.

If you seem inferior to someone in every way, perhaps the best response is to admire them instead of envying them. It will give you the clarity to pursue the same path that they walk, and adapt it to your own way intelligently and without deceit. It enables you to have conversations openly and without the desire to score points and inflict wounds, which makes you much more pleasant to be around.

Reflection

Admire those who do what I wish to do better than I do.

Compare on multiple points, or don’t compare at all.

Count blessings.

Reflections on Aphorisms #85

Today was kind of a weird day because I got a lot done, but not by my usual metrics.

Tomorrow I really need to get into shape on working on those, because they do tend to reflect how I’m making money currently.

Aphorism 123

We are never so happy or so unhappy as we suppose. (Maxim 49)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

There’s a long way down, and there’s a long way up.

I like the notion that there’s a metaphysical heaven and hell that reside below the depths and above the peaks of what the world can hold. Because there is the sacred, we cannot know true hell, and because there is the profane we cannot know true heaven.

The one way to alter this would be if one or the other were to vanish from the world, and neither seems like a likely outcome.

At the same time, we are limited by our history and our context in how we perceive the world around us.

I think that this comes up a lot in modern politics; we see the world around us and think that it’s really awful, but the whole situation is really not all that worse than what people have been used to a long time. In fact, we live in a blessed golden age compared to not just some but probably any of our predecessors.

There are examples I could give here that would be more politically charged than they need to be to make my point, so I’ll focus on the idea of nuclear war bringing an end to humanity.

First, the estimates are apocalyptic in their scope, but overlook the fact that a lot of the dangerous of a nuclear war are centralized in particular zones. We’d possibly see a return to a dark age, but probably not the end of the species.

This is not good, but when you look at it in context it’s immediately obvious that there are far worse things that have happened throughout history. Think of the plagues and wars that spanned continents, famines that took out massive portions of the population.

Humanity has always faced existential threats, and always will. They take on new forms because we’ve been fortunate enough to transcend the old ones, and our means of doing so have been imperfect and driven by base motivations.

We also overestimate our prosperity.

I don’t want to diminish our accomplishments, since they’re almost always a reflection of what happens when virtues are practiced consistently and sacrifices are made to improve our condition over a long period of time, but at the same time it is important to realize that our current state of being is one of a potential multitudes.

If we were serious with ourselves and pursued virtue with the same dogmatic obsession that we tend to pursue the things that we want, we would see outcomes we can only dream of.

Resolution

Never settle.

Don’t obsess over the pain of the day. It is a reminder of imperfection, of virtue unfulfilled. Nothing more.

Don’t presume that there is something fundamentally different between now and the collected past.

Reflections on Aphorisms #81

An interesting thing that I’ve found as I work through the aphorisms is that there are ones that I don’t feel like I can talk about when I first examine them, and then later return to them and feel comfortable expounding on them.

I’m not sure to what degree this reflects growth and to which degree it reflects the various mindsets required to engage with a text, but I find it interesting.

Sometimes it’s the case that a point that I’ll come to while discussing one aphorism will reflect itself in another aphorism, which isn’t surprising when one focuses primarily on maxims by a single person.

This one from Rochefoucauld is another example: a few days ago I skipped over this aphorism in favor of another one (you can see it here), in part because I didn’t have anything to say about it. Now I do.

Aphorism 119

What we term virtue is often but a mass of various actions and divers interests, which fortune, or our own industry, manage to arrange; and it is not always from valour or from chastity that men are brave, and women chaste. (Maxim 1)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

Humans are and are not moral creatures, depending on how you define them. The problem is that as with most matters which defy simple classification neither really satisfies the truth.

People can be moral creatures, and that sets us apart from everything else we’ve found in the universe. We’re capable of making decisions based on guiding principles, not just the experiences and stimuli around us.

However, that doesn’t mean that we always are. Consciousness is expensive, and we budget our attention toward the things that we view as important in the moment.

What that means practically is that more of our actions and reactions are reflex, or subconscious, than we would like. This is pretty logical, really; we don’t know exactly how much unconscious stuff we do because it’s precisely unconscious. If it’s happening and it works, then we don’t think about it.

