Reflections on Aphorisms #75

Another day, another thought. I’m really kind of tired and worn out after so much crunch. Even though I haven’t really been getting more done than usual, I’ve been forcing myself to focus on single projects, which tends to exhaust me more than spreading my efforts out.

I’m also just generally forcing myself to work a little further ahead, at the cost of putting off some of the stuff that I’d normally be publishing now so that I can get it out on a more regular schedule going forward.

Aphorism 113

The man who lives free from folly is not so wise as he thinks.

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that I find interesting about folly is that the people who obsess over being fooled are often the ones who wind up falling for things that a more rational observer would not put any credit in.

There’s a storytelling trope, going back to Aesop’s writings about the Fox who wants to think of himself as more clever than he is, that the person who values his own self-enlightenment usually closes the pathways to true enlightenment.

It’s worth noting that in the Biblical story of Solomon, Solomon values wisdom, but he seeks it outside himself, requesting it from God.

A lot of the time people want to live their lives in such a way that they try to make sense of everything in the context of the rules they create.

I think we see some of this in secular philosophies, both the modern and especially the postmodern (despite its insistence to the contrary) where there’s a desire to put the universe in a rational box. The problem is that while there may be nothing wrong with the desire to do this, it can become a force that corrupts what capabilities we have to judge.

When we try to live without folly, we really deny ourselves anything which we judge to be without value or meaning. We are poor judges of this. There is a value to almost everything, and the question is whether it holds value to us at a given moment or not.

I think of music as one of these “grand follies”, though Chesterton identifies quite a few in the course of his work (like a good cigar or glass of wine, neither of which would fit my preferences) that are a little more nuanced than my own preferences.

Of course, music in many ways has meaning as a reflection of the pattern of the universe and a form of communication, but let’s put that aside for a minute.

Looking at music strictly as an aesthetic phenomena, it has two roles: beauty and manipulation.

The beauty is “folly” by many definitions. This is the sort of thing people deny themselves, deriding it as pleasant but not worth time.

Of course, music also allows us to manipulate our perception, because our brains respond to it. If I want to get stuff done, I put on loud, fast music that pumps me up. If I’m in a melancholy or contemplative mode, I’ll listen to something like what I’m currently listening to (currently a piece off of a modern TV soundtrack, but I’ll use classical music just as readily).

I love this song. Lost and Milowda from the same album are great too.

However, the effects of something like this quickly fade. Barring a handful of classics, acclimation tends to quickly erase any connotation that a song may have.

So we’re left with just the pleasant feelings that we get from the music.

This is the sort of “folly” that people deny themselves thinking that they would have to sacrifice something valuable to appreciate.

I’m no hedonist by any means, but I also think that there’s an importance to sitting back and celebrating what is good in the universe; there’s not all that much of it, and we should devote ourselves to making as much as possible.

When we let our neuroses get the better of us, we don’t do that.

When I was a child I never wanted to leave the house to go anywhere. I wasn’t agoraphobic or anything like that, I just wouldn’t go out. The pleasures I could get around the house and my comfort in familiar environments outweighed my willingness to explore and experience new avenues.

Those who resist “folly” without evaluating it often wind up living like I did as a kid. They deny any untested experience based on the limits of what they are capable of conceiving. This causes them to miss out on many things.

Resolution

Don’t assume the hostility of the unknown.

Except in matters of vice, step beyond boundaries.

Abandon pride.

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