The Death of Greatness

by Tim Jones11/22/14

The trajectory of society is being dumbed down and has been for quite some time. Principles and virtues have been relativized with the slow-motion degradation of any kind of universal standards of morality. We now live in an entertainment society where pleasure and consumerism rule and the lack of curiosity and intellectual pursuit are considered unhip and a waste of time: narcissism, egotism, vanity, whatever you want to call it, have become the dominant personality trait.

Today’s cultural zeitgeist of self-realization is just another name for self-absorption manifesting itself in a myriad of ways, such as seeking the perfect sculpted body at the fanciest fitness center in town or some kind of pseudo-transcendence through the secular religion of yoga or possibly obtaining personal “power” at the latest Tony Robbins seminar.

The triumph of the self has led to the death of greatness and heroism because no one truly pursues anything that may be greater than themselves and requires personal sacrifice and genuinely puts the interest of others above themselves. The politics of personal destruction that began with bringing down Nixon has led to a ‘gotcha, tear-them-down-at-all costs’ media mindset. When a president can get away with lying to a grand jury and not lose his job for marital infidelity right in the White House while retaining record high approval ratings reflects a society that no longer can recognize any kind of universal moral standards.

How can a political leader be great when for most politicians getting on the government payroll and staying there for as long as possible takes priority over actually sticking to one’s principles even at the risk of losing the next election. For those that do stick by their principles, they more often than not will be rewarded by the electorate (unless you’re a democrat who really don’t live by principles but by soundbites) but also more often than not the media will preemptively tear you down before letting the public determine the genuine virtuosity of emerging leaders, (see Sarah Palin).

Media fickleness and banality perpetuates a culture of shallowness and triviality. It always seems to highlight acts of heroism during times of natural disasters or extraordinary bravery or act of kindness, but these are not people in the public arena who demonstrate sacrifice and principle in their public role. True heroism is sacrifice that no longer exists in the ‘me culture’ when it come to leaders.

The dumbing down of our culture begins and ends with our mainstream media as it dominates the means of communication. One morning this week on the Today Show they were talking about the mainstreaming of pot and how Bob Marley’s family is going to make a fortune off of branding his name like it was some kind of great American success story. On GMA, they covered the story on the $325 million contract for a Miami baseball player, making it the largest in sports history. When the preeminent values of a society are more money, more pleasure, more entertainment and more leisure, heroism becomes a synthetic virtue while genuine heroes and the greatness of their acts in times long gone will be found only in history books.


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12 Responses to The Death of Greatness

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    We now live in an entertainment society where pleasure and consumerism rule and the lack of curiosity and intellectual pursuit are considered unhip and a waste of time: narcissism, egotism, vanity, whatever you want to call it, have become the dominant the personality trait.

    I agree, Tim. And the more I see the vacuous type of movies such as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the more I think we are in a post-meaning world.

    Timothy made the great point on another thread that even old horror flicks such as the “Wolf Man” contained a theme. What is the theme to much of pop culture? It’s almost un-parse-able. It’s like trying to nail Jello to the wall. There’s nothing there.

    I like movies, even b-movies that are simple and that were meant to appeal to a teenage audience. But being a teenager doesn’t have to mean one has no taste. It’s just that the taste may be basic. But, again, I think we’re moving to a post-taste world, basic or otherwise.

    Banality, cultural shallowness, and triviality are indeed highlights of our era. We see it in our politics (to have elected such an unaccomplished man such as Obama). We see it in our education system (Common Core will standardize this dumbing-down). We see it in our media. (To think that a second-rare hack such as Jon Stewart could ever be considered a news source.) And we see it in our pop entertainment.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Banality, cultural shallowness, and triviality are indeed highlights of our era. We see it in our politics (to have elected such an unaccomplished man such as Obama). We see it in our education system (Common Core will standardize this dumbing-down). We see it in our media. (To think that a second-rare hack such as Jon Stewart could ever be considered a news source.) And we see it in our pop entertainment.

      Brad,

      I sometimes wonder at the pervasiveness of this rot. A few days back I was looking through a number Wikipedia sites about the Medicis. I came to a page about “Eleonora di Garza di Toledo” who was the wife of one of the later Medicis. Her husband strangled her because of infidelity.

      In the body of the piece there was this sentence regarding Elenora’s infidelity, which jumped off the page at me,

      Under the libertarian Cosimo, such behaviour was tolerated as long as discretion was maintained and the marriages reaped political advantages.

      Libertarian, really in the late 16th century? Amazing how one word gives a completely incorrect meaning to the sentence and overall piece.

      This is indicative of the ignorance and dishonesty which has entered into our “mis-education” system. It is also more proof why one must be very careful when using Wikipedia for more than reconfirming dates.

      Now the Medicis were a lot of things, but they were not Libertarians. Libertine would be a truer moniker and one that would fit a large percentage of European nobility throughout history.

      Barely a day goes by in which I do not encounter such ignorance and dishonesty. From TV to newpapers, to so-called scholarly works, the termites of the Left and Libertarianism are burrowing deeper into our culture. Given the state of things, they will not have to work very hard in future.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Wikipedia is very handy, as long as the subject has nothing to do with contemporary US politics. When it does, it can’t be trusted because at least one of the editors is a professional liberal, and thus more concerned with his ideology than with anything else — including factual accuracy on the site.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        A few days back I was looking through a number Wikipedia sites about the Medicis.

