16 September 2010

Restraining Our Appetites

While reading F.A. Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit, I came across the following quote from Edmund Burke: "Men are qualified for civil liberties, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their appetites: in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity." What struck me about Burke’s words are not simply that there ought to be a link between liberty and responsibility, but rather the universality of the negative aspects within men, those things which must be controlled in order to live a good life.

That all men have within them some basic, fundamentally negative aspects – or perhaps better put, selfish aspects – is reflected in a quote from Bob Dylan. Dylan captures something that is essential to remember about the human condition: “Human nature really hasn’t changed in 3,000 years. … It’s not meant to change. It cannot change. It’s not made to change.” Thus, there are aspects of being human which simply cannot be avoided; they must rather be confronted. For Burke, appetites – those things that individuals crave – need to be constrained and redirected (if not conquered).

I mention all of this because it seems that our culture may be at a pivot point. We may, as a culture, embrace our appetites and allow for far greater government control of necessities (food, shelter, individual security, physical health, etc.). We may, however, commit to control over our individual selves; we may choose “to put moral chains on [our] appetites” so that we may exercise personal liberty. I for one choose the latter. At least that way, if I purposefully fail, I can easily find the person to blame.


Anonymous said...

Isn't this the way all humans 'should' be raised? To be accountable for your actions and to practice sound judgement? It's ludacrous how easy people are ready to point a finger these days and not take accountability for their actions (mom always said you have four fingers pointing back at you!). Yes it can be hard at times to exercise personal restraint (really hard), but that's why we try to instill good moral values in each other. And yes, Mr. Dylan is wise beyond his years.

Bob M. said...

Funny that you mention it, but you brought this back to the "should" vs. "can" discussion. I think that if we thought more (and taught more) about what we should do and why instead of what we can do (and why "you" can't stop me), ours would be a different world.