Baltasar Gracián’s 17th C “Art of Worldly Wisdom” offers sound guidance today

§80     TAKE care when you get information. We live by information, not by sight. We exist by faith in others. The ear is the sidedoor of truth but the frontdoor of lies. The truth is generally seen, rarely heard. She seldom comes in elemental purity, especially from afar—there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed. The passions tinge her with their colors wherever they touch her, sometimes favorably, sometimes odiously. She always brings out people’s disposition, therefore receive her with caution from him that praises, with more caution from him that blames. Pay attention to the intention of the speaker; you should know beforehand on what footing he comes. Let reflection test for falsity and exaggeration.

Emphasis is mine.

Written in the 17th Century, Gracián’s thoughts in The Art of Worldly Wisdom* seem equally apropos today; perhaps even more so.

Replace “the ear” with “the internet” in sentence four:

The internet is the side door of truth but the front door of lies.

I’d say that fits.

What a powerful tool for crowdsourcing information and bypassing traditional nodes of centralized power.

What an easy way to disseminate propaganda, falsehoods, and forgeries, enticingly wrapped up with all of our cognitive biases.

It behooves us all to think critically about our sources of “truth.”

Let reflection test for falsity and exaggeration.

Humans are uniquely blessed with critical faculties. We live in an era uniquely abundant in sources to which we may—and must!—apply our highest powers of thought.

If we fail to do so, our technology may prove to be our undoing, calling to mind the soft, feeble Eloi in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.

Think! Or prepare for your descendants to be fed to the Morlocks.**

*I’m reading Joseph Jacob’s translation on my Kindle

**Metaphor!  Follow the link about Eloi or pick up a copy of The Time Machine and find out for yourself.

6 thoughts on “Baltasar Gracián’s 17th C “Art of Worldly Wisdom” offers sound guidance today

  1. H. G. Wells!! I love your reading list… your bookshelves must bear far more than a passing resemblance to mine. The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The War of the Worlds are simply classics. And yes, as usual, your insights are pretty damn spot-on too.

    • It’s my not-so-secret ulterior motive for letting my older son learn at home: I have the best excuse to rediscover the classics. You can’t begrudge the time for a novel when your son’s education depends upon it.

      Much of it is serious and very high brow, but we’ve also taken to watching Monty Python videos on family movie night. “And now for something completely different…”

      It’s so much fun to share these things with my child-turning-teen. He doesn’t always agree, but he has a keen appreciation for both fine language and cleverness.

      • Monty Python is great, but for a touch of British history, there was never anything better than Blackadder. Real British humor… and I saw the last episode of Blackadder Goes Forth–set in World War I, when, after an entire season of lunatic plotting of how to get out of it, the characters were finally sent “over the top” of the trenches, to attack the Germans. The final scene was so poignant, I saw an entire class of unruly, inner-city, grade 10s rendered absolutely speechless. Until then, I had always thought of that series as nothing more than comedy, then I realized how bloody important comedy could be.

      • I had Black Adder (series I) on VHS, but that collection (tapes generally) was let go when our little house became crowded by little children and their enormous quantity of possessions.

        My older son is generally enjoying John Cleese (Fawlty Towers being the favorite), so perhaps he will also like Rowan Atkinson.

        He thought he hated history (as a subject) before I took him out of school, and the “Horrible Histories” books helped him to see that there was much for him to enjoy in the subject. Blackadder may work along similar lines for him…

    • I think it is probably too much praise, but I’ll accept it graciously. 🙂

      I’m just shocked by how much I’m enjoying “Art of Worldly Wisdom.” It’s been an easy read because I hate to put it down, though the insights are profound.

      Always nice to hear from you!

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