Many people associate the virtue of temperance with the control of one’s appetite. A temperate person does not eat or drink in excess. This perception is undoubtedly true but temperance involves much more.
Temperance involves the control of one’s appetites, sentiments, passions and instincts according to light of reason. It is the virtue that keeps everything in balance and functioning according to its nature.
One aspect of temperance is related to speed. Whenever someone practices the vice of intemperance, it often comes accompanied with a desire for an excessive and disproportional speed. The person develops a taste for super-rapid excessive speeds as might be seen in physical speeds of traveling. There is the speed of a quick thrill found in the person who is inebriated or drugged. The thrill of constant and quick communication found in modern gadgetry can easily throw a person out of balance.
Intemperance can also be found in excessive slowness. The desire for a quick high often leads to a corresponding low. A person falls victim to false slowness, lethargy and depression. This frenzy of action is followed by a period of unproductive listlessness. The stressful person simultaneously feels he has no time for anything, yet senses that he does nothing at all with his time.
On the contrary, the temperate individual likes speeds appropriate to normal human development. This person enjoys invigorating and ordered action in which one’s full potential can be developed. The same individual also enjoys refreshing leisure and profound contemplation. All of these actions and their corresponding speeds are proportional to our human nature.
When a person loses this equilibrium, the appetites and passions begin to take hold, and one begins to be intoxicated by the sensation of speed for the sake of speed, or slowness for slowness’ sake. The means become an end.
Modern society and economy favor such intemperate speeds. Ever since the days of the Industrial Revolution, the inventions that attracted the most attention and inebriated the public the most are those that favored a rapid pace of life and instant connectivity. The exhilaration of the markets has an element of frenetic intemperance which promotes the sensation of speed and constant transaction.
What was lost was the internal equilibrium of man, which is the essence of his innocence. There is no longer that sense of calm and peace that comes when a person governs himself proportionately according to human nature. What is needed is the practice of temperance where a person is free to develop himself to the fullest without disturbing the equilibrium of passions, appetites, instincts and sentiments. What is needed is a return to order.