The Ring of Gyges

In Plato’s monumental work, The Republic, after dispensing with the loudmouth Thracymachus who insisted that “justice is the interest of the stronger,” Socrates is confronted by a stronger opponent. Glaucon, one of Plato’s brothers, has been listening to Socrates dismantle Thracymachus’ argument when he confronts Socrates with the possibility that justice really is the interest of the stronger and that Socrates has not fully addressed that possibility.

Glaucon places in front of Socrates the myth of the shepherd boy, Gyges, who while sitting around a fire with his chums playing with a ring he found that day he turns the ring inwards and disappears. While he is “gone” his chums start talking about him and he learned how they truly feel about him; but he also sees the possibilities of such a ring. In brief, he later seduces the queen, kills the king, and finds himself the most powerful man on earth. All because of the ring. Glaucon insists that no one could resist such a temptation: all men and women would do what they want to do rather than what they should do — if they could get away with it.

This is a powerful argument and it takes Socrates nine long chapters to create his Republic in which, he insists, good men and women  would rise to the top and they would, in fact, be able to resist the temptations of the ring of Gyges. Aristotle will later call this “character” and insist that it is instilled in young men and women in their youth and later determines the choices they make when it comes to justice and injustice.

It is difficult for the modern reader to agree to the logic of Socrates’ argument, to allow that ordinary men and women would not succumb to the temptations of such a ring — if it allowed them to get away with anything. Some might say that “conscience” would prohibit unjust actions among many — or at least some — but even this argument is weakened these days when we seem to have lost sight of such a thing as “character” and tend to let people pretty much do what they want. Most, I suspect, would insist that it is naive to suppose that anyone today would resist the ring of Gyges. The only thing that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the fear of getting caught.

I’m not sure if we can settle the disagreement one way or the other, since we know so little about why people do what they do and even those who seem to do the right thing most of the time may be driven by self-interest and the fear of getting caught. It’s never quite clear in our own cases why we do the things we do! But if we recall that Plato imagines a perfect society (as he sees it) in which from birth children are raised to do the right thing, to place the welfare of others before that of themselves, to form what will later be called “good character,” then perhaps we can allow that such a thing is possible — at least in theory.

The difficulty is, of course, that ours is not a perfect society — supposing that there is such a thing — and we have turned our attention away from character to such things as “self-esteem, “honesty,” and “getting in touch with our feelings.” In a word, we don’t stress the importance of caring about others so much as we stress making sure we take care of #1. I have blogged about this before and I will not go there again. But it is interesting to think that both Plato and Aristotle were convinced that the main thing that brings political bodies down is the turning attention away from what was later called “the common good” toward self-interest. When rulers and those who make the rules care more about themselves than they do about the voters who put them into office it is the beginning of a process that can only result in the dissolution of the political body.

Morality is not simply about Jimmy doing the right thing when he finds a wallet on the sidewalk. It is also about the people in power, who make decisions that effect so many others, caring more about themselves than they do about those who matter most — to wit, their constituents. The Other has been lost in the preoccupation we seem to have with ourselves, rights are all the rage while correlative responsibilities are seldom mentioned. The moral high ground disappears in the mist of looking our for #1.

How many could resist the temptations of therein of Gyges? Very few, I fear. And those who lust after money and power are least likely of all.

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Resentment

There’s an interesting Special Report in this week’s Sports Illustrated about Johnny Manziel’s downfall from the heights he had attained as a football player. The report suggests that his problem stems from the fact that he came from a wealthy family and never really had to work for anything. Nor was he denied anything, apparently. The author of the report, Emily Kaplan, suggests that he is the product of entitlement, the sense that so many young people have as a result of being spoiled.

In Johnny Football’s case, this came to a head in his second year with the Cleveland Browns of the NFL when he was put into a game after the starting quarterback was injured and brought the team back to one of their very few wins in what had been an inglorious season. He expected to be named the starting quarterback but when the starter recovered and was restored to the highest post, Johnny Football “lost it.” He has had a history, apparently, of sulking and feeling sorry for himself when he doesn’t get what he wants and he goes on a binge, drinking himself silly. He frequently makes mistakes while drunk and later apologies and expects to be forgiven. After several attempts to help Johnny with his problem, the Browns finally gave up and Manziel’s future as a professional football player is in doubt.

