Shockingly consistent Abraham was ready and willing to sacrifice his own son. The horrific scene is depicted in Caravaggio’s “Sacrificio de Isaac”
Some of the most profoundly decent people I know are decent precisely because they’re inconsistent. They don’t take all of their beliefs to their logical conclusions (e.g., the devout fundamentalist who accepts and loves his gay son, and his son’s partner, even though he believes homosexuality is a sin; the devout feminist who accepts and loves her little brother even though she thinks he’s a sexist pig, etc.). By contrast, some of the most monstrous people I’ve known were monstrous precisely because they were shockingly consistent (e.g., the Jehovah’s Witness who shunned her own children when they fell away from the faith; the 18-year-old ideologue who turned in his own parents under a totalitarian regime, etc.).
Sometimes I think that inconsistency is nature’s way of dealing with the epistemological problem Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as domain dependence (i.e., the fact that things which are true in one context aren’t necessarily true in another). Maybe our natural tendency towards inconsistency—much like our natural tendency towards forgetting—is nature’s way of keeping us out of trouble. At other times, I suspect that inconsistency might be a way for people to live with the sociological paradox: namely, that to be a decent human being you have to treat people like they’re special, but to be a decent sociologist you have to remember that they’re not.
Just to be clear: consistency is indeed a virtue. No doubt about that. But we should be careful not to rank it too highly on our hierarchy of virtues. Nietzsche once quipped: “Be careful lest, in casting out your demons, you cast out the best thing that is in you.” Thinking along similar lines, we might say, in light of these reflections: Be careful lest, in casting out your inconsistencies, you cast out the best thing that is in you.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2015)
Originally published at Committing Sociology. Reprinted with permission.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons