Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2003/ 24 Kislev, 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Morality's nonalgebraic results | Move over Nick Nolte, Glen Campbell and Michael Jackson. You set the bar fairly high for ghastly mug shots, but you have been supplanted. Saddam Hussein had their classic tousled-by-a-Van-de-Graaff-generator-hair and hardened features, or, in the case of Jacko, missing ones. But, the lice in the photos with Saddam were his coup d' état. How the mighty art fallen!

Saddam was like an obsequious elementary school child in the nurse's office as he was examined by a U.S. military physician. He put up about as much resistance as the class clown facing the principal. The flamboyant coward meets his disciplinary fate, with his followers feeling foolish. Saddam surrendered and U.S. soldiers found him with $750,000 in the currency of the country he mocked. He knows the value of the U.S. dollar and never let hypocrisy stand between him and some new underwear, the only other material possessions near his rat hole.

The media types now bandy about the term "slog." "It's been a long slog." "U.S. forces have had a tough slog in Iraq." Nine months, as war goes, is not a tough slog. I wonder what the Hundred Years' War would be labeled by today's pundits.

For the sake of argument, I'll give them their slog, but slogs do bring results. Labor is a heck of a slog, but you have a child to show for it. Slog is the perfect term for the years of work in raising children. Rewards come in seeing your children slog with their children. Tough slogs find us doubting the merits of the efforts and wondering if there is a light at the end of the slog. Mixed metaphors aside, slogs challenge our faith and resolve.

I had a note from a colleague with this question. "I am sure you run into a few of the same conundra as do I, when it comes to convincing skeptical people that ethical .. . conduct is the way to go. For instance, How to we KNOW that virtue in fact does pay off while vice is punished? Certainly we have anecdotal evidence of instances where good gets rewarded and bad punished, but do we not see just as many (if not more) instances of the contract? How can we really know that bad acts percolate up and get revealed?"

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My colleague searches for a perfect algebraic equation, one in which bad behavior instantly meets the Terminator or Die Hard 7. A world in which righteous hunger meets fully stocked food bank on a winter's eve. A world in which abused children's toys turn into that Chuckie doll and attack the adult abusers. A world in which Natalie Cole's "Grown-Up Christmas Wish" for peace, love, and harmony comes true, thereby granting John Lennon and Yoko Ono their wishes as well. A world in which you can ice skate without your nose running.

If an algebraic formula for instant gratification for goodness and swift retribution for evil existed, there would be no challenge to being good. There would also be little appreciation for victory if there were no costs. We should become spoiled brats. We would become evasive.

If we knew that our gossip sessions were taped and then downloadable over the Internet, we might never utter a discouraging word.,

or we would demand royalties up front for the peer-to-peer file sharing. If we knew our spouses were equipped with radar to detect unfaithfulness, we would never stray. Or we would buy a radar detector. And if we knew tyrants always went down in flames, we wouldn't aspire to be dictator, and certainly wouldn't assist them in their climbs to the top. Or we would facilitate a climb using the cover and deception of forthrightness. If mutual funds' shenanigans were instantly revealed on the Jumbotron in Times Square, they would trade differently, or perhaps keep New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the ferocious prosecutor of Wall Street bums, out of office. The algebraic equation of instant rewards and punishments, if applied, would still spawn evasiveness, misdeeds and evil.

The perfectly balanced quid pro quo cannot exist. Sometimes it takes the posse awhile to catch up with the bad guys. Sometimes the posse itself becomes corrupted. And sometimes the posse meets so much resistance that we question their slog to evil doers' comeuppance.

The joy in achieving a longstanding goal does not spring so much from uttering "Mission Accomplished" as it does from the inner strength drawn from endurance, sustained without knowing of a surety the outcome .

Very non-algebraically, Saddam was finally caught. Through French mockery, Halliburton audits, rude Brits' protests against our president and his dropping poll numbers, we slogged. U.S. troops hung in there in a country of weather extremes and human extremists, despite tepid homeland support. Saddam the despot faces his Judgment Day.

The morality equation does not balance at any one point in time. Quid pro quo and immediate gratification or punishment would not only spawn gaming to beat the equation, it would take away freedoms. But when what goes around finally comes around, the moment is all the richer because of the slog. Slog builds character. Slog develops patience as it awaits the posse. Slog precedes anything worthwhile.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2003, Marianne M. Jennings