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Montaic Potpourri

People Are Strange Pt. 1


I’m going to relay a story about being idealistic and fickle, and about how all humans are this way, because I was as a boy.

When I was 9 or 10, I would pray the following prayer every night before falling asleep: “Jesus, please forgive my sins and the sins of the world so we can go to heaven and not to hell. Amen.” I had this down to a mantra I could spit out silently in roughly a second or so. It had to be this fast because you didn’t know when death would happen. It was a nightly thing. I also said it during the day. I wouldn’t say I was in fear for my soul, so much as this activity was a comforting one. No one really taught me this. I was just a weird kid who pieced things together. Differently.

The following scene takes place in the Cope’s yard, which eventually became our yard. So the Copes had this enormous rock in their front yard. It was probably 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall, maybe 2 feet wide (if that), and 3-4 feet long, but for us it was like Mt. Olympus. We would play “King of the Mountain,” with all that entails: healthy competition quickly devolving into literal fist fights.

Well. Young Steven said something that just lit me up. If I recall correctly, and I’m pretty sure I don’t, he said or did something to Josh. Or maybe it was the perennial debate of whose dad was the biggest, strongest, baddest hombre. Whatever it was, it was enough to ignite righteous indignation within me. So righteous, that I prayed, “Jesus, please rapture your children. NOOOOOOWW!” This probably would have been more comical had I said it aloud, bit I did it through gritted teeth, under my breath, and with clenched fists.

There is so much going on here, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s fascinating I desired God’s unstoppable rapture judgment on my friend-turned enemy, only to pray my mantra at night, and have my friend back the next day. Jesus was this invisible, but powerful force to use in blessing and cursing. The moral of this story is that children, and humanity by extension, are evil maniacs not to be trusted.

A lot of the weird things I thought as a kid probably would have been gently corrected (or looked at in horror? Who knows) had I said them aloud. Take the following as an example. Adam and Eve were the parents of all humanity. They were also white. Why? Because everyone I grew up with was white, with a few exceptions. Why did they look different than me? Well, I made sense of it from art and my fuzzy conceptions of this new thing Mom and Dad had just told me about called “sex.”

When a man loved a woman very much he would stick his scrotum in her vagina and they would have babies. That, I later found out, was not the case. So, color.

Adam was a very expressive individual. He and Eve had had a few, white children. In his short time on the earth, Adam had discovered dyes and paints. Being the creative man he was, Adam decided to paint his penis yellow before he lay with Eve one day, and this is where the descendants of Asia come from. And so with black, brown, and red skin.

Had I told this to my parents or fourth grade Sunday school teacher (I forget who this is now; maybe the Robillards? Or the Bryants?), and they actually heard my entire explanation, I don’t know if they would have laughed or gently corrected me. Suffice it to say I took bits of knowledge and ran with them. Far, far away.

People are strange.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Pt. 1


So I’ve been trudging through this piece of Aristotle, looking for material I might be able to use in ethical discourse in the American political climate.

Too often I feel ethical discourse retreats into partisan interests, religious interests, or uncritical opinion. This has probably been the case since time immemorial, but that doesn’t extinguish how much it annoys me.

 

Aristotle’s big beef in this work is the “mean” between extremes. He also mentions “virtue” a lot. The name that he gives a virtue ends up being the mean between two extremes which often have to do with vice. For example, he assigns courage as the mean between cowardice and rashness.

Though Aristotle holds the mean as the aim of the good life, he also maintains that it is incredibly difficult (one has to aim for the mean actively; it is not a static state [surely there is a better phrase, but I prefer to write in stream-of-consciousness]) to achieve, and so if one has a proclivity to one extreme, one’s own ethical rule should be to swing toward the opposite pole.

Aristotle also holds open the possibility that there are times when opting for one extreme or another will actually achieve the good. For example, in a passage (Book IV, Chapter 5) on “gentleness” (the mean between angry irritability and lack of showing proper anger [numbness maybe?]), he speaks of appropriate anger reserved for certain people/things, for certain times, and for a certain length of time. He doesn’t go into great detail to fill out these categories, so I was left with questions like: “What situations deserve anger in his mind? Considering such situations, when it is appropriate to express anger and for how long? If violence comes into the picture, how much and for how long is it appropriate”?

While I wish for more concrete examples, it’s almost as if the work is an ice breaker for ethical discussion. It’s like, “Aristotle defines justice as such and such. What are some instances with which we can test this assertion?”

Perhaps I have skimmed parts too quickly because I only have so much time as a husband, father, worker, student, and citizen. Perhaps Aristotle will mention more concrete examples. However, the translator/editor of my edition, Joe Sachs, reminds the reader that Aristotle remains abstract/general because to be too specific on some points would have too many exceptions to be useful (Sachs, Nicomachean Ethics, Focus Philosophical Library, 2002, 35n43).

I’ve just started on his section on justice (Book V). This subject intrigues me the most because of the relativity of justice. Whose justice? When is something just? Is it a set of rules? Is it a way/process of judgment with varying outcomes? Most poignantly in my context, who has the market on justice: the Right or the Left? Does justice lie in only one of them, does it shift between them, is it only established by who is in power?

I’m kind of having fun with this work, though some of it is largely irrelevant to me (discussions of the aristocratic station, etc.) and some of his writing isn’t straightforward enough for my American sensibilities. That said, it’s nice to take a step back in time, away from the interests that bombard me in the present, to see how others (who weren’t interested in my interests) thought about things dear to me.

Crap. That was not a straightforward sentence. At times I wax eloquent and other times I forget all I covered in composition. I beg your mercy.