Thursday, May 03, 2007

Can Vice be Taught?

Socrates was concerned with the question of whether or not Virtue can be taught. Another good question that should be asked, is whether Vice can be taught? I think the answer is Yes. And taught far easier, at that.

Why? Because Vice is usually more directly connected to physical responses of immediate gratification. It doesn’t need to be mediated with thought and consideration, it taps directly into the reward center endorphins just act like food pellets with lab rats, but laced with designer drugs. That being so, thoughts can be, are, dangerous things. It seems to me, that one of the thoughts that should and MUST be taught, is that some thoughts, some ideas, some desires, are not to be approached - especially by an ill equipped mind.

Just as a student pugilist doesn't walk into a ring with Mike Tyson (or whoever the hell is considered tough nowadays), a youth, a student, should not 'get into the ring' with evil – full blown or one of it’s many henchmen - pornography, intoxicants, marxist & postmodernist thoughts. It is too dangerous.

This has always been the case, the biggest difference with us ‘moderns’, is that we’ve forgotten how to deal with dangerous thoughts. Does this mean that if thoughts are dangerous, that they should be regulated? Monitored?

Thank you Mr. Leftie Answer-Man (and not a few of you Rightie ones as well), but no. No it doesn’t mean that at all. What it does mean, is that way back when, when the wise wanted to keep dangerous thoughts out of the hands of those who weren’t ready to handle them, they did the only sensible thing that can be done with potentially dangerous medicines – they hid them away from the grasp of immature and otherwise unprepared minds. They put warning labels on them. They also made sure to show the evil (the term may be controversial for pomofo’s but not for sensible educated peoples) to be clearly baaad. The easy will always be available as an option – unless it’s already too late. There is no avoiding the possibility – your only hope is of making it seem a less desireable choice to make.

How? Well, before answering that, let’s first lets conduct a little houskeeping concerning a few common prejudices many of us moderns have against those who lived way back when.

First off, that those who lived way back when dressed in a fashion we consider to be goofy doesn’t mean they were incredulous, naïve or otherwise stupid. For those of you not so sure (probably those in their twenties (mentally and or chronogically) or less), wait until you get a load of your fashion… ten or twenty years from now. Fashion doesn't necessarily imply foolishness.

Next, think of what you mean when you refer to someone as being Wise. Would such a person be likely to believe in fairy tales, the tooth fairy, talking animals, etc.? No? What makes you think that a wise person living two or three thousand years ago would have either?

And technology. It's fine and all to have it, I rather like the internet, but it doesn't make you any wiser. Would they think You wise because you could turn on a light switch? Wisdom is not deepened with stuff – extended perhaps, but not deepened.

They weren't, they didn't and they wouldn’t. Something else, tamper proof caps and child resistant packaging were not invented after the Tylenol scare, they were invented long before that, way back when, with “A long time ago, in a land (or galaxy) far, far away….”

Here it is that we approach the deep well, the knotty packaging of Myth. Intended and innate to Myths, at their central core, is Truth with a capital “T”. There are deeper mines of meaning in our folk tales, our Myths, our Religions, than are visible upon the surface of their narratives. And something truly magical about them, is that there not only may be, but almost certainly does exist, more Truth within them, than those who wrote them down were aware of at the time of their writing them.

The remarkable thing about Truth, is that it integrates into and throughout all of what is True. Truth is Whole, it is One. There is no – and I do mean NO truth, that exists separate and isolated, from all else that is true. Lies and falsehood can be random, contradictory and completely unrelated to each other, but Truth is a different species altogether.

The truth of a tale told, contains that truth intended by the authors, but it also contains others perhaps unplanned, unforeseen, by the authors, but because of the nature of Truth, all others are unavoidably there all the same. In Myth, in story, the tale reveals only so much meaning as the reader is willing and able to comprehend, and so long as they are restrained from going off half cocked in applying it in some literal fashion (again, that's where teachers and parents come in), they are given only that amount of knowledge that they are ready to receive. But the levels of Truth contained in even one True Tale, go down to unforseeable depths – and expand outwards in concentric circles & spheres to the very boundaries of the universe.

