I must admit I am not David Brooks’ biggest fan, but a friend sent me a link to this op-ed piece of his, “A Case of Mental Courage.” I had commented on facebook that when a culture is no longer able to think clearly, it becomes a slave to the tyranny of inanity. In response, he mentioned Brooks’ article.
I really do think Brooks is right when comparing the culture 200 years ago with ours:
In the mental sphere, this meant conquering mental laziness with arduous and sometimes numbingly boring lessons. It meant conquering frivolity by sitting through earnest sermons and speeches. It meant conquering self- approval by staring straight at what was painful.
This emphasis on mental character lasted for a time, but it has abated. There’s less talk of sin and frailty these days.
In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions.
He goes on to make a few allusions to how this works out in the political sphere. And may I add that the vast majority of political speech is riddled with horrific thinking: it may be persuasive or expedient or pragmatic or emotive, but it is by-in-large not thoughtful.
Mental character, as Brooks puts it, is a virtue we sorely miss and one we will pay the price for losing over time. Without it, we are left to the whims of the best admen or the most attractive public face or the loudest megaphone. With it, no amount of grandstanding will unduly move us and no amount of pressure and persecution will take our lives off the truth.