As Kleiman once said …

My chance to be an entry in some future Bartlett’s:
There is no more destructive force in human affairs — not greed, not hatred — than the desire to have been right. Non-attachment to possessions is of trivial value in comparison with non-attachment to opinions.

Allow me to quote myself:

There is no more destructive force in human affairs — not greed, not hatred — than the desire to have been right. Non-attachment to possessions is of trivial value in comparison with non-attachment to opinions.

Several readers, as well as one of Tacitus’s commenters, seemed to think that passage (from the update to my post on why pretending that things in Iraq are going well isn’t really “pro-war”) was less clumsily phrased than my average sentence. But if it’s going to be my entry in the next edition of Bartlett’s, people have to start quoting it, so why not me?

Of course, it won’t really have entered the ideosphere until the folk process takes over and people start slightly misquoting it, in ways that make it pithier and more memorable. Recall that Churchill never actually promised “blood, sweat, and tears”: the original phrase was “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”.

I’m actually pretty pleased with the passage above, but it isn’t quite right. “Of trivial value,” for example, could definitely be improved. So go ahead: misquote me.

Update As expected, lots of useful feedback.

Here are two proposed revisions, either one, I think, stronger than the original. Please keep the edits coming.

Nothing in the world is more destructive — not greed, not hatred — than the desire to have been right. Attachment to possessions is a trifle compared with attachment to opinions.

Nothing in human affairs is more destructive than the desire to have been right. Neither greed nor hatred can compete with a man’s attachment to his old opinions.

Another reader points out that while misquotation does indeed indicated acceptance, misattribution is an even stonger indicator. He mentions Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill as (in Yogi Berra’s phrase) having said many things they didn’t say. The aphorism above doesn’t really sound much like any of them: Franklin would have applauded the sentiment, but would have put it differently.

But I look forward to seeing some version of the text attributed to Gandhi.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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