The All-Thing

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Wed, 26 Nov 2003

Moral Certainty

Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on I am not too sure.

                                    — H.L. Mencken.

I am, once again, awe-struck by Mencken. It seems like every quote of his I stumble across takes something I've kind of half-formedly pondered before and crystallizes it into a pithy, poignant expression.

I have often felt that it's extremism, in some form, that's at the heart of 99% of the world's problems. It's people who believe something to be absolutely, indubitably true that are the ones willing to take any measure, no matter how Procrustean, to accomplish their goal. And that inevitably ends with someone else getting hurt.

And people are constantly fooling themselves into thinking that their system of morality, especially when compared to that of their ancestors, is finally right and finally complete. This generation despises the previous generation for interning Japanese Americans during WWII. "We'd never succumb to that kind of horrible behavior! We'd never think that was right!" But what of ours will future generations look back and despise, swearing they've finally got it right?

Posted at 15:23 | /society | 1 comment | permalink


Never laugh at live dragons. -- Bilbo Baggins [J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Hobbit"]