Virtue

By Peter O’Brien

Senior Fellow, London Center for Policy Research

Published August 2, 2018

I turned on the TV the other day and was – as usual – bombarded by the usual assortment of news and entertainment, various police shows and spy shows and political dramas, etc. The shows all shared certain “constants:” everyone is young – far younger than the people they supposedly represent; and all seemed to have been chosen for their looks; all well and good. It’s entertainment after all. But there was something about them that struck me, perhaps because of something I was doing – of which more below.

The thing that struck me was that they’re all far louder and far more dramatic than anyone in a similar position in the real world. At seemingly any provocation they yell and point and call names. And the news is worse: everything is about drama: whether a war, or weather, a wild-fire or a discussion on trade, the facts are few, the discussion rarely includes maps or any effort to develop a clear, overall picture or discussions about trends or large-scale consequences. Rather, we get “human interest stories” which do little to actually explain the situation.

And they all seemed childish and asinine…

Fiction is supposed to mirror the real world; but these shows seem to mirror a mad house. And as for the news, geesh…
This resonated because I’ve spent the last month working with some interesting folks, all from the special operations community (SEALs, Green Berets, etc.), helping to train a unit preparing to deploy. The training attempts to place the unit’s leadership under as much pressure as possible so that they become comfortable making sound decisions with less than perfect information, inside compressed time-lines.
During this month no one raised their voice, no one screamed, no one pointed fingers at each other, no one called anyone names, no one stomped out of the room. Calm, controlled, deliberate, professional. In fact, the one time one individual became a bit agitated it was noted and the comment from a few real pros was that it reflected badly on him.

In the real world that’s pretty much the way things work. Shouting is pretty much reserved for real emergencies; if someone is shooting at you, if the ship is on fire. And even then, the real deal is to remain calm.

Thing is, we have a society that seems to be increasingly fixated on drama, loud and passionate. And usually banal. And we have far too many people who not only suffer great angst over which sandwich to have for lunch, but also the need to communicate that angst via the latest social media software.

Where does this silly (at best) behavior come from? From a failed education system where bizarre behavior has become the norm, and from a society that suggests that everyone is to be coddled at the least irritation. And then there’s Hollywood, which has created a bizarre, fun-house reflection of reality in which anger and noise and unguided passion routinely win out over professionalism and reason, where prudence and temperance are mocked; where real courage is given a passing nod, then compared to multi-millionaire athletes who show “courage” for playing with a bruised thumb, where people are celebrated for including all of their children in their first marriage ceremony, and shamed politicians get multi-million dollar book deals, profoundly un-ashamed of their shameful behavior.

The root of all this is a failed education system, which now stridently eschews the teaching of morals or virtues, which celebrates the alternate view on nearly everything (except abortion, apparently), but refuses to consider defending the thought – Western thought – that made all this possible,

Temperance, prudence, courage and justice. The Romans, regarded these as the central virtues, the hallmarks of correct moral and social conduct. They are seemingly lost on the modern world, particularly as it’s understood in Hollywood or in education.

We have a host of problems, but none is as serious as the decay of our citizenry’s understanding of their civic responsibilities. We continue to spend more and more on education yet the product, the students and their test scores, remain essentially unchanged and on the whole, they are less and less prepared to handle the real world. Most worrying is their minimal understanding of our society and their role in it. None of these problems can be fixed until we return to basics, to the teaching of morals, of virtue. We are running out of time.