Virtue & Character

Virtue & Character


The Virtues of Heroism and Self-Sacrifice

heroism April 7th, 2020

I just watched the movie 300, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. If you haven’t seen it, you may want to go for it. It is bloody; savage even; but it tells a story of solidarity that is compelling in any time and place, but particularly so now that America is facing down a mortal enemy: the virus, COVID-19. This blog is a paean to first responders, doctors, and parents who have to now teach their kids; it is in praise of those who lost a job due to no fault of their own; it is a criticism of the federal government; it is a recounting of some of the tough spots Americans have been in since the tumultuous colonial era which led to war with England. Heroism and self-sacrifice are called for during these dark days.

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The Winter of Our Discontent

Shakespeare March 26th, 2020

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” Shakespeare wrote nearly 500 years ago. Talk about something standing the test of time! Indeed, there are many quotes from his prescient plays and striking sonnets that still aptly describe human beings today. As I write, it is nearly April, 2020, and the world is caught in convulsions of the chaos created by coronavirus. The pandemic, like something Shakespeare would have taken inspiration from, highlights both the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the wonderful and the absurd. It shows everything about human beings, the human condition, and humanity’s aspirations — and failings. It is through this lens that I write a bit about what is evident all around us now, in the winter of our discontent.

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Biden Pulls a “Rocky Balboa” on Super Tuesday!

Biden March 9th, 2020

David Leonhardt of the New York Times, says this about Joe Biden: “As happened with McCain in 2008, a large share of primary voters this year weren’t wowed by any of the candidates. They instead were waiting for one to emerge — especially one who seemed likely to beat President Trump. I don’t think it was inevitable that Biden would be that candidate, especially after his weak start. But after Sherrod Brown and Mitch Landrieu didn’t run, after Michael Bloomberg entered the race late, after Cory Booker and Kamala Harris dropped out and after every other candidate failed to appeal to black voters, Biden was the one left standing. Many voters have found their way back to him.” He might not have been the most able candidate from the beginning, but with Bernie failing to really catalyze a winning combination of huge voter turnout, minority support, and suburban appeal, Biden is the man African-American, older, and many Hispanic voters are choosing to accomplish the most important goal conceivable: send Donald Trump back to his gilded towers of dark magic and usher in an era that is both progressive and harkens back to the largely-successful Obama years. Biden’s coup on “Super Tuesday” was reminiscent of the mythical boxer and “comeback kid”, Rocky Balboa. Here is a brief synopsis of the virtue and character that many see in Biden’s glorious victory.

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Trump Faces Demanding Test of Responsibility and Prudence

Trump February 28th, 2020

The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 10% of its value this week, probably two or three trillion dollars of wealth evaporated. Now, I think that the stock market is a foolish “bet” but I do have all of my retirement income tied up in it (for some complicated reasons I shouldn’t get into). I feel this very keenly since I lost $100,000 in the time it took my orchid to put out a flower. However, now we know what is causing the global contraction and the loss of profit. Commentator Joe Scarborough talked of the market usually as being “like witchcraft” – capricious – but there is a clear cause for all this volatility and fear: Supply chains have been shattered. Conferences being cancelled. “This terrifies investors,” he said. It’s much about loss of profits and uncertainty – will this slow-moving and hard-to-contain disease last for longer than 6 or 9 months? Scarborough said, “the snowball is just starting to roll down the hill.” I think the major reason America is in jeopardy is that Donald Trump leading America during a major crisis. This is more or less the chickens coming home to roost when it comes to Republicans in power, though. At bottom, this crisis is both an opportunity and a danger, one in which Trump faces a demanding test of his responsibility and prudence. It is about wisdom and virtue and character. Don’t hold your breath. 

