Rabbi Avi Weinstein

David Brooks Discovers Dignity

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

So do the readers of the NYT! His latest op-ed piece rates as the most emailed article of yesterday’s paper. Here’s a snippet:

(George) Washington absorbed, and later came to personify what you might call the dignity code. The code was based on the same premise as the nation’s Constitution — that human beings are flawed creatures who live in constant peril of falling into disasters caused by their own passions. Artificial systems haveto be created to balance and restrain their desires.

This is an idea that is at least two thousand years old, as it says in Pirkei Avot

Who is considered mighty, one who conquers his impulses.” (Pirkei Avot 4:1)

I would never use the term artificial systems because the struggle between impulses and a moral, or higher calling is a natural one. The desire to serve an ideal is as deep and natural as any other impulse. It is called a desire for a reason, and it is natural for human beings to wish to be good, just as it is natural to be selfish and narcissitic. The notion that we are flawed is also a natural conclusion from the intellect. This is not just a minor point, but it goes to the heart of the matter. Is hearkening to our better angels an artificial action to control who we really are? Or is the impulse to do so the process by which we become who we really should be. The distinction I think is a serious one.

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