I read in a CNN article about how two judges in Pennsylvania took over $2.1 million in kick-backs from people who wanted to see an increase in private detention center usage. I also continue to read about how politicians are being found to have evaded taxes, taken money, or done some other corrupt thing. CEO’s are also finding ways around the law, being corrupt without actually breaking the law. The fact is, the average American has lost almost all confidence in businesses and government due to corruption.
Why are we here though? What has brought us to this point?
The fact is, Americans have lost the virtuous life and it has been this way for quite some time. Ever since popular America began to accept pragmatism as an ethical system, America has seen more and more corruption. We worship progress and getting the bottom dollar, not doing so in a virtuous manner. When we say “wealth,” we mean living extravagantly, having three or four houses, multiple cars, and so on.
I think of the words of the Roman Stoic Epictetus, in his Enchiridion, when he says,
“To live well differs from living extravagantly: for the first comes from moderation and a sufficiency and good order and propriety and frugality; but the other comes from intemperance and luxury and want of order and want of propriety. And the end (the consequence) of the one is true praise, but of the other blame. If then you wish to live well, do not seek to be commended for profuse expenditure.” (Enchiridion saying XXVII)
Or his other advice on living frugally, which states,
“As it is better to lie compressed in a narrow bed and be healthy than to be tossed with disease on a broad couch, so also it is better to contract yourself within a small competence and to be happy than to have a great fortune and be wretched.” (Enchiridion, saying XXIV)
All of this points toward the classic virtue of Temperance, which simply means to live in moderation and with self-control. What is ironic is that the Stoics valued four cardinal virtues; Prudence, Temperance, Courage, and Justice, things which have no place to a modern politician or business ethics booklet.
Imagine where our economy would be today if CEO’s and businesses in general simply lived virtuous lives. Our entire world would be completely different. Advertisements would highlight how a certain product aids in proper living and wouldn’t seek to just slop on a brand name. Products wouldn’t be as expensive as there would be no desire to make massive profits in order to support an extravagant way of life. The poor would be taken care of by private citizens who were seeking to administer justice upon this world. Certainly there would be flaws and it would be no where perfect, but the fact remains that our world would be in a far better condition than it currently is if Americans still held to living a virtuous life.
What is the remedy then? We are to live virtuous regardless of those around us and teach our children to do the same. We should push to have such ethics taught in schools (after all, what is the objection to teaching virtue?) and seek to shame those that do not live virtuous lives.