Thursday, January 6, 2011

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

Letter VI

[B]e prepared in advance for the arguments you will hear (even in your own head) against such a mode of conduct. Some of these are very seductive. [...] Other invitations to passivity or acquiescence are more sly, some of them making an appeal to modesty. Who are you to be judge? Who asked you? Anyway, is this the propitious time to be making a stand? Perhaps one should await a more favorable moment?

Next quote comes from George Orwell's "Through a Glass, Rosily":

Whenever A and B are in opposition to one another, anyone who attacks or criticises A is accused of aiding and abetting B. And it is often true, objectively and on a short-term analysis, that he is making things easier for B. Therefore, say the supporters of A, shut up and don't criticise: or at least criticise "constructively", which in practice always means favourably. And from this it is only a short step to arguing that the suppression and distortion of known facts is the highest duty of a journalist.

According to Blake, "A truth that's told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent."

The next series of quotes come from Microcosmographia Academica, witten in 1904 by F. M. Cornford.

There is only one argument for doing something; the rest are arguments for doing nothing.

Now come the arguments that justify doing nothing, which are in themselves weak excuses for inaction.

The Principle of the Wedge is that you should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in the future---expectations that you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy. A little reflection will make it evident that the Wedge argument implies the admission that the persons who use it cannot prove that the action is not just. If they could, that would be the sole and sufficient reason for not doing it, and this argument would be superfluous.

The Principle of Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do any admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action that is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.

Another argument is that "the Time is not Ripe." The Principle of Unripe Time is that people should not do at the present moment what they think right at that moment, because the moment at which they think it right has not yet arrived.
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