Foolish Fanatics and Wiser Men

Bertrand Russell grieved that “the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.”

I find Russell’s words to be very insightful because I believe that there is a great truth to them but I do not think that the ignorant confidence of fools and the self-doubts of wise men are problems that plague our world. Perhaps, fools and fanatics are such because of their unsubstantiated belief in themselves and wise men are wise because they untiringly question their every action, motive and perspective. Maybe the grand notion of the “triumph of the human spirit” makes men fools while prudent self-doubt makes them wise. In which case perhaps the problem with the world is not that the worship of one’s own intellect makes a man a fool but that so many men do it.

Fools begin with an answer and they search the world wearing shades darkened by their own hubris, ever vigilant for the questions where they can swoop down and “enlighten” the world with the torch of their divine brilliance – for, if they did not “find” the answer but possessed it always what else can it be but divine? And what else can the sorry fool consider himself but a god? Further still, when we believe that we truly have the answer every question looks like our question to answer as long as we can draw some connection, no matter how tenuous. Everything looks like a nail when all you have is a hammer.

The wise man begins with a question. He has his pre-concieved notions, what the fool calls his answer to the world’s problems, but he questions even those too. Often, he finds that his notions are quite wrong, even foolish, and, had he built upon that faulty foundation he must then tear down his creation and build anew – but this time upon what is hopefully bedrock and not sand. It is only hopeful because the wise man must question the bedrock too lest he find that it only be clay. Thus, the wise man may never come to find his answer but at the very least he will have some idea of what that answer cannot be.

A wise man then is a natural philosopher: a lover of wisdom. The fool, however, perpetually claims to be something that no human being can ever be: a possessor of wisdom, a sophist.

G.K. Chesterton asserted that “a man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” If the wise man is certain of some truth it is because he has brought it under the fire of a thousand questions and out of this barrage that truth came out solid and unscathed. Then, it becomes the duty of the wise man to change himself to conform to that piece of reality that he has found. A fanatic, on the other hand, believes in his own personal truth for no other reason than that he came up with it (or “his” people came up with it: his party, his ideologues, his fellow nationalists) and he constantly seeks to change the world to conform to his own fancy. The fanatic must doubt everything outside of himself because to admit even a sliver of objective truth is to admit a world outside of the cosmos of his own mind and that splinter will surely deflate his blown up self-confidence.

Karl Marx so famously stated that we must “question everything” yet most people seem to take this as meaning “everything but myself.” However, it is precisely ourselves which we should question above all else. The world around us simply is but only human beings can be right or wrong.


A Chestertonian Reason for Hope

Mark Shea on the hopeful prospects that the US bishops now elicit:

The Roman Catholic Church in America has become what the Anglican Church once was in Britain: the Republican Party on its knees. – Vox Nova


Our bishops are the Democratic Party at Prayer. – Michael Voris


And I would simply note with regard to the bishops that they never supported health care reform to begin with. – Lying Obama Stooge Jay Carney


The bishops totally supported Obamacare and are the stooges of a Muslim president who was not born in America! – The sober and judicious Steve Kellmeyer


The increasingly polar lunacy of the people attacking our bishops gives me hope that our episcopal leadership has finally turned the corner from being the hapless bench of bishops who misgoverned the Church ten years ago. A lot of that crowd are gone now and the new guys seem to actually get it, judging from their gutsy response to the Tyrant in the White House. It is therefore only natural that as they start to get with the gospel and not with the institutional stupidity of their predecessors, extremists are going to behave toward them according to the anti-logic Chesterton describes: “If you hear a thing being accused of being too tall and too short, too red and too green, too bad in one way and too bad also in the opposite way, then you may be sure that it is very good.”

Gives me hope.

This is the flak the church gets for being nonpartisan and sticking to its own precepts in an uber-political nation like the United States. More like her please.

3½ Time-Outs Tuesday

Just like Conversion Diary's 7 Quick Takes, except it's half as long and twice as good.


In the face of a firestorm of internet complaints The Washington Post joins CBS in apologizing for their terrible coverage of the March for Life. Ombudsman Patrick Pexton says that the Washington Post gave an “incomplete picture” of the March for Life in both its print story and online photo gallery. Pexton writes that the Post “fell down” in its coverage of the March by failing to include any photos in the gallery that conveyed the magnitude or the “festiveness” of the pro-life crowd, instead focusing on the confrontations between a small group of pro-abortion counter protesters and passing pro-lifers on the steps of the Supreme Court.

The apology was somewhat restrained however as the ombudsman continued that the Post’s Director of Photography Michel du Cille disagrees with the criticisms of pro-lifers. “We can never please this crowd. We try for fairness to show both sides,” du Cille told Pexton. Apparently, focusing all media attention on counter-protesters and failing to illustrate the magnitude of the protest is what passes for fair news coverage today. How silly of me; of course its the pro-life crowd who’s being unreasonable.


