In today’s landscape of social media noise and technological advancements, almost anything goes. Where once there were editors, publishers, and gatekeepers for the content we consume, now anyone with a smartphone can write, record, film, and publish with reckless abandon.
The Internet has democratized the sharing and distribution of creative content. In the past, you needed talent and connections, now you just need a smartphone and social media accounts to share whatever you like.
This is a good thing because it’s easier than ever to share content, and the underrepresented have a greater voice now. But it’s also a bad thing, for two reasons.
First, our attention spans have diminished. Where once people could sit for hours immersed in a good book or an extended conversation, now they get restless if their favorite YouTube channel doesn’t load fast enough.
Second, there is little to no quality control. Our lives are bombarded by millions of blogs, YouTube channels, and social media sites. Sometimes the cream rises to the top, but often the loudest, most outrageous, and superficial content gets all the attention.
Look no further than the “Jackass” videos on YouTube. There seems no depth to the idiotic things people will do for attention. We watch and giggle as people embarrass or hurt themselves for Internet popularity, but what does this really say about us? About the direction of our society and culture?
Kids want to grow up to be like their heroes. In the past, their heroes were astronauts, doctors, firefighters, and teachers. Now a lot of kids want to become social media “influencers” like PewDiePie (who has 109 million subscribers) and Jenna Marbles (who has over 20 million subscribers). Where will all these influencers take us?
Top social media stars are making millions of dollars. No wonder kids want to be like them. But what about the content?
What kind of videos are these YouTube stars producing? Check out Jenna Marbles’s “I Hate Being a Grown-Up” video below, which garnered over 19 million views. Think about that. Over 19 million views (be prepared for some foul language).
But in this Internet age, such content seems to have become the default more than the exception. Aspiring YouTube stars go to no ends for attention. Has social media made us more narcissistic and insecure, or were we always that way?
Interestingly, Jenna Marbles (her real name is Jenna Nicole Mourey) eventually left YouTube. According to Wikipedia:
“On June 25, 2020, Mourey uploaded a YouTube video, in which she apologized for past offensive comments and blackface, and stated that she would be taking an indefinite hiatus from her YouTube channel.”
The unexamined life
Steven Pressfield, author of the best-selling book “The War of Art,” recently appeared on the popular Rich Roll podcast. When asked where we are today, culturally and politically, Pressfield said that we see a lot of people now who have abandoned honor and integrity.
Pressfield mentioned his father, who was part of the WWII generation, and how people in that era behaved in a certain way. There were standards of conduct and behavior. Certain things people just wouldn’t lower themselves to.
Today, Pressfield observes, people are allowing themselves to sink to new depths. Honor and integrity seem to be an afterthought.
We certainly see this on the nightly news. There are people still playing the abhorrent “knock out game,” which involves slapping, sucker punching, or knocking down an unsuspecting (often elderly) person on the street. Some victims have died from these random attacks, which are often recorded on the smartphones of accomplices.
“The ancient Spartans were a shame-based culture. The Japanese Samurai were a shame-based culture. There were certain things that you just would not do.”
If a Samurai thought that he acted dishonorably and brought shame to himself or his family, he would commit ritual suicide (known as seppuku or harakiri). No one is advocating for seppuku today, but shouldn’t we think more deeply about our behavior? What do we want our children to see and model?
In the podcast interview, Pressfield added, “What happened to the idea of shame? People today are so shameless. Nothing is beneath them.”
Rich Roll responded by stating, “Shame has been trumped by the drive for attention, and what drives attention is drama, and strife, and pettiness.”
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates
Roll went on to observe that such people have become “blind to living an examined life.” Somehow, in this information age of technological advancements, we seem drawn more than ever to superficial entertainment, and shameful behavior.
The model of his own behavior
What can we do today to encourage the examined life, and the pursuit of depth over superficiality? Perhaps the ancient Samurai have an answer for us in their Bushido Code.
According to the writer Tim Clark in his “The Bushido Code: The Eight Virtues of the Samurai:”
“The word samurai originally meant ‘one who serves,’ and referred to men of noble birth assigned to guard members of the Imperial Court. This service ethic spawned the roots of samurai nobility, both social and spiritual.”
The author Nitobe Inazo, in his book, “Bushido: The Samurai Code of Japan,” interpreted the samurai code of behavior and how chivalrous men should act in their personal and professional lives.
What follows are Bushido’s Eight Virtues, as explained by Nitobe.
Rectitude or Justice
“A well-known samurai defines it this way: ‘Rectitude is one’s power to decide upon a course of conduct in accordance with reason, without wavering; to die when to die is right, to strike when to strike is right.’”
“Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness and Rectitude. Courage is doing what is right.”
Benevolence or Mercy
“Love, magnanimity, affection for others, sympathy and pity, are traits of Benevolence, the highest attribute of the human soul.”
“Courtesy and good manners have been noticed by every foreign tourist as distinctive Japanese traits. But Politeness should be the expression of a benevolent regard for the feelings of others; it’s a poor virtue if it’s motivated only by a fear of offending good taste. In its highest form Politeness approaches love.”
Honesty and Sincerity
True Samurai, according to author Nitobe, disdained money, believing that “men must grudge money, for riches hinder wisdom.” In today’s culture, some people will do anything online for attention and money. The Samurai of yesteryear would not have approved.
“The sense of Honor, a vivid consciousness of personal dignity and worth, characterized the samurai.”
“Loyalty to a superior was the most distinctive virtue of the feudal era. Personal fidelity exists among all sorts of men: a gang of pickpockets swears allegiance to its leader. But only in the code of chivalrous Honor does Loyalty assume paramount importance.”
Character and Self-Control
Tim Clark explains:
“Bushido teaches that men should behave according to an absolute moral standard, one that transcends logic. What’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong. The difference between good and bad and between right and wrong are givens, not arguments subject to discussion or justification, and a man should know the difference. Finally, it is a man’s obligation to teach his children moral standards through the model of his own behavior.”
Do the right thing
Of all the eight virtues, perhaps the most important virtue is “Character and Self-Control.” This one Samurai quality, if mastered, can change your life.
Knowing the difference between good and bad, and living with high moral standards, can protect you from bad decisions and guide you to a better life.
Embracing strong character and self-control means living an examined life, where you’ve thought deeply about what kind of person you want to be, and what kind of contributions you want to make to society.
Do you want to spend your days making YouTube cat videos that will be quickly forgotten, or do you want to solve real problems and help improve the lives of others?
“There is but one rule of conduct for a man, to do the right thing. The cost may be dear in money, in friends, in influence, in labor, in a prolonged and painful sacrifice, but the cost not to do right is far more dear: You pay in the integrity of your manhood, in your honor, in strength of character; and, for a timely gain, you barter the infinite.” -Archer G. Jones
Beyond our personal lives, there are many challenges on the horizon for society. Political unrest, climate change, pandemics, and more.
If we as individuals and as a society are going to face these challenges, we’ll need the Samurai virtue of character and self-control more than ever. Learn to embrace this virtue, and you can change your life, and maybe help create a better society, too.