Friday, August 14, 2015


The word (and with it, the original notion) bravery  has started to go the way of pride :  abducted by the autophiles, trivialized, and rendered unfit for serious use.   Examples of the new (ab)use  are too numerous, and mostly too stale, to sample;  we mention only a recent cause célèbre, in which a celebrity gigolo, long a glutton for the limelight,  perpetrated in public  an unhallowed transmogrification, thereby attracting great gobs of further publicity (a Vanity Fair cover, a new reality show), along with the ululating adulation of the chattering classes:  for all of which  “she” was commended for “her” ‘bravery’.

The speech-communities behind these two semantic etiolations or devolutions, are essentially the same:  the partisans of “everyone gets a medal”.  (Which means that any medals given to actual heroes, are meaningless.)

The inflation-infection has spread  even to the military, even in combat zones.  A buddy of mine was serving in Afghanistan, very much in harm’s way, when he and everyone in his group, regardless of work-role,  was given a medal in the form of a large commemorative metal coin.   The inscription thanked them all “for your service”, in …. “Iraq”!   (In other words, there were some medals left over from that conflict -- in which my friend incidentally also served -- and they were recycled bushel-fashion.)  On the reverse side was inscribed the name of the awarding entity: … Anheuser-Busch.
(Can’t make this up.)
(And no, the coin wasn’t good for anything -- not even for buying a Bud.)


Less widespread as yet, and conceivably a sort of contre-coup of the above development, are cases in which the flip-side notion, that of cowardice, is wrenched awry.   The first widely noted example was the nearly universal tagging of the 9/11 pilots as cowards.   Now, condemn their actions however you please;  but to denominate their plunging into the jaws of certain death, for a cause that they believed in, as ‘cowardice’, is to have no idea what cowardice and bravery mean, and in particular  to misunderstand our adversaries.

More recently, the denunciation has been put to very odd use.   Consider the bizarre episode of the dentist,  who (following in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, a notably courageous man both physically and morally) tried his hand at big-game hunting, yet somehow (ananke) displeased the Erinyes, and was suddenly caught up in an upwelling of populist vitriol  for which one must seek far for an equivalent:  the social media increasingly  evokes the Beast.   The absurdity, even indecency of the spectacle (hordes of carnivores, the Big Macs still fresh on their breath, calling for this man’s blood) would beggar comment;  but one detail we do note:  that among the vices attributed to the man, was that of cowardice.   Now, traveling half a world away, to unfamiliar territory, to face a healthy, fully-grown male lion, armed with nothing but a bow and arrow, scarcely illustrates the concept.

And, latterly, the epithet has been applied to the Oath Keepers on the mean streets of Fergustan.   Judge their actions wise or foolish, needlessly provocative or what you will:  but again  the epithet pinned to them is cowards.   Whereas objectively what you see is a handful of middle-aged men, leaving the comfort and safety of their living-rooms, voyaging into territory where absolutely nobody will have their back, and confronting mobs which, earlier, have repeatedly shot at police and sandbagged reporters.   The precise term for their action might be foolhardy;  but if so, then the same term must apply to Admiral Farragut ("Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!").

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