During a discussion about Space travel yesterday an acquaintance, Chuck claimed that humans settling on Mars is a folly. The conversation went quiet for awhile as the rest of us were taken aback by Chuck’s use of the word “folly”. In fact, his use of the word completely derailed the discussion. Perhaps that was Chuck’s intention. Only he knows for sure.
Folly is one of those words that is nearly extinct insofar as daily conversational use goes. When I hear or see it used, I think of stuffy Victorian gentlemen sitting in overstuffed chairs smoking cigars in exclusive men’s clubs. I can’t help the vision, it just appears in my head.
Yet, the word still has merit and should be revived before it completely dies. One reason I like the word “folly” is that there seems to be much more of it now than in the past. We are a society of foolish people lacking understanding and substituting opinions and beliefs in place of facts. (Present company included.) There is subjective proof all around us. Think of the many foolish displays of folly in mass media and in the political sphere. I will go so far as to include an obsolete definition of folly: “wickedness; wantonness”–two more nearly obsolete words.
The business of keeping our democratic republic alive these past many years has been to maintain a public spectacle of the stuff Mr. Orwell has mentioned. Political huckstering begins the day after each general election. Indeed, the Presidential campaign season has expanded from about a year, to the current practice of non-stop campaigning. We are given no rest from political posturing by all varieties of politicians from across the political spectrum. Our nation is suffering divisiveness largely due to the folly of “dyed in the wool” political views.
“True wisdom is less presuming than folly. The wise man doubteth often, and changeth his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubteth not; he knoweth all things but his own ignorance.”–ancient Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten
“It may be the part of a friend to rebuke a friend’s folly.”–writer J. R. R. Tolkien
To be completely sure of oneself and assured of the accuracy of our views is not only socially acceptable but is socially advocated. We back up our self-assuredness by means of quoting scripture and believing political dogma. This leads to a lack of self-awareness and self-control. Instead of paying attention to other people’s critiques of us, we indulge our fantasies of acclaim and applause. This is a trap that entices us all.
“The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.”–Marcus Tullius Cicero
My assignment for the rest of today is to ponder my own follies.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes poet/philosopher Paul Valéry. “The folly of mistaking a paradox for a discovery, a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself for an oracle, is inborn in us.”