1/23/2007

Benjamin Franklin Virtues

When I was younger, I read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin lead a fascinating life, of course. But most of the book was tedious to me, the authorship exceeding my reading level, which the public school system left at about the 8th grade level. Plus the book kept digressing to boring anecdotes about the birth and development of America, the ideals of our Founding Fathers, our early struggles with nationhood, blah blah blah. Who gives a crap? If I wanted to know about American history, I wouldn't have smoked so much weed before class and spent the period coloring the logos of my favorite rock bands into my American history book while my wrinkled prune of a teacher droned about the Louisiana Purchase. Incidentally, why on earth would we purchase Louisiana? Do you think it's too late to return it for a refund?

One portion of the book, however, fascinated me. In his Autobiography, Franklin touched on an idea that even then, as a high school student, I intuited; that achieving the correct virtues leads to a rewarding life. Franklin enumerated for his posterity 13 Virtues he maintained were necessary to decent living, happiness and fulfillment. He shared as well his regimen for mastering these virtues and invited the reader to do the same, so that he, too, might profit from their practice. I devoured Franklin's discussion on the Virtues. I read it several times. Finally, I resolved to master each virtue in the same manner as Franklin. I reasoned that whatever was good enough for BF would be good enough for me. Imagine my excitement. Here was one of the most successful and influential men in history passing down what was essentially a little instruction book on life! This was one time I'd actually read instructions.

My plan eroded quickly. But it wasn't for lack of resolution. I began suspecting the Virtues weren't virtues at all, but rather pain-in-the-ass, arbitrary rules that with the passage of 20 generations became obsolete, assuming that they were ever useful.

Like Franklin, I began with Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

What the heck? Eat not to dullness? Dullness is how I know I'm done eating. If you do it right, you shouldn't be able to walk upright for an hour or so following a meal. After an outing at The Golden Dragon Buffet, I'm so dull I can't even speak. I just drool. All I can do is blink at the waitress in Morse code that, yes, I'd like a refill on my diet soda.

Don't drink to elevation? That's the whole point of drinking – to elevate oneself. In the case of men, drinking elevates one's estimation of his athletic prowess, boxing skills and his charm over females. In women, drinking often elevates them from the floor to the table, where they dance and from time to time elevate their skirts and blouses.

I discarded the virtue of Temperance and proceeded to the next.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Anyone who reads this blog knows my chances at achieving Silence are as good as Steven Hawking winning on American Idol.



Blogging is nothing if not trifling, which is not to suggest it lacks virtue. Some of the best conversations of my life have been trifling. Give me a good post about how badly one's day at work sucked, or how dysfunctional one's family members are, or a misanthropic rant on the idiocy of the general public, and I'm in heaven. All trifles, all riveting stuff!

Having failed the virtue of Silence, I moved down the list.

Franklin's list identifies the virtue of Frugality, and this may be my favorite. I don't waste anything. The way I see it, every dollar I waste is a dollar-sized unit of time I must spend working at my job. That means bottled water, Glade Plug-ins and “oxygen bars” are out of the question. In fact, when I contemplate a purchase, I ask myself whether this item, service or commodity is worth the commensurate time I must spend at work, earning the funds. Many people spend $40 on surf and turf. I spend one hour's worth of catheterizing-orifices-and-meddling-in-bodily-humors. Remembering that every dollar wasted commits you to additional servitude will make a frugal person of a drunken sailor.

A few more Franklin virtues proved virtuous, indeed. Cleanliness brings great joy to life. Nothing is worse than suspecting you're less than clean during social engagements. I'd rather catch on fire than have a particle of food between my teeth or body odor. And I'll shake my weener like Pee Wee Herman in an “adult-themed” theater after a trip to the urinal, lest a residual drop soil my BVD boxer-briefs. I use aftershave, hair gel, body spray, mouthwash, wax, body “groomers,” anything that helps me not look, feel or smell like the Neanderthal I am. One must hold fast against the human body and its unyielding effort to embarrass the owner.

Humility, too, is virtuous. It only takes me so long to fuck something up, whatever the endeavor. I find I have less distance to fall if I don't first put myself up on a pedestal. Scaling back expectations – a crucial exercise of Humility – helps, too. After all, how many of our lives worked out as planned? I swear every high school should have the edict Young Person: Prepare thyself for disappointment” chiseled in stone above the career counselor's office. With regard to scaling down expectations: as a rule, if I don't maim or kill myself, delve into bankruptcy or prompt a warrant for my arrest, I've succeeded to a reasonable degree. This thought brings me solace.

Franklin hit a bullseye when he identified Chastity as a virtue. Some of you will be surprised to learn that I embrace Chastity. I find most of the pickles I've put myself in began with a suggestion my penis made. Perhaps you've noticed the same, should you reflect on your own life. Let me assure you that the only sexual relationship worth pursuing is one bounded by commitment and matrimony. Separate checking accounts help, too.

I am most skeptical -- in fact, contemptuous -- of Franklin's call for Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. It sounds great. But even a casual investigation of this virtue exposes it for rubbish. The most rewarding times in life are when we're being unproductive, when we're anything but useful. To my way of thinking, the single greatest index of wealth is the amount of leisure time at one's disposal (barring poverty). I take great joy from being useless. I've made an art out of minimizing employment without discarding it altogether. If my schedule at work has me working too many days consecutively, I become suicidal. Remember the ultimate goal of every endeavor, whether you're pulling weeds, saving for retirement, cleaning, exercising, organizing, whatever, is to get to a place where you don't have to do anything. One of the most magical feelings in the world, to me, is late at night, when it dawns on me that I have nothing to do the next day. Bliss.

