Monday, April 26, 2010

Virtue requires privacy

Almost anyone can behave while being watched. We learn early in our lives to not act up when those who enforce the rules are watching. What we do when no one else is watching, that is the best expression of our character as it is. While I suppose it is possible for a person always living under a microscope to behave properly out of their own nature, I think it is about as likely that the fat cells encircling my waist will decide to shrink of their own accord. I believe that we need to have the ability to act some of the time without oversight in order to develop character, much as we must occasionally lift heavy objects in order to develop a strong body capable of lifting ever heavier objects.

John "Anthony Burgess" Wilson explores this theme in his novel "A Clockwork Orange" (which I assume most people have viewed either in print or on film.) The related point (with which I happen to agree) that I got from the film was that since virtue is the choice of good over evil, that if there is no choice, there is no virtue. Interestingly enough the 21st chapter of the book (omitted from both the US edition of the book and film adaptation.)

This is, of course, one answer to the theodicy problem (i.e. how can suffering (or evil) exist if God exists and God is all-compassionate.) In our dualistic view of the world, where nothing can exist in our awareness without something with which to contrast it (does a fish know that it's wet?) then the background of suffering shows us the joy of the cessation of suffering. The existence of evil shows us the virtue of good.

As I try to imagine a world without distinction, and world without contrast, the only concept with which my mind keeps arriving is the void, a cessation from existence. Significance requires effort, existence requires sorrow, and freedom requires eternal warfare. This is the wonderful, terrible dance of existence, and as clumsy as I am, I am forever grateful to be here, and be a part of it.

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