Reflections on Aphorisms #48

As usual, a slow day for Sunday. I’ve found myself being a little more productive and feeling a little better, though I still have some distance to go.

I’m looking into new sources for aphorisms; I’ve used a lot from Taleb (and I intend to use more soon) and the Viking Book of Aphorisms, but I’m not sure I’m willing to splurge on the Oxford Book of Aphorisms. A trip to the local used bookstore left me wanting.

Anyone know good sources for aphorisms?

Aphorism 78

Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?

Stanisław Jerzy Lec

Interpretation

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot is the notion that society doesn’t advance itself as much as we would hope.

I don’t think it entirely coincidental that in the 20’s and early 30’s of the 20th century there was near universal praise for German culture in the West. The beginnings of totalitarianism there looked like progress, though we now have the hindsight that it was a march only unto death.

We forget that the newer thing is not the better.

Often we look at something which holds promise to fix a problem, and we jump on it in spite of the costs that it holds.

I have a hard time forming a good explanation of it, but I think there’s a simple explanation here.

We’re in an age where we’re pursuing technological and social development in a way that has never been done before.

We can collectively make almost anything we want happen, especially if it’s bad (it is easier to push entropy along than to resist it), but we can’t do it individually.

However, the only way to survive the changes that we’re going through is to respect and foster the individual. This is one of Jung’s ideas, but we see it also in the work of Hayek and all the classical liberals.

The self is a powerful guide.

When all else goes wrong, a good person can put the breaks on horror and terror. I think of Oskar Schindler, who wasn’t a perfect person but was able to break through the horrors of totalitarianism to save as many people as was within his power.

One person can save 1200, and that is a miracle. I aspire to save at least one.

To get back to Lec’s point, the problem is that we don’t see deeper reality because we are distracted by what is on the surface.

One can be evil without being repulsive.

In fact, the wicked often wield more influence and charm than the righteous, because they are not restricted by the limitations of decency.

In the end, I believe that all houses built upon a foundation of immorality fall. The problem is that this has to wait for the final analysis. The wages of sin are death, but the payroll office operates on a dreadful bureaucratic schedule.

Of course, this is probably a mercy for all of us sinners, but it does contribute to the world being worse than it would be if wickedness bore instant fruit.

As we become more powerful, the risk that we put power to misuse grows. Without moral development, we are due for a rude awakening.

Resolution

Never forego moral development for transient improvement.

Be open for a chance to do the right thing, even if it costs everything.

Never mistake power for progress.

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