OPINION — Ever notice how often passion and wisdom seem to be at odds? We would be well served to remember how to distinguish between them.
Passion can be understood as a strong, barely controlled emotion. It is what fuels most activism and is easily recognized by the obsessive fervency with which it calls for immediate gratification.
Think about it. When is the last time you heard of someone committing a “crime of wisdom”?
Wisdom, on the other hand, represents experience and knowledge that remains true in any time or place. Unlike popular knowledge, which can become obsolete over time, wisdom is based in sound judgment that has stood the test of time.
While passion can be a positive force, when properly tempered with wisdom, it is a poor basis for making important decisions. This is true on the personal level as well as the societal level.
Nowhere is this more clear than in what passes for public discourse today, where impassioned demands are outpacing wisdom in a rush to deal with society’s problems. The problem with this approach is that it sets the stage for serious unintended consequences that may not be immediately apparent.
Passion childishly urges us to follow the path of least resistance, with little regard for what lies beyond the moment. It arrogantly rejects the hard-won wisdom of billions of mature minds, spanning thousands of years of human history.
Passion makes us more susceptible to an ethically compromised press and to the promises of power-seeking politicians. It encourages us to pass judgment on people we’ve never met and to condemn ideas we don’t understand.
Unbridled passion has provided the ideological fuel for the most enslaving and bloodthirsty movements to have ever afflicted mankind. It is the breeding ground for intemperate minds.
Look no further than our daily headlines to see what out-of-control passion looks like in action.
Fortunately, the combined wisdom of humanity that could provide clear guidance to us in times of crisis is still available to anyone who is willing to seek it. It may not be fashionable, but it remains perfectly relevant.
For example, weigh the current pleas for government to assume greater adversarial power over the people against the words of British statesman Edmund Burke:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites — in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity — in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption, — in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves…It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
For a more contemporary example, consider the historical insights that former 9th District Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski offered when he wrote:
The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed—where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
Where is this level of dispassionate introspection to be found in the current debate over firearms ownership?
It’s not in the profane blathering of a media darling. It’s not in the legalistic sophistry of a retired Supreme Court justice. Even the most provocative memes fail to provide the illumination of authentic wisdom.
A passion-driven discourse on firearms requires that we tolerate a level of willful ignorance that we would never suffer in regards to any other topic. Unpopular truth and nuance are expected to take a backseat to ideology-driven emotion.
This is true in other areas of life as well.
It’s a trait of human nature for the new kids to seek to reinvent the wheel in every generation. This isn’t always a bad thing in that we may always garner wisdom from our own mistakes.
The downside of such an approach is that there is a great deal we could learn from the successes and failures of previous generations. To casually dismiss their contributions as irrelevant is something Fred Reed describes as akin to, “monkeys throwing books out of a window.”
Passion, when tempered by wisdom and combined with persuasion, can be productive and inspiring.
When it’s weaponized and merged with government force, it becomes a tool of endless malfeasance.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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