CONDUCT AND PREFERABILITY:
THE OBSERVED NEED FOR VALUES
© 1998 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.
Extended reflection has led me to a series of topics which are dispersed and inconspicuous and do not readily group themselves as a field of study. They resemble ethics more than any other branch of culture; at the same time, they do not ask us to believe in cosmic obligations on us, and they are not commands for "everyman" (issuing from a moralist, a person claiming to be the consummate everyman).
There is an integration here which has never been pursued before, something which is not ethics but stands next to it. That is what I propose to outline. It is close to "Life-Conduct" and to the psychological premises for law but the focus is different.
A caution for the casual reader. What is omitted in this discussion is as important as what is included. I do not presuppose: doctrinal authority; the same marching orders for all people; prohibitions which come from above as commands; guilt as the state of morale people are to be subjected to.
I speak about what I leave out, and why, in my "critiques of morality" cf. Appendix 2. But it is better to spend the time advancing on an unfettered basis than wrestling with the relics of mental enslavement.
The discussion to follow is spanned by what might be called natural features of the human condition. The fact that humans are born helpless and undergo a long development to adulthood; the fact that culture is acquired; human seducibility, which with respect to addiction involves medical biology; etc. etc. That is a reason for my use of the phrase "natural self-realization."
All the same, any moralist of old would have seen the absurdity of current claims that the perspective of biology and animal psychology is the key to human comportment, that it furnishes commands for human conduct. In fact, this study belongs somewhere in the range spanned by my "Depth Psychology," "Life-Conduct II," "Uncompromising Positioning II." The premises about "nature" invoked here are matters of common observation. Nature and sociality are treated intuitively and there is a code or codes of veracity. So the assumptions are comparable to the common-sense premises of law and the democratic republic, especially the psychological premises. The electrochemical reductionism of modern natural science is not an axiom, and behaviorism is dismissed as silly. A deeper explanation is given in "Uncompromising Positioning II" and "Life-Conduct II."
Given a person who acts in a way that is objectionable to us, was it possible for that person to have acted in a different way?
If a person behaves objectionably, and we believe the person to have had no choice, then do we have choices? If we have choices, then we can attempt to stop the wrongdoers behavior. But, by assumption, we cannot reproach the wrongdoer and elicit remorse.
If we believe that our bad fortune at the hands of the wrongdoer is our fate, our resignation to fate does not supply us with a guide for living. We are unable not to seek our advantage through formation of expectations and choice-making.
Let us summarize. For the concept of responsibility to be tenable, more than one course of action has to be available to me. I have to have a choice upon which I act.
I choose a course of action on the basis of making a temporal calculation of my advantage. That such calculations are possible is a crucial assumption. If the future were unknowable, for example, then there would be no "rational decision-making." (What seems a reasonable calculation of advantage can be met by a stunning surprise, an irony, as when you travel by bus because of a fear of air travel, and the bus crashes.)
Humans are seducible, and humans have a capacity to act selfishly. It is possible for immediate gratification to be extremely detrimental to my selfish interests, never mind the effect I have on other people. Then, discipline is a requisite for many of the personal achievements important to us. In general, there is the possibility for a gap to open between immediate gratification and long-term self-interest (or wisdom).
It is typical to depend on other people, and highly atypical not to do so. (The hermit who is materially self-sufficient, the sole occupant of a desert island a negligibly rare life-style.) Thus it is a disaster for us if our friends are debilitated and demoralized. It is also a disaster for us if we have no comrades, no colleagues, or in other words, if the supply of able people is not replenished. If there are not the personnel to shoulder the work which is experienced as needful. To die of a treatable illness because you are in a remote community with no doctor.
Again, the sociality of everyday life.
(An example. Our culture teaches that the gratifications of sex and marriage have to be deserved or earned on an individual basis. But if something goes badly wrong on a statistical level, as when war sharply lowers the number of young men, then the notion of a husband as a need and a right arises. The supply of men is spoken of as if men are interchangeable resources, rather than "one-and-onlys."
Sex and marriage are no longer individually earned gratifications if the birth rate is too high or too low.)
A human develops from the helplessness of infancy to the relative self-sufficiency of adulthood. That gives human life a natural orientation and imposes solicitousness, rearing, etc. as requisites of survival. Also we may repeat that discipline is a prerequisite for many of the personal achievements which are important to us or which we experience as needful. The childs impulses are overruled; and disciplines are imposed on the child by elders.
