Matt Berry - The Mechanics of Virtue

I have the utmost respect for Matt Berry and his writings. However, this is not his best effort; nor is it the first Matt Berry that someone should be exposed to. This doesn't mean that there isn't anything worthwhile in The Mechanics of Virtue. There are certainly gems and words of wisdom to be found herein. But, overall, I was left feeling less satisfied than with his other works.

Some of The Mechanics of Virtue went over my head. Other pieces either went over my head or just didn't make sense given my experience and understanding of the words chosen. Some sections seemed overly repetitive--merely stating the same thing in several, not-very-different ways. To end on a more positive note, here are a couple of my more favorite selections from the book:

How can one argue vigorously against an absurdly childish notion without betraying that one actually takes the issue seriously? Had Galileo not recanted, he might then have proved himself a sort of religious fanatic after all. (p. 148)

If one sails only by light winds, one will rarely capsize, but one will never acquire great skill. Conversely, if one accepts the greater winds, one must acquire greater skills, and to do this, one might actually navigate toward those seas with the strongest winds. (p. 158)


Habit is satisfied by maintaining its own inertia, whether by removing an obstacle, by returning from a diversion ... but usually by simply persisting, that is, by doing nothing at all. An accustomed thought ... a concept upon the screen of consciousness must persist. An accustomed action too must persist. A concept and an action that accompany each other do not have to "match up" or "be consistent" -- they only need to persist alongside each other as they have persisted before. In sum, for the inertia of a habit to persist, right or wrong, society must remove every obstacle presented.

Now, what should happen if the habit-script were a mandate for an action which threatened the inertia of the script itself? For example, the actualization of a chant for "fearless honesty"? This inherited (and therefore revered) message sets the stage for a passion play. The herd receives its Holy Habit, but the chant requires an action which supersedes "mere chanting." The chant itself demands a distinction between a complacent harmony through habituation and a consistency seen only through grounded reasoning. All the while, repetition blindness prevails in the majority, and the chants and actions persist in their sacred form, rationally inconsistent with each other ... and pleasant.

There is quite often, however, in every over-crowded herd at least one insubordinate ... one idiot who actualizes the cry for "Truth at all costs!" With him alone, the act matches the principle and not the habit. He thus presents himself as an obstacle to the persistence of the error, and the culture now crucifies the highest type of its own morality.