Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Presidential Campaigns and the Seven Deadly Sins

You may recall, Dear Readers, that there are said to be Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. I’ve written about them before, and I thought about them the other day when I read this article by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post: Donald Trump's Dangerous Politics of Pride.  On reading the article, it dawned on me that the Seven Deadly Sins are alive and well, and deeply rooted in the politics of the presidential campaign ...

Pride: Pride has been defined as excessive belief in one's own abilities, it is often considered the deadliest of the Deadly Sins, and the one from which all the others arise (it was pride that led Lucifer to challenge God for supremacy in heaven, after all), and there’s no better modern-day exemple of overwhelming pride, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement than Donald Trump. I don't know if in his heart he believes everything he says, but if he does he's even more dangerous than I thought.

Greed: Greed is the obsessive desire for material wealth or gain. It's easy and often accurate to accuse the "1%" of greed, but many members of our political class* are equally greedy – perhaps not for money directly, but for power ... which can provide the opportunity to make money by manipulating the law for personal gain, and to force one’s personal philosophies of governance and social and religious morality on others.

Gluttony: Gluttony is usually associated with grossly overeating, but in the larger sense it represents an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. When someone who wants us to vote for him for president advocates invading another country and taking their oil to pay the costs of war, I think one could argue that it's an example of gluttony. One might also argue that the desire to own unlimited numbers of guns, far beyond the needs of personal defense and regardless of the concerns and safety of others, is an example of gluttony as well.

Sloth: Sloth is the deliberate avoidance of physical or spiritual labor, and in this sense the US Congress - for wasting time on frivolous political games to the detriment of the nation - is clearly guilty on many counts. But in a larger sense, the US electorate is equally guilty, both for its intellectual laziness in accepting ludicrous political promises** without thinking them through, and for blindly returning the same useless individuals to office term after term.

Lust: Lust is usually associated with uncontrolled sexual desire, but it can refer to any uncontrollable passion or longing ... such as the lust for power*** that keeps many individuals in Congress for extended periods of time. The passionate attachment to a particular doctrine, whether social, political, or religious, might also be considered lustful.

Envy: Envy is the desire for that which belongs to someone else. It’s bad enough by itself, but it’s an insidious evil that can lead to other Deadly Sins … for instance, when envy turns to anger that someone owns something we want, it merges with the sin of Wrath.

Wrath: Wrath represents uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate toward another person ... and if there's a defining Deadly Sin of American politics today, it's wrath. I wrote about this last month, focusing on the role of angry and intemperate language in politics. American voters in general, and the Republican electorate in particular, are clearly guilty of the Deadly Sin of wrath, which blinds us to reality and prevents us from seeking common cause with others.

The Seven Deadly Sins are clearly alive and well in today's America, and perhaps we would do well to consider balancing them out with the so-called Seven Cardinal Virtues that oppose them:

Pride is balanced by Humility – not a trait often observed in the political class, and utterly foreign to persons like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz … but worth exercising by those who desire power;

Greed is balanced by Generosity – not high on the list of characteristics of, say, mortgage bankers and hard-core conservatives, but worthwhile nevertheless;

Gluttony is balanced by Temperance – the knowledge that enough is enough, whether one speaks of food, drink, guns, power, or anything else;

Sloth is balanced by Diligence – a recognition that work must be done, and that while doing the right thing may be difficult, it is nevertheless the right thing to do;

Lust is traditionally balanced by Chastity, but Chastity applies to lust in its sexual sense, and not to its full meaning of an unrestrained or uncontrollable desire. In this regard, the balance to Lust may be better expressed as Temperance in its sense of balancing of simple desire against excessive craving††;

Envy is balanced by Kindness – the replacement of resentment with patient satisfaction. Not always easy by any means, and particularly not in a time of me-first instant gratification; and finally,

Wrath is balanced by Patience – a trait not especially common nowadays for anyone, much less those who demand action and are infuriated when it is not delivered on their terms or according to their liking.

When you make up your mind on a candidate to support, consider how well his or her behavior reflects the Deadly Sins and the Cardinal Virtues. There’s no ideal – or even close to ideal - candidate running, but we can inform our decisions better so that we intelligently pick the least bad option.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Many of them are members of the 1% as well … running for office is not cheap.

** Like building a wall on the border with Mexico, and making the Mexicans pay for it.

***We also talked about power in the context of Greed, remember?

 Remember George W. Bush and his "compassionate conservatism?" Nobody else does, either.

†† As with Gluttony.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

You gave a new, useful perspective on the Seven Deadly Sins and politics. A broad perspective on Lust is appropriate here; none of the electorate seems that taken on any of the present-day candidates. Carrot Top generates more lust!

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Generating Wrath in others compounds Wrath.
As for Pride, the fall cameth yesterday in Iowa.

bakku-shan said...

You made a new, useful perpective on things.

Mike said...

The pride of being first in the country to vote came crashing down in Iowa as the Democratic delegate from district 42 hopped on his horse to report the results and rode the wrong way. They have yet to be found.

Anemone said...

Surely there must be a better way.

allenwoodhaven said...

Excellent. I especially appreciate the flip side. They aren't given enough consideration.