The Madness & the ‘Mean’

The Madness and the Mean: A Review of ‘The Madness of Crowds’

George Brahm

The virtuous man, Aristotle says, is not allured by excess or deficiency. In every circumstance, he opts to act in accordance with the rationally-determined mean between every set of extremes. Thus, he prefers courage over rashness or cowardice, temperance over licentiousness or insensibility, and righteous indignation over callousness or spite. The vicious man, on the other hand, is incapable of choosing the mean and opts only for the extremes.

I have no idea what Douglas Murray thinks of the Nicomachean Ethics. What I do know is that his diagnosis of our cultural moment in The Madness of Crowds sounds very Aristotelian.

The dragons of the past were big and real, Murray says; consider the persecution of homosexuals, the oppression of women, and the enslavement of and discrimination against African-Americans. And we have reached a stage in history where we can say with some confidence that those dragons have been slain by the heroes of old. Yet, we’re not satisfied. Desperate for our own names to be carved alongside those heroes, we seek new battles to fight. And in doing so, we slash away at thin air and at anybody who gets in our way, leaving nothing but carnage in our wake.

Four Extremes

Throughout his four chapters (each bearing a title of one of the constituents of what Murray terms the ‘matrix of oppression’, namely ‘Gay’, ‘Women’, ‘Race’, and ‘Trans’), I have identified at least three major domains in which Murray suggests that, in our madness to slay more dragons, we have galloped past the Aristotelian mean and on toward the extremes in search of new dragons to slay.

… …

Best Conclusion

Murray notes that the internet has made it harder for us to exercise this faculty of forgiving; it prevents ‘historical forgetting’, or the fading away of an event in memory, because of its all-knowing and all-preserving nature. Even long-dead poets like Kipling are not forgiven for their misdemeanors, despite those being widespread among their lesser-known contemporaries; the reason for which, Murray explains, is that “people…think that they would have acted better in history because they know how history ended up.”

Forgiving is important, Murray says, for showing forgiveness is “among other things, an early request to be forgiven”. Yet our difficulty to forgive can be traced back to our losing our grounding in our traditional values. We are in a Nietzschean predicament, for despite jettisoning Christian theology, we still retrieve its ideas of guilt, sin and shame, but as a result of jettisoning the Christian faith, we lack the concept and means of redemption that Christianity provided. And so we continue to struggle in a strange world that finds it difficult to forgive anyone, but especially those who are of certain ideological persuasions.

I only wish Murray had spoken more about how we can start forgiving our fellow men, regardless of our differences. (To be fair to him, he does later talk about our need to extend a ‘spirit of generosity’ towards others if we are to expect things to get better.) But let’s not worry too much, because I think we have two other people we can look to: Aristotle and Jesus Christ himself.

The Aorist (tense)

The Aorist tense is the only thing I know about the Greek language that matters. It’s value to me has not been minimized. I don’t know Classical Greek nor Koine Greek but I learned about Greek verb tenses in college. I am far past college now and I still remember the aorist tense of a Greek verb and its implications for us who believe in a God who was, who is and who is to come.

God in heaven “needed” (in quotes because He is never needy) the aorist tense in a language before He completed all his work on this earth. He waited for the Son to come until that language was expressed and in written form. That is Koinonia Greek.

I will put a few references here to establish the implications of this verb tense for God’s communication to us and for what He has done in our behalf–all without any worthiness on our part.

Thank God for the aorist tense.

For further enlightenment:

The Aorist is so much more than a past tense (Mounce displays the use of the aorist tense in the New Testament)
Dive into the technical in New Testament greek