Over on the Distributist Review they have a great article by G.K. Chesterton on the seriousness of salads or, more specifically, salad dressing. Its a humorous and insightful piece that addresses the bland uniformity of corporatism as evidenced by commercial salad dressings and offers a distributist alternative. I found the following excerpt to be one of the deeper and funnier parts:

Men differed in the excellence of the salads they made; but they also differed about which salads were excellent. Such was the weakness of Fallen Man that many were found to prefer their own salads; but anyhow they were their own salads. And when we have seen that, we have seen the horrid significance of the bottle of salad-dressing. By the new system, salads will be like convicts or American ladies. They will be all dressed alike.


I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently towards various economic theories and how each may reflect human nature (or don’t as I think the case may often be) and, more specifically, masculinity. Not that I have anything against the ladies but, as a guy, I’m more concerned with the masculine aspects as they relate directly to how I live and perceive the world. More will follow on this train of thought in the future, I’m sure.

3 1/2 

Finally, thanks to Acts of the Apostasy for sharing the idea of 3 1/2 Time-Out Tuesday. Maybe next week I’ll be a little better at this.

Hate Politics. Love Democracy.

In a country where hypocrisy, political pandering and broken campaign promises are the norm of our political process, where each politician is under a constant barrage of lobbyists tempting them to betray their character and the common good of the country for thirty pieces of silver, how is the average-joe to respond? What is the every-day voter supposed to do? Over the years I’ve found my own response evolve into the simple motto: hate politics but love democracy.

Hate politics. This first part may be hard to swallow. After all, how can a guy who devotes so much time and effort writing about politics hate it? Furthermore, I find myself ever more eager to talk about it in public. I must love politics considering how I pursue the topic with such fervor. And as a matter of fact I do love politics – political theory that is. What I can’t stand is the political reality that stands as a constant obstacle to truth, and to real democracy in this country. Politicians, pundits, special-interest groups and, sadly, many average voters get sucked into the political vortex where they miss the forest for the trees. This is rampant on every side of the aisle, like Diane West of Big Peace who refuses to cooperate with muslims in defending the lives of millions of pre-born children because it would mean icky muslims coming in contact with our “respectability” and compromising the ethnic purity of America, or Feministe declaring laws like good conscience acts that allow health care professionals to opt-out of procedures they are morally opposed to, banning of sex-selective abortions, requirements that abortion providers post large signs that say it is unlawful to coerce a woman into having an abortion, and a law making it a crime for a woman to cause her own miscarriage are all “deeply depressing”. Then there’s also Arizona’s ban on teaching units in schools where “race, ethnicity and oppression are central themes” including Shakespeare’s The Tempest. These examples are just a drop in in the ocean of political vitriol that plagues our country at every turn. So, the reason that I hate the practice of politics in its current state is that it has no interest in the common good – instead, I see it more akin to a bunch of angry people trapped in a room all yelling their own self-interests and the loudest one wins; who wants that?

Love democracy. Instead, what I do love, and what inspires me to engage in politics at all, are the quixotic theories of democracy, subsidiarity, a free market, and the plucky tenets of Catholicism which are so audacious as to suggest that human life has intrinsic, infinite worth and all the ramifications that that has on the world. I love it because none of it is calculated, its not meant to mislead voters in order to win an election. All the theory is just so impractical. This is in stark contrast with the political machine at work here in America. Even Gingrich’s promise of a moon colony reeks of practicality. After all, its no coincident that the promise of colonizing the moon came on the verge of the Florida primary; its just another calculated ploy by a politician to win votes. G.K. Chesterton had the following to say concerning these calculating, practical men:

“There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.” – G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World.

Indeed, we need men and women who do the impractical, who question the system and ask questions like: why confine ourselves to the ideology of the War on Terror, or the Federal Reserve, or entitlement programs, or the income tax? Why do we build our boxes at the expense of innovation? When doing the same thing has resulted in colossal debt, millions unemployed, unjust wars abroad, and 52 million of pre-born children killed here at home listening to the same practical men say the same practical things again and again is maddening. This is exactly why Ron Paul appeals to so many. Here’s a man who accepts only individual donations, gives unused office funds including much of his salary back the US Treasury every year, opted-out of the Congress pension plan, doesn’t even talk to lobbyists, and endorses such radical initiatives as bringing all troops abroad home, cutting 1 trillion from the federal budget year one, ending the War on Drugs, and returning life-issues to the jurisdiction of the states. Regardless of whether Ron Paul’s particular stances are correct I think we need more leaders of uncompromising character who aren’t afraid to question politics as usual – and that goal starts with us and our vote.