In saying this, I do not mean to be an apologist for a prevailing value-system. Collective conduct codes have the effect of maintaining a social tone but equally, they traumatize the unsuited individual, or subjugate people (relative to some unrealized perspective of human realization).
People responsible for a childs welfare usually try to acquaint the child with self-discipline, rational decision-making, responsibility. And again, our self-consignment to fate does not supply a guide for living. We continue to seek our advantage through formation of expectations and choice-making. Voting, and jury duty, presuppose a making of choices which issues from understanding.
People are always developmentally on their way, and it is common for people to make mistakes. People are brought to maturity by cultivation. It is not tenable to discard people wholesale. There is a cultivation of the young and people generally by elders and superiors which understands that there will be mistakes, and which proposes to salvage people by evoking remorse and rehabilitating them. As we say, responsibility is being nurtured. We have the metaphor of the full growth of a person, and responsibility is an aspect of it. Hence the significance of salvaging or improving the wrongdoer, of eliciting remorse and attempting to rehabilitate wrongdoers.
But that provides our first result, that there is a preference for what is called inner freedom. A condition which disables a persons responsibility is undesirable on general principles. The negative lesson lends itself to vivid illustrations. We have the person who is the captive of a base appetite which compels more and more of the interpersonal transactions called lying and stealing. The power of choice slips away. As well, such a person risks losing the ability to judge his or her own qualities; he or she loses the power of discrimination. (But undesirable as impairment of responsibility may be, the opportunity to escape responsibilty is the greatest narcotic.)
The anarchic gratification of corporeal appetites is not what human life consists of. In the first instance, the wealth we have consists not in "bestial gratification," but in mediations, by and large. People are absorbed in imagination and values. And realistically, they are absorbed in the socially conventional "work" in return for which they are fed and sheltered. (This "work" is emphatically not the production of subsistence; the workers are servants of contrived goals.) But then to speak of the imaginative or psychic life as a mediation already concedes too much. It assumes that we are essentially animals and that our imaginative actuation is an accessory we could dispense with. That is sheer prejudice.
Every person, give or take the mentally incompetent, engages in battles over values. Every person seeks some way to elevate his or her ideologically informed esteem above that of other people. Other people demand high posture from you. People are lured to sources of high posture. People are desperate to prop up their ideologically informed esteem. People belittle benefits that are beyond their reach.
What does everyday usage mean by an immoral person or amoral person? For example,
A person who is viciously selfish and deceitful. A gangster or warlord, or vicious conniver.
A person who is always frivolous, facetious, and displays no dedication or commitment.
A prize rascal, somebody who makes a career of imposture and cheating.
A serial killer etc. That may be medicalized as insanity.
What is notable about most of the people called "amoral" is that they engage in a battle over values, and seek some way to elevate their esteem above that of other people. It is not even unusual for them to crusade to promulgate values.
Types of conduct called immoral in everyday usage enjoy organized advocacy in mass culture and marginal popular culture today. I leave the reader to supply the examples. Extracting social status from vice, justifying it and thereby entwining it with a sly claim of justice.
People cannot exist without self-justification, without insisting on their ideologically informed esteem. What is more, people dont stop at justifying themselves. They rationalize their approval and disapproval of all of that which is around them. They dont stop at applauding Kurt Cobain, they excoriate Jesse Helms as if there was more to it than "I dont like him." They debate "gays in the military" as if there were an obligatory answer. People are always clustered at the opposite pole from moral indifference. The literature of rebellion is saturated with indignation. There is, then, an observed need to rationalize preferences.
So, even if we believe that what a person does was never a matter of choice, people are observably involved in value-conflicts, struggles over esteem, the imaginative and ideological dimensions. Social wealth remains imaginative. Hypocracy and delusion are observed often enough. They are ways of evading battles over values which imply the risk of being affected by those battles.
So everyday life takes us entirely outside the province of scientific reductionism. A claim that what a person does was never a matter of choice is untenable if it means that we are animals or robots, creatures of efficient causation. If the claim means that our lives are ruled by fate, science cannot even entertain the speculation.
There is still another hypothesis, that of differences in inborn aptitudes (endowments). But not an inborn aptitude for basketball; an inborn aptitude for "enlightenment," say. By hypothesis, this determinant stands at the beginning of a life; all the same, science cannot entertain its exstence, since "enlightenment" is not a scientific element.
