Subtlety - The Unknown Virtue
In a comment thread on an article about anti-consumerism on Hacker News, I got into an exchange about subtlety.
reminds me of a Carl Sagan monologue from Cosmos:
"Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours and every one of them is a succession of incidents, events, occurrences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history, what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants, it is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilisation and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet."
so intelligent, inspirational and full of hope, but listening to it 30 years later I can't help feeling bummed out, as it seems as though our civilization has chosen its path. also, Idiocracy.
That's an inspiring quote. But it is flawed. It is designed to instill passion and motivation in the listener's heart. But it is missing a virtue which is a strictly necessary ingredient for making an actual positive impact on the world: subtlety.
If you are motivated by addressing humanity's long-term challenges, please do not attempt to bludgeon others into being more thoughtful or compassionate. Instead, learn first how human society works. Learn how to motivate social change in the least destructive way (all change is costly to someone). Learn why people oppose you, and what their interests are, and try to come to a common ground. Don't go off half-cocked. Learn subtlety.
Nobody talks about subtlety. It is an under-appreciated virtue, and one of the most important.
Subtlety is scarce among revolutionaries of all stripes, libertarians included. One reason why I am such a big fan of Meg Mcardle is that she gets subtlety.