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  • Virtuous Pride? Virtuous Anger?

    Posted by Ginny on November 14th, 2007 (All posts by )

    Writers need regular exercise in writing, it seems to me, so fairly often during the semester I give them a subject on which they can develop a few paragraphs in class. Sometimes my anecdotes seem a series of “how not to teach” – but, nonetheless, this exercise often gives both my students and me useful insights. This week I asked them to make concrete and real a description of an abstraction – in this case, choosing to write about one of the seven vices or virtues. The real surprise was that, while many developed interesting narrative examples and useful analogies, their assumptions (in the better papers tempered by a sense of complexity) often assumed those traits on the vice side were virtues and vice versa. This was especially true of pride and humility, but also of anger, which they saw as a justifiable response to other’s bad behavior. And so, as I contemplated the problems of this generation, I woke up to Peter Berkowitz’s “The Insanity of Bush Hatred.”It is difficult for Huck Finn to see the wrongs of slavery when surrounded by authority figures (some of whom were generally good people) who accepted that old institution as a given. Only with difficulty can students, who are regularly exposed to thinking of the kind Berkowitz describes, be led to believe that rationality, objective inquiry, acknowledgement of complexity, respect for an intellectual opponent are virtuous, or even possible. And, without civility and reasoned discourse, how can we have the discussions necessary for a democracy to thrive?

     

    17 Responses to “Virtuous Pride? Virtuous Anger?”

    1. joseph hill Says:

      Huck Finn knew in his heart what was right because his creator wrote about him years after the Civil War and the end of slavery. Huck would have been today called a hippie dropout because he left home, religion, conventional beliefs and sought sanctity in the territories. But the territories were exactly the place where slavbery was to be the issue that “brong” about the Civil War.

      ps: turn to talk radio or conservative tv shows and you will find an equal amount of venom, hatred spewing out against those opposed to the current administration. We are a divided nation. But a look at our history will show as much rage etc as we currently have…to believe othewise is to live in a romantic dream.

    2. Shannon Love Says:

      I do think that Bush Derangement Syndrome has a long and nobel pedigree in American politics. George Washington was widely hated towards the end of his administration and things haven’t improved since then. We had to suffer through Clinton derangement Syndrome as well, albeit at a lesser volume.

      It is not hatred of the President that is different today but rather our generalized culture. Bush hatred serves as group identification marker for the Left. Since the 60’s, the articulate intellectuals and their wanna-bes have created a entire subculture which uses politics as a social glue in the same way that traditional culture used religion. People who do not hate Bush get ejected from the subculture.

      More generally, I think the confusion between virtues and vices results from the narcissism and selfishness of contemporary secular culture. Traditional virtues resulted in behaviors that sacrificed the good of the individual for the good of everyone else. Likewise, traditional vices resulted in behaviors that benefited the individual at the expense of the good of everyone else. In contemporary culture, the good of the individual trumps the good of everyone else. People who indulge there own selfish desires are venerated as heros. Those who do not are mocked as dupes.

      Sadly, I think that our pursuit of cultural freedom has led us to a new slavery. We have freed ourselves from traditional authority only to succumb to the tyranny of our base desires.

    3. MD Says:

      One of the saddest examples of BDS I’ve encountered (generally on blogs, but in real life conversations, as well) is the way some who dislike Bush use the word democracy almost as an epithet, or a sarcastic punchline to a joke. I understand the the idea behind the sarcasm, that Bush is using conversation about democracy as a kind of window-dressing to more imperialist aims, but I still think the tone, the sarcasm, the jokes, are sad.

    4. Shannon Love Says:

      MD,

      I think for most of the people you describe, “democracy” means that they and only they are in charge. They forget that democracy means that you get your say, not that you get your way.

    5. Don Says:

      It’s 1859 and the clock is running down. Passions. We are watching the desperate attempt to preserve what will be referred to as ‘antebellum’ in the future.

