Tag Archives: temperance

11. Live temperately

Most people I know, when they think of temperance, imagine crowds of people, mostly women, protesting the sale and consumption of hard liquor – usually proceeding and following the passage and repeal of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which prohibited production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States between 1920 to 1933. Other interpretations found in guides for living in many world religions and published in private “how to live” guidebooks suggest that temperance means moderation, in all things. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”. Many sages and saints talk about keeping the belly only partially full of solids, with the remainder air. The Stoic idea (and Buddhist monk) idea of unflappability in the face of adversity, hunger, pain, arousal, or any kind of distress provides the name for the Middle Path. Only during periods like the height of the Romantic period, when enlightened thinkers took William Blake’s the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom…you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough to its logical extreme, has the “advice” to humanity on a good and suitable life ever veered from a more or less strictly defined narrow way of barely enjoyed pastimes. Certainly, Montaigne’s ideal given his Stoic, Epicurean and Skeptic influences and nature included always seeking and preferring that Middle Way of centered non-perturbation.

Where one’s influence ends and nature begins is always a subjective argument. Without digressing completely into nature versus nurture again, I think unless we redefine what is meant by nature, and one’s natural state, any discussion is probably absolutely pointless. After all, is it more important that we possess a nature, that we become aware of it, or that we act in a way that we believe is in accordance with that perceived nature – even though in truth we probably have no idea how to actually define something so apparently outside ourselves (and if it is human nature, it is outside the purview of the individual), nor how to actually point our actions to achieve a demonstrably nebulous goal? What we know of nature is more or less a function of how we are nurtured. We are only able to subjectively make the distinction when we observe others; where these shades of gray melt into each other in our own persons is indistinguishable to our own eyes.
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