Dad, Peggy, and morality


For most of my years under his roof, my father did building maintenance and remodeling for a wealthy businessman who was a First Baptist deacon and Lions Club member. Dad worked 55-plus hours a week for this man for low pay, no sick leave, and a five day a year vacation, while feeling trapped in his job because of my mother’s unwillingness to leave the small town where we lived. When I was in junior high, a hardware store owner offered my father kickbacks for giving him his boss’s business. Dad told his boss of it and wouldn’t shop there anymore. The more I came to know and despise his boss, the less respect I had for my father’s ethics.

Then I married a woman with that same degree of unyielding morality. Her Catholic employer’s public commitment to treating everyone with Christ-inspired fairness and compassion often runs counter to how it behaves behind the scenes. If I had worked for this hospital for many years, and it had shorted my paycheck more than half the time, I would have kept my mouth shut when the day came that it overpaid me by $1,500. “Ah,” you say, “but you’re an atheist, and therefore have no compunction against doing any lowdown thing.” While it is true that I spend my every waking moment raping dogs and kicking women, Peggy’s an atheist too, so go figure.

A major difference between Peggy and my father on the one hand and me on the other, is that I’m unaware that either of them ever struggled over issues of morality because the right direction was always obvious to them. This leads (or led in the case of my deceased father) to a consistency in their behavior that I often lack. They would say I rationalize, and they would sometimes be right, but the result of my uncertainty is that I am reachable whereas people whose morality is instinctual often are not. Peggy didn’t struggle for years before deciding that gay marriage was wrong or that capital punishment was right, whereas I switched back and forth repeatedly. Sometimes, I would agree with her that we should consider a return to public executions, and sometimes I would agree with her that gay marriage was oxymoronic, but then I would reverse my positions. Through all my inconsistency, she never wavered, and I would envy her that because, after all, isn’t consistency a mark of intelligence and maturity, and inconsistency the opposite?

Likewise, in regard to religion, Peggy never wavered. She believed as a child, but when she became a young adult, it dawned on her that she no longer believed, and she never looked back, whereas I went back and forth through four decades and three churches (not counting the Unitarian) before I made peace with the fact that I really and truly did not, and never would, believe in God.

I eventually lost my envy of people like Peggy and my father because even if my struggling means that I look flaky and am prone to rationalization, it also means that I am less dogmatic, tend to learn more through studying issues, and am better able to change my thinking. Because Peggy’s morality is instinctual, she isn’t prone to reflecting upon matters of right and wrong; she isn’t given to studying them; and she dismisses contrary opinions like water off a ducks back. For instance, I finally came down on the side of gay marriage because I concluded that it doesn’t matter what makes people gay or that marriage has historically been for heterosexuals only; it only matters that society treats everyone compassionately and equally. As I see it, I progressed beyond her on this issue because while I was learning and reflecting, she remained stuck on two thoughts only, thoughts which are so obvious (regardless of their accuracy) that they surely occurred to her within a minute of first hearing about gay marriage: homosexuality is an evolutionary mistake; and that which has been the practice always and everywhere should continue to be the practice always and everywhere.*

In the final analysis, people like myself are probably more prone to evil than people like Peggy and my father because our lack of a strict moral code really does make it appallingly easy for us to rationalize, and because, far from honoring either the law or traditional morality, we often consider obedience undesirable. Peggy doesn’t always respect the law, but she nearly always obeys it even when she disagrees with it, that is unless she thinks its evil. Her heroes are people who live quiet lives, perform unheralded acts of goodness, obey the law, and honor tradition. My heroes are Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden, none of whom Peggy has the least interest in, and who my government and millions of my fellow citizens would like to draw-and-quarter.

One thing for sure is that I think a lot more about the ethical implications of Peggy’s actions than she does about my own due to her tendency to instantly classify everything I do as morally good, morally bad, or morally indifferent, and to hold to that opinion forever come hell or high water. In my eyes, she’s something of a mule, and in her eyes, I sometimes fall short of being what a good man should be. Herein lies much of the charm of our marriage, at least for me. Having a spouse is like having an exotic animal. It gives a person the chance to observe an interesting creature whose life is—like all our lives—a shooting star, from up close and personal for many decades before one of you falls alone into the bottomless pit of eternity. 

The photo of Peggy and my father was taken July 9, 1994, and he died on the 12th. He loved her like a daughter, and she deserved it. Naturally, she never questioned whether taking this troubled man into her home was the right thing to do.