In a previous epoch, authors spoke of the endeavor to cultivate an admirable heart. Today, our ruthlessly commercialized culture assumes that people have a perfect aptitude for selfishness. "When people act selfishly, they put others at risk, or harm others, never themselves. So, it is feeble, timid, to repress an impulse for your own good."
What a perfect example of a failure of wisdom. Further, it illustrates: seduction at the ideological level, as opposed to the chemical level. It illustrates: high posture drawn from a contemptible source, namely the publicists of nasty bohemia and so forth.
The old notion was that there is an excellence, a perfection, which a person should try to reach the aforementioned full growth of a person. (Do we want any part of ourselves that is admirable or self-rewarding to die from suppression or disuse?) Today, this notion of excellence is savagely repulsed. People are admired most for doing what wisdom teachers have taught for ages not to do. Admired for setting the worst examples, for leading theatrically negative lives. Its the Kurt Cobain value-system. The precept of cultivating an admirable heart is idiotically beside the point in this milieu; it would be ridiculed to death. (Of course, that does not preclude todays celebrities of transgression from standing on towering pedestals of moral superiority when it suits them. That is the most important lesson about them that I have to offer, their steel fist in their rotting glove.)
Notwithstanding the prevailing attitudes, let us explore the notion of cultivation of an admirable heart. Are we talking about the attainment of decency? The attainment of decency does not seem outstanding enough to be the goal we have in mind.
We begin to learn some advanced lessons. The cultivation of an admirable heart is not straightforward: because the virtues militate against each other.
The wisdom of punishment, retribution, revenge. Not to battle wrongdoing harms the victim; on the other hand, the futility of vengefulness, the counsel of forgiveness and mercy. The distinction between revenge on an individual level, as a sequel to rage; and punishment carried out by the body politic, which should not be an act of passion.
Modesty; on the other hand, boldness. Prudence; on the other hand, daring. Firmness; on the other hand, flexibility. Chastity; on the other hand, sensuality. Splitting the difference between these comportments is a mediocre, timid solution.
People are asked to be steadfast for good, and implacable toward evil; but at the same time to be soft, forgiving and merciful. People are supposed to eschew vices but are loved for having vices.
There are other reservations about the admirable heart as a goal.
Glorification of the admirable heart can overlook a greater wrong. We might imagine that Marcus Arelius had an admirable heart, but the regime which he headed was by todays standards reprehensible. Thomas Jefferson was an amiable, moderate man, but that can hardly be our complete evaluation of this slaveowner.
As I will expand on below, I disapprove vehemently of the average persons aspirations and venerations: so the notion of an admirable heart has no reality to me. It is a theoretical conceit. If the average person has an admirable heart, then its of little importance, because the average person is complicit in a hellish life.
The people I count as my friends have not remotely taken the path in life that I have. They do not walk shoulder-to-shoulder with me at all.
People who are wicked in certain well-understood senses, such as hit men or loan sharks, are not prospective pals of mine anyway. Merely avoiding being bad in that sense is not nearly enough. There are a vast number of personal issues not stipulated in positive law or "moral" law which determine whether I find a person admirable. Inspiration creates itself. A somewhat admirable heart may be a necessary condition; it is not a sufficient condition.
(a) Understanding, sensitivity, resonance cannot be commanded by a moralist. It is a privilege to have understanding, sensitivity, resonance, to give. It is a privilege to be capable of seriousness and originality. A less delicate way of putting it: to be deficient in these respects is not a choice. (Unless we can argue the suppression of advantages because they only lead to frustration which may be exactly what is happening.)
Speaking of the admirable heart, what attitude shall be commended and cultivated toward the naturally disadvantaged such as dwarfs? Its a profound question. Primitive societies kill certain atypical infants without scruple, pruning them out of the population. Children are cruel without scruple toward those who are different. The adult collective, on the other hand, may develop and impose a code of generosity and graciousness toward the naturally disadvantaged.
Once the collective, the body politic, has opted not to deal with the naturally disadvantaged via euthanasia, then to mock their difference, or disability, is sadistic.? Actually, it is rather unexpected and rather fascinating that the adult collective arrives at this posture of generosity.
However, in our society, the adult-urged graciousness towards dwarfs exists side-by-side with the marketplace ethic of Darwinian ruthlessness. The unctuousness of the United Way exists side-by-side with the marketplace ethic of Darwinian ruthlessness.
