Little Minds

— Julian has a good analysis of that ever-abused Emerson quote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…,” which, as it is usually used, is the last resort of the incoherent. (Julian is complaining, again, of the NRO crowd.)
I really love the quote, properly understood. (Go see it.) It's about having the courage to assail your own convictions, and thus your own identity. It's a little mind that craves so badly to BE something, to BELIEVE a meaning-conferring doctrine, that it cannot countenance the prospect of admitting error or ignorance or limitation and thus cannot do justice to the world by admitting new facts and revising old opinions.
Folks seem to miss the crucial difference between doing one's best to be consistent at any given time, and being doggedly consistent OVER time, which is foolish. Inconsistency over time is required by the effort to be consistent at a given time. New information comes to light, and that has to be integrated with one's prior beliefs, and when it is, some of those old beliefs have to be jettisoned or revised to comport with the new information. Emerson is arguing FOR unfoolish synchronic consistency–for holding to what makes for the most coherent story NOW in light of one's ever-shifting context of evidence–and its incompatibilty with the sort of dogma that rules the little minds of the folks at NRO .

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

9 thoughts

  1. Well, live blogged it, with the primary posters divided roughly 50/50 between Obama McCain, pre-debate. Perhaps you might take a scan of the 200+ comments, especially Rojas’ sporadic question recaps every 30 comments or so. If it meets your criteria for relative non-partisanship, perhaps you will join us for the next one.

  2. Yes, I think your expectations of Obama were unrealistic. He is not a very good debater, and yet this was his crispest, strongest debate performance. McCain clearly had him on the defensive, and yet Obama made no gaffes — which is what McCain to back up his assertion that Obama “doesn’t understand” foreign policy.
    On style, Obama looked cool, calm and collected. McCain seemed pissed off that Obama was chatting up the pretty clerk in front of him in the grocery store checkout line.

  3. I’m also disappointed. Rather than differentiate himself from the fear-mongering tactics of the current administration, he chose to try to play game better. He’s a more efficient terrorist-killer.
    So, to the Americans who believe that the biggest problem facing America today is Russians and Arabs, you have a decision to make.
    If not, fuck you. Vote Obama anyway.
    (Which is actually the right thing to do, I’ll sadly add.)

  4. I don’t think I’d call it for McCain. I think I’d call it completely useless.
    Like you, I had expected much from Obama and didn’t get it. However, I don’t think it showed either candidate in a particularily good light. I didn’t learn anything from either canadidate I didn’t already know.
    I want my Friday night back.

  5. “McCain exudes firm, experienced, competent, principled leadership.”
    If this is irony for “McCain exudes petulance, sanctimony and unstatesmanlike contempt,” then I totally agree.
    Oh, and can you say “Ahmadinejad”?

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