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Men Without Spines

Doug Irvin, Contributor

“We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Cowering HipsterA couple of generations ago, the British writer, C. S. Lewis, deplored the state of English behavior after the second world war. He found many who, although brave enough when bullets were flying over their heads a decade or so before, now seemed to lack the moral courage to take a stand against moral decay.

It wasn’t a quick slide.  The British Empire once spanned the world. The men and women who created this empire stood steadfast against tremendous odds. In fact, the phrase “Stiff Upper Lip” came to signify British resolve.

But the resolve weakened. There were fewer and fewer Britons who wanted to endure hardship; the rewards for such resolve slowly dissipated.

Such was the case then; such is the case now.

The United States of America started with an idea. That idea was based on a willingness to allow individuals to excel, and to reap the benefits of their excellence. Men like John Smith, a leader of the early Jamestown colonists told the pampered gentlemen who had joined the group, “If you do not work, you will not eat”.  Thus the idea of labor being an honorable end in itself was set.

But the early colonists also had the dream of being able to set new ideas into motion. It wasn’t uncommon to have a journeyman tradesman set up in competition with his master, because he had a better idea for the product. And succeed.

And as they opened new ideas, they opened a new land. America was peopled by a culture that was just above survival level. The American aborigines seldom had surplus to last from one year to the next, and often went hungry when springtime warmed the soil.  New ideas affected them too; but there was conflict in it as well. Many, on either side, would not meet new challenges.

These challenges were eventually overcome. And with no frontier looming ahead of them, men looked up, rather than out. Space itself was called The Final Frontier. Men and women flocked to the new dream, the new horizons it promised. And, as their ancestors had, they found success.

But this time the success was dampened. Yes, there were hazards, even as earlier pioneers faced dangers. But there were those who decried that the new hazards were too much. Men and women died attempting to conquer the new horizon.  Men and women had died conquering other, earlier horizons, but they were not as immediate. And the will to achieve began to wane.

Today’s society seems to be filled with the risk averse. A nation that once dammed mighty rivers, spanned the depths with steel bridges, and reached for the stars themselves now wait for risk studies.  Cost analysis has taken the place of a pioneers axe. Supply lists have given way to actuarial calculations.

And the men and women who once braved the unknown, now sit at home, bored, playing adventure games rather than living the adventure.

They have become men without spines.

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