12 Momentum Shifts: On Constancy

No sports cliché bothers me more than momentum, even though I have to grudgingly admit that it exists. My problem with it is that there’s no good reason to surrender to a momentum shift. If you feel like the tide is turning against you, then shift things up, stop doing things exactly the same way and expect it to work out better. (Yes, I’m watching the Super Bowl … and I admire the Packers for not giving in to the Steelers momentum shift narrative.)

Because Montaigne admired the Stoics, he had to deal with the issue of constancy – whether it’s more admirable in the face of courage to bear burdens rather than attempt to avoid pain. It’s been a central issue during the Great Recession, this idea that there is pain to endure and the duty of everyone to take their fair share. But Montaigne thought it was nonsense:

all honourable means of protecting oneself from evils are not only licit: they are laudable. The role played by constancy consists chiefly in patiently bearing misfortunes for which there is no remedy. Likewise there are no evasive movements of the body and no defensive actions with any weapons in our hands which we judge wrong if they serve to protect us from the blows raining down on us.

Chrysler just aired a commercial during the Super Bowl featuring Eminem driving around Detroit in a new Chrysler 200. The song had the portents of a comeback, punctuated by Mathers looking at the camera saying “this is the Motor City, and this is what we do.” This is the brand of stoicism I admire – showing brazen contempt for the momentum worshipers and anyone else who thinks that the future is nothing but an extrapolation of the past. If Detroit wants to keep calling itself the Motor City … if Chrysler wants to bank their future on a rapper, I admire the tactical shift.

 The country took two huge hits during the Bush years, and we were struck dumb by them. Montaigne argued that this is natural and what most of the Stoics would expect us to do:

Not even the Stoics claim that their sage can resist visual stimuli or ideas when they first come upon him; they concede that it is, rather, part of man’s natural condition that he should react to a loud noise in the heavens or to the collapse of a building by growing tense and even pale. So too for all other emotions, provided that his thoughts remain sound and secure, that the seat of his reason suffer no impediment or change of any sort, and that he in no wise give his assent to his fright or pain.

Now that the shocks are wearing off, it’s time to readjust prudently – not seek out punishment or give in to panic. Sure, we could use the British stiff-upper-lip resolve … but America has always been its best as a can-do nation. As Montaigne advises, if there’s a solution to pain, we should seek it out, without ideological blinders or a quasi-religious belief that we’re due punishment.

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