Dance My Dunce
The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger Club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger Club. Anatole Kuragin is not only a member of the Dunning-Kruger club, he’s also the president. As president he is in possession of the veto power and, “with the partiality dull-witted people have for any conclusion they have reached by their own reasoning,” Tolstoy explains, Anatole exercises this power today when Dolokhov attempts to dissuade him from carrying out his nefarious plan.
Anatole’s plan, that expression used in its most liberal of applications, is, under cover of darkness, to steal Natasha Rostov from the back porch of Marya Dmitrievna’s home and take her to a small town some forty miles away where a defrocked priest will perform the marriage ceremony over the two ignoble fools. After that they’ll take their passports and a little bit of money and go . . . somewhere.
What, it must be asked, could possibly go wrong?
Dolokhov, a man of reason if not morals, recognizes the flaws in this plan. What happens when it is revealed that Anatole is already married? Where will the couple live? What will they live on when the money runs out?
Anatole has no reasonable responses to these reasonable questions. He has only the guidance of his racing heart running toward ruin.
One of the most controversial questions we’ve discussed here at A Year of War and Peace, particularly in the comments section, is whether humans are rational creatures or whether we are ruled by our passions. It’s a tough call. So often it seems that passion guides human action while reason serves only to provide post-hoc justification for whatever passion dictates. Our history is littered with the fooleries of passion. The Odyssey, to take one ancient example, is basically the story of how folly and recklessness prevent, for an extended period, a man from achieving his goal. The passion parade continues to run unto this day. Just look at the front page of any newspaper. Just look at Anatole Kuragin.
Reason, on the other hand, is real. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have calculus, the scientific revolution, or the hydrogen bomb. But if reason is to win the battle for control of the human mind it must be cultivated and nurtured. It must be practiced daily, checking every thought before action is taken. That is to say, in the words of Mary Bennet, “Every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason.”
Reason herself, to whom the reins of power have been entrusted, remains mistress only so long as she is kept apart from passions: if once she mingles with them and is contaminated, she becomes unable to hold back those whom she might have cleared from her path. For when once the mind has been aroused and shaken, it becomes the slave of the disturbing agent.
Seneca, On Anger I