Liberals and Hilary Clinton versus Donald Trump

Among liberals, it is manifestly clear that Hilary Clinton was supposed to win the election for the presidency of the United States. Indeed, the thought was that she would easily beat Donald Trump. So, there is a deep, deep disappointment on the part of countless many liberals. Although I do not share that sentiment, I fully understand that Hilary Clinton supporters feel that way.

Alas, one fundamental message that the victory of Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton conveys is that we do well not to take a victory for granted. It was taken as a given by so very many people that, of course, Hilary would win over Donald. Duh ! ! ! How could it be otherwise? Alas, there is the reality that we can be so besotted with our point of view that we are oblivious to the reality that there are many do not share our view, although they make little, if any, noise to that effect. That reality reminds me of the following passage in the Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple: “A good listener listens not only to what one says but also to what one does not say”. There was an awful lot of silence with respect to Hilary Clinton being president that went entirely unnoticed precisely because way too many simply took it for granted that she would win.

Countless many individuals took it as a given that Hilary would win over Donald owing to the following reasons: (a) she had been secretary of state, (b) she is the wife of Bill Clinton, and (c) she is a woman. Alas, individuals were so besotted with the truth of (1)-(3) that they did not notice that many people were not at all impressed by those three factors, since neither individually nor collectively do the factors entail that she would be phenomenal as president of the United States. And then there is the reality that so very many denizens of the United States had had the experience of electing someone as president owing to his biological configuration only to find themselves rather disappointed. When Obama leaves the offices of the presidency, very few will be of the mind that having elected him to the presidency easily stands as was one of very best things that the American people did precisely because they elected a black person to the office. Against the backdrop of that reality, there was undoubtedly a level of precaution in being ever so committed to electing a woman as president simply because she is a woman.

With regard to Donald Trump, there is the quite indisputable reality that he had some quite significant accomplishments to his credit, where the accomplishments are by and large tied to his strength of character and to his perceptivity.
Here is my poor analogy. Whom would I want to fly me from North America to Europe? Would it be () Someone who did very, very well on the pilot test? Or would it be () someone who has a wealth of phenomenal experience with respect to flying across a very, very large body of water? To me it is unequivocally obvious that the answer is ().

With respect to the presidency of the United States, the most desirable person is a morally decent individual whose history of experience indicates that she or he would be able to lead a nation. Am I mistaken in thinking that Donald Trump’s life surpasses Hilary Clinton’s life in that regard? Ironically, it seems that Barack Obama’s two-term presidency would mightily suggest that I am not mistaken. There was tremendous enthusiasm with respect to electing the first black President of the United States. Alas, I do not get the sense that 8 years later, there a is deep and ever so profound satisfaction over having done so. Rather, I sense tremendous relief that his presidency is over. Alas, I suggest that the reality of that very sentiment was undoubtedly a major factor in electing Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Being the Author of One’s Life

Fortunately, wearing clothes has little bearing upon the significant choices that we make in life. That is to say, wearing clothes hardly inhibits human beings from being the author of their own life.

Alas, a quite interesting fact about some individuals is that they are me more interested in getting approval from others than being the author of their own life. Hence, such individuals will forgo lots and lots of things simply in order to fit-in. I am not at all talking about wearing clothes in public. To be sure, wearing clothes in public certainly constitutes a form of fitting-in. But there is the simple reality that wearing clothes in public reality inhibits individuals from being the author of their own life. Fully clothed, a person can learn how to excel at dancing or singing or painting or teaching.

As far as I can tell, the primary motivation for fitting-in is none other than the desire for approval. That points holds far more nowadays than it did a mere 100 years ago, when fitting-in was non-trivial factor in terms of surviving. And there is an absolutely fundamental difference (a) merely getting approval and (b) being in need of assistance from another. There are sufficiently many people who are not at all in need of assistance from another. Yet, there are desperate for approval from others. As far as I can tell that is a deep form of moral insecurity.