Consider Adam and Eve. For those viewing the story on the 1st level, there is of course the near literal interpretation of the Serpent tempting Eve, and she of Adam – essentially if you listen to the devil, you’d better be prepared to pay the consequences. Loss of paradise, poor clothing and fratricidal children are only some of the obvious payback sure to follow.

(BTW, If you believe that a literal snake spoke to, and tempted Eve... well consult the previous houskeeping measures concerning the Wise. But also don't be fooled into thinking that it doesn't have true meaning to it. Thinking is required, at whatever depth and speed as you can manage. The tales will patiently wait for you to catch up. )

By looking just a little deeper, there can be found more to the tale than just talking sssnake stories. For one thing, I don't think it takes a lot of thought, really just a little consultation with your friendly neighborhood teenager, to figure out that the fruit lately translated as 'apple' might be referring to… something else.

Pomegranates have been floated, sure, strawberries, berries, however, not to be vulgar, but try consider perhaps another red morsel, one that doesn't necessarily grow upon a tree would be more to this point – the Cherry. Not the cherry which grows on the tree in the garden, but the cherry that springs from the tree of life. Ask you're friendly neighborhood teenage boy, if the word 'Cherry', spoken in relation to girls, doesn't bring up some ideas - and fears, and rules. Rules not to be broken, lest you be pushed from your safe and secure home, suddenly a father burdened with responsibilities, a responsible bread-winner, no longer a child, and soon to be blessed with children of his own who must be carefully raised and taught right from wrong, or evil is sure to follow.

Even so – you can be pretty much guaranteed that evil will be sure to follow. Not because of an apple bitten into, but because of the nature of the human mind, of intelligence, of freewill – freewill to have meaning, must include the possibility of making errors. And errors unrecognized, or unheeded, will lead to many black thoughts and deeds.

That aspect of Myth brings to mind very relevant admonitions about maturing adolescents. There are other such ‘Myth’s’ as well; Pandora's box was originally Pandora's urn or goblet, another standin or allusion to the womb, and the release of 'evils', responsibilities that can overcome the unprepared. Persephone, carried off to Hades, couldn't be released by Zeuss scott free, because she had eaten a pomegranate. She had eaten of the fruit of earthly desire and pleasure, and was tied to it, no longer the innocent and free child, but one bound to the soil.

Are these inferences anachronistic? Modern concerns that perhaps didn't exist, or in the same way 400 or 500 b.c.? Certainly. Did they derive other lessons from them then? Of course. That's the point. A story, a myth, because it distills a Truth in action, a psychological and philosophical truth, it is able to refract truth, no matter the quality or intensity of light shone into it. That is one of the ways you know that you are dealing with eternal and transcendent truth.

Perhaps the root meaning, original in the Judaic and the Greek myths, was that in a very definite sense, that bringing forth children, the responsibilities it incurs, the temptations it can foster - the urges to provide for them, posture for them, that from the womb can issue immortality through the father son line of the Tree of Life, but evil can follow as well.

And that is but one level deeper than the narrative. There are many levels beyond that, such as where the snake, his crafty speech, so wriggling manner of moving, so close to the ground, to things, to the physical, horizontal reality, can seduce you away from what is good and proper, with a simple "what can it hurt to try? It's tasssty!" Gagdad Bob has done several excellent explorations of what the Serpent in the garden represents. The twisting manner, the slickly smooth hissing of the snakes words as Intelligence shorn of Wisdom – “Spin” perhaps captures it ."Eat of the apple, and you will know of eternal life"

With women, Eve (or Pandora, or...) representing your worldly desires, dreams, values, can easily sway you - not even by her direct actions, but merely by her existence, into seeking shortcuts to God-like abilities. And before you realize it, you are grabbing for knowledge over wisdom, nudging you into the valuing of quantity over quality, horizontal over vertical, death over life. In an instant, with a word, a temptation, you are banished by your own actions, from the cool garden of wisdom, barred from returning to it by the sharp blade of your own burning desires, forced by your own choices and decisions (de-cision, to cut away from), to endure the sense of nakedness inherent in knowing that there is a schism between what you affirm, and how you act. You are guilty of falling.

