Poor Moral Character


I think all these elites believe they are wealthy and secure due to their superior morality and work ethic. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the plebes feel some pain for their excesses so they’ll adopt the higher standards of their betters. Just as Michael Kinsley believes that Chris Christie’s obesity reveals a slothful character, the Central Bankers are apparently all convinced that sovereign debt is due to the character flaws of slothful citizens who have failed to become wealthy. Neither belief is relevant to fiscal policy. Or even true.

In the first place, who gives a flying fuck how much Christie eats? He could order a barbecued elephant every night at Morton’s and I wouldn’t give a toss, so long as his approach to public policy didn’t make me want to tear my hair out. But in the second place, how does having a byline at Slate make you a better person? How does that prove anything about you?

I get that this is a complicated and uncomfortable line of thinking that leads to feelings of inadequacy, laziness, obligation, guilt. It’s hard to be proud of what you’ve achieved when you know how much of it depended (as in my case, for example) being born white and middle class in the United States of America. And the reason we can’t hold the idea of “I worked my ass off” in our heads right along with “and thank God the system was designed to help people like me succeed” is that we’ve confused pride in achievement (and anyone who isn’t presently in prison for raping children can probably take some pride in an accomplishment of some kind) with achievement as proof of virtue.

If being successful makes you good, what then does a turn of bad luck make you? Can you just spin right back around and say, “Well, it wasn’t my fault I got laid off, etc?” Sure, you can, but if you’re even the tiniest bit self-aware and all this time you’ve been lecturing others about how success is tied inherently to decency, you’re going to feel kind of sick to your stomach.

Or asa very wise woman once said to me, nobody wants to think they are the victim or beneficiary of a system they cannot control. If you’re not rich because of your superior virtue, if you’re not successful because of your own hard work and nothing else, well, then you have to think about whose shoulders you stand upon, and ponder that a system which raises you up can also cast you down.


5 thoughts on “Poor Moral Character

  1. I see achievement as proof of virtue and also, to a certain extent, see a lack of achievement as proof of vice. It’s the possession of money or lack thereof that I refuse to tie to virtue and vice. I know a lot of high achievers who are woefully underpaid just because we as a society tie the value of currency to the stupidest, most unsustainable things.
    Again, this may be a semantics thing, but what we achieve and what we are paid for are completely out of whack.

  2. I’m never really sure if I’m under- or overachieving, but at least my pets love me. And if we run out of money, we can always eat them.

  3. This post also brings me back to the problem I have with the Republicans trying to smoosh together into one political ideology the concepts of free will and predestination. If you succeed, you are an individual who made all the right choices and defied god and odds but goad also had your back because you were chosen. If you fail, it was god’s will and/or you fucked up by making the wrong choices.
    Forget compassion and achievement for one second and talk to me about this: How the hell can you be a faith-based humanist?

  4. I think achievement can be a measure of virtue, but it can also be dumb luck, or good connections, or whatever. For example, look at William Kristol. Politics aside, his writing is poor and he’s lazy about research and fact checking. But…thanks to being well connected, he’s rolling in wingnut welfare and regularly gets to play talking head on the tv shows when not charging outrageous appearance fees for lectures or fundraiser cruises.
    Just saying.

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