NO VIRTUE IN VICE

I don’t have much in the way of thoughts about vice. I’m not even sure what it is any more. This morning, in one of those online chat things I do these days in lieu of actual conversations with customer service people, I discovered that “LYING” is only lying if I do it. If they tell me something that is completely untrue and I believe them, it is a misunderstanding. So when they said “We are fixing this and should have a solution soon” and they really meant “This is the way it’s going to be and we’re not going to change it. Ever.” And I believed them, it was my misunderstanding rather than their outright lie. I would normally have categorized it as “vice,” but give the state of the body politic and all the crap I see in the news, I’ve decided telling the truth versus lying is no longer meaningful. If I say something without any basis in fact and claim it’s the truth, but you later realize it is not the truth and, in fact, bears no relationship to truth as anyone understands it … it’s just a misunderstanding.

So how can there be vice if there is no truth?

Fortunately, there still is AD-vice, which is free. Sometimes, it even contains a particle of useful information. I hesitate to suggest that it might also be true because … well … you know … what IS truth?

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As the years have crept by, I have given up a lot of stuff, most of which (it turns out), I didn’t need in the first place. I gave up worrying. I gave up working. I gave up on the lottery, even though I still occasionally buy a ticket (just in case).

I gave up wanting a new car, expecting old friends to call (some of them don’t remember me any more — some don’t remember themselves). I’ve stopped hoping Hollywood will make movies I like. I’ve stopped trying to like “new” music, most new TV shows. Or hoping to remember the names of new “stars.”

Some stuff gave me up. Some people gave up on me. Other things, just slipped away. In the end, it’s the same.

So. Now. If anyone asks me how or why I have given up whatever it was, virtue, vice, or anything, I tell them it was for religious reasons. No one ever asks what I mean by that. But just so you know  …

It doesn’t mean anything.

It’s a misunderstanding. Not a lie. Just a way to end the conversation. No one wants to offend me by asking for details of my beliefs. They might turn out to be embarrassing or bizarre. Thus my all-purpose answer to everyone is “on religious grounds,” “for religious reasons,” or “on the advice of my spiritual counselor.”

These powerful words can make any conversation vanish and I never have to tell someone to shut up. It works on everyone except those who really know me. They will raise one or more eyebrows, and fall over laughing.

It’s similar to (but entirely different than) my all-purpose answer to “How are you?” With the biggest, broadest, fake smile I can muster and with heartfelt enthusiasm, I say: “I’m FINE!” 99.9% of the time, this does the job. Test drive it yourself.

I’m fine. For religious reasons.

VICE | THE DAILY POST

MY EIGHTH SIN

Remember the seven cardinal sins? I took up the gauntlet, the challenge of adding a new sin to the classics. First, I had to do a quick refresher course on the original big seven. They are:

Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, Pride.

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Seven Deadly Sins, Peter Bruegal

Really, I’m not sure we need another one. These seem entirely adequate to the task of making the world a wretched place for one and all. But hey, I’ll give it a shot. The original sins are concepts.

1 – From the top, there’s the ever-popular Lust.

Lust encompasses far more than indiscriminate sex or cheating on one’s spouse. Lust is not just for horny teenagers and men in a midlife crisis.

Lust is an intense desire. It is a general term for desire. Therefore lust could involve the intense desire (for) money, food, fame, power, or sex. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the penitent walks within flames to purge himself of lustful thoughts and feelings. 

On this earthly plane, there’s a lot of lusting going on and sex is the least of it. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say sex is the best of it. Possibly the only piece of the “lust sinology” that’s fun and might do somebody some good.\

2 – So how about Gluttony, eh? If you think it means you eat too much, you’d be right, though eating is a symptom, not the disease.

Derived from the Latin gluttire, meaning to gulp down or swallow, gluttony (Latin, gula) is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. Gluttony can be interpreted as selfishness; essentially placing concern with one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.

As far as I can tell, our whole society has been doing a lot of gulping … of natural resources, of fancy cars, houses, gadgets, widgets. We also eat too much, but in the overall scheme of things, eating is the least of it. Over-consumption is a the sin and quintessentially American.


greed-cartoon

3 – Moving along, we get to the perennial favorite: Greed. You can’t go wrong with greed. For thousands of years, greed has topped the “most popular sin” list across social boundaries. It’s probably the single most motivating of the sins. It is so popular, it has lost its evil connotations and been enshrined as something to which one ought aspire.

Greed (Latin, avaritia), also known as avarice, cupidity or covetousness, is, like lust and gluttony, a sin of excess. However, greed (as seen by the church) is applied to a very excessive or rapacious desire and pursuit of material possessions. Scavenging, hoarding materials or objects, theft and robbery, especially by violence, trickery, or manipulation of authority are actions likely inspired by Greed.

