Tuesday, December 16, 2008

pro-vices and anti-sanctimony, and in favor of the ritual wallowing

I talked to the inimitable Gowder for an hour or so on the phone this morning about many things: the IAT, stuff we like to eat, the irritation of the necessity of schmoozing at conferences (thus we will do this together: two snarky misanthropic misfits who like to raise both roofs and hell are the slightly-bitter-but-still-delicious equivalent of a Double Double), pretension and excess-or-lack thereof, and vices. You see, Paul is currently in New Orleans. Is that the city of sin or is that Las Vegas. What is New Orleans if it is not sin city? We got to talking about what is the proper amount of sin in which to indulge.

I am not actually that good a person, although I have few real vices. I don't drink much or do drugs at all, yet I don't really care if others who are not in my immediate family do such things, as long as they don't do them to excess and do not impaire the health and safety of others. Well, I think hard-core drugs are probably pretty bad for you. Don't do those. Alcoholism is bad too. But all things in small doses, right? Sugar is bad for you. So is fat. Yet I eat sugary, fatty things regularly, just in small quantities and counterbalanced with better behaviors, like exercising and eating healthily. It's not even that such behavior is rare: I probably eat something sweet every day, even if it's just one cookie or one square of chocolate. There's something unhealthy every week. Sometimes it's after every meal. I can imagine that those who drink a glass of wine with dinner every day are similarly of the frequent-but-limited indulgent type. But I've never been happier or healthier (or this slim) than with this slightly-indulgent lifestyle and I say this to you as someone who has struggled with weight and eating in the past.

But what about other vices and bad habits? Paul and I agree that the thing we hate most about the Slow Anything movement is the dross of moral sanctimony that seems to cover every aspect of perfectly good or rational behaviors with its unctuous and palpably viscous veneer of -ier than thouness, as if by being a slightly more superlative (and by superlative I mean exaggerated) version of a perverted ideal, one gets the keys to the holy doors of Prius. Yeah, Paul and I kind of bring out the hater in each other. We don't need no haterade. But seriously, moral sanctimony aside, and while I'm not a complete relativist, it is far from certain that I'll accept your moral view--what about other bad behaviors?

As a lapsed Buddhist, I supposedly am supposed to refrain from judgment, resentment, or anger. My great-aunt on my dad's side is a Buddhist nun. My dad is devoutly Buddhist. He is also the angriest, most judgmental, and occasionally violent man I know. So I know I lack for role models here, but if one of my few vices are thinking bad thoughts about people and harboring deep resentments and grudges, then can I not, like my sugar habit, indulge in that a little? Lawyers reading this will know the difference between mens rea and actus reus--as long as I am not actually throwing people under buses, am I such a bad person for occasionally having flashes of anger and visualizing bad people (for a long time, Bush is a standard figure, as is Former French Friend) being hit by buses? I am not saying that this makes me a good person. But does this make me that bad a person, given all of the vices I could indulge in, and the limited extent to which I indulge in this behavior? I try not to over-indulge in this behavior: I don't dwell long enough to engender such poisonous thoughts that I may as well be homicidal. But I do have a lot of "first against the wall" thoughts, and not merely in the cheeky way that intellectuals have of imagining Maureen Dowd shot for being such a horrid writer and opinionist. I try to balance out my judgmental, angry, resentful tendencies by being overall a very nice, generous, friendly person who forgives all manner of sins and slights, or simply does not care enough to get angry about such things as long waits, casual friends who drift off, or waiters who drop things on me.

So anyway, I told Paul that he should indulge in all manner of vices while in NOLA--every vice in the book, from booze to drugs to women to greasy food, and while you're at it, be a bad person too and indulge in nasty thoughts and ruthless misanthropy at the idiocy and brutish atavism of others. It's cleansing to get them out. One can't always be a nice, good, clean-thoughts person, and you don't even pretend to like everyone. Perhaps people with religion can (though I doubt it), but for atheists and not-that-good people like us, best to indulge in moderation and admit to such thoughts and kind of gleefully muck about in them like pigs in mud. The wallow is itself a ritual cleansing, and only by getting it all out of your system can you then wash up for a fresh start. This is why, during the summer when I felt rather poorly for certain reasons, I just totally indulged (for a month) in my desires to sleep 10 hours and watch 7-8 hours of Buffy and eat only toast and chocolate. Those who tell you to be strong and take the high road don't know how good it is to dig a pit and throw yourself into it and lie there for a while with your worst thoughts and feelings, till you don't feel them anymore--or rather, feel them much less.

I suppose the one thing I am sanctimonious about (and Paul is sort of like this too), is being anti-sanctimonious and anti-pretension, which is itself a pretense. Yeah, there's a lot of cognitive dissonance about that. Still can't get around it, as this means I am really as bad as other people, and in a way that I think is bad.