*Peggy read this after it was posted, and said my implication that she regards homosexuality and/or homosexual marriage as a moral issue was incorrect. Rather, she regards homosexuality as an inescapable way of being, and she supports complete equality for homosexuals except when it comes to using the word marriage to describe their unions. As I see it, gay marriage is very much a moral issue, and I can't even imagine how, to her, it could not be, but such is the gulf between us on many issues. 

23 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Another fascinating post. Thanks Snow. You raised (again) issues I hadn't really thought about.
I suspect that I am a combination. Some things in my code of morality haven't altered in a very long time, and probably won't. Others are subject to change. And I don't think my parter ever thinks about it. His opinions were set in stone a long time ago.

Snowbrush said...

"You raised (again) issues I hadn't really thought about."

I raise issues that I hadn't really thought about and certainly never read about or heard about. A lot of my posts are written partly while straight and party while high, and being high invariably enables me to think of things that I would not otherwise think of. As with this post, some of those things were good, and others were interesting (at least to me), but were too far afield from the subject of the post to use in it. The trouble with writing while high is that it takes much energy that I am a hollow shell when I am through.

Charles Gramlich said...

Many ethical things seem completely clear and simple to me, while others not so much. For example, there is no doubt in my mind that allowing gays to marry is the ethical thing to do. In fact, it's so obviously ethical to me that we shouldn't have to "allow" it. As something of an expert on evolution, to think of homosexuality as an evolutionary dead end is far oversimplified. Although exclusive homosexuality, which does not exist typically in animals and has actually been fairly rare in human history, does lead to a decrease in what is called direct fitness, there are several scenarios, most of which have been observed in nature, by which it might increase something called indirect fitness. Also, the fact that homosexual behavior has been observed in many animal species in no way suggests that it is so clear cut as a "dead end." On the other hand, the ethics of the death penalty is much more troubling for me. Although I could certainly accept the death penalty under certain circumstances, the way it is practiced is generally ineffective and that is problematic.

Strayer said...

I have been screwed over so many times now, by doing right and staying the course, I see there's nothing really in it for me, especially I can't be conned into believing I'll get some distant reward in heaven for all this earthly suffering. People say that to me all the time. Then I say, "Well I don't even believe in that bullshit." And they say, "Um, um, well it's true and that's where your reward will come because I ain't donating you a dime for getting my cat fixed." You know. Screwed over constantly. So much so I think about spending last days becoming a ruthless thief, robbing banks, taking-- for a change then going on a nice vacation before I'm caught. My guilt is deep and comes from living under severe control as a child, I think, where even it seemed my thoughts were monitored by a control freak father and the god of my childhood religion, who was very scary and vindictive. Those two still hang over me with a pointing finger and shaking head of disapproval. Maybe I should get a medical marijuana card and deal with it?

Linda said...

When I first heard of homosexuality, I was 16. Remember, everything was not so open in the 50s and 60s. At any rate, my first reaction was, "Have these people observed with whom they have sex?" Then, "Who really cares about all this?" True or false, it was just gossip meant to disparage someone who was different.

"Romantic Friendships" were tolerated by everyone in the past. What changed?

Even though I grew up in church with black and white as the only choices, I could always see an area that was in flux and sort of gray, somewhere in between. I tried to judge each situation on its own merits. Even as a child, I thought of things that I learned later were ideas Descartes explored as an adult.

I am somewhere between you and Peggy. I know what I believe, but sometimes take out my beliefs and examine them, looking for flaws in my reasoning. Or, I try to determine how I can best express what I mean to others.

Belief is complicated, but I believe now is the only punishment or reward.

PhilipH said...

Do you think it's wise, Snowy, to post things which make us think so hard? Are you deliberately setting up the University of Blogland just to squirm to wriggle our way out of indecision - or what?

Gay marriage: to see two males kissing passionately sickens me, and I do NOT like to see it on TV and film. B U T ... I know some 'gay' men are far better human beings than 'straight' chaps. Much better in fact. So I don't care if they go through some ceremony called "a wedding" - as long as they don't ask me to be a 'best man', (or whatever). What they get up to in private is of no consequence to me. So, let them live and love as they wish.

Death penalty: Definitely in favour of it for certain murders, specifically paedophile killers, serial killers and professional killers. Other types are less hateful, such as 'crime passionel' (e.g. Ruth Ellis, hanged for the shooting of her scumbag 'lover') or where a person kills in revenge (such as when a person kills the killer of his/her child) and no doubt many other cases of murder.

