I saw this quote while reading The White Whale and it seemed to launch a different line of thinking in my mind than that which the author resolved:
“the [ship] steeply leaned over towards the [one] whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; bu…t in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat.” – Ishmael in Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The above quote concluded with one more sentence suggesting one keep light headed. But my mind took them both in another direction.
I thought the analogy with the whales heads hanging off the ship being akin to competing philosophies as a good one and it made me ponder the nature of one such as I, seeking a philosophy or reason and objectivity, amidst a world (sea) of altruists, mystics, autocrats and other irrationalists.
This made me ponder the fact that being one of a few thinkers and seekers of reason amidst such a sea of unreason is akin to floating a righted ship in a tilted sea. Thus the quandary of such a fix for the rationalist mind – to right the ship to suit the sea or to attempt the herculean effort of righting the sea itself?
There’s something considerably profound in this analysis especially in light of the fact that in the book the first head was that of the treasured Sperm whale sought after by the crew of the Nantucket ship, while the other was a lesser species of the Right whale (generally frowned upon). Especially when taken in consideration of the more ‘fundamentalist’ types of Objectivists I have spoken of in the past.
Their unwillingness for some type of ballast to right the ship even in what may be deemed un-righted waters, may ultimately result in sinking the ‘ship’ before it reaches any worthy destination.
To stick with the analogy, such a ‘righting’ need not necessarily mean giving up one’s ideals or ultimate goals anymore than taking on the Right whale’s head means giving up the treasured well of fine oils in the head of the Sperma. But to sail on stubbornly calling the ocean itself off kilter would be equally as futile.
As far as objective observation would go, the ocean would in fact ‘be’ right and the other ships sailing in it would be tilted in relation to their own skewed perspectives of it. In other words, in relation to the arena of ideas, the irrationalist’s ocean is the one at a slant while reality itself measures perpendicular of the objective observer’s masthead.
But what are we if not participants in the sea of ideas when it comes to being members of a society? The condition of that ‘common perception’ sea is still a worthy consideration, especially when trying to co-exist within it – and most especially when that existence may well require the ‘winning over’ of more like minded thinkers from amidst it’s ranks.
Therefore, to weight one’s arguments with consideration for the state of your surroundings, thereby making them more ‘on kilter’ to any such observer may well be all the ballast you need. And if nothing else, so righting the ship for the sake of appearances will decrease the chances of scaring off potential passengers and ultimately, perspective dedicated crew members for your future voyages.