      When rational give and take disappear from the civil scene, it’s only a matter of time and one stupid act away from Cold Civil War to Hot.

    6. Shannon Love Says:

      Don,

      …it’s only a matter of time and one stupid act away from Cold Civil War to Hot.

      Fortunately, the people on the other side suffer from the delusion that they can talk there way out of any problem so they never bother to learn to fight. If it comes down to a shooting contest, I know who will win.

    7. GUYK Says:

      Shannon Love, you are right. The one thing the left wing is afraid of is rednecks with guns..and that is why they are doing their best to confiscate guns! The second amendment has nothing to do with hunting and everything with the public being armed and able to protect itself from an abusive government.

    8. Tatyana Says:

      Shannon, you’re making huge leap, in my view, and it’s not substantiated. Your logic goes something like this: secularism results in narcissism by using common politics as common social denominator = using common hatred towards specific politician/political doctrine as common denominator and it’s characterised by switching places wher vices and virtues are concerned.

      I think, on the contrary, leftists are the people who more often than not scream about “communal good” and “sacrificing personal for communal”. Just like A.Rand described in Fountainhead – and just what I have been hearing for the first 30 years of my life in atheist Soviet Union. It’s the favorite idea of the Left. Sorry, but whole history of capitalism proved Rand right – as long as possibility to benefit personally, of individual’s profit exist in society, all members of it prosper. Remove what they call “greed” – we all go on welfare.

      There is no proof religion is necessary to keep people in line where “good of society” is concerned. Self-interest and rule of Law, in my opinion, are quite sufficient.

    9. Shannon Love Says:

      Tatyana,

      I think you need to look at the issue more closely. What is actually going is the struggle by one economic subgroup to dominate all others. The Left is really a tool to advance the social power and status of the articulate intellectuals. The pattern is that they support freedoms that benefit articulate intellectuals while demanding that everyone else be restrained by the state. The demand that everyone, except articulate intellectuals bow to the state.

      To disguise the fact that they seek to restrict the freedom of everyone else, they use a “Sex and Soma” strategy of letting people have freedom in sexuality and other self-indulgences while at the same time restricting their freedom of choice in food, clothing, shelter, medical care, transportation, education etc. They seek to atomize people and isolate them to make them more dependent on the State. To this end, they encourage a culture of narcissism in which individuals put their needs before others. In such an environment, people quickly learn not to depend on each other. I should point out this is not a conscious strategy per se but rather one that merely evolved overtime in response to the need to find political ideas that would increase the status and power of articulate intellectuals.

      The many apparent contradictions in Leftist behavior disappear when you view it from the perspective of it as tool for advancing the group interest of articulate intellectuals. For example. its not a matter of the Left advocating freedom or not. Its a matter of whose freedom they advocate.

    10. Gordon Gekko Says:

      “they encourage a culture of narcissism in which individuals put their needs before others.”

      Where’s the evidence for this?

      As Tatyana points out: Ayn Rand wrote “The Virtue of Selfishness,” not Noam Chomsky. It’s the Christian fundamentalists who are constantly asserting the pristine superiority of their “family values” over other choices. Leftists don’t advocate socialism because they want to control economic choice; their analysis is that economic choise in the real world is expanded by socialism.

      I happen to believe they are wrong on that point, but if you actually read what they write, you can’t come away with the conclusion its about controlling other people. It’s about liberation. They may be, in my view are, wrong about how to go about it, but that is their goal.

      The “leftists” Shannon fantasizes about don’t exist in the real world.

      In the real world, leftists are no more articulate and no more intellectual and certainly no less interested in pursuing their careers than are their rightist counterparts. More important, leftists are among the most vehement supporters of labor unions, which have nothing to do with maintaining status or prerogatives of intellectuals.

      Leftists, like rightists and everyone else, advance their own personal interests and certainly tend to believe their vision of society is the correct one.

