Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wisdom Is Where You Find It

     No doubt every Gentle Reader has encountered, at least, someone who constantly and vociferously denounces the status quo for some perceived flaw. Such a person will be known to complain constantly about his personal lot in life, as well. It won’t matter how well off he is, or how well supplied with friends, lovers, opportunities, or comforts. The comparison of his situation to that of far less fortunate others will not affect his malaise. Anything he perceives as a defect, whether in his circumstances or “The System,” will be enough.

     To which the recently deceased Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, he of the ten World Series rings and endless records, deposeth and sayeth:

     If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be.

     Many people have chuckled over Berra’s supposed malapropisms, thinking only that the Yankee great had intended to say something plain and obvious, but that it was muddled by his low facility with the English language. For my part, I find an immense practical wisdom in many of them. The above is a case in point.

     There are two piercing insights to be had here. The first is the more general of the two. That which is perfect is finished, complete, at the terminus of its evolution. It cannot be improved. It requires no changes. Indeed, it tolerates no changes, for any change rendered to a perfect thing or context would destroy its perfection.

     Therefore, if “the world” were perfect, it would deny Man any latitude for action. Any sort of change at all would deface it. Since Man, as Loren Lomasky has put it, is a “project pursuer,” a “perfect world” would destroy a fundamental requirement of human life: opportunities for action in pursuit of improvements to oneself or one’s condition. A “perfect world” would find Man intolerable. We would shortly be extinct.

     The second insight is more personal. It’s highly unlikely that any two persons would agree on what constitutes a “perfect world.” Our personal priorities and preferences vary too greatly for that. Indeed, for some of us, “perfection” equates to absolute hegemony over others. But what of the others? Are they to be allowed no say in the matter?

     The old pastimes “What would you do with a billion dollars?” – yes, it used to be a million, but prices are higher these days – and “What would you do if you were king?” cast additional light on Berra’s truth. Your billion would not be mine; your monarchy would limit my sphere of action. Your use of either of those things would deprive me of something I value: in the first case, the ability to afford whatever pleasure or luxury you’ve gobbled up, thus raising the price above my means; in the second, the freedom to live and act as I see fit, without a requirement for anyone’s permission or approval.

     And so, if “the world,’ however conceived, were “perfect,” however conceived, it wouldn’t be. Quod erat demonstrandum.

     I find it fitting that such wisdoms should have come from Yogi. Perhaps the American Philosophical Society should confer an emeritus membership upon him. By the way, does anyone know when they hold the balloting for the Philosophy Hall Of Fame?


Roy Lofquist said...

"Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom."

Russell Kirk

Bob Parish said...

Very well presented. We all need a little more Yogi (or people like him) in our lives.

furball said...

"A 'perfect world' would find Man intolerable. We would shortly be extinct."

Sort of the same ideas a Roy's (and what you hint at in later paragraphs): Man would find a perfect world intolerable.

I'm reminded of the Twilight Zone episode where a gambler dies and finds himself in a place where he wins every bet. After 20 minutes or so, he turns to his his "benefactor" and asks if he could maybe lose a bet or two for the thrill or to break the monotony. "This is heaven," the gambler implies, "but couldn't we spice it up?"

The "benefactor" laughs and informs him this is hell.

I've heard Yogi Berra quotes my whole life. At first they seemed like quirky sayings from some daffy baseball player - a catcher at that.

The older I got, the more Zen and insightful Yogi seemed.

I'm sure other cultures and nations have memorable figures like Yogi. (Winston Churchill, the greatest statesman and orator of the 20th century, imho, comes to mind.) For me, Yogi Berra is an American icon right up there with Will Rogers.

I would bet many French socialists and American democrats would denigrate Yogi as a buffoon. The Chinese might not "get" him at all - or maybe they would. . . Confucious, after all.

But, to me, there's something very American in Yogi's wordplay. It's simple, direct and (reduntantly) unpretentious.

Tim Turner

Bruce said...

Well said Francis.

Being an avid baseball fan, and growing up with a dad that was an avid Yankee fan, I was aware of Yogi early on in life. And like others, I've grown to appreciate his wisdom more as I grow older.

And neat how you slipped that Q.E.D. from my high school geometry in there.