These are times of increasing political extremism. They are also times of corruption and rising inequality. Enormous, alarming trends are sweeping through culture, government, and the economy. In some sense this is new, but in other ways it’s a story as old as civilized society.
So the question is not why or what or who or even how—it’s where. Where is the courage? Where are the people standing up to stop all this? Where are the heroes, big and small? The city council member who refuses to rubber stamp the pocket-lining policies of her fellow council members. The parent who turns in their own child for his alarming obsession with guns. The celebrity who uses their platform to speak truth, rather than pile onto whatever the mob has decided is right.
To the Stoics, courage was the greatest of the virtues. Being brave enough to take a stand, to risk one’s own neck. To throw yourself in front of the car to save someone else. Or, as Mario Savio put it on the Berkeley campus in the 1960s during the Free Speech movement, “to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus…to make it stop.”
Courage was also independence. Refusing to cow to the majority, and instead to hold oneself to a higher standard. That standard was justice, another essential virtue. That meant insisting on what was right. Attacking corruption, intolerance for unfairness. Protecting the downtrodden or the weak.
Are there still heroes out there? Yes. We see it in Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who died protecting her rabbi from a gunman. We see it in James Melville, the ambassador who resigned on principle after Trump’s comments about NATO. We see it when people admit they were wrong. When academics challenge political correctness and orthodoxy. We see it when a classmate stands up to a bully. We see it when a fireman rushes into a building, or when a police officer runs towards the shooting. When the ordinary person says, “Hey, don’t say things like that. Don’t treat other people that way. It’s not right.”
But we don’t see it enough. In part because we don’t do it enough ourselves.