On Avoiding 'Moral Squint' or Tolerance
Another word for "moral squint" is tolerance. Tolerance, of course, is touted by the secular liberals as the preeminent virtue. Secular liberals who are moral relativists would have all of us adopt "moral squint." If we are to be called benevolent, they would have us be blind to moral reality. If we are to be considered loving, they would have us be deaf to moral truths.
Jerrold was right to take after Chesterfieldian morality. Lord Chesterfield's morality is a morality unworthy of the name, and it slides quickly into purely temporal self-interest, which is clearly not the same as morality. It is apparent that being moral is sometimes against one's temporal self-interest.
The upshot of pragmatic Chesterfieldian morality is that, while it is eminently practical and tolerant, it is nothing less than moral pabulum. By nimbly dancing around the moral questions it leads to the lack of moral conviction, to moral indifference, and even moral relativism.
Samuel Johnson famously excoriated Lord Chesterfield's morals as the "morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master." Like a whore, Chesterfieldian morality is not faithful to any one moral vision and is not wed to one moral truth. Like a dancing master, its entire repertoire is a number of arbitrary steps intended artfully to dance around the fact that it is a moral strumpet.
While Chesterfieldian morality perhaps avoids the evils of hypocrisy, it does so by jettisoning any pretense to objective morality and hence virtue and vice. As Oscar Wilde famously defined it, hypocrisy is the compliment that vice pays to virtue. And that, of course, requires that virtue mean something. When everything is measured by a tolerant and easy self-interest, there is no virtue to which vice can give its oblique compliment.
In any event, the reference to "moral squint" is found in Punch's Letter No. XI, where Punch excoriates his son for the way he had treated the rich, affluent, and well-connected Alderman Bilberry who had lied to a musician asking for a tip telling him that he had no change. The son reminded Mr. Bilberry that he in fact had change in his pocket because he had just received some from the bartender after having ordered a glass of ginger beer.
"My son," the father tells his son, "never see the meanness of mankind. Let men hedge, and shirk, and shift, and lie, and with faces of unwrinkled adamant tell you the most monstrous falsehoods, either in their self-glorification, or to disguise some habitual paltriness, still, never detect the untruth; never lay your finger on the patch they have so bunglingly sewed upon their moral coat, but let them depart with the most religious persuasion that they have triumphantly bamboozled you."
Never detect the moral truth. That's the heart of Chesterfieldian morality. Dance around it. "By these means," the father continues, "although you are most efficiently assisting in the hypocrisy of life, you will be deemed a sociable, a most good-natured fellow."
"Be stone-blind," the father continues, at least insofar as it involves moral things, "and you will be benevolent" to those with social influence. To moral truths "be deaf," the father advises, "and you will be all heart" to those with political and financial influence.
"To have an insight or at least to show you have it into the dirty evasions of life," Punch continues, "is to have a moral squint."
The Chesterfieldian "moral squint" is therefore defined as the ability to overlook, tolerate, and even treat as good and outstanding the "dirty evasions of life." By being stone blind to moral reality, one will be called benevolent. By being deaf to moral truths, one will be considered a loving fellow, all heart.
In Chesterfieldian morality, to live life with open, honest moral eyes-without "moral squint"-is in fact the iniquity. "To lay your finger upon a plague-spot, is to be infected with malice. No: though you meet with men scurfed with moral leprosy, see not the scales, but cry out lustily, 'What perfect gentlemen!' To discover meanness in men, is, in men's opinion, to be strongly tinctured with the iniquity."
If one has developed "moral squint," then even though there be immoral wasps nests all around, the father notes, one ought not to cry "Wasps! Wasps!" If we do so we will seem to be regarded as the "malicious, evil-minded fellow." No. By squinting we can call the wasps' nests honeycombs! By being half blind, men can look like trees walking! (Cf. Mark 8:24)
This, of course, ...
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