Have you got your pocket-protector and your nerd glasses? I do! We are about to get geeky with a very dry subject which I genuinely hope and pray to make palatable, nay, even desirable, nay, unquenchably exciting to you.
Remember a while back when I shared my first tirade about virtue? I knew, even then, that the subject of virtue would never a successful writing career make.
I mean, for one, there are few plot twists when it comes to virtue. The climactic pinnacle of virtue is not found in heart-pounding action sequences, but rather in heart-rending moments of decision to do the hard, sometimes boring, not necessarily glamorous thing. There is, however, character development, and for some of us, who love a good bad-guy-finds-morals-to-become-a-hero story, this can be enough.
The problem comes, naturally, in relationship to developing virtue, that we are the bad guy. We are the bad-guy-who-finds-morals hero of the story. There is very little external change. No fireworks, no celebratory racing across the finish line, no satisfying closure to the story. It is simply that virtue is its own reward.
There is a term I have heard bantered about lately: virtue signaling. Its meaning is confusing to me, because in many of the contexts in which it is used, it is criticizing someone for saying something that is simply true. Now, granted, these days, what is true is not always what is popular, and there is an entire political party which has gone to great lengths to turn a deaf ear to just about every aspect of truth.
The fact that someone in the body politic might say something true, a thing which might even conflict with what he/she has said in the past, well, the thing they are saying is still true. Even if the timing appears manipulative.
I do not like it that virtue has become an epithet. If I am interested in the topic of virtue at all, it is not for a high-minded manipulative political purposes: I truly believe that the deep satisfaction of seeking what is right, or pursuing virtue for its own sake, is a reward that no amount of power or success could ever match.
The Philosopher King
Plato wrote about his utopian Kallipolis, in which the leaders were dedicated to simple living, complicated thinking and faithfulness to their duty. These leaders were called Philosopher Kings. Even this theoretical display of virtue has been criticized as a forerunner to dangerous political movements. While I acknowledge that far more intelligent and well-informed people than I may have a point in their criticism, the idea of having political leaders who live simply, think hard and are faithful to their duty is very much the kind of world I would want to live in.
Here is my question: can someone, just your regular, everyday, run-of-the-mill denizen of the 21st century be a Philosopher King?
Perhaps not a King, no. But each of us, within our own sphere of influence, can rule over our own lives in such a way as to live simply, think hard and be faithful.
Where this is headed
Over the next few weeks, just as I did with the Ideal Life Exercise Themes, I am going to go in-depth with some of that very long list of virtues my indulgent husband and I thoroughly debated many, many years ago. If I’m lucky, I can persuade him to write a little bit for us, because even now, he and I disagree on some of the definitions (I am right, obviously, but I will give him his day in the Court of Lily Fields.) Healthy debate and disagreement is welcome here.
The goal is not to “virtue signal”, it is not to manipulate, it is not to guilt-trip. The goal is to show that the idea of virtue and the reality of seeking virtue are two very different things. While the idea of virtue is bone-dry and boring, the reality of seeking virtue can lead to a colorful, emotion-rich and action-filled life. Failure inevitably happens and important lessons result. This, in the great big story of life, is called Character Development.
Nope, I am not a Platonic Philosopher King, and I am the Queen of nothing but a tiny little two-bedroom rented circa 1960 apartment. However, in my castle, when my little boys want something from me, they call me “Princess,” no doubt influenced by their indulgent father who tends to call me this way. So I have invented my own moniker. For the next few weeks, I will be the Philosopher Princess, and I will be taking you on a guided tour of the founding principles of my own utopia.
Welcome to my Princessdom.