Aphorisms, Truth Vs. Fact
I confess I have a weakness for aphorisms. There’s something about the taut simplicity and economy of words that feels like enlightenment. And of course, that’s they point. A well-worded aphorism should feel that way, especially if you’ve never heard it before. For refresher’s sake, an aphorism is:
“a concise statement of a truth, principle or sentiment.” (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary)
In the interests of short-circuiting philosophical debates about what is epistemically knowable, I’m going to focus on the principle or sentiment aspect, rather than “truth.” Too much intellectual baggage. Personally, I tend to look at aphorisms like a Zen Koan. Neither are wisdom enshrined, rather they are signposts on a journey. Work with me, here.
Fear or Hatred?
The last couple years there’s been a lot of angst richocheting around our country over our “direction,” the polarized divisiveness, intolerance, etc. It’s been argued that #MAGA and the “success” 45 had in the 2016 election is all rooted in that angst. And that the angst on which its success is hypothetically based had its origins in the financial collapse of 2008 or the Obama presidency. As if racism or political hyperbole is new. Most historians recognize this is material suitable for enriching lawns. But this is the United States, after all and we seem enamored of simple solutions, implemented & effective YESTERDAY.
If you weren’t educated under a rock, you’ll recall Mohandus Gandhi as the renowned, non-violent activist and the father of India’s independence from Britain, in the late 1940s, basing his opposition to British hegemony on non-violence and religious pluralism. Given India’s religious and cultural diversity, it isn’t difficult to understand why. The aphorism above is attributed to him.
If you’re paying attention, you’re probably struck by it’s apparent relevance today. But if you’re also a student of history, you’re painfully aware of how it turned out for Gandhi personally, and for what subsequently happened in India…not to mention how radically times have changed since.
All that aside, it still feels true, at some level. Does not intolerance, suspicion and uncertainty have some grounding in our fears? If so, does it follow then, that fear is the enemy or is there something else going on? Let me start with a disclaimer.
Is Fear Really the Enemy?
I’m not contemptuous of well-founded fear. If you’re not afraid of something, you’re either not paying attention or you don’t have a pulse. As a retired Marine officer, periodic big-wave surfer, waist deep, way-steep snow skier, I haven’t simply livee with fear, I learned to harness it to some degree. So, as much as I respect Ghandi and his accomplishments, I have to disagree. Fear isn’t the enemy. What we do with it is. Because fear unchecked—or worse—harnessed to the wrong purpose, tends to drown reason.
And this is more than a distinction without a difference, IMO, because the cause-effect relationship is not direct. There’s usually an intermediate, enabling step. That step is often either sloppy thinking (often brought on by the fight or flight response) or direct manipulation by someone with an ulterior motive. These days, there’s a lot of the latter going on.
Someone (or some ones) is (are) pushing our buttons and we need the proverbial terrier to pull back the curtain as Toto did in the Wizard of Oz.