One of the biological functions of guilt is to discourage patterns of behavior that are known to bear consequences. If I spend more money than I’ve made in a week and then notice that I’m headed in the wrong direction financially, I feel a little guilt about it. It’s a manifestation of the worries I have about my future state, even if I can’t explicitly communicate that to myself.

When we do things with unknown consequences or we actually manage to avoid everything that we associate with guilt through supreme effort, we assume automatically that it is a form of virtue.

The problem is that virtue isn’t just avoiding the things that earn us guilt.

Virtue is strength. It’s a moral sort of strength, one which does not grant mastery of others, but it’s strength nonetheless.

One of the problems with strength is that it’s relative. I can go about my daily life without doing anything that I would consider at the outer edge of my physical capacities, but that doesn’t mean that I would be considered strong. I might be “strong enough” but even that is a relative description.

Virtue is the same way. You might look at honesty and say “Well, I don’t lie on my taxes.”

That’s very good!

It’s also pretty much nothing. There’s a giant penalty for lying on your taxes. You’re forced to be honest, or at least lie well enough to get away with it, and most of us are bad liars and know that on at least an unconscious level. If you aren’t, you’re gonna get a whole lotta pain, and that could be what’s driving the honesty.

If you could make a universal statement (“I don’t lie.”) that would be a virtue. Of course, virtue being a relative strength it may be impossible to really have perfect virtue. But if every time you were to tell a lie you instead chose honesty you’d be making a lot of progress. There are further forms of dishonesty, of course: omission, over-statement, miscellaneous deception, and “white lies”” all degrade the virtues of honesty and integrity.

However, the struggle is what forms virtue. It’s not an inherent thing that some people have and others don’t, which is part of the reason why the virtuous don’t have any claim to superiority. Virtue is an interaction between the individual and the universe (to put it in hippy language; I’d argue that it’s an interaction between the individual and God), and it has to be found outside the individual’s disconnected being.

Choosing virtue may be laudable, but virtue itself is revealed. Nobody can claim to be closer to it than anyone else, because the problem with a choice is that it overlooks two key points.

First, for every virtue one chooses, there are likely virtues they have not developed.

Second, a choice is not permanent. It can be reversed. The virtuous person is not in a fixed state of virtue, and can throw away everything in a moment of moral compromise.

Resolution

Don’t enter into moral compromise.

Look for opportunities to develop virtue.

Remember that all morality is shaped by our relation to the universe.

Reflections on Aphorisms #79

Taking a quick break because of course I would. Shaw is one of the great aphorists, along with Wilde, who is always able to provoke a response from me, even though I see some major issues with a lot of his philosophy of life.

He’s thought-provoking, if nothing else.

Aphorism 117

Youth, which is forgiven everything, forgives itself nothing: age, which forgives itself everything, is forgiven nothing.

Shaw

Interpretation

I hate to agree with Shaw (disclaimer: I don’t actually hate to agree with Shaw, but that’s a dramatic way to start a sentence and I’m weak enough of character to start with it instead of a better opener), but there is something to be said for the truthfulness of this statement.

One of the trends that I’ve tracked in my own life is that I was consumed with burning passion in my youth, and mellowed out as I got older. I’m not that old, but people used to call me an “old soul”, which is a tremendously horrible praise to burden someone with.

I just like big words. I may have had an interest in philosophy and religion. It wasn’t really that noble.

With that said, I definitely had more of a streak of self-condemnation. Some of that is because I was dreadfully sheltered, and my own mistakes stood out to me because I didn’t see other peoples’. That’s not to say that nobody messed up, but I think there’s a hidden part of that where you also don’t judge motives well when you’re sheltered.

Basically, everything I did out of base motives, I recognized as a fault in myself, but I always looked at others as having merely accidentally sinned.

I consider this one of the most praiseworthy elements of myself, because it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I began to consider that others around me were capable of evil, despite holding the bitter philosophical and religious concept of total depravity of humanity as a guiding principle in my own life.

While that’s foolish, and really shows that I was a late bloomer (so much for the “old soul” appellation), it also meant that I had the most perfect view of other people. I could count on one hand the number of people I had disliked in a serious by the time I turned 20, and I’ve only begun to start needing a second hand.

That’s a great spot to be in, because it shows that you’re not bitter.

