Friday, November 17, 2006

On Foolishness

Undetached Rabbit Parts

Wow, now I see why you all have been begging me to come join the party of undetached proportions. You guys are way too serious. What this place is in need of a little less life and death and a little more sarcasm, paired with a healthy dose of cynicism.

I know what you're thinking; I, like you, have trouble tempering my obsessive compulsive tendency towards contemplating my opinions on the "real" issues of the day. I can hear you crying out to yourselves as you read the words on this page, wanting to free yourselves from this burden, yet wondering how and where to begin balancing your need to recede from your thoughts about politics, pontifs, and procreation.

The best place to start this process is, oddly enough, by rediscovering the place of mind where most philosophers are created. If it's been so long you've forgot where you began, have no fear, you can be brought back by uttering a simple phrase. Repeat after me: "In the beginning, there were people not so smart as me." Good. Now, the people we are concerned with are also known by the moniker "fools." I think the best thing we can do for the bunny at this juncture is to get back to our roots and start talking about foolishness.

As much as I'd love to continue talking about this part of the population, alas, as a result of thinking about my humble beginnings, I'm (gasp)...I'm all verklempt (sniff) talk amongst yourselves...

I'll give you some talking points.


A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.
Bertrand Russell

No man is so foolish, but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.
Hunter S. Thompson

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.
Henry David Thoreau

He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.
Abraham Lincoln


At 3:28 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Topher said...

This seems pretty right on to me...
"A philosopher is a man who has to cure many intellectual diseases in himself before he can arrive at the notions of common sense."
Is this not in and of itself foolishness?
"Our greatest stupidities may be very wise."

At 10:35 PM, November 17, 2006, Blogger Sarah said...

Ahhh... welcome to the fold Ali :-)

We needed you.

At 9:57 PM, November 18, 2006, Blogger cheryl said...

We tend to take the fool to be the opposite of the wise man--yes, I still write in that archaic masculine form, I like it--but the question is: who decides which is which? One might argue that whomever defines the distinction defines it in such a way so as to discover himself in the category of wise. This would, of course, be the cynical route, one I am not exactly going to argue against, but I think it leaves out an important aspect of the majority of humans. So let me attempt to describe a possibility in which the one who defines the distinction falls into neither category.

First, what is the meaning, that is, purpose, of the distinction? What significance does it bear for us? To what end do we seek to categorize between two types of people, the foolish and the wise, being only the polar ends of a continuum, of course, and not meant to exhaust all the types of intellect? One might say that we do so in order to avoid the one and work toward achieving the other. But I will beg to differ, that it is not so much for the purpose of finding where one's self lies, but rather where someone else lies. In other words, one is not so concerned about avoiding being a fool as concerned with avoiding dealing with a fool. And one is not so concerned with being wise as he is concerned with following the wise. The latter point there is key: in general, a person does not believe himself wise, he would much rather seek out the wise man in order to find direction; he sees the wise man as someone to provide him with guidance in life, because frankly, for the average human being, trying to figure out life is just too hard, and it is much easier to be simply handed an instruction manual to follow so that one doesn't have to engage in much work.

But it is not as bad as it sounds, really. I'm inclined to say that Nietzsche--and other psychologists--was right: most people are naturally part of the herd, and a handful are the leaders, and the herd desire to follow a leader. (Of course, there is a third category, the individual, for lack of a better term, who is neither herd nor leader, but let me not get too side-tracked.) Look around, it's not that hard to see in the daily goings on amongst the majority of people: most people learn what to be and how to behave from whatever the majority is doing, most people cannot, simply cannot stand the feeling of social stigma, being singled out somehow as not quite the same as everyone else, somehow different, and that is taken to feel very bad, undesirable. Most people really don't want to stand out at all, they would much rather blend in with what is socially accepted as normal. People obtain their identities from society and social interactions. But this is really a good thing, because societies and communities could not even exist without such a mentality amongst the majority of their members! Communities need that herd mentality in order to have some kind of cohesive structure, otherwise they fall apart.

And in some way, I think that most people have a vague sense of this, and we can see this particularly with the cultural notion of the wise man: no one thinks he is the wise man, but everyone certainly wants to meet him because they believe that he will be able to answer all of their questions for them, and give them all of the guidance about living life. Why? Not merely because they have questions, but specifically because they cannot be bothered to seek the answer themselves, and they would much rather simply be told and instructed. The majority of people like instruction, they prefer it, for they do not have the ability to guide themselves. If they did, they would not have the herd mentality, and thus, communities could not develop and exist. People want to be given direction in life, this is why so many people search out for some kind of "ism" to adhere to, some set of principles and guidelines for life that they can adopt instead of coming up with their own. Again, I believe this is not a bad thing, but rather a necessary condition for the human population so that we can build communities and societies.

So, we have the average person defining the distinction between the wise man and the fool, because he doesn't want to have to deal with the fool, since it will just result in problems, but more importantly, because he desires to find the wise man for his guidance.

And so arises an interesting question: if the definitions of wise and foolish are devised by the average man, who is neither, and who also, by definition, lacks some significant knowledge/understanding--since he's not the wise man himself--can the definitions even be adequate at all?

And so I shall end with a quote from a beloved author, Ambrose Beirce, from his masterpiece, A Devil's Dictionary:

"Fool, n. A person who pervades the domain of intellectual speculation and diffuses himself through the channels of moral activity. He is omnific, omniform, omnipercipient, omniscience, omnipotent. He it was who invented letters, printing, the railroad, the steamboat, the telegraph, the platitude and the circle of the sciences. He created patriotism and taught the nations war – founded theology, philosophy, law, medicine and Chicago. He established monarchical and republican government. He is from everlasting to everlasting – such as creation's dawn beheld he fooleth now. In the morning of time he sang upon primitive hills, and in the noonday of existence headed the procession of being. His grandmotherly hand was warmly tucked-in the set sun of civilization, and in the twilight he prepares Man's evening meal of milk-and-morality and turns down the covers of the universal grave. And after the rest of us shall have retired for the night of eternal oblivion he will sit up to write a history of human civilization."

At 10:12 AM, May 13, 2009, Blogger HEROIC said...

Well I think that might be a bit true. Everyone has a bit of deep truth in them that isn't really visible at most times. But hey what can I say.. Do we Really want to know the absolute truth about Everyone?? Sometimes, the inner secrets of a person should remain unknown, of course if they harm no body. I do think that stories though, are entertaining whether they are positive or negative, because they depict a 'kodak moment' in time that tells a story. You're right, everybody loves a story or two, so why not imagine your life a big story and be a great story teller!
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