Real virtue is hard. I was thinking about this as I was thinking the other day that I’m quite possibly the worst-practitioner-of-my-professed-religion-ever.
You’d not think that from the outside because I try to fit in with the obvious observances, and do the right thing… most of the time. Look, it’s not hypocrisy, it’s my way of keeping myself close to the straight and narrow.
But there’s a whole host of little things that slip by: times I’m unkind, times I don’t consider others and certainly times I’m lazy or fail to do what I should be doing right then.
Real virtue is hard because most of it is internal. It’s refraining from doing the things that the natural creature wants to do. It’s doing things you really don’t want to do. It’s staying up an hour later to finish that overdue project, it’s getting up in the night because your spouse/kid is throwing up in the bathroom, it’s doing dishes before bed so your spouse doesn’t need to worry about them, it’s making a cup of hot cocoa for your kid when it’s snowy out and you know he/she is going to come trudging through the door, wet and cold.
BUT that’s not the hardest part. The hardest part is putting yourself out for strangers or even people you don’t like very much. Going out to help your contentious neighbor dig his car out of snow, even though you work from home, and don’t need to. Lending money to a bad-at-planning friend even though you know you won’t be paid back, because they need it more than you, even though it leaves you tight. Or stopping on a cold night to help some person pick up packages they just dropped.
There are other — little — things that are easier, though still work you don’t need to do, like taking back the carts some right berk left in parking spaces in the grocery store.
I do the later type of thing when I can, the one of being kind to the family most of the time. (Not always because I’m human and sometimes the body won’t obey no matter how virtuous the mind wants to be.) The virtue in relation to friends, well, I try, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult because we’re all human and sometimes we don’t know when good turns to enabling, so it’s a judgement call. And sometimes the “enabling” thing is easy to use as a n excuse, even though it’s probably (we never know for sure) not true.
Being kind to strangers takes the problems of being kind to friends and acquaintances and amplifies them. I mean, what do you do when there’s that lone little old lady by the side of the road with an obvious broken down car? Do you stop? What if her accomplices are in the ditch waiting to jump you? You might be commanded to be kind to those around you and help those who can’t help themselves, but what do you do when it risks your life? Are you required to risk your life? So most of the time you call the police and trust they’ll help the little old lady. (More on that later.)
And then there’s a whole host of “virtues” and “disciplines” that are internal. I’m very bad at them, and I believe they matter, because they condition how you see the world, but you don’t see them from the outside. You don’t see my laziness either, most of the time for reasons of “taking the easy, not the exacting” part, but it’s failing at virtue, nonetheless.
However this is not confession, and I’m not writing this to unburden.
I’m writing this because I was thinking on what it would take to REALLY live my faith and I realized that most of it would be very, very difficult and also nearly invisible to others.
Because we’re human, it’s really hard to do things like never having an uncharitable thought or doing things when you really don’t feel like doing them, or being just kind enough not to enable.
This is why most ancient religions had/have a code of conduct, but also a bunch of actions you can perform, ritually or otherwise to make you feel okay with the divine, without having to go to heroic lengths.
Give gods/saints their pound of butter in the lamp, pray in a certain way, and you feel that you’ve at least studied to the test. You might not qualify for sainthood or ultimate bliss, but you did what you needed to do, that Himself up there are trying really hard, and it’s not your fault if you fall down sometimes (or often.)
This is also why the older and more mature religions have established ways of atoning and established days for doing so. Because if you think you’ve “studied to the eternal test” but just in case you missed one of the important tests there is this remedial credit, this way to make yourself clean OR to silence your overactive conscience.
The problem is when you substitute these traditional religions by the pretense of no religion. Why pretense? Because most people who claim to have no religion, never the less follow a set of never-examined-or-questioned precepts.
If those precepts are in essence the same as in many traditional religions, you have a lot of my atheist or agnostic friends: be kind to others; help those in need, take care of your own and don’t be a burden on others. They tend to be — coff. I know some of you read this — a wee bit more neurotic, as they have no way to make atonement and the unswept dregs of human failure pile up in their back brain.
On the other hand some of us who are religious are also really bad at believing we made full atonement.
But then there are those people who are not religious and who took as their precepts the fuzzier, more insane forms of “virtue.” Stuff like “Speak for the voiceless.” I hate that one, because while it’s valid if you’re a religious person or one who watches yourself ALL THE TIME, it’s way to easy to imagine that the voiceless would say JUST what you want them to. Hence all the nonsense of very very white and privileged people speaking for minorities and then rejecting real minorities who disagree with them. Or “respect the Earth.” People like my friend Dave Freer respect the Earth. They live very close to it, which involves an immense amount of work, and they hunt and use every part of the animal they can, and they don’t pollute more than they can absolutely help.
But people like Al Gore, PREACH respect of the Earth, while living in a mansion larger than some small third world villages, and which certainly takes more energy to heat, and jetting around the world. They do their “virtue” talk and think that compensates for how they live, I’d guess.
