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“Answer not a fool…”

Although I can’t claim to have read more than a fraction of it, a recent extended comments thread at Harry’s Place got me to thinking about the kinds of people who— for two or three days running– spend most of their waking hours reading and commenting on the comments in this blog.

Okay. If people are having a serious, repsectful exchange of views– which, believe it or not, sometimes happens here– I can understand it. That can be genuinely engaging and even exciting. But when a thread consists largely of dispiriting personal insults and one or more persons’ refusal to recognize the obvious, why bother? Aren’t there better things to do with what, after all, is your limited time on this earth?

It also got me thinking about the passage from the Book of Proverbs (King James Version, Chapter 26, verses 4 and 5) which George Orwell quotes at the beginning of “Homage to Catalonia” (in my edition of “Homage,” for some reason, they are mistakenly identified as verses 5 and 6):

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.

Now there are several possible ways of interpreting this seemingly paradoxical advice. But I favor the concept of two different kinds of fools: those for whom an obviously foolish or sarcastic answer is wasted and simply drags you down to their level; and those far rarer fools who actually are capable of being made to think and reconsider by a deliberately foolish response. In fact I wonder if such a fool even exists today. I’ve certainly never encountered one on this blog. Perhaps they– like many other elements of the Bible– are simply a relic of another time.

That said, I think the first verse is wise, remarkably fresh and perfectly suited to the age of the Internet.

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