I met Franklin's list of Virtues halfway. But the philosophy giving rise to Franklin's Virtues, the notion that achieving the proper virtues are necessary to happiness and fulfillment, is worthwhile. I've spent half my life contemplating what these virtues might be, trying this one or that on for size, and observing the results. I'm always refining my list based on results. But I'm making headway. In the next post I'll enumerate my list of Virtues and discuss each. I hope you'll come back to visit and comment. Maybe you can share a few of your own!

28 comments:

tornwordo said...

In fact, when I contemplate a purchase, I ask myself whether this item, service or commodity is worth the commensurate time I must spend at work, earning the funds.

I do this exact same thing. Nude dancer has already cost me 120 hours. I hate him.

mist1 said...

I wish that Virtues was the name of a shoe company. Then I would have lots of Virtues.

NWJR said...

"Some of you will be surprised to learn that I embrace Chastity."

I tried to embrace Chastity once, but Cher hit me upside the head with her high-heeled shoe and said, "Get your damn hands off my daughter!"

Anonymous said...

I walked out of a buffet restaurant last night after finding out they were going to charge me $9 to eat. I can't eat that much food! Then, as always, I explained to the kids how long I would have to work (if I had a job) to pay for that one meal. Fed the whole family next door for $15.

Now, that one sentence of yours "I take great joy from being useless." I love that. You should use that as a tagline!

Anonymous said...

“Young Person: Prepare thyself for disappointment”

About that little statement? It's the mothereffin' truth. I wish someone would have told me that my freshman year in highschool.

Anonymous said...

jesus, BF must have written that during a dry weed spell or something.

PentaMadre said...

I love how you think! If I have to think about my kids screaming in my hears while snot is flying and tears is flowing...I will not buy my nth pair of Victoria Secrets underwear. It's too painful to wear it if I can hear the screaming....

the pain!

the pain!

How come my rinky-dink teachers in a Posh Private School in podunk Philippines never let us read Franklin? I would have love to try and learn those virtues.

Now, it's too late. I have developed my own vitues. And it always starts and end with ME. What I want and what makes ME happy.

I'm a heathen now.

Memphis Steve said...

“Young Person: Prepare thyself for disappointment”

This should be on every diploma. It is sadly so completely true.

Anonymous said...

I am sure Franklin would be most amused at your efforts to live up to his admonishment.

Since you are going to consider writing your own virtues, you might peruse some things I have stumbled across along the way. It took me a while to discover them and even longer to write them down.

Good luck in this endeavor.

Scottsdale Girl said...

Ok Industry and Tranquility...make up yer freakin mind Bennie, because being industrious is my no means being tranquil!

13 Virtues
Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, Humility

The Seven Deadlies are much easier to remember doncha think?

Anonymous said...

cut off all unnecessary actions

This would mean no sex unless you were trying to make a baby. Booooooo...that would suck.

Anonymous said...

Found your site by way of Mist1's.

Thought I would point you to a great website called "Stephen Hawking Sings". too funny.

http://www.stephenhawkingsings.co.uk/

Sharon said...

Ben Franklin was not exactly chaste.

He was also fond of being naked, and had almost a mania for fresh air at all times.

I think Ben Franklin's idea of achieving happiness and fulfillment mostly involved living in a whole other country away from his wife back in America. Just my take on it.

Summer said...

"The constitution only gives you the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself." Ben Franklin

Anonymous said...

I so love your new template.


Been out of circ for a while...just getting over to visit.

Oh great One said...

Franklin must have been as fun as a barrel of monkeys. Yee haw let the good times roll!

It's Me, Maven... said...

I highly recommend, Fart Proudly, Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School. HIGHLY recommend it!

Anonymous said...

This is an awesome post, brilliant. And so true, especially the one about "Temperance" wtf. Where's the fun in that?

It's Me, Maven... said...

Those who hope, die farting...

Anonymous said...

"
Franklin hit a bullseye when he identified Chastity as a virtue. Some of you will be surprised to learn that I embrace Chastity. I find most of the pickles I've put myself in began with a suggestion my penis made. Perhaps you've noticed the same, should you reflect on your own life. Let me assure you that the only sexual relationship worth pursuing is one bounded by commitment and matrimony. Separate checking accounts help, too."


I admit that most of the "pickles" (how delightfully Freudian) I've gotten into involved a penis too. Thankfully I'm able to walk away from the penis.

I'm also happy to find someone else who agrees that couples should maintain separate bank account and only share one for bill paying. It is the only way to keep harmony. Also, one cannot demand the other to justify any purchases - the fucking leather jacket looks hot on me and I'm keeping it!!!

secretly hoping I'm older than you...

As always... Rachael said...

I've mastered frugality. But I fail miserably at the don't drink to excess part... and so did franklin from what I've read. I've read he wasn't exactly chaste either. That's the problem with AUTObiographies. Their like autoerotic experiences that are only designed to please the author.

He;s always been one of my heros though. Why the hell would I care if he boozed it up and chased skirts?

Anonymous said...

I completely agree: separate checking accounts are the key to a happy marriage.

Well, that, and oral sex.

Dave Morris said...

I can't believe Vi said that. I am so embarrassed...

... at how correct she is.

Edgy Mama said...

You might want to think about taking advice from someone who hasn't been dead for over 200 years. Just saying...

I like the new template!

Anonymous said...

Deeeeeeeeeeeep. (just the right touch of hippyism with a little comedy thrown in - I'm talking about my comment - not your article, which by the way is deeeeeeep.

Raggedy said...

Great post!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Have a wonderful day!
*^_^
(=':'=) hugs
(")_ (")Š from
the Cool Raggedy one

Anonymous said...

Oh, there is so much to work with here, I must mull before I can comment with any wit that is worthy of this post.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that USA and Europe blocked Wikileaks? What do you think about it?
Hope for no silence