Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wise (?) sayings

Y'know, we have some ritualized sayings that we trot out when we are to busy to actually think something through, or when we need to respond to a situation and it's just too much trouble to create something unique. And, there's nothing wrong with that. Cliches are actually good because they are so efficient. Not stylish, mind you, but efficient. I tend to favor Murphy's Law sayings, like "A Smith and Wesson beats four aces," and "The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train." Or, I like the Parkinson's Law maxims -- "Work expands to fill the time available."

But what happens when the logic behind the saying is flawed or nonexistent? We get a self-perpetuating idiocy. Three of my favorites:

Violence never solved anything. Oh, please. Of course violence solves things. This world was born in violence, evolved in violence, and will die in violence (in spite of T.S. Eliot). Violence solved the problem of Nazi Germany and what to do with the Rosenbergs. There are those who will say, "But the real meaning of the saying is that violence is never the best solution." Oh? And would you have talked Hitler into retirement? Or, people may say, "All right then. Violence is not always the best solution." Well, if that's what you mean, say so. As Alfred Korzybski said, "I say what I say; I do not say what I do not say." (I may have messed up the quote and misspelled his name. So sue me.)

The end does not justify the means. This is a negation of a saying attributed to the Jesuits. They are said to have believed that any action in the service of Jesus (A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus) is valid. Even killing innocent people (Kill them all. Let God sort them out). The problem is that sometimes the end does justify the means. Let's say your dad is having a heart attack. So, you rush him to the hospital, ignoring speed limits. It's justified. Or, you know where a friend is, but you lie about it to her husband because you don't want him to hurt her. Or a man is about to kill your son, so you shoot him. The problem with the statement is that it's an absolute. Remember the saying, "No absolute is worth a damn, not even this one." So, if we modify the saying slightly, we get "The end rarely justifies the means," or some such thing.

If you do this you are no better than they are. Usually said after some nasty guy has stolen the family Bible and the good guy is going to steal it back. This is imbecilic. The saying implies that actions are absolute. One theft is exactly the same as every other theft. It ignores any other considerations, such as motive, context, and ideas like justice and equality (drum roll in the background). It's usually said by some dimwit in some smarmy movie. Totally btw, have you ever noticed how in order to get the plot twists going in a movie, somebody smart has to do something very stupid?


bekkieann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bekkieann said...

Oops, trying again:

How about "power corrupts" (shortened form)? Public officials seem determined to prove this one for us again and again. Hopefully it's not an absolute, or it really wouldn't matter whom we voted for.