I would also despatch the murderer as speedily as possible, preferably by a bullet in the back of the head. I think things like hanging, electric chair, and gassing are too macabre. And I'm sure we could develop a computerised 'executioner' to pull the trigger, so to speak.

I'd like to thank you for another superb post Snowy, but I cannot in this instance. You make my teeth itch and my brain to frazzle.

possum said...

When I was a kid I envied folks who seemed to KNOW if this was right or that was wrong because I never seemed so sure. I could always see the 'yeah, but...' side of things. As I traveled thru life, I realized it was not true that there were 2 sides to everything - life was a polyhedron, and that was just on the surface.
I avoid most 'absolute' people.
And the god thing? How can a god say thou shalt not kill and then give orders to kill every man, woman and child - or even "do it himself?" What's with that?

Snowbrush said...

I put this at the end of the post, but will put it here too for those who missed it. "*Peggy read this after it was posted, and said my implication that she regards homosexuality and/or homosexual marriage as a moral issue was incorrect. Rather, she regards homosexuality as an inescapable way of being, and she supports complete equality for homosexuals except when it comes to using the word marriage to describe their unions. As I see it, gay marriage is very much a moral issue, and I can't even imagine how, to her, it could not be, but such is the gulf between us on many issues."

"Many ethical things seem completely clear and simple to me, while others not so much."

I painted Peggy and me as extremes without seeming to admit of a middle ground, but I do readily admit that not everyone is like one or the other of us.

"to think of homosexuality as an evolutionary dead end is far oversimplified."

However interesting or meaningful to some people this is, I don't care in regard to formulating my own viewpoint because I consider it a situation in which to say that one thing (homosexuality in this case) is inferior to another (heterosexuality in this case) is simply to express a subjective judgment because how could one possibly prove such a claim? Even if it were true that gayness is a dead-end in terms of procreation, this would only be one area and wouldn't say anything about its possible benefits to society. I, for one, think homosexuality is a blessing.

"I have been screwed over so many times now, by doing right and staying the course"

If a nonbeliever does right at great personal cost (as you have so often done), there is no hope of a future reward. If a theist does right at great personal cost, there is nearly always a belief that he or she will be rewarded in another life. As I see it, this alone constitutes a grave problem with Christian morality in that there is always and forever a possible profit-motive lurking in the background.

"When I first heard of homosexuality, I was 16. Remember, everything was not so open in the 50s and 60s."

All the guys back then called one another queer, but when I was camping with three guys in the early '60s, and they proposed butt-fucking, I didn't relate it to "being a queer" because I had no idea what a queer actually was. I just thought of butt-fucking as something new and exotic that I didn't want to do, but found extremely interesting nonetheless. In fact, I wanted to tell people that I had been on a camping trip on which some of the fellows had butt-fucked, but the my fellow campers told me in no uncertain terms that I had damned well better keep my mouth shut.

Snowbrush said...

"to see two males kissing passionately sickens me, and I do NOT like to see it on TV and film."

Same here, but as Ticklebear (a gay Canadian) wrote in response to a previous post that he feels the same about heterosexual kissing. I have always wondered if it was hard for Rock Hudson to get through all those romantic scenes.

"I think things like hanging, electric chair, and gassing are too macabre."

Doesn't England have lethal injection? That would certainly be my choice.

"How can a god say thou shalt not kill and then give orders to kill every man, woman and child - or even "do it himself?'"

And it started as soon as Moses came off the mountain (see below) when those who were "with God" massacred those who were not. Truly, when command to "not kill" allows of so many exceptions as to be meaningless.

Exodus 32: 27-28: He said to them, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, "Put your sword on your side, each of you! Go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor.' " 28 The sons of Levi did as Moses commanded, and about three thousand of the people fell on that day.

PhilipH said...

"Doesn't England have a lethal injection ..."

The UK has no capital punishment at all, nor corporal punishment, even though most surveys suggest that the majority would like to have such punishments in law. The establishment would rather spend £millions on keeping vile killers, like Ian Brady and Myra Hindley (known as the Moors murderers of five children twixt age 10 and 17) in prison or a mental home at enormous cost to the taxpayer since about 1965. They will not even allow Brady to starve himself to death! Hindley is no longer alive - so that's good I guess.

Myrna R. said...

You write such interesting posts. Love your description of marriage. I like the way you are, you excavate from within and come up with conclusions that are not permanent. I think it's good to waver, to examine, to change.

Lovely writing.

