I struggle with an embarrassing affliction, one that as far as I know doesn’t have a website or support group despite its disabling effects on the lives of those of us who’ve somehow contracted it. I can’t remember exactly when I started noticing the symptoms—it’s just one of those things you learn to live with, I guess. You make adjustments. You hope people don’t notice. The irony, obviously, is having gone into a line of work in which this particular infirmity is most likely to stand out, like being a gimpy tango instructor or an acrophobic flight attendant. The affliction I’m speaking of is moral relativism, and you can imagine the catastrophic effects on a critic’s career if the thing were left to run its course unfettered or I had to rely on my own inner compass alone. To be honest, calling it moral relativism may dignify it too much; it’s more like moral wishy-washiness. Critics are supposed to have deeply felt moral outrage about things, be ready to pronounce on or condemn other people’s foibles and failures at a moment’s notice whenever an editor emails requesting twelve hundred words by the day after tomorrow. The severity of your condemnation is the measure of your intellectual seriousness (especially when it comes to other people’s literary or aesthetic failures, which, for our best critics, register as nothing short of moral turpitude in itself). That’s how critics make their reputations: having take-no-prisoners convictions and expressing them in brutal mots justes. You’d better be right there with that verdict or you’d better just shut the fuck up. But when it comes to moral turpitude and ethical lapses (which happen to be subjects I’ve written on frequently, perversely drawn to the topics likely to expose me at my most irresolute)—it’s like I’m shooting outrage blanks. There I sit, fingers poised on keyboard, one part of me (the ambitious, careerist part) itching to strike, but in my truest soul limply equivocal, particularly when it comes to the many lapses I suspect I’m capable of committing myself, from bad prose to adultery. Every once in a while I succeed in landing a feeble blow or two, but for the most part it’s the limp equivocator who rules the roost—contextualizing, identifying, dithering. And here’s another confession while I’m at it—wow, it feels good to finally come clean about it all. It’s that … once in a while, when I’m feeling especially jellylike, I’ve found myself loitering on the Internet in hopes of—this is embarrassing—cadging a bit of other people’s moral outrage (not exactly in short supply online) concerning whatever subject I’m supposed to be addressing. Sometimes you just need a little shot in the arm, you know? It’s not like I’d crib anyone’s actual sentences (though frankly I have a tough time getting as worked up about plagiarism as other people seem to get—that’s how deep this horrible affliction runs). No, it’s the tranquillity of their moral authority I’m hoping will rub off on me. I confess to having a bit of an online “thing,” for this reason, about New Republic editor-columnist Leon Wieseltier—as everyone knows, one of our leading critical voices and always in high dudgeon about something or other: never fearing to lambaste anyone no matter how far beneath him in the pecking order, never fearing for a moment, when he calls someone out for being preening or self-congratulatory, as he frequently does, that it might be true of himself as well. When I’m in the depths of soft-heartedness, a little dose of Leon is all I need to feel like clambering back on the horse of critical judgment and denouncing someone for something.