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Morality as it Relates to Politics

morality as it relates to politics February 16th, 2020

When we talk about Bernie Sanders supporting a “Medicare for All” approach to healthcare, there are many distinct and legitimate approaches one can take when thinking about it. One is functionality; another is cost. Viability is a third, and unintended consequences is yet another. There are also moral aspects of politics, for example, when it comes to healthcare. For example, is it a right or a privilege? Can a CEO promise it during heated negotiations with employees, and take it away the next quarter? Is there equal access to quality healthcare, or is it, as with most goods in society, available in varying degrees based on one’s privilege, wealth, and power? This is but one example of morality as it relates to politics, the subject of this blog.

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Dignity as an Antidote to Partisanship and Economic Despair

dignity February 11th, 2020

E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post suggests that dignity is an antidote to partisanship and economic despair, and can be the best way to beat Donald Trump. Dionne indicates that dignity is the urgent need in the United States now. His most recent book is indeed entitled: Code Red: How Moderates and Progressives Can

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Moral Dilemmas and Moral Hypocrisy: Politics in 2020

hypocrisy February 7th, 2020

Moral hypocrisy – basically making an exception of oneself when it comes to behavior that is wrong – is deeply embedded in political conservative ideology, in my opinion. In a written piece entitled “Why we are all moral hypocrites – and what we can do about it”, researcher Jared Piazza, who looked into morality, highlights the following: “In one study, we had people consider which traits they rate highest in people who occupied different roles in their life – from staff at the grocery counter to teachers, judges and parents. Moral traits, such as being honest, fair and trustworthy, were valued more than other traits, such as being sociable or intelligent, across these roles. We have also found that people with a moral failing are typically seen in a more negative light than people lacking other traits.” In this blog, I wish to think about politics in light of moral hypocrisy, inconsistency, bias, and a crass kind of moral reasoning that, not surprisingly, can be called quid pro quo.

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Senator Romney Finds His Courage

courage February 6th, 2020

Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate and current Senator from Utah (and Mormon, and former hedge fund guy) is in some ways the last person one would expect to be the shining light in the dark, dank place where the modern GOP dwells. This is a paean to Mr. Romney, having found the courage to stand up for what is right, despite the fact that the vengeful Republicans and their craven Führer are going to rain down punishment on him like a vengeful Greek god. This story is truly one of earnestness, religiosity, courage, and character.

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Partisan or True? Where Psychology Meets Politics

psychology February 5th, 2020

Citing a little inventory about politics, The Atlantic writer Olga Khazan states that “…the issues that most concern political liberals tend to fall under the category of ‘individualizing’ moral foundations, which have more to do with personal standards: care versus harm, and fairness versus cheating. Political conservatives, meanwhile, tend to be more concerned about group-focused ‘binding’ foundations: loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and disgust versus purity.” She points out that, “Among the factors that shape such deep-seated political preferences, a prominent one is believed to be fundamental moral beliefs—how someone thinks a good society should function or a decent person should behave.” Khan goes on to point out, interestingly, that perhaps the causal direction should actually be reversed! That is, she is noting that perhaps it is not that certain Americans notice the obnoxious stuff coming out of Trump’s mouth and his pen and find it immoral and repugnant; rather, a certain subset of the population identify as liberals, are partisan and biased, and therefore they subjectively find Trump offensive. In this blog, I explore this complex and intriguing phenomenon.

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What Do We Deserve? Moral Desert & Entitlement

moral desert January 21st, 2020

What does a person – let’s confine it to Americans in this blog – deserve? In philosophy, it is termed moral dessert. That is, as a member of society, what rights does one have to goods and benefits and opportunities? Contrast dessert (sometimes spelled desert) with entitlement – the rights one has based on law, contracts, and agreements. In this piece, I want to dilate on this topic, and to that end, will share a brief discussion a friend and I had. You may not be surprised to learn that I take a generally liberal position, and my friend, a fairly libertarian one. I am more likely to see, optimistically, that people deserve opportunity, chances, and help from society at large (i.e., the institutions of government and associated social welfare provisions). You can expect, of course, to see apt quotations brought to bear on the dialogue.

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