Saturday, February 11, 2006

On personal integrity

It seems odd to me that we value, or that we're supposed to value, "personal integrity." Usually it's invoked defensively. John McCain calls Dick Cheney a "man of integrity" to say Cheney is a good guy, and not the ruthless and corrupt guy characterized by accusers. Why should McCain think "integrity" conveys all that? Because like all politicians, Dick Cheney plays a good guy on TV--and if Dick Cheney is a man of integrity, then by analogy to physical integrity, his parts extending off camera are good too. The sober, amicable "Meet the Press" Cheney is the White House Cheney, the Cheney in Iraq, the Cheney at dinner, the Cheney in bed with Mrs. Cheney. "Nothing new outside your field of view" is what integrity is about.

"Integrity" implies trustworthiness, because it implies consistency and as a result predictability. Employers talk up such qualities with assembly lines in mind. But with life and death and war and diplomacy in minds it seems weird. It seems like we wish our leaders, as people of integrity, not to compartmentalize, not to discriminate between intimate and public, casual and formal, not even to have moods. Isn't this a childish wish? Isn't this a little like wanting never to see mommy or daddy angry or sad or aloof? Well I say to hell with integrity! I'm with Whitman on this one.

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