Open Thread: Quixotic

(by chris the cynic)

I was recently looking back at a time when I thought all hope was lost and by any reasonable standard it ought to have been lost.  When, in defiance of all logic and reason, things worked out alright I made a post that ended with this video:

What one notices about the quixotic as defined by the man himself, is that’s it’s not just unreasonable (“march into Hell for a Heavenly cause”) but downright impossible (“fight the unbeatable foe”).  There’s a strange relationship with the impossible in our culture, at least I think there is.

It makes logical sense that when you can’t win you ought to not play and thus conserve yourself for the fights that can be won, and yet we have things like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington telling us :

I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for, and he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them: Because of one plain simple rule: Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. And I loved you for it just as my father did, and you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others. Yes, you even die for them, like a man we both know, Mr. Paine.

So, any thoughts on that anyone?


[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]


7 thoughts on “Open Thread: Quixotic

  1. christhecynic November 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I didn’t want to put too much of myself arguing with myself in the prompt post, but on the Mr. Smith side I think this comes into play too:

    There’s a difference between a contest in which the outcome was known in advance and one in which was uncontested. The simple act of putting up a fight changes things (though it has to be a real fight, token resistance means nothing.) It changes the way things are perceived, which changes how people think, which changes future possibilities.

    Or, at least, it can. Whether a losing battle was pointless or well worth fighting seems, to me, to depend a lot of the flow of information. If no one knows there was opposition then there’s very little difference between that and there being no opposition.

    Also, if the opposition can be dismissed as meaningless and cast aside, that framing can cancel out any good made from fighting for a lost cause. It can even make things worse because seeing that happen can destroy hope on the part of those who might raise the banner and fight themselves.

    On the Don Quixote side of things the impossible is more about aspiration than an actual fight between opposing forces. Sure, you get lines like, “Fight the unbeatable foe,” but most of it’s about trying for the unattainable which, if done right, attains things.

    Trying to “right the unrightable wrong” is a noble goal provided that you don’t use the quest for perfection (“we have to set it right, damn it”) to prevent consideration of the possibility of improvement (“This will make things closer to where they should be, so we’re making progress toward righting the unrightable wrong.”)

    Also, you don’t know what’s impossible until you’ve tried. Maybe you think your arms are too weary before they actually are too weary.

    At the same time, the ability to know when to cut your losses is really important too. We are finite creatures and we can hardly devote ourselves entirely to everything.

  2. Firedrake November 11, 2015 at 6:48 am

    I recommend against reading the original Don; it’s clear to me at least that Cervantes despised him, along with any idea of dreaming of a better world. Be happy with what you have, that’s the message of that book, and don’t go making trouble; you’re mad even to think of it. Pah.

  3. DawnM November 11, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Something sort of meta-quixotic: I really like the documentary “Lost in La Mancha”, about Terry Guilliam struggling against all kinds of difficulties while trying to make a movie about Don Quixote.

  4. lonespark42 November 11, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    That movie sounds waaaay too meta for me. But I am a person who never listens to DVD commentaries, so mileage will obviously vary.

  5. lonespark42 November 11, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    There is definitely a discussion about this to be had in a Heathen context.

    “We are our deeds,” not the outcomes of the strivings (though all that stuff is woven in with the wyrd and luck of our deeds and lives…)

    Cattle and kin and every one of us is wormfood. Reputation matters, and the echoes of deeds in all the realms matter a lot…

  6. lonespark42 November 11, 2015 at 6:29 pm

    I totally wanted to tie this to Hamilton, the musical, but I couldn’t, quite.

    The last song, “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story,” especially.

  7. alexseanchai November 11, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    lonespark: I am interested in reading more of that discussion about this in a Heathen context, if you are interested in writing it.

    As for fighting the impossible fight: what’s 100% impossible for my generation may only be 95% impossible for our kids, because we fought. And what’s 95% impossible for our kids may only be 85% impossible for their kids, because we and they fought. It’s all about the Overton window.

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