Sunday, April 22, 2012

O tempora! O mores! Part IV

As I've noted before, more and more there are those among the politicians, pundits and preachers who delight in instructing us some who indulge in pronouncements regarding our depraved state.  I received an email recently from a friend referencing declamations from a few of them which note, rather surprisingly I think, the expensive silliness engaged in by members of the GSA, and the fact that members of the Secret Service recently consorted with prostitutes in Columbia, as examples of that depravity.  I find this surprising as I find neither activity particularly shocking.  It may be that I am simply too depraved myself to be shocked, but I suspect that the shock evidenced by the commentators in question is more a function of the fact that they are Republicans than of the nature of the activities themselves. 

There are some disturbing things takings place, however, and some very disturbing things as well.  I question whether this has not been the case in the past, though, and so am not personally inclined to think we have reached new lows (those who think in that fashion seem unable to to avoid mentioning the Roman Empire when they beat their breasts in horror at our immorality; I suspect because Hollywood has taught them that empire fell due to lack of morals, and they are eagerly awaiting our downfall which they hope to be at least as much of a spectacle).

But it won't do, really.  We are no better and no worse than what we have always been (for example at the time Cicero uttered those famous words which appear in the title of this post) and likely will always be.  We are, though, much better informed than we were in the past.  We can now know everything, and even see everything, immediately.  Our cruelty and stupidity have never been so much on display, so accessible.  In the past, not even the Shadow could know with such completeness and detail the evil that lurks in the hearts of men.  Now each of us can transmit it around the globe when we see it by use of smart phones.  And there are more of us, much more.  More people, more cruelty and stupidity.  That is the way of it; of us.

One can't disagree with the claims being made that we must do better, even when made by those ponderous, self-righteous souls whose business it is, or who have made it their business, to tell us so.  One can maintain that they should practice what they preach, of course, but preachers seldom do so, and this doesn't stop them from preaching.  But one should also give consideration to what can be done.  It may be our curse and our doom that when we do so we always seem to come to the same conclusions.

Those conclusions seem typically to be religious in nature, or rather that we become more religious in nature (the spirit of Chesterton seems to have taken hold of me).  There are problems in this approach, though, not the least of which is that religion no longer provides a detriment to evil behavior, if indeed it ever did.  The fear of hell is no longer prevalent.  It won't be coming back.  Even when we believed in hell, we managed to be immoral.

As a practical matter, it may be that the best we can do as individuals is control ourselves, and refrain from controlling others, or seeking and being governed by things which the Stoics taught us are beyond our control.  I think this may have been their primary contribution to theories of the manner in which we should conduct our lives.  It's a time for quietism.

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