temperance

Temperance, take 2 by Will Ringland

My views on Temperance haven't changed much with tis second round. It is obvious to me why Franklin listed it first in the line of virtues. All things flow from temperance; or, I suppose, all vice flows from intemperance.

The trend I see with my own virtues is that days where any other virtue receives a red dot, Temperance is often the first to fall. To wit, one loses composure, will power or organized thought when drinking and becomes so much more likely to laze about the rest of the evening doing very little of purpose.

Even a single drink, measured before consuming, throws me off my game. I suspect there's really two reasons for that:

  1. A drink signals to my mind that the night is over so I settle in to read or watch television.
  2. I don't eat directly when getting home and often exercise between work and home which enhances the effects.

No. 2 above is restating my previous edicts — don't drink on an empty stomach which I have been especially bad about following. The most formidable distortion of logic is that I can cook while I'm making dinner. That's like drinking on a full stomach, right (1)? Add a little inebriation to it and that logic seems like the foundation of a new way of life!

No. 1 is somewhat less insidious on any single day but a string of days becomes a momentum killer. There's much to do right now - Spring means the war with yard continues (2), I'm trying to research and write these entries, I've added (inadvertently?) a new section to this blog (3), and I'm trying to read more this year (4, 5), and maintain some relevance for my business (6) — and ending a day when there's good light too frequently means these other projects get delayed. It's both a bad association and a bad habit. I sort of worry that my habit is to have a drink nearly every night because that seems like a lot.

According to recent surveys (summarized above), 30% of all adults abstain completely while another 30% have a drink a week. About 30% have 1 drink a night while 20% of adults have 2 drinks a night (that's where I tend to fall). The top10% of adults drink 10 drinks a day which is terrifying (7). So, depending on how you slice the numbers, it puts me at above average for American adults, average for typical American Adult drinking patterns, and a light weight for all adult drinkers in America (8).

It's hard to find numbers for alcohol consumption in Franklin's America but it wasn't unheard of to consume a beer or cider, which were closer to 4-6% alcohol, at each meal. It wasn't until whiskey distillation became popular that Colonial American drinking started to be problematic — the rise on proof affecting American productivity.

So: a new day, same problems. What I'm getting at is the ease of which I fall into intemperate habits which affect all aspects of my life. Clearly, I have not mastered Temperance. I'm fighting against years of… I don't want to say bad drinking habits… but a lack of attention to them. I'm building awareness and seeing more connections to how intemperance affects everything else.

Habit is stronger than reason. - George Santayana

However, it will take yet more time to internalize this understanding. Habit is not rational, especially bad habits. To be able to short circuit that habitual takes habituating the inhabitation of your habit. You have to make a new habit to break the old habit. So, asking myself if the drink is "worth it", a damn tough mental calculus to begin with, it is going to take time for that question to become habit (9)





  1. Nope, nope it isn't.

  2. Years of neglect has it overrun but we've made really good progress to beat back some of the more invasive species in the last year.

  3. Is this how you turn vice into virtue, write about it? Maybe but I enjoy a good dram and drag now and again and making it an intellectual pursuit enriches the whole experience for me.

  4. Though I only track what I'm reading or have read, you can find me on Goodreads. I'd like to hit a book a week but I don't know how to account for the ridiculous amount of research I do for much of my writing. Or the internet articles I read most days (5).

  5. Using Goodreads has prompted me to realize how much I read on line. I average about 20-30 articles online a day from various blogs and news sites — places like Daring Fireball, The Pen Addict, Kottke, and other similar sources. Length varies but they tend to be 500 to 1500 words (2-6 pages). I… read a lot.

  6. The struggle with Bunny Rope right now is probably a meaningful post on its own....

  7. I read the summary at the Washington Post. which was a review of Paying the Tab: The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control (affiliate link), analysis of alcohol control since the 50s.

  8. I'm ok with that. Can you imaging drinking two bottles of wine *a day*? I think I did that once, as in two bottles in one night once, in my 20s and it was pretty awful. But, that is not how addiction works.

  9. And this doesn't even begin to touch the effect *mood* has on the desire to drink. Had a good day? Have some whiskey! Had a bad day? Have some whiskey! Reward systems and how we apply them is also a whole other thing....

Colonial Drunk Texting. by Will Ringland

If you're going to abuse one virtue, can you couch it successful usabe of another? In reading through Franklin's letters tonight, I found a rather funny letter send to William Strahan in 1784.

