“Virtue is visually measured by one’s approximations to proper class appearances” (Parenti 407).
Moral excellence is dependent on an individual’s appearance which defines his class. Parenti argues that virtue is measured through the lens of an individual’s assumption and specifically on the conception on appearance.
Parenti relies on the “Treasure Island” to link virtue measurement to class. The story line revolves around two groups. One group headed by a wealthy squire who has finances sufficient to fund the adventure, hire a ship and crew to navigate. The other group is led by Long John Silver, a rascal. The group headed by the rascal can’t afford the cost of the adventure, but they join the party as part of the crew. The audience is made aware of the intentions and the financial position of each group. The intention of the narrative is to paint the squire is the moral owner of the treasure. The picture depicted paints the squire as the man who discovers the treasure whilst branding Long John’s men thieves. The stark differences are amplified by their unlike lifestyles. The squire dons fine cloth, converses in a sophisticated manner and fancies brandy. On the other hand, the rascal and his group “dress slovenly, speak in guttural accents, and drink rum.” The differences convincingly portray one group as the good guys and pass the rest as the bad ones. It is on this basis that Parenti remarks “virtue is visually measured by one’s approximation to proper class appearances. Parenti’s conception on the influence of class on virtue is superficial if not totally erroneous.
Parenti’s claim that virtue can be measured on appearance rests upon the questionable assumption that moral excellence is restricted to a certain class. Firstly, it is fronted by a claim that “the entertainment media present working people not only as unlettered and uncouth but also as less desirable and less moral than other people” (Parenti, ). I find this statement untrue and misleading as my encounter has proved otherwise especially with employed people. In addition, Parenti claims that “virtue is more likely to be ascribed to those characters whose speech and appearance are soundly middle- or upper-middle class.”(Parenti, ) This statement is superficially conceived and it totally disrespects the thread that holds the society together. Speech and appearance have never been attributed to personality and morality. The statement also discredits the abilities of the lower classes and upper classes to dispatch virtuous deeds.
My personal encounter with Buddhist monks vindicates my claim that virtue cannot be gauged by appearance. Buddhist monks are respected due to their religious position in the society. In addition, the monks pose as reliable, kind and well cultured. Due to their position in the religious circus, people expect them to be morally excellent. They also pose as pure persons, devoid of any wayward tendencies. However, in a famous temple called Jogaejong, the Buddhist monk used to gamble in motels. Though he used to wear the monk regalia, looked kind and reliable, the monk used to engage in gambling. The assumptions held about the monk deviate from the standards he ought to adhere to. This shows that there is more to virtue than appearance and pegging virtue on appearance could be a big mistake.
Another example is drawn from my volunteer encounter. I recall a certain colleague who had a scar and a tattoo. The guy looked like a gangster who had escaped from the prison. My initial conclusion was that the guy had got the scar as a punishment and he was even not on volunteer terms but was doing his punishment. I could not bring myself to associate with him and did not imagine him as a colleague. As days passed, I realized that he was naturally a very kind and helpful person. His character and personality were impeccable. I even admired his approach and attitude towards all tasks and realized how passionate he was about volunteering. We became the closest of friends. I later realized, to my surprise, that he was a career teacher and volunteered as it was his hobby. Reliance on instinctive conclusions had driven me to the wrong impression though with time the necessary correction was done. The class approximation and appearance did not paint the correct impression.
Parenti argues that Hollywood represents the American ideals of virtues and classless society. This is a far cry from my individual perception. Hollywood may be a classy act, but it does not in any way represent a virtuous society. The image painted by the media and the subsequent impression has class, ambition and prosperity in all that dream of Hollywood. Virtues are not part of the conception. Hollywood is associated with the upper middle class and the upper class, classes which Parenti does not believe they are virtuous. It is such embodiment that Parenti decides to generalize and categorize into specific classes. Hollywood is a community and like all communities, the combination of personalities could differ invariably. There are those that are virtuous and those that are devoid of moral excellence. Therefore, class is dependent on the individual, irrespective of the class or the appearance. Judging on approximations of the outer form could turn out to be fully delusional.
First impression matters. Most people judge virtue based on that first encounter. However, this does not vindicate the adoption of class dynamics as a barometer for moral excellence (Petes, 1999). It does not even account for the fact that humanity is capable of virtues. Virtues cannot be limited to a certain class nor can they be associated with a particular class. Speech, appearance and looks do not affect personality, nor do they affect mindset. The initial contact is known to be misleading and is never enough to pass a pinpoint judgment on people’s personality. Though most people could use the first impression to categorize in tandem with class association, is should not be a basis to determine the virtuous capabilities. Virtues are innate and they are not visible. I find it outrageous that Parenti urges for the reliance on appearance and class in determination of virtue. The display of virtue is more from the personality than the influence of the class.
To conclude, social stratification is part of humanity. The humane ability to classify and to judge means that the two go hand in hand, but the hypothetical results are not factual, and the chances of being frustrated by wrong conclusions remain high. The shift in expectations and class implies that there is need to explain the diverse characters that have defined the human race to date. Conversely, class and virtues can be delinked, as well. Such is the upheaval of human interaction and the display of virtues can be hinged on other factors apart from class. It takes more than appearance to have proper personality. In the same line, it takes moral consistency to achieve virtuous co-existence in the society. Nonetheless, class could inform the actions of individuals in a particular situation and the individual temperament. All humans are capable of co-existing in virtuous harmony. Therefore, Parenti was totally wrong in associating virtues with class and appearance; and, in further quest, there is always more to the display of virtues than class.