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The death of moderation. March 20, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Moderation in all things.

Our friend Ben was in a coffee shop yesterday and ran right into a pet peeve. I took my coffee to the serve-yourself counter to add milk and sugar. As is typical of these places, there were infinite types of sugar and sweeteners, and four kinds of milk–skim (nonfat), 1%, 2%, and half-and-half. But as is also typical, there was no whole milk. To our friend Ben, this is akin to putting out every variant of sugar except granulated white sugar, making the assumption that nobody would want that. Well, when it comes to milk in coffee or tea, our friend Ben wants exactly that: not white water, not greasy, artery-clogging syrup, just plain old milk. Is it really too much to ask?

As our friend Ben began proving my lack of aptitude in chemistry once again by pouring in both half-and-half and 2% in a futile attempt to recreate milk, I pondered the disappearance of moderation in general from our daily lives: the growing divide between rich and poor, with the middle class increasingly pushed into one category or the other; the polarization of our political parties, where meeting on a common middle ground has all but disappeared; the appalling racial bickering that has besmirched what should have been a historic Democratic primary; the intolerance, ridicule, and contempt which those on either side of an issue increasingly display towards those who hold opposing views.

Not to mention the seemingly universal feeling that if you don’t have at least one SUV (which you replace annually or biennially with the latest model), bathrooms bigger than older homes’ living rooms, a wall-size flat-screen TV (and, of course, a TV in every room, as well as in your vehicles), a home that could easily house twelve (though just two of you live there), and, of course, a wallet full of credit cards to pay for it all, you might as well be on the street, no matter how much debt you’re carrying as a result of these so-called “lifestyle choices.” What’s wrong with us?!

Perhaps our friend Ben is just crying over spilt milk here. (I really couldn’t resist that.) But I can’t help but feel that the death of moderation will bring the death of happiness in its wake, and the death of kindness and consideration for others, and the death of a wealth of other good things that enable us to enjoy some degree of civilization and civilized behavior. Moderation is fraternal–it brings people together. The death of moderation–the rise of extremism–tears people apart. Dr. Franklin, whose whole public life was spent creating societies and organizations that would bring people together, must be spinning in his grave.

Of course, our friend Ben could not think about the question of moderation without wondering what others had to say about it, so I turned to my good friend Google and unearthed some wonderful quotes. My own feelings are best summed up in a Chinese proverb: “Going too far is as bad as not going far enough.” How true. So bring me my whole milk, dammit!  

“Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”–St. Augustine

“Our moral theorists never seem content with the normal. Why must it always be a contest between fornication, obesity and laziness, and celibacy, fasting and hard labor?”–Martin H. Fischer

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”–Oscar Wilde

“Moderation is ostentatious proof of our strength of character.”—la Rochefoucauld

“The choicest pleasures in life lie within the ring of moderation.”–Benjamin Disraeli

“They are fools who do not know how much the half exceeds the whole.”—Hesiod

“They are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing.”                    –Shakespeare

“Moderation has been called golden by all the sages.”–Rabelais

And our friend Ben’s favorite:

“Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative.”           –Henry Kissinger

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Comments»

1. Cinj - March 20, 2008

Excellent post. It seems that too many people thin what they “want” is really a “need”. It is hard to raise children the proper way with society pressuring everyone to get more, more, more. Maybe that’s part of what this recession we’re teetering on the edge of is supposed to teach us to rethink our spending habits as well as the way we treat others. Something good has to come out of it, right?

Right, Cinj! And thanks for checking in.

2. hayefield - March 20, 2008

Ah, you missed one:

“Moderation is for monks.” – Robert A. Heinlein

Heh.
-Nan

Hey, Nan! I missed a lot, simply because I didn’t want to overhwelm anybody. But I didn’t find this one! Heh indeed.

3. deb - March 21, 2008

Just try to raise a child to be moderate today. I dare you. I am doing my best and being accused of being “too strict daily.” I believe they will thank me later when they don’t go into forclosure and have to move back home with me.

I agree, Deb, and I sympathise!!! You have the whole marketing and publicity machine working against you. But keep up the good fight!!!


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