I have written about the entitlement issue before and I have argued that it stems, in part at least, from the “self esteem” movement that has swept the lower grades in our schools and has also been bought into by a great many people in the culture at large where trophies are now given to kids simply for “participation” in various events.  The movement reinforces the tendency that parents have shown to try to give their kids the things they themselves lacked while growing up. Everyone wins. No one loses. This, of course, is bollocks. There are winners and there are losers and all of us are one or the other at some point in our lives. Indeed, we almost certainly learn more from our losses than we do from our wins. In any event, the issue goes deep into our collective psyche.

Christopher Lasch has written extensively about what he calls out social “narcissism,” our self-involvement, which, he insists, stems from the lack of an authority figure in our lives. When the child is told he is terrific and begins to think he can walk on water because he has been told he can be anything he wants to be; when fathers and mothers fail to draw lines and punish their children when those lines are ignored; when everyone is given a trophy and high grades; when these sorts of things start to happen the child becomes disoriented. He doesn’t know where the lines are — if there are any. He starts to do whatever it takes to draw attention to himself in order to see if there are any lines. When he discovers that there are none, or at least none that are clearly drawn, he starts to draw his own. When this behavior is augmented in school by teachers who tell him he can do no wrong, that all his projects are A+, he begins to have a very large idea of himself. This scenario, unfortunately, is becoming more and more common. In Johnny Manziel’s case it is simply writ large and we can see that his sense of what Joseph Butler called “resentment” led him to believe that when he doesn’t get what he wants he should respond by “getting even,” paying back those who have denied him the treasure he thinks he deserves. As Butler noted in this regard:

Although moral evil gives rise to pain which can strengthen this settled resentment, the object of the resentment is not the pain or harm done but instead the design or intention to morally injure, harm, do wrong and injustice. And the goal of resentment is to cause appropriate injury in a wrongdoer. . .

This is the “I’ll show YOU!” syndrome of the spoiled child; it is the first step down a slippery slope toward certain disaster. Ironically, in Manziel’s case the “wrongdoer” turns out to be himself.

One worries about Johnny Manziel. One ought also to worry about those others who are in his shadow and are following the same path downwards. There are many more of them than we might want to admit even though their stories don’t make Sports Illustrated.

Get A Life

How sad it is that the social media have taken over the hearts and minds of our young people. We have seen it coming for some time. The evidence suggests that the electronic toys themselves are damaging the brains of those who use them, but the fact that they are addictive is also of major concern. In a recent interview with Katie Couric comments by the author of a book that studied the effects of social media on teen-age girls are most revealing — and disturbing. An article on the internet (speaking of social media) tells us about the problem:

These dangers are just one of the topics journalist Nancy Jo Sales explores in her new book, “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers.” She sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric.

“One of the first conversations that I had with some girls in Los Angeles really set the tone for the whole book to me,” Sales told Couric, recounting a specific exchange she had with one of the girls. “She said, ‘Social media is destroying our lives.’ And I said, ‘So why don’t you just go off it?’ And she said, ‘Because then I would have no life.’”

Ponder, if you will, the final remark of that young woman. If she abandons social media she will “have no life.” Aside from the grammatical mistake she makes (“media” is a plural noun) — which has become common with those who tweet and have forgotten how to read and write — this is a terribly sad comment on today’s youth. I assume that this remark was not random but fairly typical of those whom Sales encountered in her research. Without social media this young lady would have no life. Her entire self-concept is wrapped up in the positive reaction of her peers to what she posts on social media. If what she says and shows is not “liked” then she is not liked.

