Friday, June 09, 2006

Mean People Win

It is a severe fact that one cannot take clear stands on many critical issues without expressing contempt for "the deeply held convictions of others with whom [one] disagree[s]." The proper attitude toward a person or position one regards as contemptuous of, say, human life, is contempt--which need not preclude pity, fear, and even compassion. Anything less indicates one does not really take the matter seriously. It is always the fitting implication and sign of honesty in even the most "civil" disputes that the disputants are clearly antagonists whose differences cannot be reconciled or infinitely deferred without there being a winner and a loser.
-Gassalasca Jape

"...the old religion did not beatify men unless they were replete with worldly glory: army commanders, for instance, and rulers of republics. Our religion has glorified humble and contemplative men, rather than men of action. It has assigned as man's highest good humility, abnegation, and contempt for mundane things, whereas the other identified it with magnanimity, bodily strength, and everything else that conduces to make men very bold. And if our religion demands that in you there be strength, what it asks for is strength to suffer rather than strength to do bold things. This pattern of life, therefore, appears to have made the world weak, and to have handed it over as a prey to the wicked, who run it successfully and securely since they are well aware that the geniality of men, with paradise for their goal, consider how best to bear, rather than how best to avenge, their injuries. But, though it looks as if the world were to become effeminate and as if heaven were powerless, this undoubtedly is due rather to the pusillanimity of those who have interpreted our religion in terms of laissez-faire, not in terms of virtu.
-Machiavelli, The Discourses

Too often, "meanness" doesn't mean cruelty, it simply means disturbing the things which need disturbing. Generally, these things are part of the self-satisfied status quo ranging in level from the individual ego to global society. The status quo itself required and still requires meanness to maintain itself, only this cover is forgotten beneath a veneer of virtue at those times when it is not deliberately ignored. Cynical to say, those who admonish and rebuke malfeasance on the part of politicians, entertainers, journalists, and clergy, are too easily silenced by distracting admonitions that the critic care more for his inner state before correcting other people who themselves care little for self-criticism. The would-be critic's soul is never perfect enough for his opinion to be reckoned worthy of consideration, and so his self-examination is never-ending and therefore nigh indistinguishable from self-absorption.

Yes, personal reform is both an obvious prerequisite and a continuing process for any man. Yes, Machiavelli's claim to vengeance is neither his nor ours, but the Lord's.

Nonetheless the personal failings self-examination reveals cannot always counsel inaction in the face of wrongdoing. Indeed, an examination of conscience can indicate that one is timid when one should be courageous; that one is hectored into silence when one should be bellowing vituperations upon self-serving moralist poseurs. It is indeed a deformed sense of prudence which advises only reasons for inaction while being deaf to reasons for action. Inaction itself can be a moral failing in need of correction: it was once recognized as Sloth, a sinful habit to be purged by just and true action towards real good.

May the counsels of Sloth be silenced in all good men's hearts.

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