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Jan Asselijn: The Threatened Swan (c. 1650)

"We were supposed to be better than this."

It seems to be in our human nature to Overreach. We tend to take some stand and then over-play our hand, undermining our intentions. Moderation might be the only reasonable cure, but since when did moderation come into play when anyone engages with passion? And we revere the passion over-playing our hand induces, for then the complex world reduces into a single blinding right outshining almost every other wrong. To find myself on the side of not just right but righteousness invigorates me in ways I cannot deny and dare not avoid. Such passion might be the right that can only go wrong, but one we willingly embrace and with which we feel especially blessed. Save us from such righteousness.

Our enemies tend to be invisibly passionate, just as we tend to be, too.
Their passion sure seems perverse, their gods more like devils to us. Their passion encourages their evangelism, and they seek to sway our opinion in their direction. Nothing doing! We can see right through their idolatry. Their gods can only appear false to us, their veneration perverse, their worship somehow less than fully human. How passionate belief blinds us remains a mystery to most of us, but most especially to the true believer. True Belief, the misattributing of absolute belief as indicating absolute truth, can encourage the most degrading behaviors: angels into absolute devils, neighbors into fierce foes.

We seem to lose connection to our circumstances sometimes. We might sense ourselves as more powerful or weaker than we were before. We might forget our place in this vast universe and thereby forget our absolute insignificance. Our infinitesimal role provides the premise for us to act in perfect freedom if only we can maintain the decorum to perform. We must balance our irrelevance with our very best intentions to create something out of essentially nothing. None of us were born any better than any other. None are significantly smarter. Richer never once meant a thing. Our attempts to differentiate ourselves into betters ultimately degrades ourselves. We find good reasons through the very worst kinds of reasoning. Our self-importance renders us functionally insane.

We forget just how afraid our opponents have always been. We forget our own fear, too, when we focus on vanquishing. We remain more vulnerable than we imagine; any of us might disappear in the next second before we even notice the threat, and we'd never once come back from the experience, either. We might live in dread fear of the inevitable. We might blame anyone for our unavoidable circumstances. We might even blame ourselves. I fear righteousness above all else, for it alone seems capable of fueling terminal Overreach. Unasked, we reach over another's plate to cut up their entree. We seek to save another's soul as if to preserve our own. We choose for another who can ultimately only ever choose for themself. Evil comes in perfectly predictable packaging. It wears the robes of righteousness and the shoes of certainty and runs rough-shod over common decency. We were supposed to be better than this.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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