Hinges: Wisdom and Discretion

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Yesterday’s “Why do we feel so unhinged?” – an attempt at a philosophical post outside the partisan political fray – cries out this morning for a less dispassionate follow-up.

Much of the reason for feeling unhinged is unhinged behavior in the White House that violates prudence (wisdom) and temperance (restraint, self-control), two of the Four Cardinal Virtues featured in “Why do we feel so unhinged?”

trump-lavrov2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724The latest Washington Post news concerning the POTUS’s off-script conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador about a highly sensitive foreign intelligence and national security matter offers the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s imprudence and lack of restraint.

The American people and the people of the world should expect wisdom and self-control (restraint) from the most powerful man in the world. But when a society’s traditional values get obliterated by an entertainment culture whose entertainment President gets his news from watching “Good Morning, Joe” and Fox News and tweets warning shots at the FBI Director he’s just fired, the greater tragedy may be that America got a mirror image of ourselves. Until finally the question former First Lady Michelle Obama asked after the new president signed an executive order undoing the Obama Administration’s healthy school lunch program: “What is wrong with you?”

The question goes all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero in ancient Greece and Roma, and to Thomas Aquinas, who was schooled in the Four Cardinal Virtues at the University of Paris in the 12th Century.

As previously noted (see “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 101-102), it’s a long way from the University of Paris to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where the the new president delivered his first commencement address last Saturday.

Trump and FalwellLiberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. urging Liberty students and faculty to buy guns to teach the Muslims a lesson when they show up at Liberty is a far cry from Jesus’s teaching that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. While Liberty’s President, like the Liberty’s commencement speaker, measures life by what is the greatest and the biggest – Liberty boasts of being the biggest university in the world – Jesus spoke about “the least of these,” by which he did not mean the least qualified, the least accredited and least academically respected educational institution. No, he was talking about the down-trodden, the poor, the meek of the earth, the sick, the dying, the friendless, not the successful elect, the saved, the righteous, the true believers, or the well-off. This is the school President Trump chose to address last week.

Here again are the Four Cardinal Virtues on which the western moral tradition claims the good life and the good society hing. They are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word cardo (‘hing’) because the door to the good life and the healthy society hinges on them.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Today is another day in America. Another day in whatever as yet un-masked country provided the highly classified intelligence report to which the President off-handedly referred in the Oval Office while bragging about his “great intel” to the dismay of an onsite witness wise enough to blow the whistle on the latest example of imprudence and intemperance that put the world at risk.

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to thy Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts…. Amen
[Book of Common Prayer]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 16, 2017.

 

Re-Framing the Gun Conversation

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – American Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

Today in America we continue to define, weigh, and measure these three “unalienable Rights”.

Original American Declaration of Independence

Original American Declaration of Independence

No matter whether the Declaration’s principal author, Thomas Jefferson, and the Committee of Five of the Second Continental Congress assumed these three Rights to be mutually compatible or whether they saw them in tension with each other, today in America there is little agreement about the meaning of, or the relations among, Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Instead we are locked in a heated debate about one of the three – Liberty – focused  on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1791.

Lost in the debate is the more reflective philosophical, moral, and religious pondering of the “unalienable Rights” which, in the eyes of Jefferson and the Second Continental Congress were essential virtues of a new republic. Then, as now, the way we understand life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is shaped, to some extent, by different cultural experiences. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the differences were often between northern and southern colonies. Today the differences are still sectional, but perhaps even more, they are between rural and small town, urban, and suburban cultures and settings.

Rural and small town populations, especially those who plow the fields and grow our food, tend to view guns as instruments that support life and the pursuit of happiness. A gun is used for hunting, protecting the animals from coyotes, or for skeet shooting. The rifle by the back door is part of rural life, not meant to be used on another human being, except in the unlikely event of a burglary. The right to own and use a gun is a matter not only of liberty but of life and the ability to pursue happiness. The gun is a family friend.

Urban populations, especially those living in densely populated centers with the high crime rates that accompany economic deprivation, see guns differently. Guns in their neighborhoods are not for hunting, protecting animals, or shooting coyotes. They are threats to Life and the pursuit of Happiness. The cities are divided between very wealthy, middle class, and the economically impoverished neighborhoods where gun shots are heard while putting children to bed. Residents who can afford to leave for the suburbs to pursue Happiness sometimes do.

Suburban populations are a blend of former rural and urban dwellers with native suburbanites. Some grew up on the farm or in small towns where there was little or no tension among the three unalienable rights. Some left the city in pursuit of happiness or in search of a safe place to live. Some, born and raised in the suburb, can imagine neither the farm, small town, nor the city as a preferred place to live. In the suburbs it is a matter of some confusion and debate whether Liberty, as in gun rights, supports or conflicts with, Life and the pursuit of Happiness.

The National Sheriffs Association, serving rural and small town America, takes a conservative position on gun rights and gun control, while the National Association Chiefs of Police and International Association of Chiefs of Police, serving urban, small cities, and large suburban communities, call for improved gun control legislation.

Although informed debate about the origins and intent of the Second Amendment is good and necessary, a preoccupation with the Second Amendment all but insures the demise of a productive national conversation.

