Emerson on Self Improvement

Something I was writing at work today made me think of this quote from Emerson, which I highlighted when I was 17. I dug out the book, which happened to be in my classroom, and looked it up. Classic.

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Recent Reactionary Readings

Perhaps I’m so taken with conservative thought not only because it’s the most rational political philosophy, but also because it’s being articulated by some of the most talented sculptors of felicitous prose out there today.  The only things I like more than quality products in an area of my inetrest are quality products that combine multiple areas of interest.  Mark Steyn, for example, is conservative, a talented writer, and funnier than that satirical farce written by Lewis Carroll’s and Dave Barry’s genetically enhanced clone. 

Three things I’ve read in the last couple of days are prime examples of this elementally effective commingling of content and style with which I’m so gleefully taken, like a passive-aggressive, effeminate egomaniac with Twilight

First, screenwriter Burt Prelutsky’s essays in WorldNetDaily have been a staple of my intellectual intake for years.  He keeps within a fairly narrow range of topics, but his anecdotes and quick, witty disarming of liberal bloviating are so refreshing that they function as my morning pick-me-up each midweek morning. 

The money quote from this week’s essay:

Liberals are in favor of open borders because they feel sorry for those people sneaking across. It doesn’t occur to liberals that American citizens suffer from the influx of millions of impoverished illiterates. They are not concerned with the drain on schools, hospitals, jobs and prisons, because what’s important for liberals is that they feel good about themselves. It’s a unique type of selfishness because it’s disguised as an altruistic concern for others. It’s the same reason they oppose capital punishment. They don’t care about the victims or their loved ones. Any schmuck, after all, can sympathize with innocent people. But it takes a very special kind of individual to hold a candlelight vigil for a monster who had raped and murdered a child. A very special kind, indeed.

Next, the inestimable Mr. Steyn himself, who returns from his sabbatical with essays such as this one, typically full of caustic insights somehow so good-natured that they vivisect current events like a surgical laser but leave a fresh, pine-tree scent afterwards. 

Example, on the long-term value implications of last month’s election, namely, that a majority of Americans appear to be enamored of increasingly imitating a European-style socialist state:

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Huston’s Proverbs

“I find myself often idle, vagrant, stupid, & hollow.  This is somewhat appalling & if I do not discipline myself with diligent care I shall suffer severely from remorse & the sense of inferiority hereafter.  All around me are industrious & will be great, I am indolent & shall be insignificant.  Avert it heaven!  Avert it virtue!  I need excitement.”

American scholar Ralph Waldo Emerson penned those lines in his journal when he was a wise old man, contemplative but still ambitious. 

Actually, he was 17.

I read that quote when I was 17, and it’s terrified me ever since.  Have I lived up to it?  Of course not.  But I hope that I’ve learned some worthwhile things, enjoyed the occasional serendipitous moment, and maybe even done some good for folks around me.  To that end, here’s a list of some of my “proverbs:” observations and understandings of life that help me make my way.

 

  • You must learn to recognize and reject your own biases. If you approach things with preconceptions, you will be humbled.
  • Respect the physical properties of emotions; they have both potential and kinetic energy, and they have inertia.
  • All crime is treason.
  • If you don’t think Sunday is a day of rest, you should do more during the rest of the week.
  • It’s not surprising that so many people only see darkness and filth in the world– look where their heads are.
  • The only kind of man worth being is a hero. Anything less isn’t manhood at all.
  • All rejections of opportunities not based on principle are based on laziness or fear.
  • Don’t ask, “How’s life treating you?” Ask, “How are you treating life?”
  • Fairness is a virtue, but truth is a better virtue. If the truth is unfair, so be it.
  • The rebel of the 21st century will be old-fashioned.
  • If you’re making everybody happy, you’re doing something wrong. Leaders, innovators, and saints have to be offending somebody.
  • A soft life yields a hard heart.
  • Stop resenting the tension in life: pressure is what makes progress possible and enjoyment meaningful.
  • I believe in reason and responsibility: in the 21st century, that makes me a conservative by default.
  • The best way to get new ideas is to use the ones you have.
  • The human body is a machine for exercising the human spirit.
  • Relativism is the great intellectual cancer of the 20th century.
  • Pragmatism is just usefully applied negativity.
  • An opinion without reasons and evidence is wrong.
  • Time not earnestly invested is invariably wasted.
  • Being offended does not make you right.
  • A strong mind must be independent of all popular culture.
  • Take the serious things in life seriously. Make fun of everything else.
  • Your feelings do not change reality.
  • If you don’t like something that’s true, you’re wrong and you need to change.
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  • An ounce of light weighs more than a hundred pounds of darkness.