“On the Futility of Anger” [The Rambling Prose of Paul Burgess–entry 7]
I. There are two ways to deal with the past: We can learn from painful, destructive errors that changes in mind and action need to become a priority if we want a brighter future; or we can decide that the dark past—despite being irretrievably gone—should become the dark present, which in its turn becomes the dark future.
II. Punishing someone might make the punisher think that “justice’ is being served, but revenge is not true justice, and attempting to heal one’s emotional wounds by making others suffer is as ineffective a remedy as stabbing someone else to heal one’s own stab wounds.
III. If a house burns, we should seek the cause of the accident and rebuild the house more securely rather than kick and curse its ashes. Kicking the ashes seems superficially to be futile, yet harmless, but—viewed rationally—such an act clearly harms its agents by throwing dust in their eyes, soiling their clothing, and maybe even burning their bodies.
How unfair it is to criticize a thinker for changing a view considered earlier or perhaps only briefly! Should thinkers revere what they have written? Should they defend it, as if it were a child, solely because they gave birth to it? Should they cease to question, to explore, to consider? Should authors treat their own words as dogma to be defended rather than blocks on which they and others can build? When being refuted would better serve the advancement of knowledge, should ideas become pieces that thinkers must force into a scheme and view solely with an eye for “evidence” and “confirmation”? Why make consistent adherence, i.e. stubbornness, such a virtue?
The stigma of “fickleness” should attach only to those who change views for so-called “pragmatic reasons”. Those deserving this stigma are insincere political “flip-floppers,” trend-chasing courters of academic acclaim, and avowed intellectuals interested only in greater mass appeal and the profit and fame that accompany such appeal; in other words, the fickle are those who only pretend to seek the noblest way or purest truth. There should be no shame in ceasing to hold a weak or false position once presented with a better alternative. What some call “inconsistency” is sometimes intellectual growth, maturity, and integrity. It requires more courage to say, “I was wrong,” than to persist in error or—as some people do—to deny that one ever held the discredited view by switching slyly to the new view once it receives authority’s sanction or attains popular acceptance.