People cannot abide by broad, simple norms. They have more than one "being" with other people. Hence the appearance of "intricately nuanced" conduct codes.
Elsewhere I ask the reader to state norms for sexual conduct which will allow people to practice and preach exactly the same thing. It may be impossible. Perhaps there cannot be a hypocracy-free social code.
The foregoing remarks need further qualifications. I am speaking of the responsible middle of society, if you will. But a subordinate theme runs through this essay: the recent mystique of hipness. That mystique, as I note again and again, dupes its audience. There are segments of society with respect to which generosity to the less fortunate is not only admired; you will be pilloried if you are not gallant enough to them. At the same time, cruelties which the responsible middle would deplore are glorified in the name of hipness. In other words, and we need to be clear on this, there is a large hipster constituency for sadistic gloating such as adult collectives in the past wanted to curb. But although the hipster product intimates that it gloats at all abuse, in fact it exempts large politically protected segments of society, as I just said.
We can make a distinction between:
what you supposedly owe other people.
honor whose first beneficiary is yourself.
Evidently the name for the latter is character. Constancy, persistence, decisiveness are examples of character. To be indecisive, for example, is likely to be to your disadvantage. Indecisiveness does not concern your obligations to other people unless we take a remote view, unless we view obligation as co-implicative with sociality. Then indecisiveness carries the liability that you may fail other people who expect to count on you.
There are cases where public opinion rejects obedience to ones superiors as a justification for the deliberate harm of other people. There are also cases where people experience moral dilemmas they are unsure what course of action will cause them the least remorse. Then morality abruptly stops being an affair of platitudes.
If one tries to express what is ideally the point of morality, one comes up with such principles as the following.
Not to injure another person for a selfish reason.
Reciprocity, defined as treating another person as you would want them to treat you.
To help the needy who have no legal claim on us.
Here is where the criminal individualists have something worthy to say to us. These principles sound altruistic. However, when they are wanted to be universals, they are dubious and do not attain the goal they proclaim. There can be objections to moral universals in the name of rationality and wisdom.
Reciprocity as a moral precept is in fact a canard. In a wide range of respects, other people cant treat you the way you want to be treated, and they would be weirded out if you treated them that way. I will supply further explanations in other writings.
Great praise is given to generosity toward the less fortunate; but isnt charity merely the patronization of the powerless by the powerful?
Let us take stock. I have pointed out that conventional ethical pontification is a game of intimidation and of spurious plausibility. In fact, commended virtues are contradictory; and to play it safe and split the difference is dubious as well. And because the moral universals sound altruistic, they are never checked to see if they check out as admirable or tenable.
I would also propose that the social posture on homosexuality or abortion or criminality of addiction is just like the social posture on loans at interest or capitalist entrepreneurship. Civilization has displayed a long-term evolution in which different stages can be discerned. Societies always find some individual satisfactions expendable in the name of maintaining the social tone. When a given posture is officially commended, that heralds that a certain historical stage has arrived, no more and no less. While there may be good reasons for various conventional virtues, they are not defensible as absolutes even from within moral discourse.
But that is not the half of it. My commitments force me to say that the average person never awakens to what is important, being submerged in commonplace dramas and delusions. It is all very well to prevent the descent into savagery, but I expect something beyond that. In consequence, a social code of "practical interest" may impact on me and what is precious to me like a war of annihilation. So, as I will repeatedly insist, this study overlaps with ethics, but is directed somewhere else.
But there is more to be said at this juncture. There is a second result which is simple but far from trivial. We might talk about whether lying, betrayal, stealing, assault are or are not preferable to the person who acts in these ways. But if you decide that deceiving is advantageous for you, it may be a means of injuring me, and that may guarantee that it is disadvantageous for me. The situation is polarized by something other than abstract good and bad. You disclose yourself as my enemy, and then, if I am self-interested, I am made your enemy.
But then I have interests. Has this been said yet? It is far from trivial.
Your act invites a sanction, not from a moralist, but from me. The circumstance that you can harm my interests already polarizes the zone in which we interact and already makes the boomerang effect a possibility.
This observation is not the whole story, of course. A single harm may issue from the malefactor in a circuitous way or may issue from the social fabric. (It can be elementary, the malefactor may never have been taken aside by a credible mentor and told how to act.) Retaliation may not be the best remedy, or it may be no remedy at all.