Of course, a lot of my distress was internal. I blamed myself for pretty much everything. This included, in a particularly shortsighted moment, being practically catatonic for a semester of college because I was worried about being a burden on my family. The irony of shutting down because one is worried about being undeserving escaped me, though it’s also a very common course of action in the grand scheme of psychological phenomena.

Fast forward five years from then, and I would be successfully independent inasmuch as it is possible for an individual to be independent. No man is an island, after all.

Now, obviously it’s easier to be merciful on yourself when you feel like you’re earning your keep. No Jude the Obscure ending for me.

Quick side-note: Jude the Obscure is a seriously dark book. Like, of all the angsty and broody stories I’ve had to read over the year, I find it odd that it would be a part of my high school English classes that stands out. I’m not trying to deny its literary merits, and I certainly remember it better than most of the books I read in high school (I’ve returned to the other ones I remember, so I can’t tell if a single impression of them served me better).

One of the things that happens when you get older is that you realize that a lot of what you do is more common than you had feared.

Of course, there’s a balancing act here. You don’t want to let yourself sink into mediocrity (or maybe you do on a certain level, but there’s such a danger in it that you also have a part of yourself that revolts against it), but you also feel the intolerable weight of moral standards when you have to be the person making decisions and sacrifices.

The resolution of that is that you start compromising parts your morals, or else you engage in a truly heroic struggle to keep them.

Resolution

Forgiveness comes at a cost to the victim.

Remember the source of all value.

Don’t sacrifice morals for expedience.

Reflections on Aphorisms #78

Been getting a lot done recently. If I had been worried whether or not I was on the right track, I could at least claim to be more certain now.

Of course, what can any of us truly know?

At the very least, I can hope to be on the right track, and devote myself to noble pursuits.

Aphorism 116

Neither the sun nor death can be looked at without winking.

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

The sublime Empyrean resides above us, the depths of Hell below.

We have the potential to work toward either, but both are metaphysical. They cannot be expressed or contemplated strictly within our mortal framework.

What Rouchefoucauld gets at here is the notion that there are things that we cannot bear directly, both in terms of our comprehension and our psychological ability to handle things.

The sun–metaphorically understood as God–and death–the negative counterpart of life–are both things that we cannot directly confront, but so is the axiomatic and ultimate nature of good and evil itself.

The greatest things in life are blessings that we cannot hope to comprehend. This is true across time and cultures. A faithful child, a loyal spouse, and a noble leader all embody the closest thing one can have to a movement toward the divine in worldly affairs.

The worst things in life are are set in direct opposition to the good: the faithless, the disloyal, the corrupt.

But, of course, in reality there is always nuance. There is none who can claim to be purely good, none who can be condemned as wholly evil.

Even the worst butcher is driven by something extrinsic, while even the saints are held down by the intrinsic flaws of their nature.

This conflict between the external and the internal is why we fear both good and evil, and why we cannot come to a balance between both. It is not that one or the other is purely good or evil, but the balance between all things is constantly in flux.

The only permanence is the divine, and to our perceptions even that seems inconstant. Of course, this is due to our inability to develop a perfectly accurate picture of reality (which is not a good reason not to try) and appreciate the full consequences and merits of our actions.

So we blink, voluntarily closing our eyes to the things around us before they transfigure us. The words of Nietzsche ring true. One who gazes too long into the abyss is met with a return.

Resolution

Do not expect perfection.

Contemplate the good constantly.

Accept the being of evil, then work against it.

Reflections on Aphorisms #74

It’s been a long, but triumphant day.

I finally finished one of the big projects I was working on, and now I feel that things are returning to an equilibrium of sorts.

From here the only way to go is up. Of course, that could be because I’ve cast myself so far into the unknown that I am in such a state of risk that the fruition of that risk would represent a solidification, rather than a degradation, of my condition.

Or, in simple language: I’m betting big, and I’m betting on myself.

Aphorism 112

The tyrant and the mob, the grandfather and the grandchild, are natural allies.

Schopenhauer

Interpretation

I’m not terribly familiar with Schopenhauer. I know that Jung references him quite a bit in his Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which I wrote a review of (which can be found here) but if I ever read any of his work it would have been a small excerpt at most.