Lee Johnson said...

I wonder if some of this comes down to the divide between inductive and deductive reasoning. We might talk about a "conscience" as something separate from our sense of reason, but I think it's just an inductive snap-judgement based on our background, culture, peers, training, and so forth. People who come to immediate good/bad decisions on complex subjects then sometimes follow these up with deductive justifications built on poorly rationalized arguments. It's like how a creationist may "just know" in their gut that evolution is wrong. When you're certain about the wrongness, terrible arguments like "How come there are still monkeys?" seem like sufficient deductive arguments to back up your inductive foregone conclusion.

Someone with a deductive morality might flip-flop when presented with better reasoning, but I find the idea of a purely inductive morality much more troubling as you cannot elucidate good reasons for your beliefs, and your morality would shift with systematic influences rather than good arguments.

Lisa said...

Snow, I think I love your Peggy. xxx

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Fascinating read Snow... I've always thought of you as a "seeker." You are curious and open to other people's thoughts. I probably lean a bit more toward Peggy and your dad.

As for gay marriage, I've always said, "Marriage, schmarrige! Who cares what you call it, just give them the same rights!"

I would LOVE for you to write a bit on Snowden. I sometimes feel as if I'm the only person on the planet who was not surprised by his revelations!

Snowbrush said...

"The establishment would rather spend £millions on keeping vile killers...in prison or a mental home at enormous cost to the taxpayer...

And some of these killers have been there since 1965! That's 48 years. I believe it's true that here in the US, it costs more to execute someone than to lock them away due to the lengthy appeals process.

"Lovely writing."

Thank you, Myrna.

"I wonder if some of this comes down to the divide between inductive and deductive reasoning."

Either that or the difference between a high speed computer flipping switches at lightning speed (that would be Peggy), and a poor old befuddled drunk trying to navigate a slippery and uneven sidewalk on the darkest night of the year in order to pass through a narrow gate set in razor wire. I find it safer to report than to analyze, especially where Peggy is concerned, because analyzation would just naturally make me want to speculate about how she came to be as she is by exploring her early childhood and discussing the influence that various people and institutions had on her, etc. Peggy has never objected to anything I've written about her per se, but after 42 years (to the month) of knowing her, I know that there are some places that only dragons should go, and I am not a dragon. Still, your thesis is interesting as always. It makes me wonder whether facing life as an inductive or a deductive thinker is even within a given individual's control, and that's assuming that some people really do favor one over the other as a generalized approach to life as opposed to an approach to particular aspects of life--religion for example. It makes my head swim to think about such things. Most days, I find it difficult enough to simply define the difference between inductive and deductive. I just know that one is bottoms up, and the other is top down, and that both sound lewd and unseemly, yet Peggy is neither lewd nor unseemly, whereas I am both. This can only mean that I am a deductive and an inductive thinker, whereas she makes decisions through the inspiration of God, fairies, space aliens, or all of the above. Whatever the cause of our differences, I believe that the weakness of her morality is that she can sometimes be rigid, whereas I am prone to sometimes being too flexible. Would I then prefer that she be more like I? No, both because our marriage is more interesting this way, and because she has kept me reigned-in at times. To put it metaphorically, she is the rock, and I am the wind; the former isn't inclined to move, and the latter is prone to knocking things over. The rock keeps the wind centered, and the wind keeps the rock entertained.

"Snow, I think I love your Peggy."

I think she looks like a sad lioness in the photo because she appears fiercely protective yet aware that there is little that even she can do to save her dying cub. It was true that during his last two years, Dad would jokingly refer to us as Ma and Pa, yet it was not altogether a joke because he had put so much of his care in our hands, and this left him with little responsibility.

Snowbrush said...

"As for gay marriage, I've always said, "Marriage, schmarrige! Who cares what you call it, just give them the same rights!'"

If I were gay, I would care because if society gave another name to my most intimate relationship, I would interpret it to mean that my relationship was considered unworthy of the same title that heterosexuals used. After all, if it's the same thing, why not call it by the same name.

"I would LOVE for you to write a bit on Snowden."

Thank you. If something should occur to me to say, I will. Right now, I'm debating whether to write a short post about the killing of bin Laden, but I would have to rely heavily on another's words. This would make such a post easy to write yet there wouldn't be much of myself in it, so it would be more like reporting than essaying.

All Consuming said...

