Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 11, 2011

in Hubris and humility

… is from page 678 of Will & Ariel Durant’s 1963 book The Age of Louis XIV:

It is easier to be original and foolish than to be original and wise; there are a thousand possible errors for every truth, and mankind, with all its efforts, has not yet exhausted the possibilities.

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{ 16 comments }

vikingvista September 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm

How many books do you read in a week?

Greg Webb September 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm

My House Representative is busy working on those thousands of ways to be original and foolish…

Stone Glasgow September 11, 2011 at 11:11 pm

One of the foundations of a modern conservative world-view; that things are best changed slowly, tested carefully, and reversed if problems are evident. It is also the guiding idea behind the Amish way of life.

Either ideology, be it conservative or “progressive,” leads us to the dark-ages if taken to extremes.

kyle8 September 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm

The Amish don’t live in the “Dark Ages” sense they eschew modern conveniences, but not education. They also do not live in a despotic feudal system but are rather insistent on personal rights.

It is just a lifestyle, and one that many people seem happy with. I prefer my modern conveniences, but I also maintain a rather dull and somewhat austere lifestyle, It is just me being me.

If you say that being totally unwilling to ever change is a bad way to be then I might agree with you. But I think that the slow but steady conservative formula beats the ever loving crap out of the change for the sake of change formula every single time.

Stone Glasgow September 12, 2011 at 5:38 am

Their goal is community, and are open to any technology that does not threaten it. Some Amish use cars, cell phones, credit cards. My point is that an extreme form of conservative ideology, as displayed by the Amish way of life, is as capable of shunning modern wealth as a progressive, centrally commanded, top-down operation… Hell-bent on forcing people to do as its leaders see fit.

Both lead to the stereotypical view of the middle ages — a backward, enslaved, brutish life without comfort or convenience; a world without the rapid development and accumulation of wealth and comfort we enjoy today.

vidyohs September 12, 2011 at 7:24 am

Why do you think that this is true about the looney left “is as capable of shunning modern wealth as a progressive, centrally commanded, top-down operation”?

The looney left loves wealth. They just want to dictate who has it.

Stone Glasgow September 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I’m speaking about the general left-leaning population, that doesn’t realize higher “redistribution” and banning CO2, etc, serve to concentrate wealth in the hands of rulers and their friends, and lowers the standard of living for the common man.

The Other Tim September 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Not to pick nits, but as a historian, I feel compelled to note here that the Dark Ages, as that term is commonly understood, never happened. So you may not want to draw comparisons from a model of medieval society that only ever existed in the minds of earlier historians.

vikingvista September 12, 2011 at 12:07 am

I agree with the contemporary historical view that “dark ages” is an unfair exaggeration. However, there is good reason for the term. That is, there truly was a relative drop in record keeping and literacy that led to the use of that phrase. I wouldn’t however agree that humanity was in all respects worse off.

Stone Glasgow September 12, 2011 at 5:40 am

Reccomend some reading? I would love to learn about the true nature of the “dark ages.”

Jack Costello September 12, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Stone Glasgow,
A good recent overview of the period most commonly referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’ is Chris Wickham’s book The Inheritance of Rome. Link here: http://www.amazon.com/Inheritance-Rome-Illuminating-Dark-400-1000/dp/0143117424/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315845864&sr=8-1

You could also try this: http://www.amazon.com/Barbarians-Angels-Dark-Ages-Reconsidered/dp/0393335399/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315846167&sr=1-10

Of course, for an older, and very influential opinion, you could check out the later chapters of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

vidyohs September 12, 2011 at 7:27 am

The term Dark Ages is also very Eurocentric, the rest of the civilized world didn’t experience anything that could be mistakenly called The Dark Ages.

kyle8 September 12, 2011 at 10:35 am

There is more than one historical Dark age, it is always in reference to a lack of knowledge in a geographical region after a collapse of civilization.

The worse “dark age” Was probably the collapse of all of the Bronze age civilizations in the Mediterranean. Our knowledge of those cultures came to an almost 500 year halt.

Jim September 12, 2011 at 11:03 am

I had never thought to compare conservatives with Amish, a branch of which is my heritage. But why not compare them to libertarians?

The Amish reject SS and government intrusion. They take care of their own, including rebuilding barns and houses. Years ago, an arsonist burned down 5 barns in 2 months. It put a strain on the local Amish community, but they had those barns back up in a matter of days.

They also reject modern convenience, mostly as a function of humility. In addition to technology, they avoid extravagant consumption, divorce, debt and other ‘modern’ concepts. It forces them to work harder and take a longer world view (read the Marshmellow experiments). But that is part of the point. Most Amish I know are quite rich compared to the general population, as measured by their Balance Sheets and bank accounts. A typical Amish community could purchase a whole county’s land, and on occasion, they do.

I remember in grade 2 my teacher complained in class that the Amish boy came to school ‘smelling like a barn,’ and had him removed. He never came back. He went to the Amish 1 room schoolhouse; the church hires newly graduated teachers (and still does) from the general population. He now runs his own business which employs 12 people. I doubt anyone cares he does the chores before he comes to work.

If you want fantastic (read unregulated) tasting beef or dairy products, stop in at an Amish farm and discretely inquire. If he does not sell it, he can probably direct you to the significant underground economy that still produces tasteful, fresh food.

Stone Glasgow September 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Libertarians are of a “conservative” mindset. They differ from the GOP, a party that advocates for state intervention in issues of morality, and modern liberals, who want the state out of moral issues but its hands deep in the means of production.

The Amish are libertarians with a primary goal of maintaining strong community ties to one another, and are not opposed to new technology, per se. I respect and admire that and appreciate having a community near me; they do indeed produce very high-quality food and furniture. However, most communities live without most if the modern convenieces available today, like electricity and gasoline engines.

My point was that any world view, if taken far enough, be it to save us from CO2, or from losing community and religious ties, can end up demanding that adherents live without modern conveniences to achieve an ideological goal.

Russell Nelson September 12, 2011 at 12:12 am

Was listening to a guy who invented his own system of monetary economics. When he presented it to three economists, they glanced at it and said that it was nonsense. Of course, did that convince him? No, because … it is easier to be original and foolish. He went on to find out that he had reinvented (or maybe just remembered) Herman Daly’s environmental economics.

Sigh. Of course, he runs around telling everybody how he’s going to save the world with his new economics … if only the old economists would get out of the way.

Double Sigh.

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