It is my considered judgment that, with rare exception, how we are raised makes all the difference in the world whether we have a deep measure of security or we are very much plagued by insecurity. To be sure, there can be exceptions. But as the saying goes: The exception proves the rule. A person like Frederick Douglass who, though born into slavery, went on to do quite remarkable things was a clear. However, it would be just plain absurd to argue that given Douglass’s success, then surely slavery was not all that bad.

If it is correct to hold that upbringing typically makes a tremendous difference with respect to whether a person has a deep sense of security or does not, two questions naturally present themselves: (1) How can it be brought about that in general individuals are raised to have a deep sense of security. (2) What is the proper way of handling or interacting with people who have a deep sense of insecurity.
Some philosophers have argued in favor licensing parents. And while that may seem obnoxious at first glance, there is a certain gravitas that holds here; for there is clearly something quite inappropriate when unfit adults bring children into the world. Of course, there is the issue of enforcing such a policy. And it is very, very clear that (A) no such enforcement procedure will be easy and that (B) any such enforcement procedure will appear to be an ever so inappropriate imposition.

But does being the author of one’s life entail the right to bring into this world another life? I shall simply say that it is far from obvious that the answer is “Yes”. Suppose at birth, all human beings were born without either the biological capacity to conceive or the biological capacity to impregnate. Requiring that those who want to have the biological capacity to bring a child into this world must to meet certain standards hardly seems inappropriate. So is it really that wrong to ask that those who have the capacity to bring a child into this world provide evidence that they have the wherewithal to exercise that capacity in an acceptable manner? I do not see that it is.

Nowadays, of course, there is the issue of enforcement. But surely the time will come when the enforcement can in effect take place prior to birth. (1) Would it be automatically wrong to exercise that power? (2) If exercising that power would yield quite wonderful results would it still be wrong to exercise that power?

I have asked the questions. I wait for the answers.

© Laurence Thomas, 2017

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The Weight Factor

The New York Times (1 December 2016) has reported that nearly have of Americans who are overweight do not realize that they are overweight. That is an extremely interesting claim. For the question that obviously presents itself is the following: How is it possible for a person not to realize that she or he is overweight? Of course, there is a non-trivial distinction between gaining a few pounds and being overweight. It is certainly possible to gain a pound or two and not realize it, since it would be extremely rare that gaining a mere 2 or even 5 pounds would hardly result in attire that used to fit no longer fitting.

But how is it possible to be entirely overweight to the extent of 20 or 30 pounds or even more and not realize it? For anyone who has become overweight to that degree has had to make some quite significant changes in the attire that she or he wears. What is more, becoming overweight to that degree entails some quite significant changes in the physique of the body—changes that simply cannot be missed.

To use myself as a personal example, there can be no question about it: I have gained weight. Two decades ago, I weighed a mere 140 pounds; whereas nowadays I weight a “whopping” 20 pounds more. Yes, I now weigh 160 pounds. But only as a joke can I claim that I am fat. I say that because I do not even come close to having a tremendous largess at the waistline that almost resembles being pregnant. Likewise, I do not even come close to having what might be called a double-chin. The point here is that if I had tremendous largess at the waistline or a double chin, then surely it would be ever so clear that I have or am on the verge of having a weight problem. With rare exceptions, those are the signs that a person is having a weight problem. And it is simply not possible to miss either one of those signs.

Now, if we limit ourselves to life on earth, then it turns out that the concluding sentence of the preceding paragraph speaks to a feature that is characteristic of human beings and only human beings, namely the capacity for self-deception. As far as I can tell, what it is typically at the very heart of the weight problem in the United States is none other than self-deception. No one can gain 20 pounds and not notice it. The only interesting question is whether gaining 20 pounds constitutes a weight problem or not. And with very, very rare exception, the answer to that question is obvious. In the case of particularly skinny people who are 18 years of age or older, gaining 20 pounds typically does not constitute a weight problem at all, since gaining the weight does not give them a stomach that is hanging over the belt and so on. But if gaining 20 pounds does result in the stomach hanging over the belt, then there is immutable clarity with regard to what has happened, namely it is the case that one has gained too much weight.

