Foolish Consistency

For whatever reason I decided to go searching for the answer to a quote that was pretty popular in USENET .signature files when I was a kid (and still is, for all I know)…

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.

That’s the lead-in to this oft-butchered misquote:

[A foolish] consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds[, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.] Emerson

In other words, Emerson is saying that people who refuse to admit they were wrong because they don’t want to appear inconsistent (literally “unpredictable” in Emerson, though I think adding “dishonest” or “wishy-washy” to the possible-parses list isn’t that far a stretch) are haunted weaklings and cowards.