Thomas Martin is the O. K. Bouwsma Chair in Philosophy at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Along with his fellow colleagues who are dedicated to the study of the Great Books, he teaches the works of Plato, Aristotle, and G. K. Chesterton.
Can Justin Bieber reinvent himself?
This question is posed under a portrait of Justin Bieber in a recent issue of Men's Health, the Reinvention Issue.
Justin is shirtless with his hands clasped behind his head, displaying a buffed upper body decorated with tattoos, both arms sleeved with roses, stars, a tiger, a joker, a crown, vixens, etc. Beside his right ear the caption "It's time for me to grow up."
Be this as it may, implicit in the question "Can Justin Bieber reinvent himself?" is the idea that Justin started as an invention.
No doubt some Hollywood-type talent agent took this raw youth who could keep a tune, sat down at the drawing board and manufactured a teen idol for pubescent girls and boys plugged into i-Tunes.
Justin's stock soared but, alas, his youth faded and he ran into his mortality - Justin turned twenty-one. Gone is the teen idol.
So, his handlers went back to the chop-shop for the reinvented, post-millennium, twenty-something hooked on his sexuality.
And it worked. The reinvention of Justin with his chiseled body just became the new face and body of Calvin Klein underwear.
Of course, in time the reinvented Justin's body will sag, and he will have more skin than he knows what do with and no one will be interested in how he looks in underwear.
The Hollywood fabricators of human idols will then create a new sensation for the masses who sparkle in the light of skin-deep beauty and sensuality. This is the lot of those who are consumed by vanity and neglect their character - their souls! - where true beauty is housed.
It is obvious by the indelible ink of Justin Bieber's tattoos that he is searching for something permanent. This is as it has always been.
Twenty-four centuries ago Aristotle noted that man is the creature who is inherently made for happiness and that the happiness man is seeking is something permanent. This happiness is a good of the soul and not one of the goods of the body, the external goods, which are subject to rot and rust.
The goods of the soul are the seat of character whose permanence is a virtuous activity in conformity with a rational principle. For example, you should never return a harm with a harm - by murdering, stealing, or commiting adultery.
Aristotle is the father of the "purpose-driven life" that is essential for a happy life. In his own words:
In speaking of the proper function of a given individual we mean that it is the same in kind as the function of an individual who sets high standards for himself: the proper function of a harpist, for example, is the same as the function of a harpist who sets high standards for himself. The same applies to every group of individuals, the full attainment of excellence must be added to the mere function. In other words, the function of a harpist is to play the harp; the function of the harpist who has high standards is to play it well.
This is common sense; the proper function of a harpist is to play the harp. The virtue of a harp player is to play the harp well.
You were not born playing your instrument any more than you were born speaking; however, you have the capacity by nature to learn to act your given part, speak well, and master yourself. This is not easy. It helps to have good teachers and to practice.
This is the classical way to be happy and fulfilled: find your natural function, imitate those who are virtuous and avoid those who are vicious.
In short, practice virtue and overcome vice. Justin Bieber, like all of us, can cultivate himself for happiness - but does he know how? *