[Vision2020] More on the Virtues Project

joanopyr at earthlink.net joanopyr at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 27 16:53:48 PDT 2005

Nick writes in response to Melynda:

"I disagree with you that common sense is culturally constructed.  (I direct you to the best article on this subject: Martha Nussbaum, Non-Relative Virtues in  Midwest Studies in Philosophy [Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 1988], vol. 13.) Yours is a deconstructive postmodernism of the French variety that throws the wisdom baby out with the philosophical bath water."

Mine, too, is a deconstructive postmodernism of the French variety, Nick, and I cannot agree that it throws the wisdom baby out with the philosophical bath water -- rather, I think it recognizes that the frequency of one's baths, whether one chooses to bathe or to shower, and what constitutes good grooming generally are all social constructs.  What the Virtues Project suggests, to me, is a variation on Joseph Campbell's attempt to identify a universal mythology or Jung's attempt to identify universal archetypes.  I find both of these projects problematic -- okay, hopeless -- and I am tempted to class the Virtues Project as well-intentioned but misguided.  Why?  Because of the following questions:

First, what is common sense?  My mother, a working-class Southerner, has always distinguished between "common sense" and "book learning."  I have encountered this distinction throughout the working-class South, and I suspect some will have encountered it elsewhere.  A profound anti-intellectual streak runs throughout this nation -- anti-intellectualism that is not so prevalent in France, Germany, England, the Far East, and etc.  As an academic thinker, I reject this distinction, just as I reject my family's contention that I'm an unrealistic "egg-head" in my political and social thinking.  Common sense is clearly socially-constructed, else why do our Presidential candidates invariably play down their Harvard and Yale educations in favor of demonstrating their common man machismo by duck-hunting (John Kerry) or eating fried bull's testicles (George W. Bush)?      

Nick continues:

"I prefer virtue talk to value talk, because the virtues are more concrete and personal.  I believe the ancients were correct that most virtues are means between extremes.  It is always wrong to eat too much, but each and every one of us will find a personal mean between the anorexic deficit and the gluttonous extreme. If people ignore objective factors--such as temperament, body size, metabolism, and other physiological factors--then their bodies, sooner or later, will tell them that they are out of their respective means.  This is one way to show that the virtues are relative but still normative."

It is not always wrong to eat too much.  In some cultures, obesity is a positive value.  Taking up as much space as possible in the world is a way for the disenfranchised to make themselves known, to ensure that they are not invisible to the majority culture.  Ever listen to the song "Baby Got Back?"  I shudder to think how much newsprint has been devoted to Jennifer Lopez's backside, or Calista Flockart's anorexia.  Middle and upper-class women (particularly middle and upper-class white women) value skinny; women of color (particularly working-class women of color) value size.  Where is the general mean between those two?  Isn't "normative" size, in fact, socially constructed?

What I object to about the Virtues Project -- and about Moscow's proposed funding of such -- is that it puts me in the position of arguing that I object to "virtue."  I don't.  I'm all for altruism, compassion, kindness, loyalty, and fidelity.  But how I define those terms is, I suspect, radically different from the way (to give the most obvious example) Doug Wilson defines them.  Doug believes that slavery in the antebellum South was ultimately a kindness in that it brought the "superior culture" of Christianity to the heathens/pagans of Africa.  I certainly don't mean to class you, Nick, with Doug Wilson; I am simply using this as an illustration of why, in some cases, there is no middle ground and the twain shall never meet.  

As Andreas Schou wisely asked after last Thursday's showing of "My Town," what's the middle ground between stoning and not stoning homosexuals?  Doug Wilson (and, in the film, Ben Merkle) suggests that the compromise position is exile.  That's not, for me, a compromise position.  The acceptable middle ground for me would be Doug lives his life, and I live mine, but our "culture war" would suggest that that's not acceptable for the man who wants the whole world to be Reformed Christian.

What would I like the City and the County to spend tax-payer monies on?  Not engendering any particular group's idea of virtue, however broad that group might be.  I'd like my money spent on the public library; on better roads; on better schools; and on ensuring that all pay their fair share of property taxes.  (That's a nod to Rose Huskey and Saundra Lund, who today are once again doing unpaid the work of our paid county officials.)

Feminist, Foucauldian, and flauting the two-posts a day rule,

Joan Opyr/Auntie Establishment
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.fsr.com/pipermail/vision2020/attachments/20050627/2aac6aae/attachment.htm

More information about the Vision2020 mailing list