Saturday, March 25, 2017

Temperance (Part One)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who aren't here yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

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Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Stars
Marie-Louise -- My beautiful muse (right shoulder) and back scratcher 
Iggy -- Designated Sticky
Dana -- Designated gentlereader (left shoulder)

Dear (Eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies,

Wikipedia: "Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint."

"Moderation in all things," Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Temperance, not a commonly used word these days, is the next cardinal (hinge) virtue I wish to explore. I think I mentioned (in some form, I'm too lazy to look it up) a few columns back that, "The term cardinal comes from the Latin cardo (hinge); the cardinal virtues are so called because they are regarded as the basic virtues required for a virtuous life." -Wikipedia again. All virtues hinge on the cardinal virtues.

If I didn't, I just did. If I did, consider yourself refreshed, or oriented if you just got here. (Where have you been? I've been at this since 7/15 @ No wonder I've yet to go viral...)

On the rare occasion I do encounter the word temperance, the first thing I think of is The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU, I've no idea why).

[Iggy, my imaginary grandsticky, speaks. Poppa, like, what's this WCTU thing? Yes, enlighten us, please, you know you want to, Sez Dana, imaginary gentlereader, somewhat sarcastically I note. Marie-Louise, my beautiful muse, scratches my back reassuringly, so I know I'm on the right path.]

The WCTU, founded in the late 1800's, was is (they still exist) part of the temperance movement, folks who refrain from the use of alcohol and other recreational pharmaceuticals and support the gummits and The Gummit restricting the use of, or the banning of, same.

The WCTU, quite influential at one time, is one of the reasons the USA completely prohibited the use of alcohol, via the 18th amendment, from 1920 to 1933.

The temperance movement has religilous (I know it's misspelled, far be it from me to not opt for the lame joke) roots. Generally, they don't counsel moderation in the use of recreational pharmaceuticals, they promote abstinence, not using them at all. Which should surprise no one. And of course, there's much to be said for personally deciding to not drink or drug and advising others to do the same.

Abstinence isn't technically moderation. But if you're an alcoholic or a drug addict it's the only virtuous/rational choice. Your excessive drinking or drugging will not only eventually kill you, it's likely to literally/figuratively kill or maim plenty of other kids on the playground along the way. Abstinence, for you, is temperance (voluntary self-restraint), not to mention, the prudent thing to do.


"The road to hell is paved with good intentions," Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (maybe...).

The good ladies of the WCTU, concerned with all the victims of substance abuse, not just the abuser, fought for, and succeeded in, (temporarily) banning alcohol. The WCTU defines temperance as "moderation in all things healthful; total abstinence from all things harmful." Not a bad personal philosophy.

However, when you start banning the other kids on the playground from this, that, and the other behavior, even with the best of intentions, things can get ugly, fast. Intemperately imposing your, or your religion's, rules and regs on all the other kids, even with the best of intentions, may make things worse by creating new problems.

While sharing the playground requires rules and grups (the rule of law), to ensure the kids have maximum fun (liberty --  and all that founding father's shtuff) you need just enough rules and grups.

 Wikipedia: "Temperance is defined as moderation or voluntary self-restraint."
"Moderation in all things," Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The rule of law + (restrained by) temperance = maximum freedom, but, maximum freedom - (unrestrained by) temperance = chaos.

A happy/healthy playground requires the rule of law (and morality, and good manners, and tolerance, and patience, and security, and...). And the drawing of fine lines. 

That is, deciding on what sorts of behavior we all agree should be punished, and how, in spite of the fact H. sapiens have always done it/will continue to do it anyway. 

That is, refraining from punishing behavior that, while we may punish ourselves for it, or believe that our God will, H. sapiens have always done it/will continue to do it anyway.

Fine lines, but clearly drawn, well thought out lines. For example, I rarely drink, and I don't care much for drunks. I also don't want my grandstickies and great-grandstickies to be drunks. However, even once I become the King of America, I won't ban alcohol, for people 21 or older.

Because I don't care if they (or anyone else) enjoy a drink once in awhile. I don't care if they (or anyone else) occasionally gets drunk, as long as they don't drink and drive. Because I'm a sexy seasoned citizen (see glossary) and I know shtuff.

I know that while murder should be prohibited, for what should be (hopefully) obvious reasons. I also know about the law of unexpected consequences. I know that prohibiting the use of alcohol (and all sorts of things) created a profitable black market for thugs and turned ordinary folks into criminals. I know that The Gummit spent a lot of time, money, and lives trying to stop something that can't be stopped. I know...

[Dana: Yeah? well, there's always gonna' be murderers and...]

Fine lines, clearly drawn. Some things should be prohibited, some things should be regulated, everything else should be tolerated (but not necessarily socially sanctioned). All three categories require consideration of the law of unintended consequences and the fact that ours is a nation designed primarily to maximize liberty (not democracy, but that's another column).

[Iggy, who looks puzzled, speaks: Um, like, I don't get it, Poppa. I thought temperance meant something like not eating a whole box of Girl Scout cookies at one time? Yeah, and what the hell does socially sanctioned mean? adds Dana.]

It does, sticky one, it does, but my style is edited stream of consciousness. Inhale -- Once I got rolling on the liberty v. forcing other people to adopt one's version of temperance via force of law, and, the law of unexpected consequences, and, social sanctions (which, I'm not going to get into, because, it's time to go and I'll save that for part two, whereupon, I will also address the question you posed that made use of your excellent Girl Scout cookie analogy) it became obvious that temperance would require a part two -- breathe. Poppa loves you.

[Iggy: Oh.  Dana: Sheesh.  Marie-Louise: scratch, scratch]

Have an OK day.

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©2017 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

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