Some years ago I brought up in class that willingness of parents to buy presents for their kids that they know might be harmful. One of the mothers in the class held up her hand and asked “what are we supposed to do? All their friends have those toys.” This is peer pressure in  a society in which acceptance from one’s peers counts for much more than it is worth. But the parallel is almost exact: if my kids don’t start to immerse themselves in social media as young children they will be left out. The schools encourage this as they frequently provide students with the toys and/or assign work that requires that they use them. Thus parents must succumb to the pressures their kids are already subject to, even if they know the electronic toys they subsequently buy for their kids will do them harm. We seem to be caught in a spiral from which there is no escape. At least, none that I can see.

A conspiracy theorist would see behind all this an insidious plot: the powers-that-be want worker-drones and what better way to produce them than to capture their minds? I am not a conspiracy theorist and reject this interpretation. But I do worry that our young people are entering adulthood with serious damage to their self-esteem (despite our best efforts in that direction) and to the left-hemisphere of their brains — that part that does their thinking.  Since this has been going on for some time now, it may go a long way toward explaining the popularity of the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. It is not a minor problem by any means. As I say, I don’t see a way out of the downward spiral. Do you?

Crybaby Students

I attach below a portion of the editorial from the Washington Post written by Kathleen Parker on November 24th of last year. It should provide a sense of what I have been complaining about for years on my blog and elsewhere. It is a problem we cannot simply ignore.

“It would be easy to call protesting college students crybabies and brats for pitching hissy-fits over hurt feelings, but this likely would lead to such torrents of tearful tribulation that the nation’s university system would have to be shut down for a prolonged period of grief counseling. Besides, it would be insensitive.

Instead, let me be the first to say: it’s not the students’ fault. These serial tantrums are a direct result of our Everybody Gets a Trophy culture and an educational system that, for the most part, no longer teaches a core curriculum, including history, government and Bill of Rights.

The students simply don’t know any better. . . .

The first sign of the epidemic of sensitivity we’re witnessing was when parents and teachers were instructed never to tell Johnny that he was a ‘bad boy,’ but that he is ‘acting’ like a bad boy.

Next, Johnny was handed a blue ribbon along with everyone else on the team even though he didn’t deserve one. This had the opposite effect of what was intended. Rather than protecting Johnny’s fragile self-esteem, the prize undermined Johnny’s faith in his own perceptions and judgment. It robbed him of his ability to pick himself up when he fell and be brave, honest, and hardy in the face of adversity.

Self-esteem is earned, not bestowed.

Today’s campuses are overrun with little Johnnys, their female counterparts and their adult enablers. How will we ever find enough fainting couches?

. . . Concurrent with  these episodes of outrage is the recent surge on campuses of ‘trigger warnings’ in syllabuses to alert students to content that might be upsetting, and ‘safe spaces’ where students can seek refuge when ideas make them uncomfortable. It seems absurd to have to mention that the purpose of higher education is to be challenged, to be exposed to different views, and, above all, to be exhilarated by the exercise of free speech — other people’s as well as one’s own.

The marketplace of ideas is not for sissies, in other words. And it would appear that knowledge, the curse of the enlightened, is not for everybody.

The latter is meant to be an observation, but on many campuses today it seems to be an operating principle. A recent survey of 1,100 colleges and universities found that only 18 percent require American history or government, where such foundational premises as the First Amendment might be explained and understood. . . .

Such is the world we’ve created for young people who soon enough will discover that the world doesn’t much care about their tender feelings. But before such harsh realities knock them off their ponies we might hope that they redirect their anger. They have every right to despise the coddling culture that ill prepared them for life and an educational system that has failed to teach them what they need to know.”

 

I couldn’t agree more with Ms Parker — except to say that American history and government ought to be taught in all our high schools, along with a good stiff course in logic and critical thinking. This might lessen the number of fools who lap up the drivel that spews from the mouths of so many of the politicians seeking national offices. This is especially true since many of our citizens never go to college. But, in any event, what started out as a sincere desire to alleviate suffering among society’s victims has brought about an era of entitlement in which everyone claims to be a victim. There aren’t enough fainting couches to go around.