The idea of being substantially overweight and not realizing it is all but conceptually impossible.
Using the language of Adam Smith, one of the things that mightily distinguishes human beings from other living creatures is none other than the reality that human beings have the capacity for self-command. That is, human beings have the capacity to do what is appropriate. And so it is even when human beings have feelings and sentiments to the contrary. For example, I may very well think that Susie La Riche is one hot chick. But if I respect the fact that she is married, then I will refrain from approaching her sexually notwithstanding the sexual sentiments that I have towards her from time to time. Indeed, I will do my best to bring it about that I no longer have such sentiments. And if things proceed as they should, Susie La Riche will never know of the sexual sentiments that in the past that I had towards her (at least she will not know about that from me).

In a like manner, an overweight person can redefine her or his eating preferences so as to bring it about that she or he loses weight, which in turn constitutes significantly enhancing the person’s physical health. Given the tremendous health benefits of not being overweight, what excuse can there be for not so redefining things? Nothing comes to my mind.

Finally, it is worth noting that the desire for food is not at all like (for example) an addiction. For instance, I absolutely love Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Indeed, some brands of ice-cream strike me as so bad that I do not eat them. But there is simply no respect at all in which I have withdrawal systems if I do not consume Haagen-Dazs ice-cream. Hence, there is no respect in which Haagen-Dazs ice-cream is tantamount or analogous to a drug. This point applies to food generally. In no respect can food be countenanced as having the psychological effects of a drug. Thus, in the typical case of being overweight, there is the power to say “No” to overeating which far surpasses the power to say no to drugs. Thus, in the typical case, there is no excuse for being obese.

© 2017 Laurence Thomas

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Parental Love versus Romantic Love

PARENTAL LOVE AND ROMANTIC LOVE ARE EVER SO DIFFERENT FROM ONE ANOTHER. For instance, there is the indisputable reality that a mother can start loving her child even before she has given birth to that child. By contrast, an analogous parallel simply does not exist with respect to romantic love. Indeed, the very idea of having romantic love for someone whom one has never even seen is essentially incomprehensible.

Romantic love is fundamentally tied to the person loved being attractive in some significant way. Physical appearance is one way. Quality of character is another way. By contrast, parental love as it should be is not tied physical appearances. And while it seems possible that years later character can turn out to be a factor, it is unquestionably clear that parental love at its best most certainly does not begin with an interest in the child’s physical appearances. Indeed, while newborns are typically said to be cute, their cuteness is essentially tied to their majestic innocence and the charming expression that their innocence typically takes and not their physical appearances.

Indeed, parental love could not be the majestic psychological gift that it is if it were the case that in terms of the psychological make-up of adult human beings, the physical appearances of a newborn were a quite relevant factor with respect to the newborn’s parents being ever so majestic in their display of love for their infant. By contrast, it is manifestly obvious that appearances typically play a quite significant role with respect to romantic love. And then, too, there is the idea of a person receiving a benefit from the other. Romantic love at its best about two individuals marvelously valuing and affirming one another.

Obviously, parental love is not at all about mutual evaluation on the part of the parent and the child with respect to one another. Indeed, it is manifestly clear that a newborn infant simply does not have the psychological wherewithal to value another human being. There is, then, a straightforward sense in which parental love at its very best constitutes a quite majestic form of altruism; for genuine parental love is not at all predicated upon the idea the parents will receive some tremendous benefit in return.

