Okay. I know you’re not making New Years resolutions.
Well, I don’t know whether you are; I just know from years of experience that the most outspoken readers of Living Freedom disdain them. Perhaps rightly so when one considers how laughably and quickly resolution breakages get rationalized.
But last week, the question of virtues and aspirations arose in these parts. It came up as a result of my uncomfortable attendance at an Eagle Scout Court of Honor, and this distillation of what a Boy Scout is supposed to be:
In the discussion that followed, Commentariat member David Gross linked to his own rumination on virtues, Christian, traditional Grecian, modern American, Japanese, and Aristotelian. He also noticed quite a few traits, considered admirable, that never seem to make traditional lists of virtues. Curiosity, for instance, and initiative. Creativity is another that’s among the missing (though Aristotle comes close to naming that one). Willingness to question authority never, but truly never, makes the list. Hm. Wonder why that is?
Could be as Parabarbarian commented, “One problem with any list of virtues is that too many folk treat them not as ideals to aspire to but as excuses to make rules.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Often as not, “virtues” are something meant for We the Peasants. They are imposed by authorities to keep us docile and obedient — or to keep us consumed by guilt and vulnerable to their harsh punishments when we fail to follow their prescriptions for us.
History is bursting with examples of thundering moral crusaders who meant that everybody other than they, themselves should be virtuous. Recent prime example: William J. Bennett, moralist, drug czar, ardent disapprover of everything from gluttony to homosexuality, and mega-selling author of The Book of Virtues. He made millions from parlaying his government position into do-gooding. Then the devout moral authority was revealed as The Bookie of Virtue, being a constant high-stakes gambler who’d lost $8 million in casinos.
Bennett justified his habit by saying it was legal and that he wasn’t risking “the milk money” on it. But seriously. If the man was such a deeply moral Christian, why wasn’t he out handing that $8 million — and the rest of his wealth — to the poor? Although the gambling revelations were his public downfall, the man, apparently having no sense of shame, is still out there writing books from his alleged position of moral authority.
Still, there are such things as virtues, even if the publicly prescribed (and privately seldom followed) ones are only part of the picture. It’s just that separating real virtues — that lead us to be truly better people and lead truly better lives — from faux virtues authoritarians impose isn’t easy. Not everything the authoritarians prescribe is bunk. But they leave out a lot that doesn’t suit them — to the point where the very term “virtue” has developed connotations of public prescription, pulpit pronouncing, and nose-in-the-air snottery So today’s freedom question for you is a bit of a challenge.
If you could could choose a dozen virtues (or fewer, but no more) that you would honestly like to live by and like to see your descendants live by, what would they be? List them in comments. Feel free to draw from the lists on David Gross’ site, or any other lists of virtues you know of. But don’t necessarily limit yourself to those. Also choose from your heart and your rational freedomista mind.
While you’re working on that, I’ll see what I can come up with, too.