restricted access 4 The Way of the WASP
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4 The Way of the WASP RICHARD BROOKHISER When Benjamin Franklin decided to improve his own character, he drew up the list of virtues which so annoyed D. H. Lawrence [Studies in Classic American Literature , chapter 2. Ed.]. Originally there were twelve. "But a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud ... of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances; I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list"-along with an explanatory note: "Imitate Jesus and Socrates."1 Virtues, which we hope to acquire, may be listed. Character, which is what we are, is more complex. The basic WASP character can be broken down into six traits, which may be arranged in the following mandala. Traits form pairs and connections across the pattern, as well as between neighbors. Conscience Antisensuality Use Industry Success Civic-mindedness Let us take the traits in order, starting at noon. Conscience. Conscience is the great legacy of P [Protestantism. Ed.]. It is the way WASPs regulate their inner life and monitor their behavior. You let your conscience be your guide. It guides by offering a clear vision of the way you should go. The way may be spelled out in law or scripture, but conscience is the window through which each man comes to see it. All WASPs, not just Quakers, believe in the inner light. Sight is the sense of conscience. George Fox in his perplexity heard a voice, and so did the born-again Englishman John Newton. Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound . .. Yet after the first rearranging experience, sight and insight take over the management of life. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind but now I see. This was the WASP's point of contact with the Enlightenment and its self-evident (evident = completely seen) truths. This was also what Emerson, that subtle renegade, apReprinted with the permission of The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, from THE WAY OF THE WASP by Richard Brookhiser. Copyright © 1991 by Richard Brookhiser. Copyrighted Material The Way of the WASP 17 propriated for his own project. "Standing on bare ground-my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space ... I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all ...2 The way that conscience sees must be plain, or else what good is it for guidance? The way that can be seen is not the way, said Lao Tzu, but the way that cannot be seen is not the way of the WASP. Paradox and ambiguity are distractions, if not worse. The path is straight as well as plain. Byways lead to waste and confusion, if not actual Hell. The punishment for ignoring the guidance of conscience is administered by conscience itself, in the form of guilt. Guilt, like conscience, is a private matter, inward and individual . No amount of external opprobrium can increase or enlarge it. It is a very different thing from shame. Shame is embarrassment before someone else-parents, friends, community . It is publicly displayed by the blush. Guilt is a pang. If it shows itself to the world, as in the mark that appears finally on the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale's breast, it is only after long internal gnawing and a conscious act of self-exposure by the guilty party. Shame, being a public transaction, is a two-way street. It may be induced by peers or betters. The conviction of guilt is always in camera. Wherever societies are small, tight, and stable, approaching the condition of oyster beds or coral reefs-peasant societies the world over-shame is the preferred method of discipline . WASPs believe in guilt, which travels anywhere. This is why conscience is the most effective monitor of behavior ever devised. It doesn't quit when the oracles fall silent or when the cops go off duty. In societies ruled by conscience , people stop for red lights at three 0'clock in the morning. In societies with less alert monitors, people drive on the sidewalk. Conscience is the source of whatever freedoms WASP society enjoys. Since all consciences have an equally clear view of truth, who could presume to meddle with any man's? But conscience also limits freedom, which becomes the freedom to do what you know you should do. "Confirm thy soul in self-control, / Thy liberty in [moral] law." Industry. One of the things conscience...