Alas, while the claim of the preceding paragraph may be true, a very poignant truth is that adults can be quite self-deceived in thinking that they are displaying magnificent parental love towards their child. Or, they may be self-deceived about what constitutes genuine parental love. An example of the point just made would be the case of parents who are far more besotted with punishing their child than affirming their child. Of course, there is no about it: The punishment of a child can certainly be appropriated. But loving parents should no more get a psychological high over punishing their child than they should think it appropriate to reject their child because the child is clearly not a genius.

What I find most intriguing is that by the time a child is well into her teenage years, the child will have a very, very, very clear sense with respect to whether or not, over all, she or he has most certainly been the beneficiary of truly majestic parental love. The wording of the preceding sentence allows for the reality that even loving parents can get it wrong upon occasion. But a clear pattern of behavior that is manifestly animated by parental love is one thing; whereas a clear pattern of parental behavior that is manifestly not animated by parental love is quite another.

Alas, a quite poignant truth about human beings is that the considerable capacity that human being have for self-deception. And an ever so painful consequence of human beings having the capacity for self-deception is that there are many cases where (a) the parents fail to treat their children in the marvelous way that their children should be treated but yet (b) the parents have nonetheless convinced themselves that they are, indeed, quite good parents. I do not fully understand why human beings have the capacity for self-deception. But I have just articulated one of the unfortunate ways in which that capacity can play itself out.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Biological Malleability and the Majesty of Parental Trust

At birth, human beings are among the most vulnerable of living creatures. We enter the world without any idea whatsoever who we are. And it is equally the case that have no view at all with respect to how to live. We do not know what we need; and we do not know what we should avoid. There is a straightforward sense in which the biological configuration of human beings at birth is utterly vapid. It is only through social interaction that each and every human being comes to have a sense of who she or his is. And the feral child (namely, a child who has very little experience with a human being) is a most poignant indication of the truth of the preceding sentence.

To be sure, it is appropriate to hold that there are very few feral children. But the fact that feral children are very rare does not in any way whatsoever defeat the extraordinary importance of parental love, since it is a character feature of the feral child that the child has no sense of who she or her is. Indeed, the feral child does not have the psychological development that enables the feral child to grasp the ever so profound and sublime significance between being a human being and being an animal.
Alas, a most poignant truth is that an individual’s grasp that she or he is a human being does not at all entail that the individual also has a secure sense of moral worth.

Without a doubt, children who are raised by (human) parents clearly grasp the difference between being a human being and being a non-human being. Yet, profoundly grasping that difference does not at all entail having a deep and secure sense of moral worth. And it is with regard to having a deep and secure sense of moral worth that the way in which (human) parents raise their children makes all the difference in the world. More precisely, sustained parental love makes all the difference in the world.
With regard to the claims of the preceding paragraph, there is the reality that some children experience a phenomenal measure of moral luck. For instance, while a child’s actual parents may be quite unsatisfactory in their displaying parental love to a given child of theirs, it may turn out that the child experience truly phenomenal and profound affirmation from a different member of the family, such as an uncle or an aunt or a grandparent.

From an evolutionary perspective, the point of the preceding paragraph is absolutely fascinating. For it is very, very clear that it is the affirmation that counts the most—and not that the affirmation is provided by the biological parents. That is why an adopted child can flourish mightily if the child is wonderfully raised by the adults who marvelously love that child although it is as obvious as the night follows the day that child is not a biological offspring of the parents who are raising her or him.
If one believes in evolution, then the fact that human beings are sufficiently malleable that what matters most is that they are marvelously valued during their upbringing—and not that the valuing has to come from the biological parents—is surely a most fascinating aspect of the evolutionary configuration of human beings. Indeed, there is very profound respect in which profound abiding affirmation trumps biological ties. Alas, from the standpoint of human survival at its very best, there can be no doubt about it: Genuine affirmation mightily affirmation trumps biological ties as such.
Alas, one of the most significant forms of moral luck (to use a term that was introduced by the Bernard Williams (1929-2003) is precisely the fact that human beings are biologically configured to be ever so affirmed by majestic and sustained parental love even though such love does not come from the biological parents. That reality is a most majestic moral reality with respect to the biological configuration of human beings.

