If Wishes Were Horses
December 10, 2008
by William P. Meyers

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This blog was meant to be mainly about philosophy, but I have been writing a great deal about politics lately. That is okay, history and politics are about reality, and philosophy is (or should be) about reality. Reality is everything, but looking only at subsets of reality can send you astray.

Now let's look at some folk wisdom:

"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."

As far as anyone can tell, this is genuine folk wisdom, not to be quoted from the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, Benjamin Franklin, The Beatles or even Ludwig Wittgenstein. According to my Familiar Quotations, it first was printed in 1670 in John Ray's English Proverbs as "If wishes were horses, beggars might ride."

Nothing quite sums up the case against prayer, subjectivist philosophies, wishful thinking, and the power of positive thought quite like this proverb.

Few people worry about not having a horse these days. Horses being the object of desire gives the phrase a vintage that could pass for wisdom even if it were unwise.

Am I saying it is best to dwell in negative thoughts, or to be in a constant state of pessimism? No, though occasional thorough examination of the negative is as instructive about reality as is occasional thorough examination of best case scenarios.

I want a philosophy that corresponds to, that accurately describes, reality. On that tiny bit of reality we call Earth, in the tiny sliver of time I will live, I don't want to waste all my time on illusions. Illusions are a part of reality we humans construct in our minds. We can learn a lot about our mental parameters by looking at illusions. In our lives the illusion/reality foreground/background sometimes inverts; we become disillusioned. Illusions are sold to people for a variety of reasons. When we are children we have little choice other than to believe the stories we are told of the world, whether they are true or not. I thought Heaven and Hell (and Purgatory and Limbo) were real when I was a young child. More complex illusions, more believable ones anyway, may fool me yet. The important thing to remember is that people may be lying to you, or they may be telling the truth, and it is up to you to decide when it is important enough to investigate a matter for yourself.

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

If you want to ride a horse, you need to do more than wish for it. Wishing for it does not prevent you from riding it; it might be a first step. You still need a plan and you need to execute on plan.

Are people's interpretations, and even perceptions, of reality subjective? Sure. Leaping from that to the idea that people create reality is a leap to nowhere. Reality was around before people. Even horses were around before people. People are a creation of reality, not the other way around.

Read all about the various philosophies and religions; it won't take that much time, it should not hurt you. But when it comes time to chose a philosophy, and make a life plan, and execute that plan, you should start with a firm foundation. If you turn out to be wrong, admit you are wrong and right yourself. If the popular consensus is wrong, be aware that people will think you are wrong for not agreeing with them, but keep in mind that reality is on your side. Reality is heavy; it is your best friend and ultimate refuge.

Reality is very complex, to be sure. One day the wind blows from the north, another day from the south. One day we do everything we can to keep cool; another day we can survive only by setting the world on fire. Weathermen are fine, but if you want to know the way the wind is blowing where you are, the best thing to do is just step outside and feel it.

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