Saintly Thoughts

On the Human Muddle

Might I humbly suggest that the highest virtue to which a human person might strive is, paradoxically, to stubbornly avoid the temptation to fall headlong into any universalizing system which claims for itself an all-encompassing knowledge of virtue itself.  This seems the only responsible choice for beings such as we who perceive all aspects of existence as though through a glass darkly; i.e. to be human is to suffer from a tendency towards fallibility.  But this pragmatic and moderate approach is both difficult to practice and, since it resists universalizing "isms", even more difficult to explain to our fellows.  For, while such an approach recognizes and values our human capacity for reason, it further recognizes that reason as applied may be tyrannical and puerile--so reason may be no ultimate arbiter.  Such an approach sees as vitally important the bonds of tradition and culture (which at their most basic levels rests upon the recognition that "language" itself is an inescapable and necessary construct which confines and mediates  our thought and communication) but yet recognizes the stultifying nature of an appeal to tradition and the many evils which may be codified in the name of culture.  This approach sees and recognizes the dignity in our desire to turn our eyes upwards into the heavens by means of religion and piety, but yet recognizes the dangers which lie insidiously interwoven in the power structures that such faithful mysteries inevitably build up around themselves.  Furthermore, it sees human persons as endowed with extraordinary powers of will which yet must be understood as constrained within the bounds of that which is possible and prudent, while yet again recognizing that the exact boundaries of of prudential willfulness might never fully be known in any clear way.  Finally, this approach perceives a dignity in all persons which bestows upon them the godlike power and right to act in a way that they perceive as right while yet allowing the the just deserts for these choices to effectuate themselves in the lives of these dignified actors, while yet perceiving that society must place merciful limits upon the scope of consequences which may be suffered for the sake of both the individual actor and the structural stability of society a whole.  

Thus, the only methodology fit for human persons is an anti-methodology; a methodology (or, if you insist, ideology) which refuses those siren calls beckoning too far to the left or to the right of the middle way.  And there is no sure arbiter between these competing tendencies of action, for wisdom demands that there is a time and a place for all forms of human action.  Such a state of existential freedom as we find ourselves in must both awe us and terrify us in equal measure, for if we see truly we see that the world of possibilities is far more open than we have lulled ourselves into believing, and that such may be used to justify (after a fashion) responses perceived as befitting a liberal republic one moment and responses perceived as befitting a tyrannic despotism the next.  

But perhaps this one "rule" of wisdom might be said to apply: rather than building up elaborate systems which unduly prescribe binary responses to what are inevitably complex factors affecting the human experience, we withhold judgment and decision until we ourselves are placed in a situation of "moral hazard" whereby our hand is forced by circumstances to align ourselves with some position.  Such a response is difficult and dangerous and inevitably will only ever be carried out incompletely, but such takes into account the varieties of human experience, the temporal restrictions placed upon all human solutions, and the fundamental principle of fallibilism that infects every aspect of our souls.