Thursday, December 30, 2010

Notes from "Letters to a Young Contrarian", Letter IV

Letter IV

Conflict and opposition have been with humanity all the time. It seems it is part of being human.


[I]njustice and irrationality are inevitable parts of the human condition, but that challenges to them are inevitable also. On Sigmund Freud's memorial in Vienna appear the words: "The voice of reason is small, but very persistent."

[I]t will very often be found that people are highly attached to illusions or prejudices, and are not just the sullen victims of dogma or orthodoxy. If you have ever argued with a religious devotee, for example, you will have noticed that his self-esteem and pride are involved in the dispute and that you are asking him to give up something more than a point in argument [emphasis added]. The same is true of visceral patriots, and admirers of monarchy and aristocracy.

George Orwell said that the prime responsibility lay in being able to tell people what they did not wish to hear.

Karl Marx, asked to give his favorite epigram, offered de omnibus disputandum ("everyting must be doubted").

John Milton in his Areopagitica proclaimed that, whatever one believed to be the right, it should be exposed to the claims of the wrong, because only in fair and open fight could the right claim or expect vindication.

This is a beautiful one. It is how science works and it is also why it works!


Frederick Douglass announced that those who expect truth or justice without a struggle were like those who could imagine the sea without an image of the tempest.

Conflict may be painful, but the painless solution does not exist in any case and the pursuit of it leads to the painful outcome of mindlessness and pointlessness; the apotheosis of the ostrich.

If you want to stay in for the long haul, and lead a life that is free from illusions either propagated by you or embraced by you, then I suggest you learn to recognise and avoid the symptoms of the zealot and the person who knows that he is right. For the dissenter, the skeptical mentality is at least as important as any armor of principle.
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