Monday, November 11, 2013

All things in moderation?

The Socratic question would be, What is moderation?

Christopher Phillips, in his book The Six Questions of Socrates, explores this question from a variety of perspectives.

In one he breaks the word down into the root, modesty.  What is modesty, in a personal context?  He uses the Islamic practice of women wearing burkas as an example of modesty in that culture, and reports on a discussion by Islamic women that takes place in San Francisco (of all places).  Recently immigrated women talk about the factors in their lives that have lead them to "take the veil" or not, and these women's use of the Qaran to justify their personal  practice.  In the environment from which they have come, some report, the wearing of burkas is required of them to ensure their modesty.  Others disagree, and they have a lively debate over this.   The point of the manner of dress is not to attract attention to themselves.  Are there normative behaviors in our society we follow to do the same thing?  The way we dress, the way we speak, the topics we choose to speak about, that sort of thing?

Is modesty the same as moderation?  How are they related?  Are they related?

Socrates, Aristotle, and Confucius all promoted the idea that a middle ground in thought, behavior, and personal life is the best, rather that one of extremes.  In another episode Phillips is talking with a group of students in South Korea about the Confucian ideal of moderation, and they all agree that this is a worthy goal of living.  However, they say, it may also be important to be extreme at times, as they justify protests and rallies against the government.  They say that the process of corporeal punishment that is practiced in Korea on school children is really just a way for Korean society to suppress the natural individualism children have, taking away something important and replacing it with conformity to a norm, which only looks like moderation.   Inside, they say, the fire and passion remains but they maintain a calm exterior so as not to attract attention and to fit in.  The protests they promote while at university is their inner frustration at the system finally getting out.

Critiques of Aristotle's Golden Mean idea of moderation might suggest that his prescription of Goldilocks's "Not too little, not too much" philosophy logically leads to some very bad ideas.  A life without meanness should add a little, right?  A person who has no evil thoughts should have some, or at least a little. Too much of a good thing is too much, we might agree, but can we think of things that having a lot of is a good thing, not bad?  Charity?  Kindness?  Love?  Compassion?  Still, the Golden Mean concept is a thread of thought that winds its way throughout modern American ideals, jurisprudence, and history.

Are you living a life of moderation?  Is this what we think of as having balance in our lives?  Was Goldilocks right about something?

See you Friday...