Opinion: Moral misanthropes


Commentary by Terry Anker

The French actor and playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin is attributed with saying “I prefer a pleasant vice to an annoying virtue.” While most of us will not know Monsieur Popuelin even by his stage name, Moliere, we can all too easily identify with his sentiment. To be sure, we humans are highly resistant to the poorly delivered admonishment of others as they assert their moral, intellectual, financial, or other supposed superiority. We take the ethical example as reprobation rather than inspiration. We will repeatedly choose a polite lie over a harsh truth.

Nevertheless, we have become a nation too eager to embrace vice, or dismiss that it even exists, and too precious little prepared to note the presence or absence of virtue.  Actors, sports champions, captains of industry and political leaders, oh those political figures, seem dedicated to vice.  Avarice, conceit, greed, sanctimony and fornication are adjectives to describe so many to whom we ascribe our admiration. In place of these words formerly one would find the concepts of prudence, thrift, trust, humility and dedication. Consider the big and memorable stories from the recent Rio Olympic Games. Certainly, a great song, terrific film, amazing play, or electrifying speech may be worth lauding. But what is the ratio in the measure of a person? How many gold medals procured, millions of votes garnered, or billions of dollars earned offsets the reek of moral decay?

Perhaps chief among our vices is our overreaction to annoying virtues. Somewhere along the way, we came to know that the world, like Moliere, prefers a charming scoundrel more than a moral misanthrope. It is understandable, too.  But how do we measure the long-term cost of shunning ethical responsibility in the pursuit of hip hedonism? And if we could, would we behave any differently? If only it were a bit more fun.


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