Opinion | The individuality of virtue: we should look back to the past
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 00:09
The author G.K. Chesterton once said, “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has to-day all the exhilaration of a vice.” He said this at a time when the world thought that the moral standards of the day could not sink any lower, when the modern world was being overrun by the acceptance of eugenics in the scientific community. It was the time when the western world was attempting to distance itself from its inherently Christian routes, and when Freud and Marx were the answers to most people’s questions.
If we think about it, Mr. Chesterton may have as well been speaking today. Our generation today is virtue-deprived. We spend countless hours sitting in front of a screen, either checking and editing the shrines to our vanity online, or watching strangers entertain us on TV, instead of spending time talking with friends. We go to dark bars to hypnotically rub genitalia with strangers to rhythmic noises that come out of a computer. We drink until we puke—and, as the Asher Roth song goes, “wake up at ten, go out to eat, then do it again.” We need help.
That’s why I’m making a proposition: let us be virtuous. The Aristotelian definition of virtue is the mean between two extremes of behavior; for example, courage is found in balancing fear and rash overconfidence. One cannot be well-ordered and live as the mean if he or she is a slave to his or her passions (that is, his or her whims and indulgences to pleasure). One cannot be virtuous and selfish at the same time. The two ideas are like oil and water. That being said, we need not be Puritans, (and not drink, dance, or play cards, as the old stereotype goes) but we should have fun in moderation. Go ahead, have a few beers with the guys. Ladies, go ahead and dance like there’s no tomorrow with your friends at the club. Go for it, and give that special someone a kiss goodnight at the end of a night. But all should be done in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with having fun, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of harming, either emotionally or physically, yourself or others around you.
Our culture today is so screwed-up that it’s making us into slaves of selfishness. The only way I can see a way out of breaking the bondage of selfishness is to live a life of virtue. And that, my reader, is my challenge: show the world that you want more, that you can give more, that you are more than mindlessly pleasing your every whim or passion whenever you feel like it. The gauntlet is down. Be independent! Be virtuous! Be not afraid!
Mr. Chesterton would go on to say, in his book The Everlasting Man, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” We should show the world that our generation is not a dead generation- and is not going to be any time soon! We have got to go against the culture of selfishness. We have got to be counter-cultural. And what, my dear reader, could be more counter-cultural, in the society that we live in today, than being virtuous? The previous generations have handed us this grimy, crusty culture of self-indulgence. Let’s take back the culture.
I’d like to add here that I’m not advocating for any religion in this article. I don’t care if you’re Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, pantheist or don’t prefer a title. Everyone can practice virtue. The only doctrine I preach against here—and it is a doctrine so strict and rigid, that you won’t find it in any of the major religions of the world—is the doctrine of epicurean hedonism: that we must please ourselves, because pleasure is the most amounts of good and it is the ultimate end-goal of life. What a boring and shallow life that must be.
So let’s stop wasting our talents and our lives on ourselves. There’s so much more to life than abusing yourself and others, be they friends, acquaintances, enemies, or strangers! There’s a world outside of you that is not only waiting for you, but needs you. It needs you to make a difference in the world- and you’re certainly not going to make a difference (at least not a positive one) if you aren’t living a life of virtue.