I’m crazy for books, study, and especially, for learning things which contradict things that I thought I understood, so I can open up my stale thinking, in ways which give me more useful and compassionate insight. That’s why I so often talk about the ideas of genius eccentrics, out of print evolutionary biologists, and information theorists.
We can all use some new and clearer lenses – now, more than ever.
But I’ll admit, occasionally I sit back and look at one of my pieces and think, give it a rest, egghead – how about something sweet and to the point?
I’ve got a couple of perfect gems this evening which cover swathes of Alan Watts and John Stuart Mill, even a good bit of Alinsky and Eric Berne, if not quite Marx and Freud. And the brilliant mind who gifted me with these two simple treasures was not a philosopher, scientist or theologian – but a humorist.
Dave Barry once wrote these two ideas in a column, many decades ago, and while I have tested repeatedly, I have never once found any case where either of them fails, since. Practical right-thinking and conduct.
Here’s the first:
“If someone is nice to you, but isn’t nice to the waiter, they are not a nice person.”
A person who treats people unkindly when they think their money means they can get away with it (special-case sociopath), really is revealing their true fundamental nature, with that one behaviour. Not to be trusted, nor unduly rewarded. Mean at heart – default setting.
The second one goes like this:
“The hardest thing in the whole world is to stand up for the guy who isn’t in the room.”
This is key integrity stuff – and the fact that it is almost extinct now – on the left, just as much as the right, is a tragic reduction not just in discourse (which, in fairness, died so long ago it’s stinking up the place), but in reason itself.
Principle means always being fair, even when we don’t like someone – and tribalism means finding ways be less than fair, for the same reason.
Of course, facing tribalism in the ascendant is motivating right down to your bones – makes you want to thump your chest right back and grab a big stick. But defence of principle – the right to a compromise that makes everyone a little unhappy, is in fact, our first crucial battle. Without the means, the ends don’t come.
Which means being fair, even behind “their” backs (whoever our them happens to be). Not even snickering.
Making sure that the smart and heart-full don’t get drawn down into the mud, where the bitter and devious have always had the stronger skill-set!
Yeah, even sweet and simple ain’t effortless – but then, what worthwhile ever is?
Pride and comfort