The Predominance of Softness

I am trying to investigate the prevalence of softness and the rarity of toughness because I believe that we have learned to be soft when it is time to get, and be, tough.

Can we find another way into the predominance of softness? It has often been observed that ours is an Age of Anxiety or, more recently, a time of terror. Plainly, one sees this in the Seattle earthquake story from The New Yorker and in various tweets and replies to the possibility that an earthquake could, within the next 100 years, utterly decimate Seattle. Respondents stressed how scared, terrified, and nervous they were or remarked upon how scared, trepidatious, and anxious Seattle residents should be.

Fear is hinted at, spoken of, and often exacerbated when it comes to almost everything, including child-raising, city dwelling, terrorist attacks, flying, health, the precarity of work, academic pursuits, love, the death of others, doing most anything unconventional. People speak of “being safe,” of wanting to find “safe spaces,” of being “vulnerable,” of being “uncomfortable” or at the edge of discomfort, of always being “stressed out,” “overwhelmed,” or “freaking out.” Disgrace is terrifying, humiliation is terrifying, public speaking terrifying, any sensitive subject terrifying, offending someone terrifying, knowing the truth about yourself absolutely terrifying…

In all this, we seem (I am referring to Aristotle) to have no or else inadequate knowledge of what is to be feared and to what extent. We fear the wrong things, or we fear the right things to too great of an extent. Furthermore, we do not believe that we can act in the face of fear to achieve the good (kalon). Finally, we do not have a confident or cheerful disposition, chipperly yet realistically approaching the danger. We are positively cowed.

I am put in mind of Cicero who defines courage as “the conscious undertaking of dangerous deeds and the endurance of hardships.” At best, when we suffer some ill fate (such as cancer or chronic pain), we may–may–learn how to endure hardships, but then examples of individuals enduring hardships well are so very rare. Never having suffering much, most of us grow soft or immediately “freak out.” The mere thought of the end of homo sapiens buckles us.

More notable than our inability to endure hardships is our decided unwillingness to undertake deeds where danger lurks. There are ample cases of rash agents, those who had no idea that there were such dangers associated with undertaking some deed or other, yet one is hard-pressed to identify many cases of toughness.

Where is our toughness? How come our meekness prevails? These things I would like to know.

Gumption welcome here.

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