 

 

Selfies

If there are still doubters out there who insist that this is not the most narcissistic age ever, they should consider the “selfie.” As we all know, and which the always reliable Wikipedia affirms, a “selfie”

” is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken [seemingly endlessly] with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. Selfies are often [seemingly endlessly] shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They are usually flattering and made to appear casual. Most selfies are taken with a camera held at arm’s length or pointed at a mirror, rather than by using a self-timer.”

Indeed, according to the statistics I just made up, 93.7% of the information on social media is about the person himself or herself. Issues are largely ignored and other people only enter into the discussion if they happen to have some important relationship to the person posting the information. It’s all about “ME.”

Or consider the “self-esteem”movement about which I have blogged previously (seemingly endlessly) which has taken over our schools and which parents have swallowed hook, line, and sinker — despite the fact that all the evidence (which I didn’t make up) suggests that the self-esteem movement actually LOWERS a child’s self-confidence, their sense of who they really are in relation to others around them. But it raises their idea of how accomplished and bright they are and in recent studies of students around the world (which again I did not make up), despite the fact that test scores show that our students trail much of the rest of the world in subjects like language and mathematics, the students themselves are convinced they are the best and brightest. They have the highest sense of self-importance in the world. This is narcissism that borders on self-delusion. And, as we know too well, it has led to the sense of entitlement that pervades this culture in which a growing number of people expect to be handed things because they have a nice smile or are pleasant to be around. Or, simply because they can still breathe in and out. In addition, as Christopher Lasch has pointed out, narcissism can readily lead to violence as those who expect to be handed everything on a platter find their desires thwarted.

In the light of this, it was refreshing recently to read about James Harrison, a professional football player, who returned two very large trophies his sons received for merely participating in an activity. It was not only refreshing because it wasn’t another story about a professional athlete beating his wife or sweetheart, but about a professional football player who is practicing good parenting skills. As Harrison himself said about the awards:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies!” wrote the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker on Sunday in an Instagram post to his 180,000 followers. “While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they earn a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned, and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut you up and keep you happy.”

Is it possible that this professional athlete knows more about child rearing than the so-called “experts” who dare to give parents and educators misleading advice? Imagine, thinking that praise should be earned and not simply passed out until it means nothing! Harrison just uses his common sense and gut feelings to do the thing he knows is right. I can’t help but believe that we would be much better off if parents and teachers followed Harrison’s lead than they are in raising and teaching their kids “by the book.”

Recipe For Failure

I am pleased to offer up the following recipe for your consideration:

Begin with two cups of parents who work hard to keep their heads above the financial waters and who must therefore largely ignore their kids who are left to their own devices. The parents are riddled with guilt, have forgotten how to say “no,” and have read books by childless pop-psychologists about how to raise children; as a result their kids are spoiled at home and have never learned the need for self-denial and hard work. However, all have learned well the path of least resistance.

 (Courtesy of Facebook)


(Courtesy of Facebook)

Add slowly one cup of kids whose time is almost entirely taken up with the “social network” and who use electronic devices to “stay connected” while losing real contact with others and with the world around them, bearing in mind that those toys are damaging their brains, eventually rendering portions of those brains chronically damaged.

Add three tablespoons (no more, no less) of the self-esteem movement in the schools the kids attend that insists the kids are terrific when all the evidence suggests that they are falling way behind the rest of the developed world. In fact, when a mathematics test involving 24,000 students worldwide was followed by the yes/no question whether the student was good in math, American students rated themselves highest on self-esteem and actually scored lowest on math! They have been taught to expect rewards for little or no effort. Clearly, schools in America have become like the caucus race in Alice in Wonderland “where the participants run in patterns of any shape, starting and leaving off whenever they like, so that everyone wins.” Everyone gets a prize — but, in fact, no one wins.

Mix in three teaspoons of underpaid, harried, and poorly-trained teachers sustained by a thin gruel of psychobabble and filled with disdain for the tradition that produced the great men and women of the past. Martin Gross, in his Conspiracy of Ignorance drives the point home thusly: “The problem is not the kids but the Educational Establishment, which is an unscholarly, anti-intellectual, anti-academic cabal which can best be described as a conspiracy of ignorance, one with false theories and low academic standards. Well conceived, internally consistent, it has been powerful enough to fight off all outside challenges and true change. All at the expense of our schoolchildren.” 

