Admit it, you can take most things at face value | BRAND HUGHES COBB
Aristotle didn’t say or write this poster/meme line about an educated mind that can entertain an idea without accepting it.
It is probably derived, loosely, from something Aristotle wrote in his Ethics in Niomache, translated into English as: “…for it is the mark of a learned man to seek precision in every class of things , so far as the nature of the subject is concerned; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand scientific evidence from a rhetorician.”
What Vizzini said: “Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?…. Morons.”
Much like the mad Sicilian in “The Princess Bride,” people may have taken the Greek philosopher’s words out of context.
The first seems pithy. Adopt a concept. Give him a drink, show him around the joint. Perhaps engage in light talk, intended to plumb the depths. By the second or third cocktail, you’ve probably figured out whether you want to go further or not.
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The latter is a bit more complex, as complexity can so often be, damn it. Much like the faux-Twain quotes that swirl around the online world, despite many – me among them – lamenting “Actually go READ Twain and you’ll see it’s nothing like him”, these bumper stickers shocks will do the trick, in part because they sound almost right.
What Aristotle seemed to mean — unlike Vizzini, I won’t pretend to know more, unless it’s funny — was to take things at face value. Don’t ask a buffalo to do your taxes. Don’t take a stepping stone for a sword fight. Don’t ask a taco to solve your problems.
Love something as it is, for what it is, for what it can give.
Maybe we’re getting closer to the brevity of the sticker meme. As Shakespeare wrote in “Hamlet (abbreviated)”: “Brevity is … wit.”
OK, yeah, I stole that joke, again, from the Simpsons’ third season episode “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington,” on a banner hanging outside an essay contest sponsored by Reader’s Digest. Young people, ask a blond what Reader’s Digest has done to literature.
Thanks to George Meyer, former Harvard Lampoon editor, who also wrote for “The New Show”, “Not Necessarily the News”, “Saturday Night Live” and others. He is credited with sharpening the spirit of the long-running series to its razor-sharp edge.
Speaking of essays, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about entertaining thoughts in his 1936 collection “The Crack-Up.” Although what he said has been abbreviated and misquoted on the Internet, he says “…the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, while retaining the ability to function.”
For my friends who ask – at a later time in life, usually when the paths they set have turned to quicksand, lava, or just plain white and featureless – how to come up with writing ideas, I shrug your shoulders and look around me.
Notwithstanding mime skills, I think they got it. The trick is not to find things to write; it’s learning what to leave out. Which parts are not the statue? Cut them and what remains could become the truth, that is to say the beauty, that is to say the truth.
Fitzgerald’s lines continued: “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to do them otherwise. ‘impossible’, come true.”
It’s a bit sunnier and closer to my own philosophy, although after checking the names of Aristotle, Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Vizzini and Meyer, I’m hesitant to place such value on what’s also called easily “coping mechanisms”. Whatever you call it, it’s the awareness of accepting life’s dualities and contradictions, its flaws, limitations and disappointments, and always waking up ready to offer something for the day.
Sounds like Superman’s question: If you were truly all-powerful, how could you rest? It seems to me that higher intelligence, which according to biologically based brains would also be superpowered, must lead to empathy, if not directly derived from emotional attachment, at least logically derived from the principle of reciprocity . What is good for one is to assure all members of your family, your monkeysphere, your community, your society, of benefits.
Brutus, from “Julius Caesar”:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, caught in the deluge, leads to fortune;
Omitted, all their life’s journey
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On a sea so full are we now afloat,
And you have to take the current when it’s in use,
Or lose our businesses.”
So don’t be fooled. Ride the tide. Go with the flow? Do unto others as you would have them do…unless you are a masochist. Or sociopath.
None of us are super, and few can stand as nobly as Brutus, so we’re almost constantly moving, adapting, and adjusting to how things really are, not how we wish them to be. The world doesn’t care about us.
Sol makes life possible. It warms our world, pushes vegetation to grow, helps us cook vitamin D which boosts our immune system and thus gives us more days on Earth to think about that kind of junk. But the sun will surely burn your butt too.
If humans disappeared tomorrow – choose your disaster: Extremely variable climate; Plague; nuclear acceleration – the Earth would continue.
It’s as difficult for us to conceive of a world without me — or without you — as it is to understand that four billion years have gone before us here, and an entire universe.
So we look outward and inward, to science fiction and fantasy, to science-science and its growing understanding of the size and insignificance of the Earth (unless of course it turns out we ARE the only intelligent lifeforms, in which case, good luck, Existence!), philosophy, religion, mindfulness, music, mind-altering substances, ghost stories, etc. .
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve swallowed all sorts of things that I most likely knew weren’t right, and it never seemed to impair my ability to function.
Although the jury is still out.
For years, I’ve wanted to travel to Loch Ness, travel to the American Northwest to tease the shy Sasquatch, climb the Himalayas and meet a Yeti. While I may not have really wanted to meet one directly, the ideas of vampires and werewolves sent shivers down my spine. Mostly werewolves, really, because let’s face it, I’m more bestial than sophisticated, more Hyde than Jekyll, and I don’t look quite as sharp in formal wear. My name spelled backwards sounds like a burp and would in no way fool naive villagers.
Although I read Edgar Allan Poe, Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut early on, and even earlier fell under the spell of Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” my feelings leaned for a while toward the foggier sentimental hope by Ray Bradbury. In his “Toynbee Convector”, a man claiming to have traveled 100 years into the future grants an interview. The Traveler shows evidence of a century-old utopia, of a looming “Star Trek” future, not the lackluster “Star Wars” of continual duel over dust and religion.
Stiles, the traveler, lives to be 130, to see his idyllic visions come true. Instead of just sitting back and waiting for the world to care, believers set about building and rebuilding, exploring strange ideas about freedom, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all.
Stiles later admits, “I lied. The journalist he shares with decides to burn the evidence of the deception.
We could all look up, one day, if only we had leaders with a vision, instead of the knee-jerk regression to primitive in-fighting, waving cheap and dangerous weapons instead of ideas, discussing the opposition to a person or a movement, rather than their positive and advanced suggestions to improve everyone’s situation.
We need a Stiles. We have monsters.
Contact Tusk editor Mark Hughes Cobb at [email protected], or call 205-722-0201.