Elegant idiocies

The otherbugger will get on your back if he can.
That is all the advice you ever need to give.
If he’s on your back already, it’s TOO LATE!

That was sent on a postcard to the Citizens Advice Bureau where I worked, and it fascinated me. It pictured a world where each human being was locked in war with every other person, seeking advantage, and all comradeship was a lie. Everything we did was worthless: if that really were all the advice we needed to give, it could be given with a poster on the wall, rather than forty-odd people inside, beavering away, thinking they were doing something useful. It fascinated me because it was so far from the truth, yet so coherent and so beautifully expressed.

So I started collecting such phrases.

Don’t compare your sin to my skin.

Here are people of colour firmly in the Kyriarchy, busily oppressing others. “Christians” who believe that gay people, rather than being part of the wonder and diversity of Creation, are sinners who choose to be disgusting, and do not deserve “Civil rights”- in fact the comparison of their campaign to that of Martin Luther King is wicked. I can imagine people repeating that phrase to themselves, thinking how clever they are, making themselves even less open than before to the need and hurt of others: in the words of Neil Peart,

quiet in conscience
calm in their right
confident their ways are best

The evil in the phrase is focused and intensified by the elegance of its expression.

Who would wear a T shirt reading “I hear voices and they don’t like you”? It could not be expressed better, and it is a foul sentiment.

Picture credit: Oglethorpe.edu

My favourite explanation of Astrology:

As above, so below.

Well, of course it isn’t. The orbit of Neptune does not affect my destiny, at all. The value of Astrology is in being a repository of wisdom about how people are, and a way of bringing these characteristics to mind whose randomness actually enhances its usefulness. In the hands of a skilled practitioner it has value. She says something about me which she thinks may be true, but her choices are constrained by the framework, which means she must be more creative herself. Then the thought sits in me and matures, either attracting or revolting me, and so teaching me. Just possibly, belief in the doctrine may help in this.

And finally, a sentence which is the opposite of elegant, but equally striking, in the circumlocutions half-concealing the basic idea:

Apart from a few comparatively unimportant particulars, the Law of England appears to be almost as near to perfection as can be expected of any human institution.

Wow. We’re so good that if we said it straight out we would risk being accused of self-worshipping blasphemy. One wonders what “comparatively unimportant particulars” the Real Property Commissioners, delivering their first report in 1829, had in mind: perhaps the fact that someone might be executed for stealing something worth less than two weeks’ wages for a skilled artisan, or the rule that no woman could own real property: it was held in trust by her father or husband.

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Winston Churchill said,

You create your own universe as you go along.

Suffer fools gladly? Of course I do!Now, I happen to believe that. My perceptions are not the same as reality, but from within my own brain, and my moods and past experience affect my perceptions. The struggle to make them closer to reality is painful and difficult. However, have a look here at the context. Or here. It seems from the second link that Churchill takes a naive realist position- he knows things exist because he senses them- and from the first, that he believes in Christian doctrine because it gives him comfort, and he wants to believe it. The quote is a straw man. So to quote it out of context is to misrepresent him and to cite him as authority for a belief he derided. And yet a quick Google shows it is often quoted in Law of Attraction sites, without context. Picture: public domain.

Einstein is quoted often as saying,

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.

Wikiquote disputes the citation. Again, from Google, it is frequently quoted on Law of Attraction sites.

What matters is not who said it, but whether it is true. Perhaps the quote has such value as it has not because he wrote it but because a particular Facebook friend chooses to share it. However imagination is much richer than that. I hated one of my psychiatrists so much that I had revenge fantasies about him. I would be horrified if they happened, but they were a safety valve for my feelings.

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” I have seen this attributed to Confucius, but since I cannot find where he is supposed to have said it, your guarantee of its truth or value is either your own experience, or your faith and trust in me.

2 thoughts on “Elegant idiocies

  1. Enjoyed this, Clare. I particularly liked your example of the pompous attitude of the English. My husband and I are both Virginians, born and bred, and Harry has an English background. We are always amused at the lingering English attitude and the “statement of fact” that says,
    “You are only a Virginian by ancestry, by birth and only slightly by marriage.” I know your post had deeper meaning and I enjoyed that also, but thought you’d get a giggle out of this!!

    Like

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