Thursday, January 01, 2004

Oh Joy, Another Morality Alert
(read on KOOP Austin, 91.7 FM)

This holiday season brings with it an orange terror alert and practically meaningless appeals to the public for a quote-unquote “heightened state of vigilance.” It comes at a time when we already feel prodded towards standards of heightened morality that are equally meaningless. It’s not that we wouldn’t benefit from being more alert, or more considerate, but I think it’s time to admit the absurdity of the ways in which we prod ourselves towards these ideals.

Consider how readily we absorb and re-absorb the message of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol:” You are not good enough, so be good. It’s hard to deny that Scrooge was bad, easy to identify with his joy at being granted the time (and resources) to undo his mistakes. We admit to ourselves that we can also be bad and that Christmas is giving us a chance to be good. It’s supposed to be psychologically cleansing.

But if we made frequent attempts not to be bad throughout year, and many of us do, it would seem that this ritual of identifying with Mr. Scrooge is an admission of failure, on some level. We let Dickens prod us, annually, towards an abstract, heightened state of morality that we know we won’t maintain. We might also ignore that in his pre-reformed state, Scrooge possesses what many of us need: Scrooge is assertive, career oriented, in control of his finances, and not co-dependent. Many of us would find it easy to have his radical change of heart, it’s a radical change in our credit card balances that we might actually need, or the radical ability to communicate to others how we feel at any given moment.

I have not read Dickens’ book; it may contain many subtle messages that didn’t carry through to the film adaptations. But in future Christmases, I will question the authority of “A Christmas Carol,” before I question my own integrity. With less room for doubt, maybe I can be a better person, or at least more vigilant.