The Art of Wisdom
Terry Trueman called this morning to discuss the goals of our collaborative websites, Just Weighing and Christian Pollution. The conversation wound through many different topics on the sites' menus, focused on the value or wisdom provided to readers. These conversations commonly occur as we continue expanding our websites but so too have these conversations complicated in writing’s opaque nature that obscures and questions, what the hell is wisdom?
Wisdom's ambiguousness threatens the word with meaninglessness. Defined as good judgment and insight, the word can also mean the “accumulated philosophical or scientific learning: KNOWLEDGE” and a “generally accepted belief.” Biology’s insights concerning nature could be considered wisdom, along with the tradition of giving the senior family member the first slice of Christmas ham.
Not all wisdom is correct or equal.
Interpretations of wisdom also tend to be contradictory. Commonly held beliefs such as “birds of a feather flock together” counters the wisdom that dictates “opposites attract.” Wisdom’s value also invokes scrutiny since the concept promises nothing. The implied value of wisdom dictates if you follow the insight, some benefit should occur, even if only to avoid something negative, e.g., if opposites attract, then dating someone similar to you would result in a relationship less ideal. Still, wisdom promises nothing, especially idiomatic thinking voiced in adages.
Worse than promising nothing, some wisdom, such as scientific knowledge, reveals a negative nature in many things outside our sphere of control. Astrophysicists tell us the universe is tremendous, too tremendous to transverse reasonably with current technologies, and equally hostile. A rogue star discovered racing toward our solar system means our doom since we possess nothing to stop it. At best, we would hope enough time exists to acquire the knowledge and technology to leave the planet to avoid destruction.
A rogue star could be a hurricane or earthquake that destroys a city.
Questioning the definition and benefit of wisdom places many commonly held beliefs in doubt, most notably, the insightful nature of wisdom people believe promises happiness. Many believe wisdom ensures contentment through a better understanding of life's true nature, yet wisdom does not guarantee this outcome. Wisdom, as insight, might actually make individuals unhappy since their deeper understanding may reveal widespread suffering in greater detail and lead one to seek fleeting moments of happiness. This realization pillars Buddhism, one of the largest religions in the world, making us question if any benefit stems from wisdom.
What good is wisdom?
Wisdom is not good in its current understanding. If wisdom intends to provide some benefit, that benefit constantly meets the challenge of suffering's reality. No matter how content people might be, at some point, circumstances impact and strip them of wisdom's benefit. Catastrophes, accidents, recessions, terrorism, mental illness, and other events clarify suffering as unavoidable, perhaps even necessary.
Would you understand pain's benefit of avoidance or pleasure gained from wisdom if you never knew some degree of suffering?
Positive psychologists realizing suffering and pleasure's dilemma, recontextualize the idea of happiness as “subjective well-being,” which is, as authors Baumgardner and Crothers define, “life satisfaction, the presence of positive affect, and a relative absence of negative affect.” In subjective well-being, wisdom's ambiguous nature becomes apparent when adapting a thought method that accounts for the "relative absence of negative affect." (Avoiding the unrealistic goal of being happy all the time or constantly avoiding pain.) The authors must redefine wisdom to account for the necessity of negative emotions such as fear and pain, stating,
“Wisdom involves identifying and pursuing the deeper and enduring purposes of life, beyond individual happiness.”
The quote rings positive but carries little meaning beyond the assumption of wisdom having some benefit if applied. Logic would dictate a billionaire like Donald Trump should suffer in some way since his actions seem to ignore the “deeper and enduring purposes of life” and don’t extend beyond individual happiness, benefitting only him. If there exists some deeper enduring purpose in life, why are most of the world's affluent so far removed from suffering?
There exists no poverty-stricken person who would not change places with a billionaire.
Some advocates of wisdom argue the billionaire's beliefs and actions led Trump and others to billionairehood, and mimicking them and adopting their wisdom allows everyone to achieve the same results. If such logic worked, why is achieving the billionaire dream nearly impossible?
Because the wisdom of billionaires isn’t wise for you to follow.
Affluence breeds affluence is no secret, unlike true wisdom. Donald Trump is the son of a real estate magnate who handed him one million dollars of start-up money. Trump did not build and empire from scratch and had access to networks of other rich people, politicians, and other valuable connections. Following the wisdom of Trump might provide simplistic business advice, like taking advantage of opportunities, which any ma and pa business owners could tell you. In contrast, following the billionaire's wisdom, you play a hand with cards you don’t have since these people profess wisdom applicable only to other rich people. For example, for Trump to start a venture, he lets everyone (other rich people connected to him) know his plans for a new company. Investors throw money at him, and the enterprise begins. People of the upper middle class and below do not have these connections and might only get one shot at forming a business by incurring tremendous financial risk. How could this person or someone of lesser means benefit from the wisdom of a billionaire?
They cannot because wisdom is always biased.