There is a special case which I have mentioned in passing, that of seduction at the ideological level. Such seduction may not only disadvantage me if it succeeds with me; it may disadvantage me if it succeeds with third parties, inciting them against me. It is precisely because we live through imagination and values that ideological seduction is possible. The propagandist operates on peoples vulnerabilities, and lures them into a commitment against their interests. Ideological seduction is interesting to a rhetorical theorist, because it is poison-candy discourse. The mark has to be brought to a destination which was hidden throughout, or which can only be disclosed after the marks judgment has already been warped.
Ideological seduction as a harm is set apart in modern Western thought precisely because the responsibility for safeguarding ones mind is believed to rest entirely with the individual. Other people should attempt to do no more than prepare the individual for the fray while he or she is young. But the states treatment of harm the legal matter is not what this section (or this essay) is about. The point is that not only is it bad for me when the propagandist dupes me, it is bad for me when the propagandist dupes third parties. The propagandist strikes at me and I become the propagandists enemy. It polarizes the zone in which we interact and invites the boomerang effect.
The propagandist entitles himself to try to dupe the mark by throwing the entire responsibility on the the mark for protecting his own mind. (And a person who has attained their full growth, as we say, treasures the responsibility doesnt want a filter between self and the marketplace of expression.) If the propagandists message is aimed against responsibility, against the self, against the mind, then it is highly ironic that the propagandist invokes the marks responsibility as the exculpation of his or her malice.
But we are passing by a profound lesson. Our own attitudes can seduce us if we do not know to check them. Attitudes can take over like a red haze and cause us to destroy precious opportunities of ours or of other peoples. And speaking of destroying other peoples precious opportunities, there is another lesson. We can harm other people without hating them and without wanting the consequences of our act. Its called being reckless.
When I pointed out that the justification of the virtues falls short on its own terms and on my terms, I did not mean to be cavalier toward the virtues. Certain of the virtues are indispensable to our fellowship and our endeavors. As I spell out in "Uncompromising Positioning II," my endeavors require a code of veracity and so forth. To put it negatively, it is necessary to eschew lying, consuming resentment, betrayal, carelessness, stealing, etc.
In fact, the codes of conduct which I commend may have considered reasons which are specific to me. Let me review two examples.
(i) Our endeavors cannot go forward with participants who have a loyalty on whose behalf they have to lie to me and thrust distorted interpretations upon me. It means that their so-called views and ideas are warped around a loyalty which they hide. Hidden non-intellectual baggage comes to light which overwhelmingly conditions the intellectual postures people assume. And they hide their loyalty not only because it is shameful, but because they do not want to be made to give it up.
(ii) My endeavors require me to be honest with myself in reporting the episodes of my life. (Dreams and drug trips and imagery of drowsiness are to be written down accurately for ones own usegive or take the problems with anomalous phenomenology which are not our concern here.) Why? because the star of my show is myself not the fictions I can produce consciously. My dreams continually present me with what I would not have willfully invented; and that is what I want to know about. The episodes which comprise my longitudinal identity are evidence. If I eclipse this evidence with conscious fictions, then pieces of myself are irrevocably erased. I am honest because this partially unknown territory which is me is valuable to me. If I were to fabricate my dreams, I would pronounce my self to be worthless, and would have annihilated myself in a certain sense. If I am content with an invention, then my self was of no use.
The person who falsely reports their dreams pronounces themself to be worthless, wants to trash themself. If you falsify your dreams in a journal, it means that the evidence which comprises yourself fills you with such shame that you have to invent a persona for yourself to prop your esteem up. I have the same reaction to this that a medical pathologist would. We need to know the worst. Fiction never improves on the truth in these endeavors.
Let me proceed by insisting on my vantage-point. I have to say that most people set a terrible example. The question then arises whether they are absolutely in the wrong. In the past, I wanted to avoid that question. We encountered superior obscurity and we encountered the ordinary person. Superior obscurity is rare. I happen to be a partisan of superior obscurity, and I want to recruit for it. I never claimed that everyone should, or can, be that way.
One may ask whether it is provably, absolutely better to be a hero than to be a non-hero (somebody who takes the low road, a mug). For decades I hoped that I did not need an answer to that question. In fact, the question is rigged so that it makes me feel as if I am being baited by the host on a ghastly talk show. It was forced to my attention by the course of hipsterism after 1975 or so, which praised the person who takes the low road as the hippest of the hip.
