Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Foolish Consistency and Inconsistency
I maintain that both consistency and inconsistency can be equally "foolish."
When Emerson observed that a "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," he meant only that the genuinely wise person will not cling obstinately to an opinion which reason and evidence have proven faulty or false--such consistency, such conformity to outworn doctrines, would indeed be "foolish." But he was NOT advocating INconsistency--for its own sake--or capriciousness--for the sake of social expediency--as an intellectual ideal. Change your mind when you are convinced, by facts and common sense, that your previous position was wrong--that is moral honesty. But remain true to yourself, reliant on your SELF and on the truth as you experience it, at a given time and in a given situation.
Thus, we can easily distinguish between a "wise" consistency--faithfulness to an abiding SELF--to one's reason, one's values, one's very identity as a person and a "foolish" consistency--blind allegiance to a superficial self--"what one has always said, what one has always done".
In the current political arena, such a foolish consistency is best personified by Rick Santorum--who, in his reflexive conformity to hoary, inherited dogma (both political and religious)--almost exactly fits Emerson's profile of a "little mind."
But what about Mitt Romney, you ask? Surely, no one can accuse him of consistency, foolish or otherwise! True. Neither, however, can we conclude that Mr. Romney's inconsistency is of the type that Emerson would have admired.
Because I am quite sure that, in Emerson's view, inconsistency, too, is frequently foolish and small-minded. After all, if one cannot maintain a "wise" consistency in trusting one's own nature, one's own reason, one's own deepest values, then the resulting inconsistency can only be seen as vicious rather than virtuous: as a very "foolish INconsistency." Accordingly, Mr. Romney, who seems to adjust his views on a daily basis--in order to conform--not with any profound sense of SELF--but only with prevailing or politically-useful opinion--amounts to little more than chaff in the wind, foolishly inconsistent and, therefore, without significant weight or worth.
Santorum is conformist and small-minded in his foolish consistency. Romney is conformist and small-minded in his foolish inconsistency.
Obviously, then, despite their loudly-proclaimed differences, the two candidates find themselves united not only in their Republicanism, but in a common bond of foolishness--a trait which, as Socrates noted (and Emerson would agree) is--alas--the sister of wickedness.