June 11, 2010

Repenting of goodness

There are any number of occupation hazards progressive types are susceptible to. Some of the worst in my book involve moralism and self righteousness, disorders often accompanied by the related condition of earnestness. I find it difficult to breathe in the presence of people without a sense of irony and a healthy dose of cynicism.

But it's not just a matter of taste. People who are overwhelmed by a sense of their own righteousness--or that of the cause which they profess, the two being easily confused--sometimes have zero sense of politics or tactics and are tone deaf and snow blind to even thinking about how their actions might appear to someone not already converted.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a good ethical fight, one where you try to correct this or that excess or injustice, but these days I try to think of such occasions less as a matter of righteousness than of getting my ya yas out in a socially acceptable manner. This is more a matter of moral luck than anything else; a different turn of the goddess Fortuna's wheel and I would have wound up in prison or worse.

I guess my thinking on these issues has been heavily shaped by people like William Blake, Nietzsche, Freud, Niebuhr et al who have been suspicious of our moralistic pretensions. But I'm also standing right smack dab in the biblical tradition. Jesus loved whacking self righteousness and the author of the First Epistle of John wrote that "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."

For reasons like that, I love the parts of Walden where Thoreau is critical of goodness and humanitarianism. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes:

...if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?


There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for certain that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life...

Having said that, y'all be good.

A VOTE FOR SCIENCE. Congratulations to WV Senator Robert C. Byrd for refusing to be buffaloed into a vote to block the EPA from dealing with climate change. Most state politicians seem to have adopted the position that anything which goes against the perceived interests of the coal industry is untrue by definition. Once again, WV's senior senator has stood out from the crowd.

NICE TRY. Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship is trying to shift blame for its Upper Big Branch mine disaster to MSHA ventilation regulations. As the Church Lady on the old SNL would say, "Isn't that convenient?"

FELICITY. Here's another look at the politics of happiness. Thoreau might actually like this one.

BORED OR UNEMPLOYED? Here's a link to keep you busy.


1 comment:

Hollowdweller said...

How's the thing go about how your guru should live 2 valleys over from you??

Because if you lived with him and saw him warts and all then you wouldn't take his exhortations seriously and then you would end up not having enough "room to backslide"???