In a Nutshell

Simple Wisdom
In a Nutshell

The situation
People have different noses, hair, skeletal structure, body fat, motor and muscular skills, they also have different mental skills. Some may be more or less adept at spatial relations, mathematics, memory recall, or deduction.1  2  People judge others on the basis of physical or mechanical skills, on their ability to test well or poorly, on their popularity or wit. They will make estimates of their own skill in these areas. But they will never concede to another better judgment.3  Yet, in schools, churches, families, there is no curriculum, no catechism, no Dr. Spock book by which to train the next generation, much less hone the skills of the current one.

Why is this a problem?
Science has put the power to damage in the hands of any who care to learn the mechanics of its operation–be they zealots, the earnest but misguided, the demented, or the merely ignorant. Today this is important now that a good iron strongbox is no longer enough to protect our valuables and a door with iron bolts can no longer protect our families.4  We are in a race upon which our personal futures depend.

What can be done?
Survival depends upon inoculating ourselves, our friends, and our enemies with the consciousness to understand that an individual’s own self—interest rests upon a handful of simple wisdoms and the processes those ideas encourage.

Is there hope?
There is no guarantee that civilization will win. Too many civilizations have been lost before and none of them had the power ours has to vaporize all life at the touch of a button. Fortunately all that is needed for civilization to win is a change of mind. Not only is the impetus to change available in every life, but the words and symbols are better than at any previous time in history to present the message clearly and concisely in terms immediately accessible to anyone. Such cataclysmic change of mind is possible–as possible as it was for the fabled emperor and those around him to see, when one child cared to admit the naked truth, that what was evident became instantly available to all.

Mastering logic means it masters you.5  Once the validity of "two plus two equals four" is brought home to you, no cant, no disavowal, will change your understanding. No public protestation that "two plus two equals five" will change your innermost understanding. Once the truth and usefulness of certain logic becomes evident, it has mastered you. If the truth and usefulness of the simple wisdoms becomes evident, they will master you. Mastering you, they join your arsenal of tools to plan your own future and to defend yourself against dangerous actions by others.

Simple wisdoms apply at any level and apply between different levels of interpersonal relations: individuals, families, groups, societies cities, states and nations.

Why should anyone care?
For any individual, the impetus to recognize the value in the simple wisdoms comes from recollection of pain or pleasure from personal experience. Since we are all basically interested in negotiating our way through life with the least amount of pain, anything that proposes to minimize in the future the kind of pain recollected from the past will have appeal.

What if people don't care?
There is no guarantee of success in teaching--a point well worth taking to heart. We are better off knowing that. For some people, the inoculation will be of no use. At least then we can recognize that there are people whose actions one must defend against. That attitude is far healthier than one where members of our society blithely apply the rules and conventional wisdoms of their own system to others either ignorant or disdainful of them. As many currently do.

As long ago as 2,500 years ago, Confucius recognized that some people intuitively knew the way, some who could learn the way and a third group that would never learn. For the third group, who never could decide for themselves how to act, he set up fixed rules to follow. (The fourth group, who view the way with disdain ****)

Why is there hope now?
Confucius never succeeded in teaching the way 2,500 years ago. What is so different that we might succeed today?

  • First, more people have the fundamental potential for consciousness.
  • Second, we have more experience which we can relate.
  • Third, we have a better vocabulary.
  • Fourth, we have a better technical understanding.
  • Fifth, we have a better set of symbols.
  • And sixth, as Ben Franklin said, there is nothing like facing the gallows to focus one’s attention.

I have so much fun with other writers’ worthwhile books it would keep me from my own writing were it not frustrating to have others miss the chance to see the wisdom of the authors I have read and to find similar enjoyment for themselves. This book is a pointer to them. It says, "Here. Have them. They are yours for the taking!"

1 Julian Jaynes defines consciousness as ++++ and suggests that people may have varying degrees of consciousness. To me, this leads to varying degrees of civility and judgment. Jacob Bronowski differentiated man from the remainder of the animals by his ,ability to plan for his own future. A human can project may different futures and, based on those projections, select actions to influence the outcome. Jaynes proposed that consciousness is a trait or skill that humanity has acquired over recent millennia. A corollary to his thesis is that greater or lesser consciousness is manifest in each of us -- or that each of us may manifest greater or lesser consciousness at any given time. Consciousness--the ability to respond in any given circumstance--is an acquired trait.
2 Jaynes, Julian. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976.
3 Seneca, Lucius Annaeus. Letters from a Stoic. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969.
4 Bronowski, Jacob. Magic, Science and Civilization. New York: Columbia UP, 1978.
5 Heilbroner, Robert. Marxism: For and Against. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980.

Copyright 1998 by Stephen B. Waters.