Strength and Silence

From a crypt of Mt. Athos.

I am not an economist, though for a period I did fancy pursuing that profession. Providence intervened, however, and rescued me from a life of spreadsheets, pie charts, and uninteresting-but-important-sounding conversations. This is not to say that I do not value certain of the laws of economics. Quite the contrary, there are two that I hold in the highest esteem for their nigh universal applicability. Those laws are inflation and the Law of Diminishing Returns. Both, I believe, are of great importance, and are of greatest importance when applied socially and intellectually.

Let us take, for instance, inflation. We all know what inflation is, but that I may offer a primer for primer’s sake – inflation is the idea that the more a good or product is made available in the marketplace, the less each individual unit of said good or product is worth. Using the most obvious example, currency, we know that the more U.S. Dollars that are in circulation, the less the dollar is actually worth and thus, capable of purchasing. This is a weak example, admittedly, since international finance has seen to the total abstracting of what we once called “money.” Still, the principle remains – the more there is of a thing, the less each unit of that thing is worth.

Similarly, the Law of Diminishing Returns states that there comes a point in the production of a thing in which its value peaks, after which point each additional unit becomes less valuable (see: inflation). The idea here is a simple one: to identify when the point of diminishing returns will be and to stop and move on just prior to that point. In show business language, leave the audience wanting more, end on a laugh, etc.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because of their import to the present social moment, albeit not in the slightest way the present economic moment. We live in a time when anyone can say anything they want and may say however much they want and may broadcast it to an audience previously unimaginable. A kid in Toledo may send out a tweet that is then retweeted millions of times, becoming a ‘star’ (of sorts) overnight.

More often, though, this is abused. The truth everyone knows and no one wants to acknowledge is that most people are boring and intellectually disinterested. This is not entirely their fault. The modern condition has blunted their spirits to the higher and more interesting things. It has preached individuality through conformity, to the point that one may express themselves most readily only through the means made available to a few producers at the top. How many people have expressed their individuality using a mass-produced iPhone? How many people’s sense of self bears a remarkable resemblance in form, kind, or both, to their neighbor? One could even say that the desire to be a perfect individual makes one an inextricable part of the heard.

Frustrated, we work ever more diligently to set ourselves apart. This is where our laws of economics come in. We flood the marketplace of public opinion, an already over-diluted and under(something) marketplace, with inane babble about whatever it is we wish to share. We flood the marketplace, then, with our opinions*, thereby reducing the value not only of public opinion in general but also of our own opinions personally. If everyone has an opinion on everything, then no one has an opinion on anything. It is the scarcity of a thing above all other considerations that gives a thing its value. Thus we may say, neither your opinion nor my own have any real value if we always share it.

Similarly, and this applies more on an individual level, it is no bad thing to have opinions on most matters, assuming that those opinions may be backed up by some sort of rationale. Not all opinions or even thoughts are created equally (sorry, kids, but not everyone deserves a trophy). Here, we find that less is more. If I have an opinion, even a good opinion, it would behoove me to say just a few choice words in its defense and then let it germinate from there. So often, a person will start out with a good thought only to torpedo it by unnecessary extrapolation. Here we see the Law of Diminishing Returns at work. I may say, “The natural way of the natural world is inequality, but in that inequality is perfect order and harmony. To impose equality as a virtue, then, is to impose disorder.” This is a good point, and a true point and a study of the order of nature will reveal this in no unclear terms. However, even as it is true, I may hammer it home beyond its valuable end and thus leave the point weaker for having been overproduced. Leave them wanting more.

I write all of that to say this. True strength comes in silence because in silence there is confidence. It is the most insecure amongst us who feel the need always to be right. It is the most anxious and fearful among us who cannot stand the quiet, because in the quiet one is left to his thoughts, and until those thoughts are properly explored they are a confused and chaotic jumble. Our culture values noise and distraction. That is one reason why so many insist on living in the city rather than the country. That is why our lives revolve around screens of varying sizes. That is why reading is at an all-time low. We do not value silence; we fear it because in the silence we learn about ourselves, and in learning about ourselves we may be forced to be humbled. And why? Because we may come to see that much of what we previously believed about ourselves and the world around us is, in fact, wrong.

In silence is strength, and in strength, silence.

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