The Pendulum Fallacy: Achieving the Virtue of Temperance


He is risen!

Pharaoh's fury - by Curtis Gregory Perry
Photo by Curtis Gregory Perry

Ah, yes.  The birds are chirping, flowers are starting to bloom, the sun is warm like a baked potato.  And Lent is over.  Time to head back into our bad habits of eating too much chocolate and watching endless hours of reality TV!  Easter is, indeed, a magical time of the year when Christ’s triumph over death is a bit more obvious and we realize that whatever it was that we gave up at the beginning of Lent really wasn’t all that bad for us in the first place.  I mean, did you know that a soda has as much sugar as two Cadbury Eggs?

Regardless of whether it is the Lenten season or not, we are constantly faced with the need to find temperance in every aspect of our lives.  This is not a bad thing; in fact, virtue is gained this way.  I have found that, while I may be claiming temperance as my goal, the actions I take to achieve that goal are anything but.

Take the news. It is important to note that when I say ‘news,’ I mean blogs such as RedState, HotAir, and Many people scoff at this because only major entities like NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, and CNN should actually be considered ‘news.’ I believe this to be an antiquated concept. In the old days (before 2002), people would watch the news to find out what happened in the world while they weren’t paying attention. Now, online sources such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as well as document sharing from FOIA requests (and the like) can provide information or eyewitness accounts of large-scale events that, previously, were only able to be reported by major corporations. Since the primary-sourced information is largely available to the public, the role of NBC, CBS et al has been reduced to opinion., for example.  There was a period in my life when I would come home from work and read every story I could find and then continuously cycle through five websites waiting for an update.  My lovely wife brought this to my attention and, in an attempt to bring a bit of temperance to my desire for news, I gave up reading the news altogether for a set period of time.  I believe this approach to general over-indulgence is fairly common.  It’s even Biblical:

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants… Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation or language that speaks anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.”
Daniel 3:28-29

Interestingly enough, the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition omits the next verse in which Rack, Shack and Benny do a triple face-palm.  I don’t think this pendulum swing from one extreme of intemperance to the other is a sign of virtue, however, this is exactly the way that I instinctively deal with my own excesses.  I desire temperance with regard to reading the news?  Solution:  behave as unvirtuously, but in the opposite way.

It becomes clear that the issue is not reading the news, but exhibiting temperance.  One cannot fight intemperance with intemperance.  Rather than abstaining from news entirely, should I not strive to read the news for a reasonable length of time each or every other day?  This is much more difficult than simply giving up news because through amputating news input, I still get to be intemperant.  My behavior changes, my bad habit does not.  Remember, during this season of Easter, that when you go running back to your chocolates and TV shows, you weren’t running away from them in the first place – you were running away from yourself.

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