Blend in carefully one cup rejection by the entire Education Establishment for the data that show clearly that there is a serious problem in our schools and that other nations, such as tiny Finland, have it right while we have it all wrong.

Stir slowly over a low heat while holding your nose and don’t, please, attempt to eat the mess because it will make you sick.

All Body and No Mind

In a recent comment to one of my posts, my friend BTG recounts a study done not long ago that pointed out a key difference between young people in 1950 and in 2000. Recall that in 2000 we were already into the age of the “millennials,” those young people that are unduly preoccupied with themselves. In fact, the study showed that in 1950 12% of the young thought they were “important.” In 2000 that percentage grew to 84%. This is an astonishing statistic and worthy of serious reflection.

Much has been made about the fact that our generation is passing along a world to the younger generation that has even more problems than we faced and failed to address. No doubt this is true. They will be forced to address those problems if they are to survive. This sounds like hyperbole to those who dismiss global warming as just another cycle that the earth has seen for thousands of years and who insist that humans are in no way responsible for those radical changes that are now affecting our weather, melting the ice caps, burning up huge areas of dried-up forest, thawing the permafrost, and drowning islands in the Pacific. These are serious problems and whether our generation can be blamed for all of them is a moot question which will become increasing irrelevant as those who survive us struggle to deal with them. And eventually they will be forced to deal with them. That much we know.

And yet, if these people think the only thing that matters is their very own self, and if they become increasingly unable to use the left half of their brains which does the thinking, we can predict that a collision is inevitable. The problems cannot be solved if they are never addressed or when addressed are dealt with by a generation of people whose only interest is in their own comings and goings, who do not know how to anticipate, imagine, or plan.

I have blogged (some would say endlessly) about the “self-esteem” movement in our schools and homes. Given the growing body of clinical evidence, there is no question that this movement has contributed to the millennialists’ preoccupation with themselves. The movement insists that self-esteem can be developed and nourished only by telling the young, whether deserved or not, that they are wonderful and that the things they do are truly marvelous. That this tactic does not work has also been shown to be a mistake in those clinical studies that reveal the fact — known to common sense — that self-esteem can only be developed and nourished by honest appraisal that follows from hard word and genuine achievement. In a word, telling Johnny he has done a great job when you and he both know full well he did not only confuses Johnny and does not build his self-esteem. But it does reinforce the notion in Johnny’s mind that he is the most important thing in the world. This is not a good thing and leads to the age of entitlement that we now find ourselves immersed in. Johnny is sure to be faced with immense problems and he is not likely to be the least bit interested; and if he manages to attend to those problems he will be unable to think his way through to possible solutions, because nothing much has been demanded of him throughout his school years. This has already begun to happen as any one who has paid attention to recent developments, especially in this country, can attest.

A few months ago I quoted Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel in which he tries to come to grips with the forces that have brought us to where we are at this point in history. He talks about the intelligence of the so-called “primitive” people who must daily solve practical problems in order to simply survive, while we moderns ignore those problems, convinced they are not real problems or if they are someone else will solve them. He notes in this regard that

“. . .there is a . . . reason why the New Guineans may have come to be smarter than Westerners. Modern European and American children spend much of their time being passively entertained by television, radio, and movies. In the average American household the TV set is on for seven hours per day. In contrast, traditional New Guinea children have virtually no such opportunities for passive entertainment and instead spend almost all of their waking hours actively doing something, such as talking or playing with other children or adults. Almost all studies of child development emphasize the role of childhood stimulation and activity in promoting mental development, and stress the irreversible mental stunting associated with reduced childhood stimulation. This effect surely contributes a non-genetic component to the superior average mental function displayed by New Guineans.”

This observation reinforces the claims that I, along with many others, have made about the problems we will increasingly face and be unable to solve. My concern with the self-esteem movement, which in itself may seem trivial, is rooted in this same concern: how will self-absorbed minds atrophied like ours are becoming be able to deal with real-life problems of survival which are increasingly complex and pressing?