There is much to that interpretation. There is much that can be argued. There are thoughts to be thought, and wisdom to be found in the process – and very little of it will be able to be found in memorization, or bubble tests, only in exploration and contemplation. And most likely that will only happen, under the tutelage of a teacher, one wiser than yourself, one who has a grasp of what he'd like to show you of the Good, the Beautiful and the True.

Myths and story also have another beneficial feature. They reflect the Good, the Beautiful and the True at each and every layer of their existence. Whether it be through wonder or adventure or heart ache or even horror – they are enjoyable to be with, to read and to tell. They are open to be explored deeper, and deeper, and deeper. ‘Tests’ can even be exciting in the hands of a skilled teacher, asking if the student is able to see more within aspects of the story that seem to be puzzling, and they will often be initiated by the student;

Student“Didn’t people ever wonder what Atlas was supposed to be standing upon when he held the world upon his shoulders?”,

Teacher “Perhaps some did, as did you, but the clever ones knew that those were clues to deeper meaning, do you suppose it might mean something more?” perhaps even posing it as a riddle to be solved.

Not so with a textbook. And more still, there is a value in story, in engaging with the story, in drawing the story into you with imagination, that leaves some portion of its value behind within you. As C.S. Lewis says in his Narnia books “Once a King or Queen of Narnia, Always a King or Queen of Narnia”. The valorous deeds and truths discovered and defended, create mental integrations – thin perhaps, on their own, but reinforced through other tales, and lessons of manners, they are potentially powerful and deep. Never discount the power of engaging illustrations of a life worthy of emulation; it can prompt the student to choose to try to emulate them. And in that choice, there resides true power.

The problem is, you are most unlikely to be taught anything of the sort in school, or even college. If you are taught to look deeper, it will be in Literature, in imaginative fiction, and there it will be taught as 'what else could the author mean?', not 'what deeper Truth may be revealed here?'. Which is closely related to the other problem with Lit Professors, and Philosophy Professors as well, is that they tend to present anything that is 'well crafted' as being worthy of consideration and discussion. Proust is well crafted, 'deep', many allusions, 'what is he thinking about his mother?... the other child visitor?' What is he thinking that is worth considering, might be a better first question.

As I mentioned at the top, this may be especially needed, because error, vice, and flat out Evil are inherently easier to teach or convey - unintentionally or intentionally, than is Wisdom and Goodness. The Good, the Beautiful and the True, require a focus of spiritual effort upon the Vertical. A sort of spiritual calisthenics is involved in looking at a painting of St. George slaying the dragon, and grasping the balance of layout, the grace of action, the composure of his features, the virtue of the maiden - that takes some effort to See.

On the other hand, it is exceedingly easy to thrill to the action of killing the dragon and carrying off the maiden for purposes her features make obvious. The Crude and Evil come with direct electrified input to satisfied, short term, perceptual - horizontal and flat, desires, thrills, valued for themselves directly and exclusively. Virtue, Goodness, Beauty, only get in the way and impede the physical rewards of the senses.

So how do you approach an Education, that for one thing provides education on an understanding worth having, and two, does so in a way that is least likely to mis-educate? There is no guarantee - the most you can do is show that evil is bad, but in the end it is the student who will choose.

Should the people be protected from dangerous thoughts? Many have concluded so, but only because they didn't first consider what is necessary for any attempt at education to be successful - the student’s exercise of their freewill. No matter how dangerous a foul thought, the attempt to force it either upon, or away, from it's target - is far worse. Worse because that action prevents the mind from operating, processes begun are not only not completed, but are barred from completion, and that leaves a gnawing, festering gap in the mind, a plot for weeds of desire and fear to sprout and spread. Not only for the one 'protected' from it, but for those doing the protecting as well.

The lure of securing a desired end without the proper and necessary natural processes and productions - for the easy satisfaction of desire - for the appearance of the satisfaction of desire... that is the whissspering of the sssnake in the garden. As Gandalf says in LOTR "Don't tempt me! I dare not touch that Ring!"