No Universal Wisdom
Except for the most basic of advice, such as taking advantage of opportunities, which is often an oversimplification or superficial observation of a subject – there exists no universal wisdom. Wisdom does not exist as some mystery to be decoded, evidenced by many conflicting ideologies. However well-meaning, much so-called wisdom is rife with contradiction and counterproductive thinking. No matter how nicely presented, Christianity's wisdom lacks plausibility and practicality. Christians oppose abortion which reduces poverty and other social issues, while at the same time opposing contraception which reduces the chances of unwanted pregnancy: a pro-life wisdom based on scripture. Similarly, the wisdom of the successful promises everyone the same outcome with hard work, yet people work their entire lives, die poor in obscurity, or in any number of worse states that defies that thinking. We must ask, if there is no universal wisdom, on what can we build our beliefs?
Ourselves and our circumstances.
No one possesses a blueprint of thought to lead you in the proper direction. Having faith in someone else’s methods is more likely to cause you harm because not only is their wisdom circumstantially and personally biased, it is often self-serving. Wisdom's promotion often entwines with success, religion, science, or sometimes total bullshit to achieve some end, typically financial. Investment fraudsters trick people into investment schemes by sounding credible. They will mention reputable businesses or people to add to their false authority and convincingness,
Constructed on sound micro and macroeconomic strategies, our investment principles incorporate the wisdom of J.P. Morgan.
Sounds good to many people, but so too does this statement by credible researchers:
“Wisdom involves identifying and pursuing the deeper and enduring purposes of life, beyond individual happiness.”
So too does this quote:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
These statements share two qualities inherent in almost all forms of wisdom: broad meaning and positive connotation. Presented with these general ideas, one could derive many meanings, contradictory or otherwise. People argue these assertions are out of context, but the context, in many ways, only amplifies the problem. The charlatan trying to steal your money has no context other than to convince you he is credible using business jargon and famous names. Positive psychology researchers redefine wisdom based on their interpretation of happiness. The bible quote has only the meaning assigned to it by faith; if you don’t buy into Christianity, it is meaningless.
These statements' wording also rings positive, giving the illusion of credibility since common wisdom admonishes negative thinking. If you think positively, you may fear dismissing an investment opportunity in negativity, which luckily happens in most instances. In the context of positive psychology, restating wisdom’s function as “identifying and pursuing the deeper and enduring purposes of life, beyond individual happiness” implies the existence of a deeper and enduring purpose, denoting some form of intention or design. This vast implication includes anything from faith in God to aliens watching over you, and positivity or goodness is inherent since that purpose must be beneficial by solving the dilemma of happiness and suffering. The bible quote provides the same positive feel with Jesus’ proclamation of God and his "good news."
None of this is wisdom.
Too subjective to be wisdom, these concepts show how all wisdom fails. If you believe the financial discussion, you lose money to a fraudster. If you believe wisdom involves 'the identification and pursuit of life’s deeper and enduring purpose,' you are apt to chase and believe nice-sounding, unprovable harmful ideas, like religion. If you think Jesus is proclaiming the good news, you have already bought into the nice-sounding, unprovable idea that comes with a steep cost.
You need not look far to find the cost of wisdom. Marjorie Taylor Green is a Christian Nationalist Congresswoman who has repeatedly won her seat in government by an overwhelming majority of voters in her state. Her Christian values are arguably the most important (if not the only) reason for her election success since Green accomplished nothing during her years in office except being a Trump sycophant and conspiracy theorist. CNN editor at large, Chris Cillizza, stated,
In search of what else Greene does with her days in Congress, I searched through Congress.gov to find out how much – and what – legislation she has sponsored since coming to Congress in early 2021. The answer? Sixteen total bill and resolutions.
All of her resolutions result from right-wing conspiracy beliefs and Trump loyalty, including these beneficial bills to the public:
1. A bill to award Kyle Rittenhouse a Congressional Gold Medal
2. A bill to eliminate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
3. A bill to give Congressional Gold Medals to police officers who served during various Black Lives Matters marches around the country in 2020.
4. The No Funding for Terrorists Act
5. The We Will Not Comply Act (The bill would ban any discrimination based on whether or not you’ve received the Covid-19 vaccine.)
6. The Fire Fauci Act
Christians argue Marjorie Taylor Green is not representative of their religion, an argument I disproved many times, but more pertinently, Green's actions base on Christian wisdom. Christians that vote for her fail to see her incompetence and waste of tax dollars on conspiracy and lunacy because the same Christian wisdom drives their thinking.
There is no universal wisdom.
As stated and evidenced, wisdom, when considered a hidden method etched into the fabric of life, holds little benefit beyond the most apparent observations. Murder is not a good idea since it is disruptive to life. Stealing is not a great idea since this limits the function of society. Believing an unprovable and implausible idea is not sensible. Beyond life's obvious sapience, you must sculpt your desires, needs, and circumstance with critical thought. In that cognitive art, you find your wisdom.Photo by Amanda Flavell on Unsplash