“isn’t consistency a mark of intelligence and maturity, and inconsistency the opposite? “ - not at all, I know many people who will never change their views, they are absolute cannot see any other side of the coin and in many cases are considerably the less sharper pencils in the school bag I can tell you. They are consistent. I am consistent in that like you, I consistently consider the other side's point of view, or at least I try to as much as I can. To question is to be the brightest of all. However, you can go nuts if you can never find a comfortable place in which to settle eventually, for a while - now see I wrote all that and then read further, and don't think I need to now, but there it is. I agree with much of your post, with your views, with absolutely no disrespect meant to Peggy at all mind, however I'm not prone to evil like you. Just so we got that one sorted out. I am quite wonderful and I'll never budge on that opinion ever. I hope you're sensing my sarcasm there. Seriously though, the people who I think the most of in this world are those like you who see further, not through choice, it's just you brain, it's you, you see and question all these manifold issues, the rights and wrongs of them, and we need people in this world who do just that. Troubled, I'm sorry to say, though they usually are.
As an aside, Lardy read the first two paragraphs and is very interested on going out on a date with you.

rhymeswithplague said...

"After all, if it's the same thing, why not call it by the same name."

What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. --Shakespeare

Snowbrush said...

"To question is to be the brightest of all."

Yes, questioning can be (and usually is) a sign of "brightness," but there comes a point at which it suggests an unwillingness to live with one's conclusions, and so it was for me in regard to theism (among other things). I needed no further evidence, but I wasn't emotionally prepared to honor my own best thinking. So, at least for me, going back and forth can suggest really not knowing what to think, but it can also suggest a desperation to believe that which I want to be the truth despite the fact that the evidence suggests otherwise.

"Lardy read the first two paragraphs and is very interested on going out on a date with you."

A dog who can read has my keenest interest, and Lardy is obviously a dog of unparalleled physical appeal but when it comes to dating Lardie, I'm afraid it's a case of (her) being too young. At my age, I would fart too much, go to bed too early, and want to spend quiet evenings at home too often, so please give Lardy and love and gratitude and share the following with her: http://youtu.be/ikysTD5cAf4

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Here's how we can test Shakespeare's theory. Let's work together (we need a hobby, you know) to develop a new yellow rose variety and sell it under two names: "Drunkard's Vomit" and "Stars over San Antoinio," and then compare sales.

All Consuming said...

Hahahahaha, I laugh, but Lardy is in tears in the face of the facts. She does like older dogs mind if you ever change your mind.

RNSANE said...

I really need to visit more ofen, when the world isn't encroaching on my life. Your posts are always so thought provoking and require repeated reading and contemplation. It is amazing that, whatever the differences between you and Peggy, you certainly make a go of it!!

I feel quite removed from my world at home, now into my 6th week in India, with its own set of problems. I'm keeping up with the news back home in San Francisco - city hall being lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate lifting the ban on gay marriage. After living in the Bay area for 35 years ( I had to leave my native Georgia after nursing school - far too bigoted for me ), I developed very liberal views. I've always felt people should be able to share their lives with the person of their choice, regardless of color or gender, religion, etc...as long as they are both consenting adults. That's where I draw the line..remember, I was a practicing forensic nurse for 21 years...I don't support NAMBLA and never would and I'm against any
sort of physical abuse by a more powerful individual.

Here in India, I find it hard to keep my mouth shut sometimes as there are often horrific crimes committed, with minimal police intervention and corruption continues in many places...but, then I think, we are far from perfect. People, who have nothing,
can be amazingly kind and I learn something on a daily basis. There is much that is truly beautiful here, midst scenes of squalor...it makes me appreciate what I have, that's for sure. For the most part, I see the philosophy of "live and let live" - not such a bad one.

It is always good to read your posts. Namaste!

julie said...

I also waiver and ponder and waiver and ponder...
and sometimes settle comfortably....or not so comfortably...ummm

Where are you?

Sissy said...

Decrepitude is totally unwelcome and 'dying' is such a long dragged-out process. Sure never wanted to suddenly be taken out, as by a car accident but now reconsidering that option. Old age should only be designated to the stars and planets.

I feel respect for your father, for mine too put up with so much from employers to keep us all sheltered, warm and fed. Same feeling for Mom and so many others.
Recall that cliché "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer" and over-using the laboring ones is how it comes about.

Most of life, we can have great intentions and ambition. Then in time comes defeat and at last resignation. I saw and see this look with so many as it appears your father in the picture finally had reached the resignation stage. I have too; yet still don't want to accept it. Me and my fantasies! Mind versus body.