Yesterday, while I was making dinner my husband had some show on where some right prat who fancied himself a comedian was going on and on and on about prisoner rehabilitation. (Is this the new THING? I saw it here yesterday, and it’s been cropping up more and more. I find this very interesting, because I’ve noticed a certain coordination in topics du jour from the over-culture. Remember when Alaskan cruises were all the thing and every liberal and soft liberal and some non liberals were taking them? And every magazine was full of stuff about the PRISTINE landscape of Alaska? All leading up to the rejection of the Alaskan pipeline? I’ve learned to catch these things in the wind as it were, and be prepared for what liberal cause they’re pushing. And no, I don’t think they’re a big conspiracy. They’re the result of most people in the media and entertainment being of the same political color and running in the same circles. In those circumstances it takes very few manipulators in their midst to start this sort of thing, which then runs on its own, until it stops suddenly when no longer useful. Mind you, the people planting the seeds ARE usually conspirators. Not so long ago — and probably not now, but who knows? — they took their marching orders from Moscow.)
Younger son finally asked my husband to turn the d*mn thing off, and I realized I was gritting my teeth. My husband was going along with it for the “funny” and paying no attention to the politics.
I was paying attention, partly, because of the discussion here, and because it was prickling the back of my brain with “is this the new thing?”
But it was annoying the heck out of me, because I’ve heard all this before. I heard it in Europe. The poor prisoners, and the horrors they face on coming out, and and and. At the end of this is a judicial system where a wrist slap is considered harsh. I don’t have any clue what it is now, but when I came to the States, you could commit murder in Portugal and be out in seven years. MULTIPLE murders. And then several busybodies would busy themselves with virtue-signaling by giving you everything they could, things they wouldn’t bother giving/helping poor but honest people with. And when you failed, as most prisoners do, even with all the help in the world, to integrate back in society, it was society’s fault and more sappy stories were told about you, till they gave you another chance.
This (and I’m not going into the reform/rehabilitation/death penalty matter right now, this one is just an instance) is virtue-signaling on the part of the do-gooders. These people wouldn’t bestir themselves to help a family in need that has never done anything wrong, because everyone agrees those people need help, and why isn’t the state helping them. But hey will put themselves out to help prisoners say because the very fact they’re “undeserving poor” makes the virtue of helping them greater. Not just prisoners, mind, there’s also drug users, or abusers of others, or as we’ve seen in our own field, pedophiles.
Sometimes it’s as though the less deserving the object of concern, the greater the virtue signaling of this “compassion.”
Which brings us to the fact most of this “virtue” is not even real. They’re not helping anyone. I have a friend who is a pagan prison chaplain. He puts his money where his mouth is. He puts his time, his attention, and his work in there too. Weirdly he’s one of those who doesn’t agitate for leniency in general. It’s also funny, given how different their traditions, how much he sounds like Peter Grant on the subject.
Sure there are people in there who deserve help in building a new life. They’re ready to change and work for it, and even if they fail, they deserve help in trying to fix themselves/their lives. But they’re few and far between. Most of them are psychopaths and sociopaths, who are REALLY GOOD at pretending to want to change.
The people who work closely with them and who know them as much as possible can tell the difference and are in the best position for changing their ways if they can be changed. Right prats who go on about how we should be lenient to everyone do more harm than good and lead to a world where we’re kind to the cruel and thus cruel to the kind.
Which is what is wrong with all this virtue-signaling talk. Oh, it makes you feel so good to stand up say for a confessed pedophile and tell everyone how nice they are, and send them pictures of your kids (!) but in the end all that you are doing is enabling someone’s dysfunction.
It makes you feel good to speak for the “voiceless” (because Marxist theory tells you that in a capitalist society the poor/minorities are voiceless, and you never considered Marxist theory is the product of college professors who wouldn’t know voiceless if it bit them in the fleshy portion of the back.) But in the end you’re just joining your voice to a chorus of out-of-touch academics pushing the world in a very bad direction, where envy is a virtue, the individual isn’t respected and society is a horror out of 1984.
Real virtue is hard. Virtue signaling is easy. When you no longer have any real standards virtue signaling is all you have left.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, small dragons and octopi, is what we face. They say and do these things, from twitter storms to rants about the rights of (insert supposed victim class here, the more repulsive the better) in the same way other religions light butter lamps or genuflect to show devotion.
This absolves them from all real effort to help others, particularly since most of them think it’s someone else’s job, and just call the police, or government, to do the charity work they won’t do.
Our society, from entertainment to news to civic teaching (such as there is, which is almost never formally taught) encourages this form of virtue-signaling over real virtue.
We have a lot of work to do to turn it around. And most of this is small, private, modeling real virtue and calling out fools on virtue-signaling. None of it is pleasant or easy. All or it is needed.
Their system if corrupt, impossible and failing. In the end they lose. But we only win if we cultivate real virtue and aren’t afraid to call out false one.
Resist the easy feel-good of virtue signaling. Do what you can to cultivate real virtue. And teach your children well.
No one said this would be easy.