Reflections on Aphorisms #50

Got a lot of stuff done today at the cost of putting off writing this until almost my bedtime. So, with my apologies, there will be only one aphorism today. I’ll try to make it count.

Aphorism 81

The impassioned man hasn’t time to be witty.

Stendhal

This cuts two ways.

On one hand, it’s an injunction to pardon the passionate.

Belief is often derided as a product of biases and unconscious assumptions, but the reason why we believe so strongly is because the cost of not doing so is confusion and chaos.

Beliefs orient us and guide us.

When something violates your beliefs, it tends to trigger your passions, and this also makes people “stupid” in the modern mindset.

Of course, it needn’t matter that many people who have beliefs have actually considered and contemplated them, since the important thing about a belief is that it overrides the current stimuli.

If something is currently ongoing that suggests a certain course of action, but your belief structure suggests something else, it’s probably better to go with your beliefs.

If deeply held tenets can be faulty, it is all the more true that seat-of-the-pants judgments are even more likely to be flawed.

So when someone makes an emotional argument, it’s not necessarily a sign of weakness. It certainly can be wrong, the same as any other argument, and it’s able to be wrong even if the facts and realities support it. The quality of an argument is found in both the ends and the means.

The counterpart to the argument that Stendhal is supporting the passionate (which I pursued first because as a Romantic Stendhal almost certainly aims for that) is the stoic argument that one should always strive to be dispassionate.

While values guide us, it is reason that allows these values to be given their full meaning. Without at least a little independent reasoning, belief becomes legalism.

Legalism works only when it is not exploited by others, and in the vast histories of humanity it is almost always brought to bear as a yoke on those who practice it.

The term “wit” has an interesting connotation.

On one hand, it’s often used in a derisive manner. A “witty” remark may really just be a clever dodge and a deflection from the real point. Wit is also used more generally as cleverness of the tongue, which is probably what Stendhal gets at here.

However, wit is also the ability to associate things with each other, the ability to reason.

Wit’s an animal in its own right, as much its own being as a part of the human mind.

It’s that eureka moment of realization, the time when things just click.

Passion gets in the way of that. Maybe not the sublime rapturous passion, but certainly the angry defensive emotional passion that seems to be what most people get into more often than they should.

It’s not an antithesis thing. You can be emotional and reasonable. I’ve seen this a lot with my own parents, and I associate it with wisdom and experience. You don’t numb feeling for the sake of reason.

You just make sure that you let each voice have its say.

If you’ve got one side of you that’s looking for a quick fix to a problem because it’s emotionally troubling, but the other side is pointing out that you’ll put yourself in the same situation again by doing the expedient thing, you really want to hear out both voices.

You also don’t want to get too clever, but that’s a topic for another day. Remember that your wit works for itself, not for you. It merely chooses to help you because it’s trapped in your gray matter.

Resolution

Slow down and listen to emotion and reason.

Conviction builds empire.

Don’t take credit for your own wit. If anything, it should take credit for you.

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