Reflections on Aphorisms #46

Ugh, the last couple days have been going the wrong direction. Not in terms of my life quality, but just productivity and the like. However, I’ve managed to secure some future opportunities, so there’s always a silver lining, and in the grand scheme of things I’m still better now than I was a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to let it get me down too much.

Without doing any math, I’m setting a goal of hitting 120 aphorisms by the end of July. I have no clue how well that will pan out, because I don’t know how many I’ll need to do per day, and four’s more or less an absolute limit for me.

Aphorism 74

Love does not dominate; it cultivates.

Goethe

Interpretation

Well, this is an ironic statement from the writer of The Sorrows of Young Werther. Of course, one could argue that the affliction that befell Werther was obsession and not love, and I think that’s Goethe’s point here.

There’s two sides to this: one is discerning what love is, and the other is looking at how one should respond to it.

I’ve never really been in a serious romantic relationship. Heck, I’ve never been in a romantic relationship. I’m not someone who objects to it on principle or anything (i.e. not a celibate), but I’ve just never found the right person in part because I’ve never looked and in part because I tend to lose myself in work.

That’s probably a personal flaw, come to think of it.

Gosh, I’d be fun to psychoanalyze.

Getting back to the point, though, I have loved in a platonic and familial sense. I would sacrifice quite a bit for my students (despite my occasional jokes to the contrary), and my family and close friends get that honor as well.

The great thing about love is that sacrifice doesn’t feel like a loss. There’s some sublime beauty that enters into it and makes it into something wonderful.

It’s the ability to give something up and make the world a better place.

If you have that, you have love.

And how does one respond to love?

Gratitude, for one thing. To transmute suffering to purpose is the magnum opus of the alchemists of old. The commonest of things found within dirt where it was least expected could be said to be love–people who have no love can only find themselves trapped within a cycle of destruction, but with love even tragedy becomes a thing that drives growth and rebirth.

True gratitude instills action.

I never appreciated my father much as a child. That’s not true.

For the first few years of my life, I had no gripes with my father. We were incredibly close (him, my brother, and I; I’m a twin), but as we grew circumstances changed. When I look back at early memories, the joys of those days are fragmentary, and if I could choose the memories I would keep only those.

However, at a certain point the relationship grew more distant. As an adult, I can pinpoint these things even without really discussing them with him. He changed jobs; the new job had a longer commute. My brother and I started going to school, and had more work to complete at home. We stopped reading together, because we could read independently.

There was more stress on all sides, and by the time of my adolescence my relationship with my father was strained (it would remain so until I finished college, and even at times the rift lingers in ways I have to consciously prune).

However, when I look back at the whole picture, I am struck by the love that my father has and has always had for my brother, my mother, and I. The dedication and attention that he paid us and the multitude of ways that he showed it often went unappreciated, and there’s some awkwardness in the middle, but the model itself is solid.

When you love people, you do what you know you can to make their lives better. Making their lives perfect is beyond your means, but that’s no reason not to strive.

Resolution

Let love conquer all suffering.

Never underestimate the diversity of faces love can wear.

Remember that a good sacrifice is g0od.

Aphorism 75

We are the children of our age, but children who can never know their mother.

Logan Pearsall Smith

Interpretation

I think that the prevailing spirit of our age is Chaos. That may sound trippy and New Age, but I assure you that it’s not as far out as one would believe.

Look at our society and its rate of change, the loss of familiar icons and social structures and institutions.

Life is chaos, and as close to the platonic ideal as one will find anywhere.

We stand in the midst of things we cannot change, thinking of things we cannot understand, taking actions we cannot really do.

It is the word, order, which we live by. Even the word, however, has become scattered and confused. This is the stuff of the Tower of Babel, and we should take great caution to guard against the transformation of language. This is not because language should not change, but because we should not change it.

One of the greatest challenges we have is this:

How do we put our lives into words?

This is what great poets and thinkers have attempted since humans learned that bashing the right types and shapes of rocks into each other can leave marks that can bear information. Heck, they may have even done that before they learned how to write it down, the spoken word banishing into the oceans of unremembered past.

Really, that’s kind of incredible.

The modern age is the time when we have done away with myth. We have abolished the chains that have held us down, and sailed away on a sea of blood and tears to seek fortune among burnout desires.

Postmodernism is no better; the only difference is that they choose not to sail, or recognize that they are on a sea at all.

The problem is this:

The myth is the sum of all the gods and all the heroes.

Carl Jung had an interesting conception of the unconscious leading to the myth, and the unconscious being that thing which winds up being called God, the daemon of Socrates, spirits, and so forth.

I don’t know that I agree with him here.

However, there is a truth to the notion that the myth gave us bearing on the world, and that we have shut off part of our inner lives when we denied the myth the chance to blossom.

That is not necessarily wrong. It may lead us into a new golden age.

However, it has also cast us into the odious sea, and we will not be the same when we find shore.

Resolution

Do what you have to do to change the unknown into the known.

Embrace the myth, but don’t get lost in it.

Don’t stray too far from shore; here there are dragons.

Aphorism 76

The middle sort of historians… spoil all; they will chew our meat for us.

Montaigne

Interpretation

Ah, some good stuff.

So, I actually wanted to teach history. Like, a lot. My favorite teachers in school were always my English teachers and my History teachers, and of the subjects I probably had more of an interest in the latter.

Then I learned something.

When you teach history, you don’t teach history. You teach an interpretation. You regurgitate the sludge that is currently believed by some stuffy professor who wouldn’t know what the sunlight was if it turned his bloodsucking body to dust.

If part of the price of education is selling yourself into wage slavery at the altar of educational standards (which is an oxymoron in some ways), at the very least you should feel good about what you teach.

I no longer wish to teach history. Preparing to teach it has taught me that what we call “teaching history” is indeed teaching an interpretation. This is perhaps more true at the elementary and secondary levels (my own college-level history courses were phenomenal and gave facts and context rather than interpretations), but I have never really been close to teaching history at a higher level.

It is a relief, then, to see that the wise Montaigne sees this same path that I detest as a mark of a bad historian.

The reason for this is simple.

The whole point to learn the past is so that we don’t repeat it.

However, if we had actually learned from the past, we wouldn’t be in danger of repeating it anyway.

Yet, time and again, despite historians’ efforts the world keeps going awry.

Now, you could say that it’s not the historians’ fault, or at least not the fault of their concept of history, since other people don’t listen to them.

However, there’s something interesting that you can find in the history of history. I’m something of a scholar of the 20th century, though I still can’t decide why because it always leads me down morose paths (see the previous reflection).

At the start of the 20th century, in the 00’s and 10’s, historians were making their predictions and it looked a lot like the predictions they made in the 20’s and 30’s. In the 40’s and 50’s, they made predictions that looked a lot like their predecessors.

They actually were listened to, at least the ones in mainstream academia, and yet the counsel they gave wound up making things worse.

So where’s the problem here? Where’s the disconnect?

They had top-down central planner hubris. They had the guts to believe that they knew the inscrutable secrets of the universe. They had schemas and heuristics and traditions and citations and expert testimony and blood on their hands.

And we teach the same “history” today.

Resolution

Teach only if you put your skin in the game.

Remember that the greatest judgment is reserved for those who lead others away from the right path.

If you think you see, remember that you could be wearing crummy glasses.

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