Dashboards, Politics and Virtue

By Guest-Blogger Mark Terribile

If you have driven a car with a high-end instrument panel, you may have enjoyed the miles-per-gallon display.  If you reset it at a red light, then stepped on the gas when the light went green, you would have seen a monstrously low number that climbed slowly after you reached cruising speed.

If (accidentally I’m sure!) you had switched the display to metric and repeated the experiment, you would have seen the reported mileage skyrocket as you accelerated briskly from the light (to the benefit of the drivers lined up behind you).

Does going metric magically turn the laws of physics upside down and make the engine the least thirsty when it is delivering the most power?  Have the Euro-weenies found a magic elixir in metrication?  Well, no.

Here in the USA we report fuel economy in miles per gallon, that is, in output achieved for a certain cost.  But the metric display follows European practice and reports the litres used per 100 kilometers, that is, in the input paid to achieve a given output.  This is the inverse of American practice.

There is an eerie parallel between this difference and the difference between the results-oriented Can-Do American mindset and the liberal Eurocratic mindset.  Those of us who represent the Productive Class measure the worth of what we do by what we accomplish, by what we get out of our efforts.  The New Jersey Supreme Court measures our dedication to a Thorough and Efficient education not by the actual steps we take and the results we achieve, but by how much of our money we pour down the Establishment rathole.  Input, effort, and good intentions replace actual results.

Yet we know better.  The fellow who boasts of how much he spent on a dinner, a bottle of wine, or a kitchen is a stock character, and not an admirable one.  We may admire someone who can get money but we do not admire the person who throws it around to no effect.  We admire hard work but mock the fellow whose labors are foolish and ineffective.  Neighbor A spends six days a week cutting a small lawn with a grass whip, swinging the thing like some demented golfer.  Neighbor B cuts his lawn in half an hour with a mower.  Which would we trust with an important decision?

I wrote above that the liberal, Eurocratic mindset esteems effort and good intent.  But how do we judge intent to be good?  Can we call intent good if it neglects the cardinal virtue of Justice, thereby being unfair to someone?  Can we call intent good if it neglects the virtue of Fortitude, thereby being cowardly or indolent?  Can we call intent good if it neglects the virtue of Temperance, thereby being an overreaction or excess indulgence?  A moment’s thought will tell us that such intentions cannot be good.  Then how can we call an intention good that neglects the very first of the cardinal virtues?

That first virtue is called variously prudence or practical wisdom.  It’s hard to name, in part because the meaning of words has changed.  But it’s not hard to describe.  It is the opposite of recklessness.  It means looking to the likely consequences of our actions, developed into a practiced habit.  And as with all practiced habits, it results in the skill that allows us to choose a course that is likely to achieve the desired result.  Without this first Virtue, our attempts to exercise the others will come to frustration and cause harm.

Here then we come to the real meaning of the phrase good intentions as it is used by the Leftist or Eurocrat: That the thing that is desired is good.  We want to cure the sick and feed the hungry.  It is good to desire that.  But to do so in a way that will destroy our ability to do so in the future by impoverishing doctors, hospital, and society alike is not a good intention, nor is it well-intentioned.  It is a reckless intention driven by a good desire.

Desires are matters of feeling.  Intentions require at least the minimal intervention of reason.  A dog acts by desire and instinct, not by intention.  To act by desire rather than by intentions wrought of reason is to act in a way not fully human.  And to do so is to invite all manner of harm and all manner of evil.

And that opens an interesting path of speculation to those who believe in the Devil as a force in our frequent wandering from the paths of virtue.  What could be more effective in making people neglect the Virtue that allows the others to be effective than making it impossible to name that Virtue?  Even Caritas, lacking the direction of Practical Wisdom, is as likely to produce harm as good, and as likely to lead to justified suspicion of our “intent” and our actions.  “Prudential” thinking, in their language, means cowering before harms no matter how unlikely while ignoring the certain damage of that cowardice.  The word “practical” (as in Practical Wisdom) no longer means “in practice”; it may mean “practicable”; it may mean “ruthless”; it may mean “unwilling to listen to reasoned argument.”  One struggles to get from these meanings to “wisdom in the effective carrying-out of things.”

Whether one believes that “diabolical” is a word of literal truth or only a metaphor, the actual policies of the Left are truly diabolical in substituting desire for intent formed by Practical Wisdom.

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