Reflections on Aphorisms #80

One of the best things in life is to sit still and enjoy it. There are always worries, and always problems, but a single good thing is worth living for even if all else falls away.

It’s not a matter of hedonism, it’s a matter of potential. If there’s something good in the universe, it stands to reason that there can be more good things in the universe.

Aphorism 118

Passions often produce their contraries: avarice sometimes leads to prodigality, and prodigality to avarice; we are often obstinate through weakness and daring though timidity. (Maxim 11)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

I think a lot about passionate emotion. In the past I’ve expressed terror of it, but I don’t think that’s the best way to describe it.

My relationship with emotion is something akin to respect, sort of like how people translated the biblical injunction to be faithful to God as a command to “fear the Lord” though I don’t take it to the same extent.

One of the things that comes up with passions is that you act in ways that go against your set goals.

Just this morning I recall getting really upset about an injustice, and it got to a point where I was almost yelling while in a one-sided conversation with my mother (despite the fact that she had nothing to do with it and was actually in agreement with me about it).

Now, I don’t think this really did any harm to me, and I actually value my ability to feel for those who suffer at the hands of oppressors, but I also felt a twinge of bitterness and vitriol.

It occurred to me that in that moment I was walking down a path that would enable me to justify an unacceptable action against those who I was ranting against, that I would let myself oppress them if given the chance. My desire turned away from the protection of the innocent and toward the punishment of the guilty.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some merit in punishment; it plays a key role in keeping the world spinning, but it’s also not a goal unto itself. That’s just revenge, and righteous indignation is great for turning people into bloodthirsty mobs.

My passion for protecting the weak quickly transformed into a passion for vengeance.

I’m not sure that I want to attribute this to some inherent law; there are certainly passions that don’t have an opposite and no law that says that one passion transmutes into another one, but there is definitely something to be said for passion evoking a state that leads us to further passion.

I think that this can also be said of consuming goals. Often what we desire to bring us the good life gets in the way of living (e.g. being passionate about a project), and it’s possible to abandon what is really good for the sake of something that promises to improve what will be long gone by the time it is complete.

Resolution

Don’t let passion drive the show without slowing down to check what I’m doing.

Control the emotions which lead to passion.

Operate on principle, not reaction.

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