Of the Uncertainty of Our Judgment

Montaigne takes a while to make a ruling as far as the title of this post is concerned, giving numerous examples and counter-examples of successful and unsuccessful military campaigns, but in the end he comes to a conclusion that I, myself, cannot really argue against.  Perhaps some of you can.

By which examples we are wont to conclude, and with some reason, that events, especially in war, for the most part depend upon fortune, who will not be governed by nor submit unto human reasons and prudence, according to the poet:

“And there is value in ill counsel: prudence deceives: nor does fortune inquire into causes, nor aid in the most deserving, but turns hither and thither without discrimination.  Indeed there is a greater power which directs and rules us, and brings mortal affairs under its own laws.” –Manilius

But, to take the thing right, it should seem that our counsels and deliberations depend as much upon fortune as upon anything else we do, and that she engages also our arguments in her uncertainty and confusion. “We argue rashly and adventurously,” says Timaeus in Plato, “by reason that, as well as ourselves, our discourses have great participation in the temerity of chance.”

I thought I would also look for Shakespeare quotes pertaining to chance or fate to lend a little weight and learning to this post.  I found this one that I like, spoken by the Player King in Hamlet: “Our wills and fates do so contrary run/ That our devices still are overthrown;/ Our thoughts are ours, their ends none of our own.” (3.2.208)

Though our judgment be uncertain, and our wills and fates run contrary, there is no reason that we need to let these unfortunate truths be inconvenient.  Mind over matter, my dears.  The trick is, by knowing that even our best-laid designs may be ruined–or otherwise rendered useless–by fate (or simply bad luck if we want to downplay its grandiosity), we can properly adjust our expectations so that no surprise or shock compromises our steadfast confidence when these well-laid designs do not work out as planned.  We may not control the events, but we can control our reactions to the events.

To get really quotidian for a moment (so hold your breath for the plunge from the dizzying heights), I had seriously considered writing an essay about traffic a while back (back before I was writing essays again, during “The Languishing” to give it a fun historical nickname)–how to survive in traffic tactically, I suppose.  This was when I was commuting from Woodbridge to Tysons, and back, everyday, when I would post anywhere between an hour and a half cumulative time in the car in a single day to five hours cumulative time. I noticed the different strategies people adopted to get through the worst of it, and I planned to suggest some of these activities to “Stay Sane on 95,” as I conceptualized it.

1. Smoke a pipe.

2. Throw a dance party at the wheel.

3. Yell and scream and rant and rage.

4. Honk.

5. Cut people off; change lanes all the time; get past all the slow people.

6. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

A few of these options are still valid, but the way I see it now has more to do with accepting the traffic.  I’ve decided that I’m not going to blame traffic.  And I’ll talk about it as little as possible (this blog post excepted).  Accept it as part of my immediate universe the way I accept the ground and gravity.  People don’t go around cursing the ground for its hardness or gravity for its inescapability.  “That damn Gravity! Didn’t let me fly today–AGAIN!”

So, with traffic or with any of life’s numerous setbacks, view them only as bad luck rearing its ugly head.  Don’t be shocked by its ugliness, or by the fact of its rearing.  You know it rears; you know it’s ugly. Move on unperturbed.

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One thought on “Of the Uncertainty of Our Judgment

  1. rangermike50 says:

    Your suggestion in the last paragraph reminds me of Ferris Bueller’s dad driving calmly down the road unaware of Ferris’ antics going on all around him.

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