Quotation Day

I was watching episodes from the first season of House last night, and one exchange particularly caught my attention.

Cuddy: “How is it you always know you’re right?”
House: “I don’t. I just find it hard to operate on the opposite assumption.” (emended per Pippa)
    House, M.D. Season 1, Episode 2, “Paternity”

People often press me on my approach to interpretation, supposing that my advocacy of differential hermeneutics implies that I must experience besetting doubt concerning the correctness of my own interpretive judgments (or that I’m inconsistent if I don’t allow that any old interpretation might be as right as my own). Contrariwise, I can all the more firmly hold fast to my own reasoned judgments if I allow full weight to the reasoning and intelligence behind different readings; it doesn’t weaken my own conclusions if I don’t imply that my interlocutors are dunces and simpletons.

And from Paul Krugman’s column in the Times:

The pay system on Wall Street lavishly rewards the appearance of profit, even if that appearance later turns out to have been an illusion.

Krugman gets at what I was ruminating about the other day relative to illusion and (self-)deception in conjunction with contemporary US culture. The fantasy of limitless acquisition goes hand-in-hand with the fantasy of immortality. The two actually support one another; the more stuff to which we lay claim, the less vulnerable to contingency we appear. The malignant irony involves not just the unveiling scene, when these Charles Foster Kane discover that their fabulous empires haven’t brought them what they want — even more, it involves the millions or billions of people whose lives have been impoverished to fuel the desperately delusional regime of greed, and whom the treasure-holders pass over in their haste to relieve the misery of the suddenly formerly-wealthy (thus doubly depriving them of a penurious share of Lazarus’ riches). As Krugman notes, “the vast riches achieved by those who managed other people’s money have had a corrupting effect on our society as a whole.”

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