Latin Proverbs: H


Historia est magistra vitae

History is life’s teacher

Life, like any other game, contains a manifold of moves and pieces. Yet some are more likely to transpire than others and the variables, and the rules themselves, are not always clear. There are familiar patterns in novels, symphonies, strategy games, business, conversation, inner-talk and institutions. Mastery rests on the turning of conscious straining into lightning fast decisions dealt with mostly or entirely by the unconscious mind. The lessons history imparts, from our own personal sagas or from the fates of empires, are rich and open to interpretation. Exclusivity of perspective is the grievous mistake historians, physicians, psychologists and others made (and some continue to make) before the advent of holistic and integral approaches. History also gives us alternatives in the way we view ourselves and society. It makes nothing human alien to us.

Hodie mihi, cras tibi

Today me, tomorrow you

What a beautiful and ominous curse! Much prettier than “what comes around goes around.” Today, perhaps, a situation or event got the best of me. Tomorrow it may affect to you. Despite the simplicity of this truth it is not uncommon to see people who believe firmly they will never be stricken by poverty, disease or other unfortunate (or fortunate) events. Whatever can befall one of us can befall all of us, and if it cannot, its ramifications may indirectly cause us harm. Isn’t it strange how people’s priorities suddenly shift when they are diagnosed with a chronic or untreatable condition? American Idol, for a few weeks at least, seems less important than the pervasiveness of human suffering. The Latin language succinctly gives us an idea that could make us all a little more compassionate and prudent.

Homines quod volunt

Men believe what they want (Julius Caesar)

Your information will be interpreted by people who more than likely have no formal instruction in induction, deduction or abduction. What is called “commonsense” tends to be quite useless in most matters that involve large quantities and difficult ideas. In other words, what is usually called common sense is becoming less and less useful with the passage of time and the advancement of the sciences. It is proper and fitting Julius Caesar, one of history’s shrewdest politicians and most successful propagandists, would make this observation. Contrary to a popular quote we are responsible not only for what we say, but also for how it taken (though this would not be the case in a perfect world). Information is not objectively dissected by listeners; it is filtered through countless biases. We believe things because they are simple, make us feel safe, bolster our ego, support other beliefs, seem moral in our own eyes, bond us to others, keep us from killing ourselves or spending all our waking hours binging on Netflix–but rarely do we believe in them merely because they are true.

Hominem non morbum cura

Treat the man, not the disease

Personalized medicine is a necessity, not an option. Penicillin is an incredible drug, but alternatives must be given to those who are allergic. Each case is different. There are  general recommendations, but it is unwise to pigeonhole anyone. This is basic respect and common sense. Yet, as mentioned above, there is nothing common about the sort of “sense” the uneducated claim to have.  This proverb can be viewed as an adjunct to the first. While there are common patterns, analyzing an object or situation in its entirety reveals in what way it differs from others. In this instance the object in question is the human body. Two bodies are, at the genetic and epigenetic levels, very similar. Yet the the little deviations can make the difference between life and death in medicine, business, diplomacy and war.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto

I am a man, nothing human is alien to me (Terence)

This quote is misattributed and mistranslated on an episode of King of the Hill. For some time I mistakenly thought it was Lucretius since it sounds like something he would say. Do not misunderstand Terence. This does not mean one needs to renounce all commitments to standards of taste and ethics. Instead we need to refrain from immediately condemning or condoning, because such things are normally mindless reactions spawned by our prevailing beliefs and goal-states (and beliefs are merely what we want to believe, after all). When we do not see a part of something we may lose our grip on all parts. The human experience is no exception. As Kipling wrote, “if you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings nor  lose the common touch/if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you/if all men count with you, but none too much.”

Humanitas occiditas superbiam

Humility overcomes pride.

Pride thrives in a vacuum. Outside of the confines of one’s community or (perceived) areas of competence it can shrivel to a more manageable size. The Dunning-Kruger effect is unavoidable; people greatly overestimate their abilities to jobs that are not their own. How many amateur policymakers, economists, meteorologists, biologists and medical practitioners issue forth deafening proclamations from their festering plebian hovels?

Hic sunt dragones/Hic sunt leones

Dragons are here/Lions are here

Is it by chance cartographers chose decorate their terra incognita with real and mythical beasts? For the same reason the unexplored corners of our minds have been dubbed impure by religious authorities and viewed as purely animalistic by Freudians and dismissed unconditionally by the Behaviorists. It would be wrong to fault Siggy for coming to his conclusions or; repression is common and it is only natural to see evil lurking in the shadows. More fault can be found with Skinner for wishing to ignore consciousness, which was just too difficult a topic for him to tackle. Yet in the darkness we do not know what is there. To protect ourselves we assume it is harmful or dangerous, we assume it is a lion or a dragon or chimera. We are willing to believe there are creature no one has ever seen with their own eyes because of the power the unknown holds. H.P Lovecraft expresses this sentiment beautifully:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”


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