Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Valor is Dead

It used to be that valor was prized among men. It was one of the central virtues of our world. Boys were trained to be men, grew up, and then demonstrated their masculinity by acts of bravery and virtue. Exploration, war, and politics each afforded men the opportunity to prove their true masculinity and to show courage. Nowadays, however, few venues exist for men to show valor. What's more, no one much seems to care about courage. In an age that mocks earnestness and debases virtue, no one has much of an appetite for the courageous soldier, the noble outdoorsman, or the wise politician. Valor has died an ignoble death in our day, the victim of a poisonous cynicism.

This is not right. Every once in a while, you become aware of the fact that the world has turned on its head, and you feel the need to protest. Today's subject is one such example. The modern man seems spineless, weak, and squirmy. Nothing holds his attention for long, he detests sweat and labor, and he wishes most of all for a smoke and an escape from reality. He mocks war and condescends to the armed forces; bull-headed boors, he esteems them. He hides from the forest, finding comfort only when surrounded by four walls and a flourescent glow. He has no time for responsibility or leading a family; after all, he has concerts to attend and mp3s to buy. In fact, his only contact with valor comes when he mocks it. In this way, he is a shadow of what men used to be.

Yet the modern man cannot completely cast off the virtue of valor, nor can he distance himself entirely from the magnetic pull toward it he feels at times. Nobody pays any money to see an actor sit in a chair, or brush his teeth, or sing show tunes. No, but we flock to Mission Impossible 3, don't we? We want to see things blown up, and girls saved from certain death, and men flex their strength and skill in the pursuit of valorous ends. Try as we may, we can't leave our conscience and its precommitments completely behind. We sneer at them, and swear that we've sworn them off, but when nobody's looking, like the bully with a soft spot for his victims, we feel a curious pull toward valor and courage. In this example we see a bit of the parable of the modern man. In the painful process of deconstructing himself, he occasionally stops and wonders if he isn't doing something quite wrong. The moment may not last long, but it lasts nonetheless.


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