If a child has wonderful parents who are ever so affirming in just the right ways, then that child is the beneficiary of considerable moral luck. And if a child has parents who are hardly affirming of the child, but there is a family member or even a neighbor who is ever so affirming of the child as she or he grows up, then that child is also the beneficiary of considerable moral luck.
One of the ever so sublime truth that I have learnt from teaching is that there are numerous cases of the second category—far more than I had ever supposed. Alas, the most profound truth that I have come to appreciate is that what matters most is that human beings grow up the beneficiary of sustained love from a wonderful adult and it is not at all necessary that the sustained love flows from the child’s biological parents. This psychological malleability on the part of human beings is none other than a most majestic moral gift.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Courage: Evil People versus Morally Upright Individuals

Are evil people courageous? Indeed, can evil people even be courageous? What intrigues me is that it is far from obvious that the answer is absolutely and without question “Yes”, For instance, there is no doubt whatsoever that Adolf Hitler was out to destroy the Jewish people. And to that end, he exercised considerable power and determination. Yet, if someone were asked to make a list of 10 very, very, very courageous people, it is quite unlikely that he would make that list. Indeed, it is not clear that he would make any list of courageous individuals.

In the struggle for racial equality in the United States, an indisputable truth is that many blacks exhibited considerable courage. For it is well-known that many blacks put their very life on the line in the struggle for equality. But notice that we do not refer to members of the Klu Klux Klan as being courageous, although surely many of them took risks as well in expressing their opposition to the equality of blacks and in the harm that they committed against blacks, including hanging innocent blacks.

What is obvious, of course, is that in terms of the moral nature of the risks taken, there is absolutely a world of difference between the risks taken by members of the KKK and the risks taken by blacks in the struggle for equality. And that is because there is a profound moral difference between (A) making oneself publicly vulnerable in order to achieve a fundamental moral excellence and (B) engaging in sly behavior with the aim of killing another.

The profound difference between (A) and (B) brings out the sublime truth that moral excellence is a constitutive feature of courage. And the behavior of participants in the Civil Rights Movement mightily affirms the point just made; for the objective of the participants was as clear as the night follows the day. And so it was with each and every instance of civil disobedience in which folks engaged. By contrast, KKK folks have always supposed that it is perfectly acceptable for them to be horrifically perceptive in their endeavor to harm blacks.

The honesty that is definitive of being courageous sheds tremendous insight upon why it is that courage is such a deep, deep form of moral excellence; for with courage, there is no deception at all with respect to what is the objective of the moral behavior in which one engages. Whatever KKK folks might have thought about participants in the Civil Rights movement, it was not possible for the KKK folks to say that they were tremendously deceived by Civil Rights activists in the endeavor to bring about equality for blacks. Not at all. Quite the contrary; for it was manifestly clear that people were willing to put their very lives on the line in order to bring about the reality of justice for all. Thus, there is a truly profound respect in which justice was given priority over life itself.

Of course, it is certainly arguable that no one can be required to put her or his life on the line in order to bring about justice. Alas, that truth is quite compatible with the reality that there can be no greater commitment to the realization of justice than the reality that individuals are willing to put their life on the line in order to bring about that reality.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Protesting the Trump Election. Say What ? ! ? ! ?

If Hilary Clinton had won the presidential election, and there were groups of people booing her, the individuals so behaving would be considered horrific sexists. And while not everyone has liked Barack Obama, it is very clear that booing him would have been considered none other than a horrific form of racism. So, it is mightily puzzles me that people think that booing Donald Trump is just fine. After all, it is not as if he won the election because he rigged this or that voting area of the United States. Or, it is not as if he paid people to misplace or inaccurately count the votes. Quite the contrary, there is a straightforward sense in which Trump won the election fair and square. And it utterly stupefying to me that there are lots of folks who cannot except that.

