Blog # 140 EMERSON AND HOBGOBLINS

One would flatter himself with the illusion that he has an unassailably durable sense of equanimity, and that the same is availably sufficient in the face of universal stimuli. However, we have experienced so many failures of restraint as to be effectively disabused of this comfortable and self-serving fantasy.

By way of illustration only, we cite the following common experience.  We find it almost impossible to maintain our studied resolve to remain calm, when (on an especially cold or hot day) we are met with so many iterations of the banal attempt at social interaction, namely, “Cold (or “hot”) enough for you?” Are these thoughtless inanities inquiries as to taste, sensitivity, preference, nuanced tolerance or judicial determination? Who knows? “Enough”and “for you,” are indeed, more than “enough for us.”

We find much more unsettling than the above illustration, the frequently repeated Emerson misquote, “Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” This utterance is usually made pedantically and in a confidant, pseudo-philosophical tone. A suggested reply to this “educative” intimation is “Ugh.” Emerson is certainly due a great many sincere apologies, since he in fact, said no such thing.

Emerson did believe that those who consistently adhere to disproven theories were fools (“small minds”). The great philosopher and author felt that the element of “consistency” is essential in man’s life; to societal interaction, scientific inquiry (cause and effect), to a just and consistent application of the law to all, as well as to societal and family expectations, relating to roles and responsible behavior.

He correctly is quoted as stating, “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds…” The operative and crucial word in Emerson’s famous observation, is the first one, “foolish.” It is disconcerting to hear so many pseudo-savants, confidently intone the misquoted version and thereby falsely portray this revered thinker as opposing the many virtues of consistency.

Emerson, in the celebrated statement, was observing that the adamant refusal to change one’s views, despite the appearance of new evidence, or facts to the contrary, was foolish consistency. He also maintained that the consistent exposition of matters which were not adequately researched, or were not shown to be inaccurate, were similarly, foolish. Most particularly, he was opposed to the refusal to change one’s previous assumptions despite the appearance of a material change in facts or circumstance. A current, and apt, illustration is the refusal of many members of Congress to change their traditional political opinion on the subject of man’s participation in climate change, despite the unified finding to such effect by virtually all leading scientists. This appears to be “political hobgoblinry” of the very worst kind.

Emerson was not alone among the famous thinkers urging the acceptance of new and better ideas and opposing the obstinate adherence to previously prevailing but later disproven assumptions. William Huxley said” the only truly consistent people are the dead”. Oscar Wilde said that “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”

 

{This note on Emerson, and his observation on irrational consistency (as opposed to an enlightened progress of understanding and adjustment to new developments) has intentionally omitted any but this mere reference to that blatant inconsistency which appears to be an unfortunate feature of our current  federal administration and  which it seems is  based upon tactical  chicanery and evident  disrespect for the informed citizen.}

And so, our most sincere and contrite apologies to the venerable Ralph Waldo Emerson, for all the past misleading misquotes, and for those many others, predictably, yet to be made.

-p.

Published by

plinyblogcom

Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Literature Student and enthusiast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s