Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I'm posting this knowing that it won't post for several hours, if I'm so fortunate to have it post at all. Blogger won't be arsed to load again, and I can't complain because I could hardly be arsed out of bed this morning. All that blessed productivity of yesterday has again drained out of me, leaving in its place a well of ambition.

When I was a kid, I remember reading that ambition was a sin. I was baffled by it because my culture is entirely swallowed up in ambition. Even four year olds are instructed to make lists of their life goals. But my readings about the Roman Republic have revealed to me in part the danger of ambition.

It is not wrong to want to be a great person, but it is generally wrong to want to be a person of great personal means. It is particularly wrong if you are willing to steal your position from others, or are willing to trample them to get it, or if you're willing to negate yourself for that less than perfect end. Some people wake up one day and discover that they're rich, or influential. But most people have to work to attain any real power.

I've found that in life, people generally get what they want. Specifics be damned, really. You may really want to get into Harvard and not make it. But if you really do want to go to a good school, you generally will. And you may not want to end up an alcoholic, specifically, but what you do want to do is drink a hell of a lot of alcohol. And you get that too. People generally know that they're hurting themselves and being destructive; moral paths are often very, very clear if we allow ourselves a moment's objective reflection on them.

Ambitious people, too, generally get what they want. Consciously and unconsciously they jockey for position, knocking others down on their way, slithering about to put themself in the right place at the right time. What ambitious people never realize is that the inverse element of their ambition is loneliness, and to accomplish success means the cutting out of all others from your life. "Heavy is the head that wears the crown," moans Shakespeare, a sentiment echoed by our cultural aphorism: "It's lonely at the top."

I thoroughly believe that men were meant to live communally. And that our nature is less competition than cooperation. It's only through our fall from grace that we embrace ambition, competition, etc. And yet, the country which I so thoroughly believe in is based on ambition, competition, rugged individualism. So how can these two value systems exist side by side?

There is a word called eupocrisy, coined by the Catholic apologist Mark Shea. It's related to the concept of hypocrisy and it might be even be well-defined as a positive hypocrite. A hypocrite is someone who tells us that they're going to do one thing, and in reality does another. A eupocrite is akin. The difference is that hypocrite has a negative spin: Joe said he'd never gossip, and look at him now that hypocrite! Whereas a eupocrite has a positive spin: Billy said he didn't feel any empathy for the poor, but look at how he weeps over that poverty-stricken orphan girl!

A eupocrite is someone who espouses a negative, or wrong value, but lives up to a positive or correct value through his behavior. In many ways, America is eupocritic nation. We espouse individualism, but we generally live in communities and cooperate in organizations. We espouse capitalism, but we have an extended social services system and are the most charitable people in the world. And while we have informally canonized the ideal of the ambitious competitor, we tend not to like such types personally, and in our regular lives, we tend to seek out nice guy next door neighbors rather than cut throat types.

Damn, I surely am rambling. Must be because I'm tired of doing my homework. Hrmph.