Upton Sinclair famously said that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”. The premise extends further than the salary, straight to that all encompassing force we call self-interest. Man builds upon his strengths and tries to make his weaknesses irrelevant. A weak body had no place in Sparta, just as a dull mind did not belong in the halls of the Academy. The intelligent value reason above all else because it plays to their strengths. The strong-willed mystic values faith above all else because it plays to his strength. The brute values physical prowess and courage above all else because that is where he excels.

The philosopher, able to construct a workable moral framework, favors absolutism, for it gives them the chance to apply this framework to themselves and others around them. Naturally, since they have the fullest grasp of this framework, they move up the hierarchy defined by its values. The pragmatist, lacking the intellect or the will to integrate a moral framework of others or construct one of their own seeks to deny the ground of the absolutist by making the rigid framework irrelevant through moral relativism. Instead of basing a course of action on absolute values, they state that nothing is ever right or wrong, and that we should look at each situation individually. They cut through the chains of absolute values with their blade of moderation, and in doing so render the arguments of the absolutist irrelevant. Having grasped the nature of their position and their talents, each fights on the terrain of their choice, for it is only on that terrain that they will excel and gain power.

Fools wage war on their enemies’ terms – the victors define them; they pick the terrain suited to their nature. The strongest, having grasped the nature of their talents and place in the world, attempt to reshape the terrain around them, to push everyone to the ground where they may use their natural strength to its fullest. Simply put: they want others to value the activities and modes of thought suited to their strengths. It does not matter if in doing that they attract others with the same ability, for it is better to be lower down the hierarchy of a reigning group on terrain favorable to you than being the strongest on unfavorable ground where your strength is rendered obsolete.

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“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

My new book: a translation of selected short stories by Leonid Andreyev, the father of Russian Expressionism from the Silver Age of Russian literature. A piercing, pitiless glance into the heart of the human condition.

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Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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