Others-Denial Is More Fun

St. Paul taught us to see vice and wickedness, alas! not as the sum of a person’s actions, but as an existential state of that person, independent of and both temporally and logically prior to those actions. The chief function of a person’s behaviour thus becomes to inform us about that deep and essential state of his soul, so that we may categorise and despise him accordingly, and thus enjoy the intoxicating pleasures of judgmentalism.

The core of true Puritanism was self-denial. Unfortunately, this is hard work. Others-denial is much easier, and far more fun.

The difference between ethics and morality is this: ethics are about what is right, while morality is about what Mrs. Grundy will say. The advantages of being Mrs. Grundy are manifold: you enjoy the pleasures of condemnation of others and of having people be frightened of you, and in addition you can do whatever you like, since you are the arbiter of morality and so your own actions are necessarily virtuous. All you need in order to become Mrs. Grundy is a talent for discovering what other people are doing and another talent for assigning this to some evil category. In addition, you need histrionic gifts, so as to convey authoritative disapprobation and inculcate fear by a sniff or the raising of an eyebrow.

Degenerate puritan morality, as manifested in any religion or none, consists in a transaction whereby some rights are purchased by the renunciation of others. The reduction of ethics to morality, and of morality to sex, allows an attractive bargain: all you have to do is to renounce illicit sex (or better yet, not get caught at it), and then you can indulge yourself in the pleasures of every kind of human nastiness that doesn’t involve direct sexual gratification. For example, chastity entitles you to free gossip, backbiting, envy, anger, bitterness and cruelty. Mrs Grundy may condemn “pleasure” but would never admit that she finds carping and destroying the reputations of her neighbours to be pleasurable. Rather than a guilty pleasure, she considers such social feinschmeckerei to be a spiritual virtue.

Another version of the puritan compact is that you get to do a thing, provided only that you are sufficiently tough enough on the others who are doing it.

It is futile to try to avoid the disapproval of others. Some people will disapprove of you because of the nature of your acts, but a lot more will disapprove of you because they enjoy the sensation of disapproval; it makes them feel superior.

People with a vocation for disapproval will evince considerable annoyance if you do something for them. They much prefer you to be in their debt, because, as long as the debt remains unpaid, they are allowed to say unpleasant things to you. Anything that reduces your debt, therefore, threatens their chief amusement in life.

4 Responses

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  1. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 9, 2009 at 16:33

    I like H. L. Mencken’s definition.

    “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

  2. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on April 10, 2009 at 17:31

    Of course: but gunning for the puritans of the past is too easy. This chapter will look at some of the same mechanisms among our modern progressives.

  3. Written by Urban Djin
    on April 13, 2009 at 05:06

    Mencken’s definition works quite well for his own day but not for ours. It’s much too tame. And in In fairness to the puritans of the English Revolution it’s libelous to apply it to the 17th century. They had bigger fish to fry. (who doesn’t?!)

  4. Written by Hugo Grinebiter
    on April 14, 2009 at 17:23

    Not sure Butler would agree with you. I was thinking of having the reference to the famous line from “Hudibras” as the title of the whole Chapter. I might still, unless I find a suitable subcategory for it to head.

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