Monday, January 22, 2007

Tolerance as a virtue

As Fr. Connor argued yesterday, that's the gospel according to Oprah, but it is not the Christian Gospel. Tolerance is not a Christian virtue.

Well, I checked up on this, and he's right, there is no obvious way to construe any of the seven virtues as tolerance. By the way, this sort of thing is news to me, since I was not raised Catholic, and spent most of my formal education in public schools. I have an excellent grasp of "current affairs" and "Alabama history", but no real idea what the hell moral philosophy is.

What I've learned is from economists like Deirdre McCloskey, who argues in her new book that economists have for too long focused on prudence, and ignored the other six virtues: temperance, courage, justice, love, hope, and faith. This derives from the grand daddy himself, Adam Smith, whose most influential book, "The Wealth of Nations", deals primarily with prudence. His other book, "Theory of Moral Sentiments", deals with temperance. She argues he intended to write a book about justice as well, but died before he could. P. J. O'Rourke, in his new book, argues that Adam Smith instead lost the nerve, after realizing that his policy prescriptions at the end of "The Wealth of Nations" were rediculous.

Fr. Connor further argued that our national obsession with tolerance derives from the Civil War, in which more Americans died than in all our other wars combined. I've always found political correctness objectionable, but never wondered really where it came from. My experience in Europe tells me Fr. Connor is at least right about the facts: we are different. In Europe, you can call a spade a spade. Of course, this is also means you can call an immigrant all sorts of horrible things. But I don't think European zenophobia and racism derives from this liberty. Rather it comes from homogeneity, and specifically a lack of interaction with immigrants.

The same can be seen in the American South, where very little immigration in the last 200 years has produced a relatively homogeneous culture. No doubt, the South is a richly colorful place, and quite unique and interesting when compared to, say, the Midwest. But that's living off the past. Today it is marked more by intolerance. Nothing a few million Mexicans can't fix.

Addendum: Turns out immigration is more complicated than I thought.


Joshua said...

I am curious about your generalizations about the south. Do these come from your personal background in Alabama or are there some other sources from which you are pulling?

Will McBride said...

A lot of personal experience. Like the Dylan song goes, "Only one thing I did wrong, stayed in Mississippi way too long." The same goes for Alabama. My friends from 'bama who read this will remember how I was right in front of the pack of kids who harrassed anyone outside the norm. This strategy was not good for the long term. Eventually, probably in highschool, I realized I was not quite normal myself. For instance, I found intellectual endeavours more interesting than the Iron Bowl.

Southerners are generally suspicious of higher education, and you can see that has effected my beliefs as well. But I feel they go too far. There's a reason why none of the top schools are in the South. Part of it is Yankee prejudice, but part of it is real. Southerners actively reject education. Just look at our current President.

Will McBride said...

This is where Roger, my total redneck friend, chimes in with "and you're gay." I'm still not gay, Roger.

Stephen said...

Will, you're gay, man.

"No doubt, the South is a richly colorful place, and quite unique and interesting when compared to, say, the Midwest."

Hey, I happen to enjoy my Bosnian neighbors and their chickens here in the city limits of St. Louis.

Will McBride said...

Thanks, Stevo. There was a good bit of diversity on those riverboat casinos, especially around 5 AM.