Virtual Virtue

Harry Drabik

Poking fun of hypocrisy (in others) is a time honored tradition in American culture, writing, and humor. I may be at some risk to use a classic (or say classic) example from Mark Twain who in recent years has been put in the growing line of despicable figures headed by Cristobal Colon. (I hope to get away with the name switch to fly low mentioning an unpopular historic figure, but this tactic doesn’t look promising in other areas, say for 100% Colon Coffee.) Twain (apt name for an artist steeped in American dualism) is also (another duality) S. Langhorne Clemens who enjoyed a religious jest, for example not necessarily considering himself a Christian based on being a Presbyterian. (Some quips don’t age well.) On a visit to the Sandwich Islands (changing names protects the innocent by confusing the guilty) the author, Sam Twain, commented on an elderly pagan who claimed to not be much impressed by Christians. Eating a missionary hadn’t changed his mind. It was also observed that Paganism, was simpler and more beautiful because of that. If a pagan needed to cleanse their soul all that was needed sacrifice someone unpopular. (Imagine how that kept a population on its toes.) There is anecdotal evidence of mothers in law being in short supply on those islands.

The allure of having a ball with foibles or hypocrisy is a desire (perhaps another form of foible) I’ve at times been unable to resist. For years I smiled sagely each time my mother suggested to father they begin attending church again. She’d bolster the suggestion saying “Our luck will change.” Eventually my father accepted the notion with a joint (well, as joint as such things can be in a marriage of fifty years) decision to begin the New Year as churchgoers. On the first Sunday of January our car drove up outside the church and mother got out ready to face the Eternal. Being January there was ice underfoot and snow atop that. Mother was soon on the ground with a broken bone followed by an ambulance trip to the ER. Consideration restrained me for a while, but I doubt it was much more than forty eight hours before I quipped breezily to mother that being hospitalized was a definite change of fortune. Times like that I could read her countenance reviewing the wisdom of having raised me. I knew I’d have to be a bit nicer for a while to make up for my stock decline. A few weeks wheelchair pushing might do it. I was ready to pay the cost of smug satisfaction, and happily.

I didn’t think in terms of virtue, virtual or otherwise, at the time. Being of simple inclination I merely divided along the difference between talking a good talk and actually doing something. (As an aside, that divide between Belief on one side and Action on the other marks my thought being much more Catholic than I’m prepared to wear.) In any case, if I was ready to sacrifice my own mother on the altar of religious wit there was less to stop me doing the same to other targets of convenience. Needling the pro-life position felt especially good. Even though (through no act of fault of mine) I already had a life, I could accept the sincere concern for valuing life in the pro position. I understood as well that having human life was special, but along with (as I saw it) far too many of those uniquely special lives being highly annoying or seemingly useless or wasted. But, what use philosophizing over it? Get down to tacks. If you’re not a natural born cynic as I am and you believe in life I’d appreciate and expect less talk and more action. Start adopting or do work that supports the adoption process. Mere talk about the sanctity of life needs be married to a production model where the breeders are in control in one direction or the other. Um. But it does seem uniquely human to me that our kind can so easily cast the die of the future as a choice based on circumstance or as a sacred obligation.

Trouble with the LIFE question is people getting so emotional over it. Go figure that one. In any case I didn’t break a sweat shifting tactics to fit the immigration issue. Beautiful and inspiring things are said of immigration as richness in human capital, but if an advocate is for opening borders I’d look for them to remove the locks on their own homes and vehicles. That’s not a completely fair analog, but it shows (I hope) the divide between words and deeds. I am more persuaded when a position is bolstered with personal behavior. The question of what one thinks others should do is more convincingly answered through what one is doing. As I see it, a person who wants open borders should personally live that way. Begin by getting rid of driver’s licenses as arbitrary barriers to personal dignity. Or if insurance rates are lower in Montana why can’t we all get the same rate, huh?

Virtual virtue is nothing new but it seems somewhat more in vogue in the generation accustomed to the convenience of wizardly wand waving. I fuss about the immigration topic knowing the steps needed to sponsor an arrival, etc. Doing so requires personal actions and commitment. I know this from having been part of it. That’s how I’m aware that immigration is by far the easier part of a reality that includes responsibility. If you invite a traveler home you don’t expect them to bring a bed, towels, and their own food do you? It is a serious undertaking not unlike adopting a child. If people are invited in there is a long term and significant responsibility attached. But, I have glad tidings too. Immigrants need work so why not assign to them the jobs filled by foreign workers under the J Programs that supply summer workers up the North Shore? Cross the Rio and win a job stocking shelves in Grand Marais or cleaning rooms in Lutsen. Now there’s a dream.