According to Gordon Gecko, “Greed is good.” So, not to worry. Greed is not evil. It’s just business.


sloth

4 – Sloth has a certain quaint charm and in the broader scheme of things, hardly seems worthy of mention. But, it’s on the list, so …

Sloth (Latin, acedia) can entail different vices. While sloth is sometimes defined as physical laziness, spiritual laziness is emphasized. Failing to develop spiritually is key to becoming guilty of sloth. In the Christian faith, sloth rejects grace and God. Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Sloth is not only failure to “do” stuff. It’s also failure to do the moral thing … to do nothing in the face of evil. Failure to do the right thing is a sin, even if it isn’t a crime.


5 – Wrath is a big deal, the cause for much of what ails America these days. If you don’t think wrath is a problem, spend 15 minutes cruising posts on Facebook. Watch the news. There’s a staggering amount of rage and hatred out there. I believe wrath has overtaken greed as the most popular mortal sin of the decade.

Wrath (Latin, ira), also known as “rage”, may be described as inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. Wrath, in its purest form, presents with self-destructiveness, violence, and hate that may provoke feuds that can go on for centuries. Wrath can persist long after the person who committed a grievous wrong is dead. Feelings of anger can manifest in different ways, including impatience, revenge, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug abuse or suicide. 

We seem to be in the middle of a wrath epidemic. Politically and socially, we are an angry, hate-filled people. And it’s spreading in ever-widening circles.


6 – Ah Envy! The motivator of crime, the inciter of ambition.

Like greed and lust, Envy (Latin, invidia) is insatiable desire, is similar to jealousy in that they both feel discontent towards someone’s traits, status, abilities, or rewards. The difference is the envious also desire the entity and covet it. Envy can be directly related to the Ten Commandments, specifically, “Neither shall you desire… anything that belongs to your neighbor.” 

Envy is a major motivator of small evils that grow into bigger ones. Back-biting, gossip, eavesdropping are fueled by envy. Greed often starts with envy, as does gluttony and pride. Although it can be hard to tell which sin came before the other one.


7 – Pride is the downfall of the best and brightest. If there’s a sin to which I am addicted, pride is it. It rears its head in so many ways, both subtle and obvious. Believing one is smarter than everyone else, that one is really in control of ones fate (yeah, right!). Snobbery is born of pride, as is xenophobia. It is the sweetest, coziest sin, the beloved of the educated and ambitious.

Pride is my personal favorite. Being prideful is fun.

In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as believing that one is essentially better than others, failing to acknowledge the accomplishments of others, and excessive admiration of the personal self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). 


So what could I possibly add to this prestigious list?

ignorance

Allow me to offer Willful Ignorance, a determined blindness to facts, reality, and knowledge. Willful Ignorance fits comfortably in with other popular sins to make up “our body politic.” It certainly should be a sin, don’t you think?

No need to thank me. You can hold the applause.

DOWN THE ROAD WITH FANATICISM AND IGNORANCE

Fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding … and we are feeding it well. 

I originally posted this four years ago. Horribly enough, it’s even more relevant now than it was then.

Inherit the Wind” (1960) was directed by Stanley KramerNot merely based on actual events, the script is substantially drawn from transcripts of the 1925 Scopes’ “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, where teaching evolution had been banned by the Butler Act.

You would think that we would have come a long way since then … and we did. We passed some good legislation. Civil rights and all that. We eliminated the legalized part of our national evil. But then, we started doubling back.

We’re heading down a bleak, dark road. Again. Apparently we lack a national memory of having been here before and it ending badly. It always ends badly. A nation led by hatred, ignorance, and fear is not headed for a happy ending.

CHANGING THE WORLD WITH A WHISPER

The Encyclopedia Britannica provides this illuminating definitions:


Phenomenology, a philosophical movement originating in the 20th century, the primary objective of which is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.


I was a fervent, probably thoroughly obnoxious student of comparative religion in my final two years of university. It was no doubt the culmination of my search for The Whole Truth. I wanted a key that would unlock the meaning of everything. I’ve written about “The Meaning of Everything.”  It is my all-time favorite post, even if it isn’t my best post.

meaning-of-life3

This, however, isn’t about me. It’s about Mr. Wekerle (pronounced Weh-ker-lee with the emphasis on the first syllable). He was the head of the Philosophy Department at Hofstra University when I was attending. I adored him. Not because he was “hot,” but because he was so incredibly smart. He was also the only professor could tell when I was bullshitting and hadn’t actually read the books. The only teacher to give me D-/A+ as a grade for a 50-page paper.

The A+ was for style, the D- for content.


Mr. Wekerle (he was ABD having not quite finished that doctoral thesis … and I don’t know if he ever did) made me work for my grades. Made me think. Forced me to spell everything out and not assume that my reader already knew the material. Which served me very well in the larger world later in life.

He read every page of every paper submitted in class. He was harder on me than on many other students because he felt I had potential as an academic. I probably did, but life had other plans for me.

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One of his best tricks for getting students to listen attentively in class was to whisper. It was what we call a “stage whisper.” Loud enough to be heard at the back of the room if no one talked or rustled papers.

In fact, in Wekerle’s classes, no one wanted to sit in the back of the room. You never wanted to miss a single work of his lectures. Especially not during his annual “Phenomenology” lecture. Students would show up from all over campus to sit in on it, even if they’d heard it half a dozen times over the years.