We would do better to look earlier in our history to the Declaration of Independence which defined the goals of a soon-to-be-born American republic. To this writer’s knowledge, there has been little if any discussion of gun rights and regulation in the context of the three unalienable rights explicitly lifted up in the document we all celebrate on July 4th.

Those who declared American independence from Great Britain in 1776 could not have imagined that one of the three named unalienable Rights — Liberty — would stand as the sole Right without reference to Life and the pursuit of Happiness.

Few venues lend themselves to a mature discussion among rural/small town, urban, and suburban American experiences. In theory, the 50 state legislatures and the United States Congress provide the forums for thoughtful discussion and the search for solutions by representatives of rural, urban, and suburban constituents. But in today’s America where representative government itself is often viewed with distrust and even fear, the likelihood of success is far less than the Founders might have hoped.

Where and how, then, do we, the people — rural and small town, urban, and suburban — citizens of the diverse country we all love, come together to discuss our life in light of the creative tension of the rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness in 2015?

Aristotle (right) talking with Plato in The School of Athens by Raphael

Aristotle (right) talking with Plato in The School of Athens by Raphael

In 2015 one could hardly say we in America are happy. In the light of current tragedies of gun violence and our socio-poliictal history, we might do well to remember the wisdom of Aristotle (384—322 B.C.E) to help guide citizens of a constitutional republic:

Happiness depends upon ourselves.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 20, 2015

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Vivinfrance’s Blog posts interesting thoughts of a writer named Viv who lives in France. Today’s post is about weapons and creativity.

How could I write a poem about weapons
without swearing or weeping?
It is my deeply held view that
makers, sellers, buyers of weapons
are as guilty of murder
as those who use them.

***
Transform the energy from good food
into breathing, walking, running.
Transform scraps of this and that
into a meal, a sculpture, a quilt, a poem.
Practise living a healthy, creative life
in kindness and beauty.

Here in the U.S. we’re fighting over who’s responsible for all the violence. “It’s people who kill, not guns,” say some opponents of gun control, defenders of a skewed rendering of the Second Amendment. But it’s also the guns, the bombs, the drones, the land mines, the missiles – the weapons manufacturers who kill and maim.  There’s nothing in the Second Amendment about the right to kill and maim.

More importantly and too often missing from the public discussion, the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence starts with certain “unalienable Rights, among which are the Right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In that trinity of unalienable rights and values liberty means nothing unless it supports the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. Otherwise, it serves the purposes of death and sorrow. As Viv reminds us from France,

makers, sellers, buyers of weapons
are as guilty of murder
as those who use them.

Until we the people demand that liberty be returned to its rightful place, the weapons manufacturers will continue to make a killing on killing at home a abroad.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Sunday morning, reflection, Chaska, MN, October 18, 2015.

Guest Commentary on Minnesota Public Radio today

Click THIS LINK to read today’s Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) commentary “A ‘Well-regulated militia’ has little in common with the arsenals of today” – a short version of yesterday’s “The Meth Shows” published here on Views from the Edge.

I invite you to read the MPR piece. Then add your views as a “comment” on the MPR site and here on the blog.

Every view is important to hear. Mine is my own and mine alone. It represents no one else. The members of Shepherd of the Hill and members of my family are of different minds about this vexing issue. What we share in common is the belief that only honest, open public discussion of the causes and remedies of increasing violence in America will lead to something that better fulfills the Declaration of Independence’s three basic human rights: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I look forward to your comments.

Home of the scared and the land of the tyrannized

This afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 Protect Minnesota will host a demonstration in the MN Capitol Rotunda in support of state legislation re: gun violence.

As part of its efforts, Protect Minnesota invited individuals to write letters to MN Senate and House Judiciary Committee members. This letter went out this morning.

Greetings,

I am a Christian Pastor. I write you out of deep concern for the unrestrained violence taking place in the name of “the right to liberty” that imperils “the right of life…and the pursuit of happiness”. The three rights proclaimed in The Declaration of Independence are intended to be mutually supportive, not mutually exclusive. The right to liberty was never intended to take the other two rights hostage.

I strongly support legislation and enforcement of laws that place gun ownership in its proper place in our common life. The Second Amendment does NOT grant unlimited rights for anyone to purchase and use a gun anywhere anytime any more than the First Amendment on free speech allows speech that slanders or libels, lies under oath, or yells “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

As Senators and Representatives, you were elected by the people in your districts. Once you took the oath of office, your responsibility changed. You entered the halls of representative democracy where leadership requires you to act by your own consciences, not by public opinion polls in your districts. We are a representative democracy, not a pure democracy). Your responsibility as Senators and Representatives is to LEAD WISELY not only for the sake of your own constituents but for the greater good of the entire State of Minnesota.

We are quickly becoming, if we are not already, an armed camp in which the “neighbor” of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings is regarded as an anachronism. Unless you plug the holes in our background check system by requiring a check for every pistol or assault weapon sale, the rights of life and the pursuit of happiness will be held hostage by unrestrained liberty, and the home of the brave and the land of the free will continue on the way to become the home of the scared and the land of the unrestrained individual tyranny.

Thank you for listening.
Respectfully,

Gordon C. Stewart