Freedom is the name of virtue: Slavery, of vice…. None is a slave whose acts are free.Epictetus
Promiscious sex. Drug abuse. Senseless violence. Does the promotion of society’s ills ever stop? One would think that the world is descending into chaos at an excellerated rate the minute they read the news or consume pop culture. Is humanity witnessing the fall of an empire? A cultural shift may perhaps be in the future. When degeneracy and vice have become the dominant culture, where will this take the future? Perhaps the lessons of the past can give an idea to what is expected. This focus of this discussion will center on degeneracy and virtue within human culture in the past, present, and possible future. To begin examining the present state of our civilization, a look into the past for degeneracy within ancient cultures and the virtues that were put in place as a response to it will be examined.
Vice Vs. Virtue in the Past
When virtue is lost, benevolence appears, when benevolence is lost right conduct appears, when right conduct is lost, expedience appears. Expediency is the mere shadow of right and truth; it is the beginning of disorder.Lao Tzu
The battle for man’s soul and the maintenance of civilization is an eternal one. There is no clearer example of this than in the past. When one thinks of their ancestors and history, a library or war, death, and degeneracy are guaranteed to find their way into those stories. Every civilization of every culture has dealt with maintaining law and order. Every community will deal with people giving in to selfish desires at the expense of their fellow man.
In Rome, for example, there is no shortage of philosophers trying to better themselves despite the orgies, gladatorial events, parties, and endless vice. In the end, the bread and circuses were a way to pacify the people while Rome was in decline. The common man was expected to simply indulge in whatever pleasure the society told them was fun to keep them unaware of the masive debt and constant warfare Rome consistently experienced. Famous kings and philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius sought to either give something to others or to themselves that would benefit them long term when they wrote their essays. The Renaissance was also a time of philosophical and cultural rebirth after the Middle Ages that destroyed countless lives.
Why were there so many philosophers and movements around the world willing to try and change it when many of its founders and authors were in powerful positions and could’ve lived a life of ease? Marcus Aurelius and Buddha were kings. Lao Tzu was a grand librarian. These were men who had privilege and power. They could’ve lived lives of ease and comfort.
In Meditations, for example, Marcus Aurelius wrote essays and paragraphs down to remind himself to adjust his behavior no matter what the situation was. Marcus firmly believed his attitude shaped the way he lived his life. Meditations was a way to hold himself accountable for his thoughts and actions despite his power. Holding himself accountable in this way inspires others to this day to lead by example generations after the fall of the Roman Empire.
The Eightfold Path of Buddhism is a set of standards for Buddhists to follow on the path to Nirvana. The belief of achieving a state which ends all suffering requires the practitioner to give up worldly desires. Buddha was a prince yet he gave it up to start a religion that to this day has millions of followers worldwide and has touched the lives of countless communities.
Perhaps the greater lesson one can learn from all these great thinkers is that material wealth is not the answer to ending misery. Perhaps the mysteries of the universe are beyond human understanding. It took great minds to create systems to curb one’s immediate desires for greater future gain for everyone. What about the present and future? Are there any great minds or movements that can guide people away from materialism or has the era of philosophy finally come to an end. This can be pondered next.
Vice Vs. Virtue in the Present and Future
In the present, open degeneracy and vice are not shamed like they were in the past. The standards of America’s forefathers are disappearing. Values have been replaced by moral relativism and it shows. It shows in dropping standards in all manner of occupations and positions. It shows in movements designed to discourage or abandon physical fitness and nutrition. Discipline has been replaced by instant gratification in every area of life and humanity is no better for it.
What can be observed in the present is that whenever a society is a built upon high standards of conduct, there will be a period of decline. America is facing a decline in the present moment as can be seen on the internet with media openly lying to the general public. The decline is present in doctors and “science” being based on political leaning instead of verifiable fact. The politicians no longer conduct themselves in a professional manner which leads the general public to having no good choices in candidates. This destroys the morale of the average voter. More Americans feel politically homeless. Teen pregnancy and fat acceptance are normalized. Pedophilia is making a push without much opposition in mainstream circles. Hardcore porn is seen as just entertainment as opposed to being taboo. Everything about American culture seems to be in rapid decline. Is there hope at this rate?
There is hope despite the degeneracy. Where there is a decline in standards, there has always been a rebirth of virtue or a new movement. The present is no different. The culture has been so degenerate that people are returning to a more traditiional value system or exploring different religious and philosophical teachings. They are exhausted with the empty promises of endless drugs, food, and promiscious sex. It has actually become counter culture to live a more traditional existence. A world without a value system where anything goes becomes dangerous and somewhat boring. People yearn for purpose in their finite existence.
Stoicism and Taoism are seeing revivals in the modern era due to materialism’s empty promises. Christianity is finally standing up against its own decline. Americans are trying again to become more physically fit and eat better. Anti porn movements are rising. People are simply burned out by degeneracy and vice. The majority of Americans will succumb indefinitely to vice, but there are those who seek something better than instant pleasure.
These new leaders are revealing themselves in movements all across the world. Some of them have taken themselves to politics. Others are trying their hand on fitness. Many seek philosophy and religion for their answers to life’s questions. Hell, even the idea of traditional masculinity and femininity are becoming counter culture movements. No matter where their journey takes them, many of these newcomers will become the next leaders of culture in the future. Perhaps the decline hasn’t truly begun yet, but for every decline in values and society, there will be a rise in virtue to bring order to the chaos. When the next generation becomes sober after the current one sleeps in its drunken stupor, they will remake the future in their image. Those who lived lives of degeneracy will simply follow the virtuous or resist them as they always have in this endless battle of vice versus virtue.