Balance. It’s probably the fundamental functional morality for most people today. And it’s definitely the go-to answer for most moral conundrums. How do love and truth go together? Justice and mercy? Individualism and community? God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? Personal responsibility and charity? The answer: “Balance.”
A Dubious Assumption
But isn’t there a dubious assumption behind the idea that good and true things need to “balance” each other out? The idea of balance implies an inverse relationship between those things which are being balanced: the degree to which one goes up, the other goes down — and vice versa. The degree to which love goes up, truth goes down; and the degree to which truth goes up, love goes down. Such is the conventional wisdom. The key to morality then, in this case, is to “balance” the two out. But what does this mean?
Let us think about it on a spectrum (for this is what the idea of balance implies), with truth on the left, and love on the right. Say that the far left is a 10 on the scale of passion for the truth, and the far right is a 10 on the scale of passion for love. The further you are on either end of the scale toward one virtue, according to the modern conception of morality, the further away you are from the other virtue. Now, if maximum passion for truth is a 10 on one side, and maximum passion for love is a 10 on the opposite side, what would the “balanced” middle of the spectrum be but a zero for both?
Now, let us imagine all of these supposed dichotomous virtues on their own respective spectrums: Justice and mercy on opposite ends; individualism and community; etc.., with all of these spectrums intersecting at the same spot to make a sort of pin-wheel. Perhaps Justice is at 12 o’clock with mercy at 6; truth at 9 o’clock with love at 3 o’clock; and so on with all of the potential spectrums going “‘round the clock.” Now picture what the result would be if one were capable of achieving a perfect “balance” on all of these spectrums. If one’s passion for each of the virtues were measured at this point of equilibrium, the reading would be: zero. Zero virtue. The aim of balancing out the virtues means not aiming at any one particular virtue (this would cause imbalance), but aiming, rather, at neutrality to all the virtues. Such is the implicit ideal behind those who think of morality in terms of balance.
The Pendulum Effect
And such is the cause of the pendulum phenomenon: the swinging from one good “emphasis” to another — whether in culture or in the individual. In fact, if one has this view of morality (this idea of inverse relations between the virtues), there is no other option for the one who wishes to pursue the virtues, then to swing eternally from some “extreme” to another, in the desperate and futile attempt to arrive at the ideal of “balance,” “equilibrium,” neutrality; apathy. Isn’t that — the dreary spell of apathy — the inevitable end of those “mature,” lifeless, beings who have “grown up” and “learned to be balanced,” by avoiding all “extremes” — which means: avoiding all principles, and all virtue?
Observe the spiritual death in the faces of those who have supposedly reached such “balance.” Observe the disdain in their faces (and their voices — as they write disparaging articles), looking down in self-righteous pity upon the “poor” and “naive” souls who are still trying to pursue some virtue or another; observe the frustration of the poor souls who love all of the virtues (as they ought to), but are eternally tortured because of that love — or rather, because of this twisted view of morality, which has condemned that very love for virtue as evil-–I mean, “imbalanced,” from the very start.
What evil, what torture, what agonizing psychological despair, such a view of morality heaps upon its victims. It turns the essence of morality (pursuit of virtue) into the essence of evil, and the essence of evil (neutrality toward all virtue) into the essence of the good. How much despair such a seemingly innocent conception as “balance” can inflict upon those who desire to be good. This is a first-rate example of the absolute necessity of thinking rightly; the necessity to properly integrate those things in life which seem dichotomous (like various virtues); the desperate need for thinking philosophically — lest one fall victim to such insidious doctrines of despair as the one laid out above.