Ironically, Thomas Jefferson, of all people, characterized such minds centuries ago when he was remarking about aristocratic people, whom he held in very low regard — such people as kings and their courtiers:

“Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, a stable, or a stateroom, pamper them with a high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in  sensualities, nourish their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind. . .”

In my view this is why a good education is so important. The average person today lives the life of the kings and courtiers of Jefferson’s day. And they all have electronic toys — as was  made clear in a photo going the rounds on Facebook in which a dozen teenagers are sitting in a museum in front of Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” texting. Every single one of them is attending only to the toy in his or her hands and ignoring the beauty around them — and each other. Our kids are becoming “all body and no mind” and this does not bode well for a future when these folks will be faced with problems we can only now begin to imagine.

Disappointments

I have just returned from a train ride to Cooperstown and back which gave me time to reflect on many things — and time away from the blog, which was a bit of relief, I must say. One of the things I reflected on was a number of huge disappointments in my life. As one gets older, I am told, this is the way the mind wanders.

I attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in (of all places) Baltimore, Maryland. Every year the students put on what were called the “Poly Follies.” It took several days and was well attended. It also required the printing and handing out of hundreds of programs. In my senior year the art department decided to have a contest to pick the cover for the program. It was a big deal and I hurried home after hearing the announcement and spent the entire weekend drawing and painting three covers — at least one of which I thought pretty good. At that time I drew and painted a bit and even submitted several pen and ink cartoons that were included in that year’s Yearbook. In any event, I was sure I would win (of course). But when the winner was announced and the cover placed in a large glass case in the main hall, along with all of the other submissions, none of mine were there. I was stunned. There were the three top covers and also all of the other submissions — none of which I thought as good as mine (!) In any event, I was deeply hurt to have my hard work ignored like that. So I went to the art department and reminded the teacher that I had submitted three covers which had not been displayed with the rest. A sudden look of awareness appeared in his eyes as he remembered my submissions, which he had placed in a cupboard below one of the art tables. I had submitted mine early and he obviously forgot all about it. I sensed that, but it simply increased the pain. I had been ignored and my covers were never even considered: they were in that cupboard the whole time.

The point of this little story, which recounts one of several disappointments I reflected on during the long train ride, is that disappointment is a part of life. The move today, which I have remarked upon repeatedly, to build our children’s self-esteem and help young people avoid pain and disappointment at all costs may be costing them the growth they require to develop as whole persons. It is the pain and disappointment that deepen sensibilities and broaden our perspectives and help us grow. Our society’s determination to disallow these experiences on the part of our children is a mistake of the first order, I believe, and I call on Dostoevsky as an authority on the subject. He was convinced that suffering is essential for the development of the human person. And he should know as he suffered a great deal himself and witnessed it in many others.  It is not something we should encourage, of course, but it is something we should allow as part of the necessary steps in growing up — along with failure from which we learn so much about ourselves. In its place, we try to guarantee our children only pleasure; we have self-esteem movements in the schools and at home where no one is denied and everyone gets a prize, while only a few truly deserve it; this in turn has devolved into the entitlement we see all around us where spoiled children grow into shallow, spoiled adults whose attention is turned only on themselves.

I don’t regard myself as exemplary, by any means; but I am aware that most of the people I admire and respect have had many disappointments in their lives and have suffered at times a great deal. Dostoevsky may have overstated the case by insisting that suffering is essential to becoming fully human, but our attempts to protect the young from every type of disappointment and harm is assuredly misguided.

Take Jameis Winston, e.g.

The off-field activities of the college football player Jameis Winston are most thought-provoking. As you may recall, he is the Sophomore quarterback at Florida State University where he won the Heisman trophy as a Freshmen. As was the case with “Johnny Football” before him, the award and subsequent attention seem to have gone to his head. Winston is under investigation by the University for alleged rape of a young women last year. He was also arrested for shop-lifting some crab-legs. And recently he was suspended by his team (for half a game!) for standing on a table in the student union and shouting obscenities. In each case he appeared before the public in a choreographed press conference where he told the gathered reporters that he has learned his lesson and this will not happen again. Yeah, right. He is an example of a self-involved youth who feels himself entitled to special treatment. After all, he has received it most of his life, why not now? And, of course, there are growing numbers of athletes at the collegiate and professional levels whose behavior is not only violent, but also exemplify the type of person described by Thomas Jefferson (of all people) in the early part of the nineteenth century:

“Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, or a stateroom, pamper them with high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensualities, nourish their passions, let everything bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind.”