We would sit there, breathless as he whispered the meaning of everything into the hushed room.

Never underestimate the power of a quiet voice, words spoken in a whisper. Shouting may get you some attention … but a whisper can change the world.

ORIGINS AND FAMILY

A few years ago, I briefly had access to Ancestry.com. I traced my family back to the census of 1910, at which point, it ended. I could have pursued it further using other Jewish ancestry sites, but I knew where they would take me.

On my father’s side, the trail would end in Minsk around the turn of the 19th century. On my mother’s side, the trail would go cold in Tarnow, Poland at approximately the same time.

Bonnie and friend on the dirt path

We were neither important nor prominent. Not rich, famous, or especially learned. Regular people, trying to stay alive and out of the Czar’s army. Put food on the table. Occasionally have a belly laugh with friends and family.

Even if I could trace back another hundred years, it wouldn’t answer the real questions about where we began.

When Genghis Khan invaded what is now Russia and eastern Europe, how many babies were left in the wake of the Golden Horde? How many were left by Crusaders as they pillaged, raped, and plundered all the way from Britain to Jerusalem?

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So many invasions, ejections, wars, migrations. How can anyone with even a trace of European or Asian ancestry think they are pure anything — other than human? Assuming current thinking on the origins of mankind are at all accurate, we all came from somewhere else in the beginning. Asia or Africa. Both, perhaps.

Or, somewhere else entirely?

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Thinking about this brings me back to the current sad state of geopolitical mass hysteria and stupidity. We are — all of us — family. If we could trace our roots far enough into the mists of time, we would find each other. Cousins, even though many times removed.

We are one people. Despite skin color, eye-shape, and other “race” and “ethnicity” surface markers, we are enormously more the same than different.

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So how come we hate each other so much? Why? What makes us want to hate one another? Why build walls instead of bridges?

DOOMED? PROVE ME WRONG!

My mother was deeply cynical. She considered herself an atheist, but I think it was more that she felt God had done such a crappy job, he didn’t deserve worship.

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I knew a lot of the experiences that had made her the way she was. The Great Depression. Two world wars, Korea, and Vietnam. She believe people were mostly stupid, racist, and cruel. That all government was oppressive by its nature.

Although not a conspiracy nut, she was pretty sure someone was out to get us. Probably a hangover from the Hitler era followed by HUAC witch hunts of the 1950s — shameful periods of history we are apparently determined to repeat.

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I’m pretty happy in my personal life, but the body politic is appalling. Sickening. I find myself watching CNN with my jaw hanging open. I would never have believed our electorate could be so stupid, ignorant, mean-spirited, bigoted, and bent on self-destruction as they obviously are. If we used the same amount of energy we use for hating each other into improving society, we could fix everything that’s wrong with the world — fast.

Saguaro Storm 06

It’s depressing. I don’t see a positive outcome. I think we are doomed. As a species, we probably deserve it, but personally, I resent it because I’ve done my best. There ought to be a payoff for doing the right thing, don’t you think?

Some of my friends are more optimistic, but I think i’s because they don’t want to believe what’s happening. In a world where Donald Trump is the leading candidate in the party of Abraham Lincoln, what light could be at the end of the tunnel? Bets on the headlights of an oncoming train.

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I really don’t care what Democrat you vote for. Just please, vote for one. I’ve never been sure about God, but I look around, I believe in the Devil. His paw prints are all over this world — and I’m pretty sure he’s running the Republican Party.

By the way … I’d be very pleased to be proved wrong.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS

America, land of the brave and the free. Photo by Turtsman.

My father was not a wise man, but a smart one who knew how to make money. He was a lifelong Democrat, small businessman and other things I would prefer not to delve into right now. A big part of his salesman’s repertoire were one liners and jokes. This was a favorite of mine.

It isn’t what you don’t know that will get you. It’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Albert Friedman
Self-Made American (1917 – 2010)

How true it is, and also, how sad. So many people knowing with complete certainty so much that is so wrong. For them, the motto will forever be thus:

Don’t confuse me with facts! My mind is made up.

If you want to maintain your bona fides as a Real American, you should continue to watch only Fox News. It will help to reinforce your unfounded opinions by presenting pseudo facts and speculation in lieu of real information and you will believe every word. Rupert Murdoch is laughing all the way to his offshore accounts.

Don’t read anything that contains facts unless they comply with your preconceptions. In fact, it might be best to avoid reading entirely. Make a flag of your ignorance. Wave it proudly. Tell the world you know nothing and don’t want to learn nothin’ neither.

Finally, proclaim that you are the prototypical American, unlike the rest of us snobbish book-reading socialist anti-Christian liberals who don’t agree with you. After that, you can wonder why the world is losing respect for the United States. Maybe it has something to do with “true Americans” like you with your passion for ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and stupidity.

You vote against your own best interests because you vote not for people who will help you, but for those who share your hates. Anyone can have you by preying on what you hate. You hate so many things that you are easily had. You are America’s fools and losers, the people about whom H.L Mencken spoke when he said:

Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

H. L. Mencken
US editor (1880 – 1956)