The Lure of having the Power to satisfy your desires, even your good and proper desires, at the expense of unnatural means - that is the Ring of Power that corrupts all that would be good, to the blackest evil. But the thought needn't be so huge as what we might imagine to be Saurons Ring of Power; uncorrected mistaken impressions are fertile ground in themselves.

Letting a corrupt thought into your mind, unawares of it's hunting patterns, it's trick contortions and convolutions, it's final hidden ends, the always present something-for-nothing lure of easy gain, is to let some shade of evil in at the controls of your brain, your habits, your directional desires, your character, and your soul. It is foolish and destructive.

And here's a note that seems to be needed - When you are thinking 'bad' thoughts, it won't be in an accent! It won't be accompanied by a narrator warning you "These are bad thoughts!" It'll be you, in your voice, and unless you take care to evaluate and shun wrong headed thoughts, they will become you, and you will become them.

It is for those reasons, and more, that thoughts, deep and wide ranging, which require much consideration and application to be understood, let alone applied, and so easily misapplied if not understood - should also not be taught to those un-ready for them - not forcibly withdrawn, just put where to have become learned enough to find them, would also have made you wise enough to manage them.

The process of becoming learned enought to find them, should be arranged similarly to a fighter is brought up to the skills needed to proceed up the ranks from feather-weight to heavy-weight. What maybe we need instead, or at least in addition to the standard lot of Professors, is a good old fashioned 'Defense Against the Dark Arts' professor.

A professor who will say,

Prof: "What must you be sure to do when approaching dark thoughts?"
Class: "Keep in touch with reality"
Prof:"How is that done?"
Class:"Don't venture past terms you don't understand"
Prof:"How else... Mr. Wease-ly?"
Prof:"Mr. Pot-ter!"
Potter:"Beware equivocations"
Professor rounding on Potter:"What does that mean Mr.

Potter:"Using the same or similar words which have different meanings... or, uh... in different contexts..."
Prof:"Such as...!"
Potter - silence
Prof rising and turning away in disgust:"yesss ... miss Granger..."
Miss Granger:"Answering a question about what the mind perceives in reality, with a description of the process the mind allegedly uses to filter reality, there by giving the mistaken impression that we don't really perceive reality, but only our process of perceiving it. This drives a wedge between what we know, and how we know it by substituting the How of knowing, for the What of knowin-"
Prof:"That is enough Misss Granger! I asked for an answer Not a lecture!"

Well... Professors will be Professors....


Rick said...

Excellent post, Van.

Vice is the lazy choice. Intellectually, creatively, spiritually. There is no “easy” of any value. But with practice, the “practice” of Good, True and Beautiful becomes effortless.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Something else, tamper proof caps and child resistant packaging were not invented after the Tylenol scare, they were invented long before that, way back when, with “A long time ago, in a land (or galaxy) far, far away….”

Good point, Van.
I've known some fathers who have asked me where is the best place to hide porn when you have kids?
My answer: best not to have it at all.

"Even so – you can be pretty much guaranteed that evil will be sure to follow. Not because of an apple bitten into, but because of the nature of the human mind, of intelligence, of freewill – freewill to have meaning, must include the possibility of making errors. And errors unrecognized, or unheeded, will lead to many black thoughts and deeds."

And not just errors but actual sin, for there is a distinction, although errors can certainly lead to sin (disobedience), which you infer with "black thoughts and deeds."
It's far easier to say: I made an error or mistake, than to say: I sinned, I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway.
I'm not sayin' mistakes don't happen, of course, but leftists like to use mistake or error whenever they are caught doing something wrong and/or illegal, because it makes the offense look unintentional (Sandy Berger is just one of many examples).
Republicans and Libertarians (big and little L/l) have also been known to use this type of deception.
That's why, as you said, Van, it's so important to show children the distinctions and the consequences of errors and sin.

"It'll be you, in your voice, and unless you take care to evaluate and shun wrong headed thoughts, they will become you, and you will become them."

Indeed they will. Like a cancer they will spread.
And wrong-headed thoughts will be destructive, and fatal without whole-hearted acceptance of the Light of Truth.
Even then, it's a hard road to hoe once those boxes are opened.

Great post, Van!