Thursday, August 22, 2013

Everything in Moderation


Unidentified mushroom . . . Do Not Eat!
"Do everything in moderation, including moderation."

Although there's considerable speculation about whom Ben Franklin was quoting in his version of the moderation epigram, the sentiment has probably been around at least as far back as the Roman dramatist Publius Terentius Afer, 190 – 159 B.C. It's resurrected at times when alcohol is being consumed by people who still feel a tad bit guilty about cocktails and wine, or about gourmet feasting. “It's OK if you don't overdo it,” seems to be the thrust under these circumstances.

            Somewhere between the two poles of any indulgence lies the kingdom of moderation. Between the drunk and the abstainer, one finds the moderate user, the one who claims that he only has one glass a day with dinner, for instance. Somewhere between the anorexic and the glutton, you'll find the moderate consumer of food, the one who eschews a second dessert, desirable though it may be.

            There's no arguing the observation that life at the poles can be treacherous. The experimental rat who's been rigged up to experience sexual release whenever he pushes a button will do so repeatedly and continuously until he starves to death. I've been told that certain gambling addicts have worn diapers to the casino so they don't need bathroom breaks while they repeatedly push the VLT buttons like masturbating rats. Next to life at the poles, moderation can look pretty good.

            Our culture teaches us, however, that there must be a right answer for everything, and that value militates against the moderation principle. In my growing-up days, the right answer for dancing, drinking, swearing, movies, gambling, was JUST DON'T. The abstinence pole. The right/wrong determination was on a toggle switch. No space contemplated between the poles.

            Ben Franklin be hanged: moderation is manufactured in the devil's workshop. Moderation is that wishy-washy space where liberals and humanists live, the freaks who think laws are there to be tested and broken at will.

            Between the rabid socialist and the convinced capitalist there exists a moderate space, and it's always beneficial to think of the choices made in the public sphere with that in mind. If environmental conservation and resource exploitation are two poles of a set of choices, is the “right answer” somewhere in the moderation space between the two, and if so, where in that space does it lie? The moderation space can, of course, be vast: compared to the drunk and the abstainer, most of the world lives at varying places between; where someone lives in that space is a matter of thought, will and choice.

            Politically, the moderate space needs keen thinkers, activist organization and determination to find the balanced places: not zero, not ten, but four--possibly--or six.

            I think we're all a bit tired of flailing at the poles.

            As a footnote, I would argue that Franklin threw in the “even moderation” part of his epigram as a joke only; moderation is a noun and to “do” it, an active verb is needed. Grammatically, you can “exercise” moderation moderately, I suppose, or you can be a “moderate moderate” but that would be a frivolous redundancy at best.

            And as a footnote to the footnote, Ben Franklin is also purported to have said:

“Who is wise?

        He who learns from everyone.

Who is powerful?

       He that governs his passions.

Who is rich?

       He that is content.

Who is that?


            Maybe moderation, too, is a pipe dream.


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