      Shannon’s focus on leftists and his completely unsubstantiated claim that they are somehow uniquely intellectual or articulate or selfish derives from his own inner emotional world, not anything that exists outside it. This is why for all the posts he’s made on the subject, there’s not one that includes a specific example of the kind of thing he ascribes to “leftists” in general.

      Nor is there even an attempt on his part to narrow his attack to a particular type of leftist.

      Bottom line is that Shannon is just so very tired of losing arguments to liberals. His theory and, indeed, this blog is the product of that, not any kind of rational analysis.

    11. Shannon Love Says:

      Gordon Gekko,

      Where’s the evidence for this?

      New York, L.A., San Francisco. I think it trivial to see that 60’s style culture fostered by the Left places emphasis on personal happiness over the happiness of others. For example, the idea that whatever made the parents happy would make their children happy.

      It’s the Christian fundamentalists who are constantly asserting the pristine superiority of their “family values” over other choices.

      Yet those values place an emphasis on adults sacrificing for the good of their children. The idea that parents should stay together for the good of the children is and has been openly mocked by Leftist even though research supports the contentions.

      Leftists don’t advocate socialism because they want to control economic choice; their analysis is that economic choise in the real world is expanded by socialism.

      I suppose the fact that every Leftist policy recommendation ends up increasing the power and status of articulate intellectuals is just a coincidence. If Leftist actually honestly thought about their ideology I wouldn’t object but I think they select solutions to problems based on whether articulate intellectuals can effect the solution.

      In the real world, leftists are no more articulate and no more intellectual and certainly no less interested in pursuing their careers than are their rightist counterparts

      So how do you explain why the humanities, the arts, publishing, journalism and other fields dominated by articulate intellectuals all lean solidly to the Left?

      Leftists, like rightists and everyone else, advance their own personal interests and certainly tend to believe their vision of society is the correct one.

      Except Leftist think of themselves as complete altruist only out to serve the common good. Most don’t even think about there possible self interest and when you point it out they go berserk.

      I have developed my arguments in detail over many post which you can find here. My hypothesis explains and predicts Leftist positions in every policy era.

    12. Tatyana Says:

      Wow-wow-wow, G.Gekko, please don’t drag me into your pov. Leftists aren’t as idealistic as you paint them to be – not one of them seriously thinks socialism advances economic choice for everyone…well, maybe 18yo college kids do. They advocate labor unions to recruit obedient army of “yes”-sayers comes voting time, nothing else. A union-bus driver, getting paid on average $65K for the work every driver-licensed American can do with 3-month training is bound to vote Democrat: it’s a bribery, pure and simple.

      Shannon, you said “Leftist think of themselves as complete altruist only out to serve the common good.” – Yes, and you’re right, too, that they are not so much want to serve the common good themselves as make the rest of society to do it – and collect the cream of other’s efforts (as they do, actually, in 80% of academia and various “non-profits”) Up to that point I have no disagreement with you. I’ve lived in society with all-mighty Nomenclature, I see clearly what model American Left are trying to achieve.
      It’s when you seek to counterbalance the Left’s statist “common good” with religious “common good” I differ.
      I, or any self-respecting adult, who’s overgrown fairy tales, doesn’t need religion to tell him to respect his parents. Take care of children. Love and cherish a spouse. To be honest, do not steal, do not kill, etc etc. Why, you don’t believe in altruism of Leftists but do in altruism of religious institutions? You just exchange one conman for another.

    13. Shannon Love Says:

      Tatyana,

      Time precludes but let me make some short explanations.

      It’s when you seek to counterbalance the Left’s statist “common good” with religious “common good

      I would argue that religions and other facets of traditional culture have the advantages of (1) being empirically tested by natural selection and (2) not being the intentional creation of any individual, group of individuals or even entire generations. Religious people don’t like to think of religions this way but it is definitely true when viewed from the perspective of secular materialism. While individuals and groups may advocate this or that traditional belief out of naked self interest, the ideas and behaviors they foster, as well as the emotional or moral authority of the ideas, arises from history and lays far outside the ability of any living people to alter it to much. All in all, people bound by tradition function better and do less harm to others than do people who believe that they and they alone decided what is moral. History backs me up on this.

