Reflections on Aphorisms #47

Kind of a slow day today. Third unproductive day in a row, though not hyper unproductive. Time to get out of this rut.

Just one aphorism; I had game night tonight (we were playtesting the game I’ve been working on for a couple years now, and it went well; I’ll write up my findings tomorrow).

Aphorism 77

The ultimate effect of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.

Herbert Spencer


I’m a fan of the school of hard knocks. I haven’t gotten a diploma from it, but I’m working on a certificate program right now.

Basically, we suck.

Alright, case closed, everyone can go home.

Or we can look at this from a more serious perspective.

One of the greatest things that you can do to have someone fail is to shelter them from criticism. I’ve mentioned this not too long ago: a teacher who wants to mess a student up need do no more than stay silent about how they can improve. It can seem kind in the moment (e.g. showing mercy for flaws), but it will always result in pain later, when the student realizes that their potential future has had a damper put on it.

I think of Frankenstein. In an early part of the novel (and one which I have rarely seen discussed), the protagonist spends his youth reading what are essentially the fundamentals of alchemy, thinking that he is pursuing science and the secrets of life. Instead, he finds himself sorely embarrassed when he gets to university and everything he has read has been useless and a source of ridicule directed toward him.

The young Frankenstein redoubles his efforts and manages to achieve his goals on more solid footing once he forgets everything he “knew” but nonetheless the experience is one that hurts him dearly.

I also think of the increasing popularity of showing clemency in the case of crimes. I don’t think this is necessarily wrong (because the crimes often aren’t worth the severity they have been assigned), but the problem is the philosophy that drives it: “it is wrong to punish people because the consequence hurts them.”

Consequences don’t hurt the wise. At least, not in everyday circumstances. You find yourself out at the edge of ordinary life, and consequences hurt a lot. But unless you’re in bear country, consequences are generally pretty minor unless you do things you know you shouldn’t do.

That’s part of what our society does. It’s risk averse, and it conditions us with that risk aversion. When we don’t benefit from the collective learned experiences, we suffer social consequences.

Of course, society isn’t always right (in fact, it’s usually not), but it’s often close enough that the end effect is tolerable. We live by heuristics and the best heuristic is still only a dim shadow of reality.

Letting people have no consequences for failing and also preventing them from having the freedom to fail leads to a dangerous outcome.

I think of this like the student whose grades are bad and whose parents want them to get their grades up.

The wise parent introduces consequences.

I’ve had parent teacher conferences with parents who have been in this exact situation and asked me for advice because “[the student] just goes off and plays video games.”

That’s a serious lack of consequences, because video games are a great source of escape from consequences (among other things). These parents asked me for advice (I had already suggested limiting video games, but this apparently wasn’t a palatable suggestion) and the kid barely passed my class (and I give Fs, so there was real danger).

I heard an analysis of Peter Pan once where Tinkerbell was pointed out as an icon of this sort of perverse incentive for escapism.

She’s not real, but because our brains work by pulling switches based on perceptions, people can act as if she is.

We have an infinite potential to fool ourselves. I figured this out my freshman year of college, when I first was exposed to the work of Tolstoy in the form of The Death if Ivan Ilyich.

The problem is that being fooled enough and not wising up leaves one as a fool in perpetuity.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool myself once, shame on me. Fool myself twice, doom on me.

Folly is poisonous, and the only antidote is the experience of life and its pains.


Don’t stare into unreality.

Taking painkillers when seriously ill leads to death.

Don’t forget that your eyes only look outward unless you direct them at a mirror.

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