A compelling discussion on the common good continues to take place among conservative circles far and wide. Recently, Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro offered his own keen insight on the matter as well. While it remains primarily a political discussion at the moment, it’s also very much a moral issue that we all must contend with on an individual and civic level, particularly as men.
Unfortunately, it seems quite evident that so many men have abandoned their sense of the common good out of fatigue, complacency, and despair. We are living in a day and age where excess and defeat in all their various ugly guises are legion. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we rediscover our moral compass with courage and fortitude for ourselves and, more importantly, for those around us.
We Are Deadened By Defeat
“But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and The Sea
Perhaps more than anything else, a prevailing sense of defeat disallows men from upholding virtue and the common good. Despair is seemingly the order of the day for so many men. We now accept defeat with a shrug and sigh before reveling in so much smut and slop.
Limitations and setbacks are no longer viewed as challenges and opportunities toward growth and betterment. Accountability and self-reflection have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, we allow such defeat to fester and define us. We then wallow in a fatiguing amount of poor choices including lassitude, inactivity, porn, junk food, etc.
Progressives have turned such wallowing into an art form as they vie for the crown of victimhood ad nauseam. How can we even begin to address the common good amid such defeatism? That is not for us. We must be better.
Are We, In Fact, Masters of Our Domain?
Obligatory Seinfeld reference aside, it’s rather prescient that the current discussion on the common good centers around the issue of pornography. Pornography is so commonplace now that its prevalence and consumption is viewed as no more dangerous than fast food. In fact, its insidious grip is virtually castrating generations of men, young and old. That’s not just speaking figuratively either. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is a growing phenomenon.
Worse, boys are exposed to pornography at such a young age it beggars belief. A Middlesex University study out of the U.K. reported that 94% of boys had viewed pornography by the age of 14. Such early sexual exposure verges on abuse.
Like other kinds of drug use among men, pornography has become another sad method of inoculation to distract us from the challenges of life. Again, that’s not hyperbole. A recent Cambridge study found undeniable neurological similarities between drug addiction and porn addiction.
It’s also mutating so many grown men into man-children, incapable of healthy relationships or even basic functioning as adults. In “The Demise of Guys,” Stanford professor and psychologist Philip Zimbardo targets online pornography as one of the main culprits in this sad phenomenon. It is, for all intents and purposes, stunting men’s growth into a state of perpetual adolescence.
If we are not masters of our domain, then we are fundamentally weak as men. No amount of muscle or toughness will counter this fact. The remedy does not lie in self-flagellation either. Instead, we must seek out discipline and restraint, lest we reduce the inherent grandeur of existence to our gonads and digestive tracts.
Freedom, Discipline, and Responsibility
For decades now, the very notion of freedom has been deconstructed from a lofty civic and moral virtue to simply a pathetic excuse toward intemperance and licentiousness. One needs only to look around to find endless evidence.
Thankfully, the coupling of freedom, discipline, and responsibility among men has finally seen a reemergence of sorts in popular culture due, in part, to the likes of Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson. Willink nails it when he argues that freedom is only found in discipline, as does Peterson when he wisely insists to clean your room.
To be sure, the coupling of these virtues goes all the way back to antiquity and remains an inherent aspect of masculinity toward which we all ought to strive. It’s echoed in Aristotelian thought, Confucianism, and the Abrahamic traditions.
Perhaps though, freedom and discipline are most succinctly expressed in the Stoic philosophy of Epictetus (the same philosopher Admiral James Stockdale credits for his survival as a POW in Vietnam).
As professor A.A. Long explains:
You can be externally free and internally a slave, controlled by psychological masters in the form of disabling desires and passions and cravings. Conversely, you could be outwardly obstructed or even in literal bondage but internally free from frustration and disharmony, so free in fact that you found yourself in charge of your own well-being…The latter, in essence, is the freedom that Epictetus, the ancient Stoic philosopher, made the central theme of his teaching.
More recently, Viktor Frankl, author of the seminal classic, “Man’s Search For Meaning,” expressed just how inseparable freedom and responsibility are, especially on an existential level:
“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.
There is no freedom found in the pursuit of wayward desires and impulses. That is simply a form of self-imposed bondage disguised as pleasure. Responsibility and discipline are the foundations that finally set us free regardless of circumstance and allow for genuine growth in character and wellbeing. Only then can we contribute to the common good in a meaningful way.
So many men have lost the ability to rise to the occasion for the sake of the common good. They have deadened their sense of virtue with excess and despair. Generations before us would find it nothing short of pathetic. Again, we must demand better of ourselves:
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life