      By contrast, non-traditonal ideas (including my own) merely represent the untested guesswork of a handful of people. The vast majority fail over the test of time. How many incredibly smart people believed in Marxism and Freudism, both recent intellectual creations. Once they seemed unstoppable but now they have all but faded. By contrast, many religious and traditional ideas keep toddling along.

      I, or any self-respecting adult, who’s overgrown fairy tales, doesn’t need religion to tell him…

      Don’t kid yourself. You didn’t invent your morality. You inherited your morals and values from the general culture, most of those encoded in a religion of some kind. You now doubt believe that and that you have the same general ethical obligations to all human beings. You don’t believe that it is okay to murder and enslave others just because they are strangers. That ideas arises out of the worlds major religions and even then it took centuries to prefect. Before this idea arose, people everywhere did not believe they had any ethical obligations to those not volk. This idea evolved over many centuries of experimentation and the major religions of the world became the mechanism of its preservation and transmission. Had you been born into a previous generation or even a modern hunter-gather culture, you would not possess the ideas.

      Ask yourself this: Have you ever seriously entertained the idea that you shouldn’t respect your parents, that you shouldn’t take care of children, shouldn’t love a spouse, shouldn’t be honest, should steal and kill etc? You didn’t invent these ideas and hopefully, you never tested them. They were programmed into you by culture. You think these behaviors obvious only because you have always known of them and can point to centuries of empirical evidence based on experiment that neither you nor anyone else in your generation conducted.

      You don’t believe in the “fairytales”, the anthromorphic stories which transmit the morals that create the behaviors but you do believe in the behaviors themselves and that is the important thing.

    14. Tatyana Says:

      Shannon, have no time to read with all the attention you desreve, just a quick point, to the second part.
      I mentioned fairy tales on purpose. Just like fairy tales is a necessary step, a parabola, for teaching acceptible human behavior to a growing child, religions was necessary invention (by various peoples, which proves to me it was arrived to by evolution of primitive societies) in development of societies. I have no intention to deny origins of contemporary morality (and Law, btw) in combined heritage of generations before me.
      That doesn’t mean I have to believe in Santa Claus for the rest of my adult life. And it doesn’t mean a grown society needs crutches in form of continuous religious instruction to keep its members from lapsing back into savagery.

      Gotta go now, to work on comforting the Law people!

    15. Shannon Love Says:

      Tatyana,

      And it doesn’t mean a grown society needs crutches in form of continuous religious instruction to keep its members from lapsing back into savagery.

      Personally, I would like to think so but I recognize that our ability to so remains a mere hypothesis. Some things work on small scales but fail on the large. A society with a minority of Atheist might work fine whereas a society of nothing but Atheist might collapse. We just don’t know.

    16. pst314 Says:

      “And it doesn’t mean a grown society needs crutches”

      I wonder: Are we really all that more grown-up compared to our ancestors? Certainly I wouldn’t trust a famous secular intellectual like Dawkins. And even the supposedly saintly Steven Jay Gould could behave viciously towards those he disagreed with.

    17. Tatyana Says:

      Pst-pi: subjective preferences never prove anything. I would rather trust Dawkins than current Pope where dealing with imams is concerned.
      As to behaving viciously to those who disagree – I hope you don’t mean that religious (or even “observant”) people don’t do that, because you’d shoot yourself in the foot. It’s sad, really.

      There must be millions of examples of moral failings of atheists – they are humans, they make mistakes, some even learn from them; and millions of examples of heroism or simple decency. As it should be. But when supposedly morally superior “believers” steal, cheat on their wives, lie and scheme – and then go to confession, “get clean” and start doing the same the next morning – all the time giving atheists condescending lectures from the heights of their superiority I’d say they deserve their upcoming hell.