This sounds very much like a 20th century sentiment, though it’s worth noting that Schopenhauer spoke before our experiences with totalitarianism in the 20th century. Of course, his period in Europe was marked with a certain amount of turmoil (as any period in Europe tends to be), so it’s worth noting that he’s not necessarily talking about totalitarianism as we see it.

One of the things that I find interesting is the concept of a mob, precisely because I am so mild-mannered.

The idea of losing myself in a group psychological phenomena is terrifying to me. Of course, I do organized religion, and I count my experiences in worship with a Charismatic denomination among my fondest religious experiences (though I split with them on dogmatic lines; my sect doesn’t do the speaking in tongues thing prominently), which is a group phenomena at its strongest.

Nietzsche has a saying about fighting monsters and the tragic tendency that people have to turn into whatever they struggle against. It’s not necessarily an in-kind thing, but it’s interesting.

One of the most important and least discussed events in history is probably the French Revolution (in case people lose track, I’m referring to the one that happened directly after the American Revolution).

There was a major difference between the French Revolution and the American one (though, sadly for us Americans, the difference was not as pronounced), and it was that the French Revolution was more heavily emotional for the French. Where the Americans channeled their distrust toward a foreign power–this is a gross simplification, but works in the sense that they were a colony and not mainland Britain–the French had turned it inward.

There was a great outcry against injustice, and a lot of it was well-earned by a tyrant.

But the mob only succeeded in creating a succession of worse tyrants. They destroyed the laws of a corrupt system, and replaced them with chaos.

Just because the mob may reject a tyrant does not mean that they will not assign one from their ranks once they have their thirst for blood quenched, or even while the lust for destruction still rages in their veins.

I think that some of this has to do with how the mob works. We weaken ourselves to emotion, creating a vulnerability that we exploit to bring us beyond our daily patterns and lives. It breaks us free of our traditions and our heuristics.

The problem is that those things are responsible for civilization and a good part of what people refer to when they use the word “humane” about behavior.

We’re less moral than we appreciate. A lot of our “good” behavior comes from not having contemplated evil, from being afraid of it. People claim virtues where they have weaknesses keeping them from freedom, rather than an objective triumph over evil.

Both the tyrant and the mob break free of these things. Both have a capacity for destruction limited only by the words and sacrifices of honest people.

Resolution

Be willing to sacrifice for the future.

Fortify virtue.

Honesty is worth all price.

Reflections on Aphorisms #64

Somewhat productive day today. I got to reading about scrolls. That’s not a typo. Scrolls. Like, medieval scrolls.

Did you know that when one dude died they sent a scroll around basically half of England and a good chunk of France in what is basically a medieval version of the condolence card?

Yeah, that’s kinda cool, I guess.

Aphorism 102

“Know thyself”? If I knew myself, I’d run away.

Goethe

Interpretation

Here we see that Goethe can match witticisms with Wilde.

Of course, the point of an aphorism is that there’s a compelling surface and deeper depths to think about.

In this case, Goethe hits on a few complex topics.

Yesterday I talked about self-deception, and I think that it’s perhaps no coincidence that there’s a little overlap between this and Wilde’s statements, so I’m not going to go into too much depth on it. It’s also no coincidence that one of the stories that shaped my first knowledge of self-deception was written by Goethe.

I think that one of the best ways to think about oneself is to reflect on one’s worst moments.

This may sound a little bit of a downer, but I view it as a sort of off-shoot of stoicism.

What the stoics would do is that they would take the worst possible event, look at the outcomes, and determine that they could still go on.

The thing with my reflection is that I look at my worst vices and then tell myself that I still have a chance to improve.

By looking at the weakness and imperfections within myself I force myself to move onward from where I currently am, because I don’t find myself particularly good. I’m sometimes a little disappointed when I take stock of my virtues, because a lot of them have reasons that are less than noble.

“Oh hey, I don’t drink. Right, because I hate the taste and the side-effects. Not a giant virtue there!”

The secret here is that you can build on that.

I tell myself each day that I’m going to do at least one thing, one virtuous thing, that isn’t something that should be taken for granted or that I already do regularly.

The scary thing there is that I don’t always succeed. The nice thing, however, is that there’s always room for improvement.

When you keep improving, eventually you’re bound to reach a better place.

Resolution

Do one thing each day that is better than its equivalent the prior day.

Confront my weaknesses.

Never be impatient with the progress of growth.