Debate: Arguing with Montaigne About Anger

I’m just in a mood today, and I don’t care who knows. So I’m going to pick a fight with Montaigne on the subject of anger. I’ll let Michel go first:

Consider how even in vain and trivial pursuits such as chess or tennis matches, the keen and burning involvement of a rash desire at once throws your mind into a lack of discernment and your limbs into confusion: you daze yourself and tangle yourself up. A man who reacts with greater moderation towards winning or losing is always ‘at home’: the less he goads himself on, and the less passionate he is about the game, the more surely and successfully he plays it.

Montaigne obviously never watched tennis in the 1970s, when all at once, bad manners became the norm and knowing how to manipulate your opponent emotionally became just as important as a powerful return of serve. The antics of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and others proved that the converse of Montaigne’s argument is also true — one who learns to act with the least moderation and use it as self motivation can gain power over the moderate player inflexible enough to adapt to the changed mental environment. But back to Montaigne:

The Laws of Nature teach us what our just needs are. The wise first tell us that no man is poor by Nature’s standards and that, by opinion’s standards, every man is; they then finely distinguish between desires coming from Nature and those coming from the unruliness of our thoughts: those whose limits we can see are hers; those which flee before us and whose end we can never reach are our own. To cure poverty of possessions is easy: poverty of soul, impossible.

Oh yeah, sure, Montaigne. Let the laws of nature tell me that I don’t need a guitar after mine was stolen in January. You know what real soul poverty is? Being stuck in a goddamn house for weeks at a time without an acoustic guitar! But please, Michel, continue:

If what Nature precisely and basically requires for the preservation of our being is too little (and how little it is and how cheaply life can be sustained cannot be better expressed than by the following consideration: that it is so little that it escapes the grasp and blows of Fortune) then let us allow ourselves to take a little more: let us still call ‘nature’ the habits and endowments of each one of us; let us appraise ourselves and treat ourselves by that measure: let us stretch our appurtenances and our calculations as far as that.

Excuse me, but don’t you live in a castle? With manservants? Come on. I’m stuck in a house with seven people. Where’s my parapet to escape to most of the day, Michel? Where’s my parapet?!? But back to him:

I cannot get so deeply and totally involved. When my convictions make me devoted to one faction, it is not with so violent a bond that my understanding becomes infected by it. During the present confusion in this State of ours my own interest has not made me fail to recognize laudable qualities in our adversaries nor reprehensible ones among those whom I follow.

Oh that’s so noble of you, MdM. Let me introduce you to Donald Trump’s America, where the whole damn country is falling apart before our eyes and his cultist supporters still refuse to admit that we would be doing at least a little better than the daily carnage of COVID deaths and 25% unemployment with any sensible, non-psychotic human in charge of things. Let me apologize for devoting myself to a faction in this environment. But go on:

How much easier it is never to get in than to get yourself out! We should act contrary to the reed which, when it first appears, throws up a long straight stem but afterwards, as though it were exhausted and had lost its wind, makes several dense nodules, as so many respites which indicate that it no longer has its original vigour and drive.We must rather begin gently and coolly, saving our breath for the encounter and our vigorous thrusts for finishing the job off. In their beginnings it is we who guide affairs and hold them in our power; but once they are set in motion, it is they which guide us and sweep us along and we who have to follow.

Ok, here I have to admit you make a good point, I’m tired of this pointless spat too. Say goodnight to your cat. Wish the manservants plenty of social space between them. Don’t demand that your wife to have sex standing up if she doesn’t want to.  And have a good night, with hopes of better moods for us all tomorrow.

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