Liberal Arts Blog — Facts, Laws, Opinions — The Missing Link
Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Culture, and Religion Day
Today’s Topic: Facts, Laws, Opinions — The Missing Link
You are entitled to your own opinions. But not your own facts. This distinction was first made by financier and philanthropist Bernard Baruch in 1948, and re-stated by many others over the years — most notably by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. A related quote is one traditionally attributed to economist John Maynard Keynes along the lines of “When facts change, my opinion changes. What do you do, sir?” But to me, the story is not complete. There is a missing category: laws. I suppose you could call them “big facts” or “big opinions.” But to me the “laws” of human nature and society deserve at least equal billing with mere “facts” and “opinions.” Failure to make this vital distinction is injurious to the young who graduate from school without a compass. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
THREE BIG LAWS — and a Newtonian footnote
1. “Gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others.” Attributed to Cicero, this is a secular version of the first law of every great religion which is in different words, piety, that is “Praise the Lord!” Secular psychologists sometimes call it “positivity.” The key idea here is that you will not be kind if you are not grateful. This is the real meaning of the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel.
2. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Reciprocity and universality are the foundation of all true ethical systems — as the blindfold is the first metaphor for justice. Justice, like property, is a “bundle of sticks” that is an umbrella concept, but all the sticks are not created equal. Putting first things first is everything in life. As with gratitude, so with reciprocity.
3. “Art is long, life is short, the opportunity fleeting, experience delusive, judgment therefore difficult. The physician must not only do the right thing himself but make sure the patient, the attendants, and the externals cooperate.” These are the first and second aphorisms of Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, and applies to every sphere of life — from the law to engineering to parenthood or teaching. The key to securing cooperation is love.
NB: There will always be pushback. People do not like to be told what to do. People resist change. Sound familiar? Human avatars of Newton’s laws of inertia and for-every-action-there-is-an-equal-and-opposite-reaction.
BAKING LAWS INTO THE DAILY HOW OF LIFE
1. Laws must be taught with specificity. They must be made tangible. That is, to be remembered. To be honored. To be made part of who you are.
2. How you do what you do becomes who you are.
3. And the quality of a society, of a nation, of a world is the quality of the how of each of its members as they go about the business of breathing, working, living.
THE BASIC UNIT OF LIFE IS THE BREATH
1. Breathe in with thanks every breath that you take.
2. Breathe out with kindness, the world to re-make.
3. Muslim and Hindu. Christian and Jew, Buddhist, Atheist, Taoist too. We can live together in peace if we try, truth, justice, freedom, and love as our guide.
NB: These are lines from the only song I ever wrote. It was about ten years ago. I put it to the tune of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision” which has its origins in an ancient Gaelic melody and an ancient poem — see last link below. The link includes a beautiful rendition of it in Old Irish.
Getting the basics right is everything. The guy in the middle is John Locke. Does anyone else see an eery similarity between Locke and Newton? Locke was a physician as well as a social philosopher sometimes called “the father of liberalism.” He also took the time to write (in French) a “how to” book — on how to keep a “Common Place Book” a fabulous tradition that lasted centuries. My “What Matters Project” is oddly reminiscent of his quixotic vision. Specifically, the idea of the thematic journal of which I keep fourteen. Obviously. I wonder what Locke would have thought of the “triptych” structure of the daily entries? and the assignment of each theme to a specific day of the week? I’ll have to ask him the next time we FaceTime.
Click here for the last three years of posts arranged by theme:
Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.