Summer 2012 : Fight
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Summer 2012 : Fight
Oregon Humanities: Summer 2012
The seven deadly sins, a favorite of artists in medieval times, are pride, gluttony, anger, sloth, covetousness, envy, and lust. A mnemonic from the Washington Post “Style Invitational” is “Presbyterians gasp at sight of crowds enjoying life.”
We need a new list. The Greek word for pride is _megalopsychia_—largeness of soul. For Aristotle pride is about knowing, trusting, and being comfortable with oneself. So when Muhammad Ali declared, “I am the greatest,” he was just telling the truth.
What’s wrong with envy? I envy those who play the piano well, who emerge unscathed from a sand trap, who speak Italian to waiters. Envy is positive when it inspires us to do better.
We need more anger, not less. Then we wouldn’t sit on our butts while Congress fattens the wallets of insurance companies in the name of health care reform. We wouldn’t stand still for an educational system starved for resources.
Covetousness or greed has gotten us in a lot of trouble lately, but the Bible is, at least in part, the cause. Ecclesiastes 10:19 says, “Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life, and money meets every need.” John Calvin kicked that one through the goal posts.
Sloth is being lazy; doing nothing. With our frantic rate of consumption, sloth may be the only way to save the planet.
A glutton was once much admired—a Falstaffian character full of wit and good cheer. But now with two thirds of us offending the scales, gluttony has gained such incumbency as to be too common for notice in the sin department.
Without lust the human race is toast.
Here is another mnemonic from the Post showing that the seven deadlies are passé: “List enumerates character attributes guaranteeing political success.”
So here are my new twenty-first century deadlies. I hope just listing them will raise such a hoarse cry of recognition as to require little exposition:
Distraction: Just observe anyone with an electronic device.
Selfishness: Watch any reality show.
Ignorance: Listen to any talk show.
Apathy: Look at the statistics of who doesn’t vote.
Dishonesty: Wall Street bets against its investors.
Hypocrisy: Despite mountainous evidence to the contrary, Americans still think we are exceptional.
Cowardice: We laugh when a friend tells a racist joke.
The mnemonic for these new deadlies is also their antidote: Don’t sit in anxious distraction; help community.
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Oregon Humanities magazine examines topics of broad public interest from a variety of perspectives and approaches. Recent issues of this publication have focused on stuff, nostalgia, and civility. Through good and thoughtful writing, Oregon Humanities magazine enriches our understanding of important subjects and stimulates conversation and reflection among readers, their friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors.
For more than a decade Camas Davis has been a magazine editor and writer for national magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and Saveur, and local publications such as Portland Monthly, Edible Portland, and Mix. In 2009, she traveled to France to study butchery. Upon her return, she founded the Portland Meat Collective, a traveling butchery school.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland.
J. David Santen Jr. has written about books, business, the environment, and communities for the Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and other publications. He lives in Portland.
Jill Owens works in marketing for Powell’s Books, where interviewing authors is the most interesting part of her job. She’s originally from the South but has lived in Oregon for eleven years and is here to stay.
Photographer Jim Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms. Previous publications include Oaks Park Pentimento. His photographs have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries.
John Frohnmayer is chair of the Oregon Humanities board of directors.
Margot Minardi is an assistant professor of history and humanities at Reed College, and the author of Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts (2010). She is currently working on a history of the nineteenth-century American peace movement.