The Journal of Applied Impossibility
A short post today, while I prepare for the future*.
1.) Aristotle recognized that virtues are careful balances between two extremes. It is good neither to starve nor gorge oneself. Healthy eating means taking the correct amount. It is no virtue to be a miser. But profligacy is also a vice. We ought to give, not to waste. etc., &c.
2.) I had a conversation with a friend in which I cautioned that some bleeding-heart policy or other he wanted would lead to unintended consequences that might well be awful. He responded that unintended consequences are the Devil's back door into history. I think that he's right in this observation, regardless of the merits of his policy.
3.) We see an excellent illustration of this very thing in the Rankin Bass animated adaptation of The Hobbit, which is on my mind because our family watched it this past weekend. Thorin calls Bilbo a coward for not wishing to engage the armies of men and elves together in open battle with a force of fourteen individuals of below average height. Bilbo recounts his deeds with
the trolls, and the spiders, and ultimately the dragon. Thorin boasts: 'you don't see us hiding now!' To which Bilbo (wisely) responds 'But this -- this is madness.'
In fact, at this point the dwarves have yet to exhibit bravery. They were infected with cowardice, until the scale tipped too far and became foolhardiness. They have not yet struck the balance necessary for their courage to reveal itself.
Consider now our age. I have said in private correspondence (though perhaps not yet 'publicly') that we are in a Kali Yuga.† I'm not sure how one could disagree with this sentiment. An element through which one can readily observe it is the way in which our scales cannot find balance:
Puritanical aversion to all things sexual (a label which is doubtless unfair to historical puritans) is unhealthy. The scales tip, not to the healthy balance of celebrating the virtues of chastity, but to the sexual revolution and our pornographic culture. Do you correctly see the vice therein? Let us then tip the scales into 'asexual pride' (the topic of a young adult book I recently became aware of). Vice is a parody of virtue.
Fat shaming is wrong. Some of us believe that this is because shaming someone is bad. But the restlessly wavering scales of our culture would have us believe instead that obesity should be "accepted" -- which is to say, lauded.
As an exercise to the reader, search out the vices you find most salient and ask yourself whether this diagnosis holds.
I propose instead that we ought lovingly to encourage everyone to adopt a sexually and gastronomically healthy lifestyle, and to begin with ourselves. But the unintended consequence of identifying one vice appears to be an overcorrection toward the vice on the other side of the mean. The image of demons sitting, whispering on our shoulders is well known. Less known is that of them slipping unjust weights silently into the balance pan of our judgments. I would add that the quavering of the scales is also the result of the restlessness in the heart of every man who would hold them.
* Slowly yet surely my backlog of essays is shifting from "stuff I have written but never shared" to "stuff I started but haven't finished." Coming soon: "Ideas I wrote down but never really explored" and then "Ideas I had but never started." Stay tuned!
† I appropriate this term to speak of the fallen character of our world in the way Lewis used The Tao to speak of the divine order of the universe. This is a marker of respect for the wisdom of other traditions, not a full endorsement of their respective metaphysics.
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