        Oh, lol. Libertarians in the 16h century. Pretty soon we’re going to learn that one of Jesus’ apostles was a Libertarian (probably Judas…ha! Beat you to it!)

        Speaking of the Medicis, there’s a series on Netflix (streaming) called The Borgias with Jeremy Irons in a lead role (Rodrigo Borgia). I think it’s a Showtime production. That’s not the Medici, of course. But it’s in the same ball park of subject matter. I might watch an episode tonight and report back.

        Wikipedia is useful for getting non-controversial information. That doesn’t mean it’s accurate. But if you, say, want to see where Tuscany is and get some basic facts, it’s generally good for that. But I wouldn’t base my doctoral thesis on it. Even basing a mere internet argument on it is weak.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Mario Puzo’s last (posthumous) book was about the Borgias. I noted that it wasn’t too much of a change from writing about the Mafia. (He does treat Lucrezia sympathetically, blaming the various crimes on Cesare, which seems reasonable.)

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Pretty soon we’re going to learn that one of Jesus’ apostles was a Libertarian (probably Judas…ha! Beat you to it!)

          Very droll.

          Now that you have me thinking about it, I suspect Pontius Pilate was the Libertarian of that story. What those Jews wanted to do was none of his business so he washed his hands of it. Who was he to judge???

          But you may be right about Judas. Clearly, he saw things from a market perspective. Jesus was worth 30 pieces of silver. And since the market is always right to the Libertarian mindset, how could the rest of us complain? After all, Judas was simply providing a service which others were willing to pay for. Someone was going to do it, “why not me?” he probably asked himself.

          After all, he only gave Jesus a kiss on his cheek. What the priests did after that was not his responsibility.

          Sounds like a Libertarian to me.

          This is a thesis which might catch on in our Ivy League universities.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Yes, you make an excellent case for Judas as a closet libertarian. Pilate, being a top executive, would be a different matter (though his readiness to release a vicious murderer would make him a good liberal).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I watched the first 3 episodes of Showtime’s “The Borgias”. This is not to be confused with the Netflix Original “Borgia” by Tom Fontana, which I haven’t watched yet (and will soon).

          Regarding the Showtime version (and I’m not sure how or why two similar series would come out at the same time on a relatively arcane subject), it’s nothing special. Yes, nice costumes. But the rest is just filler-conversation in between the various poisonings and murders. The characters are thin (the Borgias will never be confused with the Game of Thrones’ Lannister clan).

          I won’t even dismiss it as a mere soap opera, because even a good soap opera will draw you in about who did what to whom and why. In “The Borgia” you don’t really care. It’s just good-looking nihilism. Perhaps the series gets better after three episodes, but I’m not betting on it. And surely part of the problem is that Jeremy Irons, as fine of an actor that he is, is not a leading man. He can’t hold this on his own as the Pope, the lead character. There’s not enough “oomph” there.

          This series even pales in comparison to the so-so “The Tudors,” another period piece by Showtime. Parts of the first season were splendid until most of the great actors were killed off and “the dude” (as I call the anachronistic portrayal of Henry Tudor) takes center stage. Then it just become insufferably pedestrian.

          In “The Tudors,” you at least had an extremely strong cast (aside from Henry Tudor himself). And what cast or plot couldn’t sometimes hold, the T&A factor made up for a little. In “The Borgias” it’s just all fluffy air. No substance. No dynamism. No reason to care one way or another. These are just the dressed-up characters you’ve seen in the increasingly inane Marvel superhero movies that are cluttering the movie bandwidth with mediocrity.

      • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

        Indeed, KFZ – I have noted elsewhere the tendency of Libertarians to draft into their army a company of the deceased, who when living would have indignantly denied the Libertarian creed once it was explained to them. Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, etc. – all the advocates of classical liberalism are designated as Libertarians now. They even attempted to commandeer Ayn Rand, who lived long enough to see the birth of the Libertarian movement and explicitly denied wanting any part of it!

        You can see why they do it – the true origin of Libertarianism, an unworkable mélange of stolen and rebranded ideas hatched in Murray Rothbard’s basement in the 1960’s (I exaggerate only slightly), lacks the gravitas one would expect from a serious political movement.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Libertarians and the Left have one important and defining trait in common: Both think that they are smarter than everyone else and know best how to run other people’s lives. In the case of the Left, it’s an active involvement of government which is their hammer. In the case of Libertarians, it’s usually a passive removal of government which is their instrument (which fulfills the same function as enforcing their morality).

          Thus “limited government” has a quite different meaning and purpose for Libertarians (they certainly rarely, if ever, invoke a private morality to fill the void). Libertarians are either intentionally deceitful or inherently confused about their own ideology. Both is certainly possible.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          What amazes me, Nic, is the reach of this nutty “philosophy”.

          It would seem there are two things at work here; 1) zealots who are constantly looking into every medium in order to re-write history and reality or 2) the infestation is so pervasive that those who spread it don’t even realize they are propagating dishonesty and nonsense while they are doing it.

          And, of course, as with Leftism, it takes a pretty ignorant population to enable the spread of this nonsense.

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