Empty Days

Monday, October 27, 2003

Right and Righteous

Indeed... Still thinking of idealists vs terrorists vs militants vs war vs torture. Well, maybe instead of going nuts over this I should just go and consult George Orwell - who's been through all of the above in thought and deed alike.

My country right and wrong for instance. Orwell started out as a policeman in Burma - a British colony back then. So. Good white people against barefoot natives. Back in Europe he went socialist and had a spell as a leftist and a pacifist. Later still he fought for the reds in the Spanish civil war. That experience "unreded" him for good and when the WWII broke out he was already securely back to the Kipling-inspired self of his youth - a patriot.
The one big lesson this man's life teaches is that the high ideals of the mind must be tested against the ugly chaos of reality - tested and corrected accordingly. Orwell went full circle from utter idealism to utter realism. He blacklisted people he personally knew because he suspected their activities could hurt his country. Was he paranoid? Was he obsessed? Probably not. Traumatized perhaps. When you've fought a civil war you know that individual convictions lead to much bloodshed. That it's not all just talk. That you have to choose sides and can't always be objective. That those who refuse to choose - namely, pacifists ("peace, not war!") - cannot improve reality because they ignore it, deny it, know it not.

Political and moral idealism will make a terminal hypocrite of anyone, right or left regardless. Sadly, we are all liable to our very own *great untruth*. Self-righteousness of the good-minded be damned. I am thinking of The Guardian, an appallingly bigoted place to get your news from. I used to subscribe to it, I did, I confess, where's my rosary...

[Interesting comment and my response to it: ]

I see hypocrisy as not the failure to live up to an ideal but pretending to have a virtue one doesn't have. I think if someone preaches a virtue they don't have (but would like to), they may be a pain-in-the-ass but not a hypocrite.

Liked this quote from one of Waugh's novels:

Guy's prayers were directed to, rather than for, his father [at the latter's funeral Mass]. For many years now the direction in the Garden of the Soul, "Put yourself in the presence of God," had for Guy come to mean a mere act of respect, like the signing of the Visitors' Book at an Embassy or Government House. He reported for duty, saying to God, "I don't ask anything from you. I am here if you want me. I don't suppose I can be of any use, but if there is anything I can do, let me know," and left it at that.

"I don't ask anything from you": that was the deadly core of his apathy, his father had tried to tell him, was now telling him. . . . Enthusiasm and activity were not enough. God required more than that. He had commanded all men to ask.

From
http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft9305/articles/weigel.html

I'd say there are two ways to look at hypocrisy - from inside and from outside. The latter is "pretending". The former.. is when you "reach for the ideal" and think you're on the path of righteousness - which is bigotry. In both cases there's very little to claim and much to invent. Perhaps it is an inherent vice of every idealism, political especially.

*Preaching* is the key word. I've read the "Sword of Honor" with immense relish for here we have the story of a man struggling with precisely that sort of ambiguity - how not to fail and fall without constantly asserting what one has/knows not. Interestingly enough, Guy's father as described by Waugh stands on something else than faith - his real religion is family history, the great circle of humanity. He is a blissfully historical man, while Guy has essentially lost touch with human community - an exile from the kingdom... of God? I think Waugh presents a rather lucid understanding of what catholicism and faith really come down to. That one must participate in the great church of humanity outside of which there is nothing but desert, exile, fruitless waiting.
Thanks for the article. The above is my understanding, probably biased. Let's see what I've missed...





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