Surely, the argument can be that only individual whom someone should accept as the elected President of the United States is someone whom that individual wanted to be president.
Let’s see, I did not want Hilary Clinton for President and I did not want Donald Trump for President. Does this mean that I am justified in yelling extra loudly? Indeed, should I maintain that very system is utterly messed-up because, after all, the person I wanted to be president was not even running for the office?

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I certainly believe that protests can have their place. After all, in terms of racial equality, the United States would not have made anything like the progress that it has made had there not been protests against racial inequality. But the protests for racial equality were very much drawing attention to the quite inexcusable wrongdoing of holding that a white person is morally and intellectually superior to a black person because and only because the white person is white.
I fully grasp that there are lots of folks who preferred Clinton over Trump. But that truth does not exactly mean that there were enough folks who preferred Clinton over Trump. For if there had been the case, then she would have won.

And while I will not claim that when it comes to ethnic diversity Clinton’s moral sensibilities are lacking. But then I will not make that claim about Trump either. Just so, it would seem that in this regard there is a parallel between Clinton and Trump. Neither strikes me as a gift from the heavens in the matter of ethnic diversity. After all, it is not as if one just likely to either with a Hispanic or African-American person as one is to see either with a white person. No, the majority of either’s closest friends are white. And while I certainly think Hilary Clinton is quite intelligent, it does not at all occur to me to think that she is brilliantly insightful when it comes to matters of ethnic diversity. And guess what? I do not think that Trump is brilliantly insightful when it comes to matters of ethnic diversity.

For me, the difference between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump is that Trump is far more of a realist than she is. The wall on the southern border strikes me as a very clear case in point. There can be no question about it: Such a wall is needed.

Lest there be any confusion, my view is not at all that Trump was the best person ever to run for the presidency of the United States. Alas, I can say, though, is that I detected a realism in Trump that I did not detect in Clinton. Perhaps things would have been different had she not been the first woman to run for the office of the President of the United States. For it is clear that many supposed that her being the first woman to run for the office essentially assured her the election to the office of President of the United States. And I do understand that line of thought. Moreover, she is undoubtedly a smart person. But then Barrack Obama is also a smart person. But guess what? Being smart is hardly a sufficient condition for holding the office of President of the United States.

On the one hand, I am not under the delusion that Trump is perfect. On the other hand, I do know that there are colleges where faculty members are concerned with undoing the damage that they think that Trump will cause. All that I shall say here is that a self-made millionaire cannot possibly be all that dumb. Or, if he is dumb, then hell: I want to be just as dumb as he is ! ! ! And yes, it is very much the case that I do want to see a woman president of the United States of America. Say what? ! ? ! ?

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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Donald Trump and His Haters

The venomous protests over the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is extremely revealing. Oh, I fully agree that Donald Trump is not morally and intellectually perfect. But guess what? Hilary Clinton is not morally and intellectually perfect, either. And it is also the case that the current president of the U.S—namely Barack Obama—is not morally and intellectually perfect.

Of course, I completely understand that people can be disappointed with regards to who wins a presidential election. However, the protesting that has taken place makes sense only if there is good reason to believe that in some way Trump’s winning of the election was corrupt or that he is utterly incompetent. Well, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the thought that Trumps winning of the presidential election was corrupt in some way or that he is incompetent.

Now, to be sure, I fully grasp that idea that having the first woman president—namely, Hilary Clinton, in this instance—seemed to have had enormous amount of appeal. Indeed, it is for precisely that reason that I thought that she would win the presidential election. But there is a respect in which we need to be extremely cautious about the idea of having the first president of this or that ethnicity or gender or sexual orientation (as will surely be the case one of the days). After all, the idea of electing the first black president of the United States—namely, Barrack Obama—had tremendous appeal. Yet, there has been tremendous disappointment with regards to how Obama has done things. When he steps down in January of 2017, I do not think that there are going to be lots and lots of folks—be they black or otherwise—running around ever so grateful that we had a black president because in so very many ways America is a much, much better nation on account having had Obama as its first black president.
Interestingly, then, it is very, very likely that having Hilary Clinton as the first woman president did not have anything like the appeal some people that thought that it would have precisely because the nation had already seen that electing its first black president did not really make America a better nation for all. For it is not as if there is some extraordinary accomplishment on the part of Hilary Clinton that fundamentally redefined for the better this or that reality, either in the United States or some other part of the world. By contrast, Donald Trump has been an extremely successful business person. And that is very much a non-trivial factor.