Strahan was friend to Franklin. He attended parliament and published summaries of debates and laws passing. These summaries made their way to the colonies where Franklin would republish them as was typical to spread news in the day.

In the late 1700s, England is turmoil. The revolutionary war and abolishment of slavery had English citizens demonstrating for further rights, better representation in parliament. Strahan wrote letters to Franklin complaining and decrying the tumult.

Franklin, ever the caring friend, wrote back poking fun at England as they moved further away from Monarchy which America had just done.

I suspect that Franklin grew pretty sour over it as Strahan became an anti-revolutionary over time.

In a response to Strahan, a Franklin pulls no punches,

In my humble Opinion the Root of the Evil lies, not so much in too long or too unequally chosen Parliaments, as in the enormous Salaries, Emoluments, and Patronage of your Great Offices; and that you will never be at rest till they are all abolish’d, and every Place of Honour made, at the same time, in stead of a Place of Profit...

We have some Remains of Affection for you, and shall always be ready to receive and take care of you in case of Distress. So, if you have not Sense and Virtue enough left to govern yourselves, e’en dissolve your present old crazy Constitution, and send Members to Congress. (emphasis his)

Pretty forward, no? Though this may be a good exercise in Sincerity, it's hardly a good show on Moderation or Tranquility. And, he ends with this,

You will say my Advice smells of Madeira. You are right. This foolish Letter is mere Chit-chat between ourselves, over the second Bottle: If therefore you show it to any body (except our indulgent Friends Dagge and Lady Strahan) I will positively Solless you.

Yours ever most affectionately,

B F

Oh yes. Temperance be damned, it's always a good idea to drunk write your friends. I wonder if he mailed it immediately or woke the next day still thinking sending this was a good idea.

Where Resolve goes to Die by Will Ringland

The order of the virtues is purposeful. Maintaining temperance helps keep the mind sharp and aware of what you’re doing. Eating too much, especially sugars in my case, make the mind flabby and prone to indulgence. My resolve dies at the bottom of the whisky glass.

One the first day of this project I outlined 3 edicts to help control my intake:

  1. no alcohol on an empty stomach
  2. no more than one, measured drink
  3. stop eating before feeling full

And this week I have broken those first two edicts numerous times. When I drink too much, I eat too much and when I eat too much, I don’t sleep; when I don’t sleep, I have to determination; when I have no determination, I drink too much.

It’s fitting, too, that this is happening on my week on Resolve. This is the time a per son gives up when before them all they see are broken promises and the renewed power of their bad habits. This is where the easy option is to say “fuck it” and run away from battle.

No, I’m not interested in stopping. It’s easy to fall into bad patterns. That’s what I’m trying to address with this whole project. And I knew it was going to be a struggle. This is the essence of resolve - strength in the face of failure.

Resolve’s earliest form appears as Fortitude in the Greek cardinal virtues. It is alternately defined as fortitude, strength, and endurance. In most cases, it is used as a characteristic feature for martial classes and is heavily intertwined with fearlessness in the face of hurt, harm, or death. Other ethical systems take a similar tack using these virtues as their foundation.

Bushido, for example, lists courage which is defined thus:

"The ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation."

The Chivalric Code (1) includes martial courage in “Thou shalt not recoil from thine enemies”(2). Confucius had a poetic expression of “resolve” encapsulated by one who maintains their way,

“He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it.”

Nearly every other ethical system, religious or otherwise, include courage as a core virtue and while I believe Franklin was intending to skirt the martial aspects of resolve - he was a diplomat and pacifist at heart(4) - you cannot treat resolve like anything other than perseverance in war.

As with any endeavor at self improvement, be it attaining moral perfection or even just not drinking on an empty stomach, it takes courage to change. Change is scary and it’s simpler to fall into old patterns.

Maya Angelou encapsulates the interdependence of any change with the virtue of resolve:

"Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. “

Resolve is the hardest to keep. The intention of the order of the virtues is that each builds upon the next. Temperance in food and drink keeps the body health and the mind sharp. Silence brings us the clarity needed to find our truth. Resolve keeps us on the path even as trouble mounts.

So. Today is a new day and, though we’ve fallen off the path, it’s just over there. Why not get back on it?





1. Which is super fun to say. ChavALric Coooooode.

2. What is with Christian edicts starting with “shalt not”? Is being permissive problematic? (3)

3. Yes.

4. Which is interesting because Puritans were pretty rough and tumble. They were ready to fight during reformation for their principles. In part, I think shows how much more closely Franklin identified with the Quakers and Deists in Pennsylvania.