There is a good deal of talk about holding athletes to a “higher standard of decency,” but I would be perfectly satisfied if they were held to the same standards as everyone else: one would not expect anyone to stand on a table in a public place shouting obscenities, to rape young women, or to steal crab legs. But let us not assume for a moment that this sort of behavior is limited to spoiled athletes. Let us admit that today’s youth — well into adulthood — have been so indulged. In our schools where self-esteem is the name of the game, spoiled children, raised by tired, preoccupied parents who have been told by so-called “experts” not to thwart the child’s natural instincts, develop a sense of entitlement that assures each of them that they are the only ones that really matter in this world. They, too, resemble Jefferson’s type described above: they become “all body and no mind.” The example of athletes such as Winston are simply extreme cases of a phenomenon that has become widespread in this culture. Attention might be focused on those who seem larger than life, but while we may criticize their behavior we must admit that they are encouraged in our culture to behave in this manner and they are tokens of a type. Further, they have been told that if they appear sincere and say they are sorry they will be forgiven. After all, we want to see them play on Saturday . . . or Sunday . . .  or Monday night . . . or Thursday night.

In any event, let us keep our eye on the larger picture where a sense of entitlement is increasingly common, and certainly not restricted to athletes.  It is an attitude fostered in the homes and at school, and it stems from the wave of pop-psychology books that were published in the 1950s and 1960s telling parents and teachers how to raise and teach their children. So their parents, exhausted from the work-a-day world where they struggle to provide their families with “necessities,” seldom discipline their children; and in school, where the self-esteem movement has roots going back to Rousseau, they are told they are terrific when they are not. This is certain to turn out young people who feel entitled to whatever it is they think they might want.

Jefferson knew a thing or two. We shouldn’t wonder at the behavior of spoiled, rich athletes or kids out of control: the chickens are coming home to roost.

Learning From Failure

Toward the end of the recent British Open golf tournament (referred to, simply, as “The Open”), Rickie Fowler was chasing Rory McIlroy and actually tied him on the 12th hole during the third round. Later that round, he stumbled a bit, got a couple of bogies while Rory was getting two eagles on the last three holes to finish 6 shots ahead of his closest competitor. Rickie was later interviewed and he was confident that he could play better on the last day of the tournament and had a good chance of winning (which he nearly did).  He had played well to that point and he thought he knew what had gone wrong during those last few holes. He could learn from his mistakes and correct them and would do better, he was sure.

What a novel idea! To think that a person could learn from his mistakes! So many educators who are on the “self-esteem” bandwagon hell-bent to destroy their students’ ability to succeed in a complex world should take note. Failure is not, in itself, a bad thing. It can make us stronger. It’s what we make of it that is important. If the child never learns to fail, pick himself up, dust himself off, and try again he will never be a success in the “real” world. Fowler did just that. In the final round he played beautifully and gave McIlroy a merry chase, losing by only two strokes, thereby assuring himself a coveted place on the Ryder Cup team.

It’s ironic that it is in sports that these lessons can still be learned, not in the classroom where failure is generally regarded as an inherently bad thing. But, again, there are those who would not have the kids keep score in sports so they never fail there either. In a word, there are those among us, parents, coaches, and teachers, who live in a fantasy world where no one fails and everyone feels good about himself regardless of whether those feelings are well-deserved. And those parents, coaches, and teachers think they are preparing the kids to be a success in later life, whereas the opposite is the case. They are preparing those kids to be failures because they will never have failed before and will not have any idea how to deal with it when it comes. And that failure will come, eventually at some point in some form or other, is a certainty.