What is normal for most people is not what I want for myself. There is no known way of making the masses different from what they are. It is an open question whether, or to what extent, the hero and the mug are playing with the same deck. People make choices but perhaps they are not capable of existing on any level other than the one they are on. But that would mean that they are captives of fate or endowment.
Speaking not of the mug but the ordinary person, palpable issues of responsibility are left unaccounted for if we imagine that the ordinary person is being steered by fate. And if the ordinary person is steered by fate, why not the upward deviant as well, or more so? Are we in fact puzzling over the scope of responsibililty and the scope of fate? Are the relative scopes supposed to be different for different types of people?
Our disappointment with the ordinary person puts us in mind of a tension between two evidences or hypotheses.
1) Hypocracy and delusion are normal, and we should not be surprised that most people abide with them.
2) Arrangements which a social observer can see are superstitious, unfair, cynical, etc. may yield survival, but they do not yield self-reconciliation and contentment.
Commenting on (2), one cannot only judge by the face people show publicly, because people hide their disappointments in order not to be culled from the herd. In fact, if you have frequently lifted the lid on peoples lives, you begin to discount their cheery self-possession instinctively.
Let me attempt another statement. "Enlightenment" is assuredly a privilege. We can imagine that its achievement or non-achievement is fated, or is determined by inborn aptitudes. I already said in (a) that "awareness" is a privilege, and that lack of it is not from choice. It would follow that most people belong within their limitations and may be expected to be content. "One of the advantages of being stupid is that nothing bothers you."
But what are we to make of the evidence of discontent; of people who take refuge in pathetic beliefs; of people who harness themselves to endeavors which merely stall for time, or which destroy them, to no point? Do we see self-reconciliation, or do we see solace in shared inferiority, and concealment of disappointments from casual acquaintances?
In my view of "enlightenment," most people are stumbling around on a battlefield and do not understand the battlefield. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the battle is that there is no best-selling tourguide directing you to "meaning." You have to discover it piece-by-piece without a tourguide. Most people cant stand that they cant stand living by independent judgments.
If people have a chance at "meaning," by my standards, most of them lose it. A life must be its own reward. In that sense, the loss is irreversible, and in that sense, we cannot give any meaning to the claim that the person had the potential.
And yet, we hesitate to deny the potential. Amusingly, nobody ever wants to be told that he or she didnt have the potential. The "cynics" cynicism does not extend to that sort of self-effacement.
Small children provide various lessons in this connection. They can, for a time, be content with elementary pastimes. At the same time, those who work with small children observe that "creativity" is much more evident in them. Then elders deliberately squelch that "creativity." The explanation given is that the child has to "grow up," but maturation or adulthood does not intrinsically have anything to do with extinction of the "creativity." What replaces the creativity is not maturity, but adaptation to monetary reward or some other servitude.
An adult can be temporarily absorbed in an elementary pastime also. But the adult has been extended by imagination and values and socially conventional "work." The adult is in the midst of a larger world and that world deliberately beats down the "creativity" which may delight an observer of a child.
I can read it like a doctor reading disease. The adults major loyalties cannot possibly yield self-reconciliation. But then people are at risk of not being reconciled with themselves. Where does that come from at all? And: self-disgust, like attenuation of responsibility, is undesirable on general principles.
But that means that whatever path our subjects have taken has grave liabilities. Lift the lid on their lives, and you discover that they know that something is out of whack. The door which was open in childhood, perhaps, is not so easily forced closed. But people will avoid what is wonderful because it disrupts their resignation or because it disrupts their ability to manage their lives. And they do not remotely have the personal resources to uphold a self-rewarding self-expression.
There are reasons why I thought that a proof that it is better to take the high road than the low road was the wrong direction to go in. If we who take the high road are able to win what we seek, then it it is automatically compelling for those who take the low road. Never mind the enchanted community we hope for; those who take the low road are slaves to every technoscientific development. Sanctimonious pronouncements cannot substitute for the actualities, nor do they add anything to them.
But now, if we attend to the mug as he parades his or her high posture, outlines of a formal answer to the question whether it is better to be a hero or a mug begin to appear. They become the center of this discussion.
We may begin with the observation that we are oriented creatures, programmed for maturation from infancy, capable of happiness and unhappiness. There are longitudinal issues in personal identity which the mug has no way to escape precisely because he or she is a mug. A mug has no means to escape truth-polarization or natural self-realization. The mug jeers at truth and integrity but the jeers are asinine, they cannot deliver him or her from the plane on which truth and integrity are compelling. (So the mug is involved in a picture-perfect con job on pride.)
