The Virtues

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 01-24-2021
Watch some TV for just a few minutes and you’ll be bombarded by a broad assortment of news and entertainment, police shows and spy shows and political dramas. They all share certain constants - everyone is young – far younger than the people they supposedly represent; and all seem to have been chosen for their look. Lincoln once remarked that: “God must love homely people, he made so many of them.” That does not apply to Hollywood. Very well, it’s entertainment after all. 
But there’s something about all these shows that’s striking: 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. 
It occurred to me that the vast majority of characters on “TV” (to include cable and movies) lack something; two somethings in fact: prudence and temperance.
Disturbingly, the news is worse: everything is 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 often, as the news agencies rush to take sides, they lack not only prudence and temperance, they, in spite of their beating of their breasts, lack justice.
I watched 30 minutes of news recently with a stopwatch and a note pad, there was less than 5 minutes of actual news - where the reporter was actually talking about an event. And in most cases, a story consisted of two sentences with facts - usually the first and last - and then rather mindless commentary of the “fire is really blazing” sort. 
In one story on the war in Armenia - Nagorno Karabakh the reporter told of a village struck by rockets. Yes, that, unfortunately, is what happens in war. No place in the story was anything made of Why that village had been struck by rockets, who exactly had fired them, etc. No effort to establish the “Who, What When, Where, Why?” There wasn’t even a map pinpointing the location of the village. Very little news, few facts, but lots of drama, which, in the end, simply trivializes those killed in the fighting.
Eventually, it all sounds simplistic and asinine, except real people are dead, and the news teams are supposed to be informing society. Unfortunately, that’s no longer true.
As for the fiction on the tube, fiction is supposed to mirror the real world, to both entertain and in some way inform, but based on reality; but these shows seem to mirror not reality but a mad house.
I’m lucky to spend a fair amount of time each year working with some interesting folks, all from the special operations community (SEALs, Green Berets, etc.), helping to train units preparing to deploy. The training attempts to place the unit's leadership under a certain amount of pressure so that they become comfortable making sound decisions with  less than perfect information, inside compressed time-lines.
During this training no one screams, no one points fingers, no one calls anyone names, no one stomps out of the room. Calm, controlled, deliberate, professional. In  fact, if someone becomes a bit agitated, it’s noted, and it will reflect badly on whoever lost his reserve. 
In the real world that's pretty much the way things work, at least among professionals. Shouting is mainly reserved for real emergencies; someone is shooting at you, the ship is taking on water. And even then, the real professionals remain calm.
But increasingly we have a society that seems fixated on drama, loud and passionate. And usually banal. And almost 100% of the time wrong. Far too many people 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, meanwhile avoiding real issues, and avoiding acting like adults. 
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 (especially the elites, however that is defined this month) 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 and fortitude is given a passing nod, then inanely 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-embarrased by their truly immoral and often corrupt behavior.
The root of all this is an education system, which stridently eschews the teaching of morals or virtues, which celebrates the radical and outré view on nearly everything (except abortion, apparently), but refuses to consider defending the thought – Western thought – that made all this possible.
Temperance, prudence, fortitude 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. Temperance moderates our desires with reason, prudence in governing ourselves and acting rationally and with consideration for others, fortitude allows us to bravely endure, and justice to govern our dealing with others based on reason. 
All seem to be fleeting today. All seem to be missing from our daily “dialog.”
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, graduates are less and less prepared to handle the real world. Most worrying is our students’ minimal understanding of our society, their role in it, and the necessity for them to be men and women of virtue. And none of these problems can be fixed until we return to basics, to the teaching of morals and the teaching of virtue. We are running out of time.