Lest there be any understanding, I completely understand the social significance of diversity across both gender and ethnicity. But there is a very straightforward sense in which there are times when what matters most is indisputable sheer success. For example, in the case of a person having an operation performed, surely what the person wants is a very accomplished physician performing the operation. The ethnicity and gender of the physician is completely irrelevant.

In so very many ways, the president of the United States is rather like a physician performing an operation. What matters most is someone who will be ever so successful in performing an operation—and not the ethnicity or gender of the person. And there is a straightforward sense in which President Barack Obama mightily underwrites the point being made here. No doubt countless many citizens of the United are very pleased to have elected the first-black President of the United States. And he will go down in history as the first-black president. But will he also go down in history as a president of the United States who mightily made America a better nation for all?

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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The Gift of Self-Command in a Liberal Society

Clearly human beings should aim to be just. Arguably, the very foundation of a stable society is none other than the reality that the vast majority of the citizens of that society are profoundly committed to being just. And one of the clearest signs that an individual is committed to being a just person is that the individual behaves justly even when it is manifestly obvious that the person could get away with behaving unjustly. An individual who acts justly even when it is obvious that she or he could get away with acting justly exhibit when the great philosopher and economist Adam Smith referred to has self-command in his famous work The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

It is obvious that no one is born with self-command. For one thing, an infant who has just come out of the womb is utterly clueless as to who she or he is. And it is entirely impossible to have self-command if one has no idea at all just who one is. Alas, whether an individual will come to have self-command in the course of growing up mightily depends upon how the infant is raised. On the one hand, the child needs tremendous affirmation. On the other, it is of the utmost importance that boundaries are imposed in a gracious and loving manner. There is all the difference in the world between (a) scolding and threatening a child, on the one hand, and (b) graciously and lovingly correcting a child, on the other. Graciously loving and correcting a child is absolutely and unequivocally fundamental to a child feeling ever so deeply valued by her or his parents. And that profoundly deep sense of being valued is none other than a launching pad for a child growing up with a tremendous sense of self-command.

As the term suggests, the idea behind self-command is not that a person never has any inappropriate desires. Rather, the idea is that a person behaves in the right manner given the circumstances even if the individual would very much feels like doing otherwise. The point just made should not come as a surprise. For while it is certainly very nice to always have the appropriate desires in terms of how we should behave, a most poignant reality is that there will often be cases where we desire to do one thing, however it is manifestly clear that the right thing to do is quite different.
Indeed, a defining difference between human beings and all other animals is that a human being can have the moral and psychological wherewithal to act contrary to a very intense desire that she or he is having. Indeed, what is surely true is that every morally upright person has had or will have the experience of intensely desiring to behave in one way but fully grasping that the right thing for her or him to do is to behave otherwise. And if self-command is a deep aspect of that individual’s life, then she or he will have the strength of character to do what is morally right, notwithstanding the intense desire(s) that she or he has to behave otherwise.

It is my considered judgment that one of significant downfalls of a liberal society is that the virtue of self-command is not given the moral and social weight that it deserves. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I have no trouble at all with the freedoms that bound in a liberal society. But an indisputable reality is that freedom in the absence of a tremendous measure of self-command is extremely problematic. Self-command is none other than the wherewithal—not withstanding temptations to the contrary—to refrain from acting on this or that desire because there is, indeed, good reason to believe that doing so would render one worse-off.
And it is now ever so clear to me that one of the very profound and concrete manifestations of parental love should be none other than a child is raised by her or his parents to a profoundly deep sense of self-command. Most significantly, parental love as such is not substitute at all for instilling in a child a profound sense of self-command.