The mug incurs the consequences of deceit and dishonor long noted by wisdom teachers. (Although, as the criminal individualist will remind us, dishonor can be very rewarding, especially if you are insensible to higher satisfactions.)
Actually, the natural quest for happiness, which interacts with ones longitudinal identity, is complicated: in that it is common to make psychological sacrifices to gain some pleasure. As when a person announces that he or she is sick and enters a sanitarium in order to escape from horrible demands which social life places on the able-bodied individual. Or when a person finds love in a dubious and illusory personal relationship, when ones friends are saying, "how can you worship that person?" But just that supports the observation that people generally are not only oriented, not only longitudinal, but sustain elaborate hierarchies of aims and norms.
Skipping to a different evidence, inspiration as I define it is an observed actuality for some people. (See "Whole Human Comportment" and "Life-Conduct.") If we add inspirations dynamics to the picture, the outlines of a natural preferability become more and more visible.
(b) If one adopts certain personal goals, one may in turn discover a certain code of conduct far from what is comfortable to the average person which is realistically required if one is to progress to those goals. One discovers a personal code; or perhaps one is herded to that code by the school of hard knocks.
In my case, the code is the self-motivated contemplative and ascetic life. (And the appreciation of treasures which are hidden because the public does not welcome them.) Then there is no point in talking about learning this code from a mentor, even an atypical one, today. Todays cultural leaders glorify the most pandering and wanton conduct. The only way the aspirant arrives at the code in question is by arduous personal discovery.
(We still have not resolved the issue of destiny. Is the contemplative and ascetic life a discovery, or is it a rut holding a few people captive, to put it unflatteringly? Was the aspirant at any risk of failing to make the discovery and consequently losing him- or herself? I dont know.)
(c) One has a stature which one can come to appreciate only as one strives to win oneself. Nevertheless, the "full growth of the person" extends beyond any purpose which one can author; the undefined opportunity (ones possibility, as they say) always extends beyond oneself, and that ought to evoke awe and respect.
I could try to state my conclusions in a non-affirming way. If you are stupid enough to judge yourself, then I can trap you with your self-disgust. But do we have any business calling self-judgment stupid? Condescension toward the human lot is a stance which can easily be overdone, especially when we turn it on what is at the center of almost everyones life.
Let me consolidate some earlier conclusions. There is a preference for my capacity for responsibility. There is a preference for myself as evidence, over any fictitious past I can concoct to impress other people or to puff up myself. We begin to see the outlines of an explanation of the metaphor of the full growth of a person; and an explanation of respect for ones consciousness.
respect for my undefined possibility
preference for myself as evidence, over any fiction
preference for the capacity for responsibility.
And I dont know whether it belongs here, but:
preference for an undimmed life-tone, for unretarded actuation
preference for the sensitivity, originality, etc. which are gifts.
A further conclusion: it is possible to abuse ones consciousness, to commit crimes against oneself. That is an advanced lesson.
The premise that possibility extends beyond actuality comes to the fore. It comes to the fore in connection with responsibility. It comes to the fore when we say that people irreversibly lose the chance at "meaning." Is it empty to speak of what they might have done? "They could have arrived at meaning but didnt." Is the interpretation that "we," our juniors, have the chance to avoid this dereliction in the next generation? Or is that interpretation nullified because the dereliction is a perennial human condition?
Seemingly what our analysis most needs is an understanding of potentiality.
Perhaps I want to ride over the same territory which ethics does, but in a different vehicle. But then it is all the more important to insist that it is a different vehicle that you cant get where I want to go in the old vehicle. It does not surprise me that I "have values," that I am a partisan person. It does not surprise me that I arrive at something other than the "jaded" posture of punks and deconstructionists, which is so unbelievably thin and duplicitous. All the same, the explanations I am giving of these points belong to a field of study which does not have a name.
Observation (b) above is a faint, long-term lesson which is why I overlooked it in past years. So is observation (c) if one credits it. (And it is hard for an experienced person not to credit that he or she can commit crimes against self.) Having come this far, lessons (a) - (c) cast an unexpected light on our topic, and are worth careful thought. They exhibit preferability where previously I saw no preferability. It is better to be a hero than a mug if you want to get something out of your own life.