Our country’s official day of Thanksgiving is upon us once again and once again I have compiled an extensive list of things for which I personally can offer great thanks. Writing down a Thanksgiving list is a good exercise for me. It helps me concentrate and focus on the gifts and the blessings I have been given. As usual, my list is long. When I start thinking of all the people and events and things that make my life so joyful, I have a hard time stopping.
In addition to my family and friends, my opportunities to write and create music, and the gift of living in such a wonderful country, I need to add the authors of a book I just finished to my list. The book is “The Seven Deadly Virtues,” edited by Jonathan V. Last. Its subtitle is “18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell.” Now, I have been a fan of humor that skewers those in power since I started reading MAD magazine in the 1960s, but it is my contention that the vast majority of political humor in the past few years (decades?) seems to be created more by those on the left end of the spectrum. You can watch hours of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Saturday Night Live and a plethora of other comedy shows and never see a skit or hear a joke that pokes fun at a liberal or progressive person or idea. Seriously, can anyone name a comedy show that tends to skew to the right? Just sayin’.
This book is testament that humor with a rightward slant exists. The writers include P.J. O’Rourke who I first read back in the early days of National Lampoon; columnist/humorist Jonah Goldberg; actor/comedian Larry Miller; Rob Long who wrote and produced Cheers; and Christopher Buckley who was awarded the 2004 Thurber Prize for American Humor for his satirical political novels and other writings.
Individual writers take a humorous look at each of the “Seven Cardinal Virtues”: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Faith, Hope and Charity. They also have fun with the “Everyday Virtues” of Chastity, Simplicity, Thrift, Honesty, Fellowship, Forbearance, Integrity, Curiosity and Perseverance.
The humor throughout the book is not an assault on left wing politics as such, but more of a skeptical questioning of the assumptions of the modern and/or progressive worldview. For example, after offering examples of the attitudes and moral stances that seem most important in today’s world, the book offers an alternate list of Modern Virtues to replace those old-fashioned lists. These up-to-date virtues includes Freedom, Convenience, Progress, Equality, Authenticity, Health and Nonjudgmentalism.
P.J. O’Rourke suggests that the old virtues have been turned upside down. Prudence, for example, has been replaced by “Just Do It.” He cautions that maybe we should just think for a moment instead: “‘Just do it’ ranks second only to ‘Watch this’ on the list of phrases most commonly heard before gruesome accidents.”
David Burge’s chapter on Hope takes a look at those most optimistic of all sport enthusiasts, Chicago Cubs fans. Experience would suggest Dante’s inscription over the gates of Hell, “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who enter Here,” would be appropriate over Gate F at Wrigley Field except for the fans who argue, “Come on, Man, They’re due!” A Cubs fan himself, Burge says, “…a healthy bit of hope keeps skepticism from lapsing into corrosive cynicism.”
The Seven Deadly Virtues contains compelling insights into the value of the old (“conservative”?) virtues. It is also quite funny. I am glad to add the authors who provided me with such an entertaining and insightful book to my Thanksgiving list.