It is said that one of the marks of a good theory is its explanatory power. Well, to grow up ever so bereft of a deep sense of self-command is be ever so susceptible to evil temptations. By contrast, any child who grows with a deep sense of self-command will invariably be rather magnificent in finding ways to resist the temptation to do evil.

Several years ago, I published a paper entitled “Being Moral and Handling the Truth”. If I were now writing that paper, I would draw attention the tremendous significance of the virtue of self-command. The absence of self-command constitutes none other than a quite formidable backdrop for the intrustion of morally inappropriate behavior.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

This essay is a tribute to a young person whom I saw participating in a protest in front of Planned Parenthood.

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Social Distance in the Modern World

WHEN IT COMES TO MAINTAINING SOCIAL DISTANCE FROM ANOTHER, there can be lots of good reasons for maintaining a measure distance from an individual without at all holding a negative view of the person in question. A quite simple example is that of maintaining the proper social distance from a person’s lover in order to avoid the very appearance of sexual impropriety. For example, if Susan is married to John and Susan has a wonderful friendship with Mary, it is clearly inappropriate for Mary and John to spend too much “alone time” together. And if Mary and John have sufficient self-command, then barring quite crisis like situations, they will next to no “alone time” together.

To state the obvious, precisely what makes it so inappropriate for Mary and John to spend lots of “alone time” together is that doing so could result in a loss of fidelity on John’s part to his wife Susan. Needless to say, this line of thought can apply equally to same sex couples.

To be sure, a person’s level of self-command is a non-trivial factor. And a person can have good reason to believe that she or he would never act inappropriately. But even so, there is much to be said for the idea of avoiding even the very appearance of wrongdoing. My favorite example in this regard is my having office hours at Marshall Square Mall. There is a very straightforward sense in which my deciding to do so made a phenomenal difference precisely because any and every student—regardless of ethnicity or gender—could feel so very comfortable talking to me one-on-one even if the conversation proved to be about something very personal about which the student wanted to speak to me.

It is an ever so fundamental truth that maintaining the proper social distance can put everyone at ease. And an equally profound truth is that rare exception everyone has the moral wherewithal to recognize what counts as the proper social distance and to act accordingly.
Significantly, it is arguable that that more self-command is required nowadays than was the case in the distant past precisely because there have been significant changes in what counts as socially permissible self-presentation in the public sphere.

The clearest example is the tremendous shift in what counts as acceptable attire to wear in the public space. From very tight attire for females to sagging pants for males, the indisputable reality is that either form of attire was deemed entirely unacceptable decades ago. Not only that, it would have been perfectly acceptable decades ago for there to be an explicit expression of public disapproval, especially on the part of an older person with respect to an obviously younger person. Not so nowadays. Not at all.

The concluding point of the preceding paragraph mightily raises the issue of self-command in the realm of modernity. While there can be no doubt whatsoever that the freedom of individuals to do as they please has grown considerably in recent decades. Alas, there is not a shred of evidence—none whatsoever—that would suggest that self-command has generally increased on the part of human beings. Quite the contrary, it seems quite clear that self-command has decreased considerably. And it is ever so clear that progress in the absence of considerable self-command is none other than a sheer disaster. And one form that disaster may take is phenomenal self-deception. Technology has facilitated communication between individuals to a truly phenomenal degree. Alas, there is not a shred of evidence that warrants the view that nowadays friends have a richness and depth that was essentially inconceivable to friends in the past.

So guess what? For all the communication that is taking place, there is a social distance between individuals that heretofore would have been utterly unimaginable.

© 2016 Laurence Thomas

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