God’s Blessings on January 4, 2017

God’s blessings to you on this the fourth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation, 2017.

First, if you’ve ever heard of Prince Rupert’s Drops, this video is awesome:

Second, yesterday and the day before, I talked about character growth. To continue with that idea, I think that the most interesting character arcs to see in adult characters is character revelation, not character growth. That is, we don’t want the character himself to change, we want circumstances to reveal what his character actually is. There are two ways this can happen; one is through action and the other through conversation.

Action is fairly straightforward. Talk is cheap, and many virtues are simply never tried by real life. Thus it is interesting to see circumstances where a character is put in a situation which requires a virtue and he has it. Far more interesting, though, is when a character is put in a situation which requires a balance of virtues, and he has them in a reasonable balance. Merely showing one virtue is what results in flat characters. Thus the hero needs to be brave, and is, and no one much cares. Well, outside of fiction for children. They’re thrilled by simple things, as Chesterton noted. But unfortunately the reaction to adults finding this uninteresting has been to try to make it interesting by having the adult fail at the virtue. Usually not completely, or rather not consistently; it seems like about half the time the hero who failed at first gets a second try and succeeds then. Yay. The other half the time, he fails but the writer is with him and circumstances make him magically succeed anyway. Yay. Of course part of what I don’t like is that these approaches have been done to death, but what I dislike far more is that they all involve the hero failing through a lack of virtue. Moral virtue, I mean. 80s action movies consisted almost entirely of heroes who failed through lack of natural virtue but who then acquired natural virtue. Usually the ability to punch quickly, hard, and in the correct spot. The Karate Kid is perhaps one of the best examples of this, where Daniel gets beaten up, then trains at Karate and manages to win. Though of course there is that kid part. Mr. Miagi is revealed over time, but he doesn’t really grow; it is his having already grown which is what allows Daniel to grow.

In terms of adults acquiring natural virtue, that is in part what the Christopher Nolan movie Batman Begins is about. Of course it does—sort of—have moral growth on the part of Bruce Wane too, but most of that is in the first few minutes. Mostly Bruce Wayne knows that he wants to use his wealth to defeat crime, but he lacks the ability to do so and his transformation is gaining that ability. The Batman comic series which came after Knightfall—oh, right, Knightquest—is about Batman, his spine having been broken by Bane, going on a quest to regain his ability to walk. He isn’t acquiring moral virtue, he’s acquiring physical virtue. Virtually every episode of Macguyver was about Macguyver acquiring the power necessary to defeat the villains through knowledge, ingenuity, and courage.

The problem with requiring only one virtue of the hero is that a single virtue isn’t all that hard. Don’t get me wrong—in real life many people fail to be virtuous in situations which require only a single virtue. But that’s between them and God. There’s no intellectual problem to be solved, and therefore nothing to interest anyone who isn’t that person or God. The thing that’s really interesting is when virtues must be balanced against each other. When courage must be balanced against compassion, or compassion against justice, or truth against justice; these are always interesting stories, though they often have disappointing endings if the writers are not wise. That’s the problem with writing really good stories: only good men can do it. There’s an interesting section in the, I think second, preface to The Screwtape Letters, where C.S. Lewis says that the Letters are only half of the book, the other half being the letters from an archangel to the guardian angel of Wormwood’s “patient”. But, Lewis said, he couldn’t possibly write them. The letters of a fallen creature like a devil can admit of faults, but the letters of a perfect creature would have to be faultless, and even if they contained no errors, the beauty of their style would be as integral to their perfect as would the wisdom of the words. A fallen man can reasonably presume put words into the mouth of a devil, but not into the mouth of an angel. (One reason there’s never been a successful novel with Jesus as a character.)

Telling the tale of a good but fallen man is accessible to other fallen men, but while you can fake virtue, you cannot fake knowledge. What is the right balance between two virtues which both have a legitimate claim requires quite a bit of that knowledge we call wisdom. There’s really no way around this, and I don’t think that the right solution is for fools to use crutches like making the hero vicious; I think the right solution is for writers to do their damndest to become wise. It will have more benefits besides making their writing better.

And before I go, here’s Camille and Kennerly playing Pahcabel’s Canon in D:

Glory to God in the highest.

Patience is the Most Practical of the Virtues

Most of the moral virtues have a reputation for being impractical. Honesty may be the best policy, but it often makes for a great deal more work for the person telling the truth, at least in the short term. Courage is necessary to practice any other virtue, but courage also means having the courage to do things that will cause oneself a great deal of trouble. Diligence is almost the definition of impracticality; it is at least literally the opposite of laziness. And so it goes with most of the others. But patience stands apart from the others in being not only virtuous, but highly practical.

It has been said that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results, but the truth is that one never does precisely the same thing twice. The first time always does something, so the second time takes place in a different world. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with people, who usually remember the past. And this is where patience shows how practical it can be.

Anyone with any experience of the world knows that talk is cheap and when it comes to actions, a great many people will try anything once. Accordingly, when people state an intention, or even when they try to do something, the most likely outcome is that this is the last you have heard of them. It does not take a great deal of experience with the world to become accustomed to delaying responses. It is true that if you leave the dishes in the sink, they will be harder to clean the next day. It is also true that if you leave them on the table, the dog will probably clean them off within a few minutes so that you can stick them straight into the dish washer without having to scrape them first. The reason that procrastination is so common in this world is because it is very effective. Many, if not most, problems simply go away if you ignore them long enough.

This is why there was the story of the importunate widow in the bible. (Importunate comes from the same root as importune.) There was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man, and a widow who never ceased to demand justice from him against her enemy. For a long time he ignored her, but eventually he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, I must give this widow her rights or she will come slap me in the face.”

There is another practical aspect to patience, because patience must come from a source, and that source will carry a person through the execution of what they undertake. This is especially important in organizations with limited resources; to give someone what he asks is to commit resources which could be used elsewhere, even if just time. When people are willing to wait, it shows that their zeal has a reasonable chance of surviving the execution of their undertaking. Especially since all human undertakings in this fallen world will meet with adversity.

Patience is also involved in every attempt at learning. Whether it is practicing as skill or reading entire books to find out which are the good parts (if one isn’t reading Chesterton), learning will never be acquired without patience. This is perhaps especially evident at dance classes; a great many people quit because they don’t have the patience to look like a fool for a short time. It is true everywhere, though. Many people give up ice skating because they do not have the patience to fall a few hundred times. People give up learning to knit because they cannot stand to make a single misshapen scarf whose stitches are far too tight. Many a potential juggler has juggled nothing because they got tired of chasing after balls thrown wildly.

It has, for these reasons, always struck me as odd that patience is not a more commonly practiced virtue. It comes up almost any time one wants to accomplish anything, even vice. Pickpockets must wait until the right target comes along. How much more, then, will patience be required to practice virtue?