Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 16, 2012)


NOTE: I am finally reproducing my "Stupid Quote of the Day" series that ran in my previous blog, the now defunct "Random Notes", from December 28, 2011 to January 27, 2012. Please note that there are no entries for January 4 and January 12 through January 14 due to illness.

I fell a bit silly using this quote, but as it provides an actual source for a quote which represents a whole body of similar bad ideas, I had to use it, even if the source is a bit goofy. And so, though a bit silly, I am taking my quote today from the third Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith:
Only a Sith deals in absolutes.
For those unfamiliar with the movies, the Sith were bad guys, and so the concept here is absolutes are really, really bad.

Obviously, this is akin to many other familiar statements, such as "everything in moderation" or "don't take it to extremes" and so on. Most of the time these are offered not as intellectual arguments, but as personal advice, and as such they probably have some value. It is probably sensible to suggest moderation when talking about your love of peanut butter cups or your need to go dancing on the weekend. The problem is that some try to then turn this into an actual philosophical position, and, as the statement above shows, this opens up a host of problems.

Actually, the first problem is that the principle itself can't be stated without contradicting itself. "Only a Sith deals in absolutes" is itself an "absolute". Even "absolutes are bad" is an "absolute". Similarly, if we should take everything in moderation, does that include moderation? And doesn't that mean we should be excessive sometimes? Clearly, the entire concept has some logical issues, as it is impossible to make the statement itself internally consistent, much less find a way to apply it to a system of philosophy or, worse still, to one's life.

The Objectivists actually did quite a job tearing apart these sort of philosophies, with Rand's many diatribes about the "compromise between food and poison" and the like, so I don't feel I have to go into this in great detail. Still, just to make it clear, moderation may be fine in terms of desires and passions, and one may need to take in all the circumstances before making a decision, but there are still many things which are black and white, and where one can freely press as far as he wants without going wrong.

On the other hand, compromise is a great tool for many in politics, as it opens the door for unpopular ideas. If a politician cannot sell the public on his idea, it is easy to seek compromise, or argue for moderation, and get just a small part of his ideas accepted. And, once those are accepted, to continue to push for more understanding and moderation, allowing him to widen that wedge more and more. In the end, once enough policies have been implemented supporting a given unpopular idea, the logic behind that position will carry the day, regardless of popularity.

If anyone doubts this, recall when cigarette smoking was banned on international flights only because everyone was "cooped up together" and "had no choice". At the time, it was made clear smoking would never be banned anywhere else. And recall how well that worked, especially in this day where some municipalities have considered banning smoking outdoors or in conjoined private homes.

Or, if you don't care about smoking, recall that in the 1930's, the Social Security number was promised to never become a personal identification number (I have a book from the Social Security Administration in the 30's promising just that.), and think about how little you can do today if you do not have that number.

Time and again, moderation has been used as a double edged blade, opening the door for whatever cause is desired, while at the same time removing the teeth of principled opposition, and painting them as crazed extremists. Moderation is a dangerous concept.

POSTSCRIPT

For those who have not followed my quotes, here are links to all the past quotes:
Stupid Quote of the Day (December 28, 2011) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (December 29, 2011) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (December 30, 2011) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (December 31, 2011)
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 1, 2012) 
Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 2, 2012) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 3, 2012) 
[January 4th missing due to illness]
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 5, 2012) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 6, 2012) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 7, 2012) 
Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 8, 2012) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 9, 2012 - Delayed) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 10, 2012) 
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 11, 2012) 
[January 12, 13 and 14 missing, due to illness]
Stupid Quote of the Day (January 15, 2012 - Delayed) 
Stupid Quotes of the Day (January 16, 2012) 

Originally posted in Random Notes on 2012/01/16.

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