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The Factual Platform for Justifying Claims

© 1998 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.



A. Dependence, conflict, justification

B. Injuries or wrongs

C. Abusiveness, vengeance, inverted self-regard

D. Justifying claims in dreams

E. Interdependence and duty

F. Occupation, reward

G. Morality as cultural history

H. Interdependence and occupation

I. Service larger than the reward system




A. Dependence, conflict, justification

Human relations includes a multitude of issues which are typically managed by moral doctrines and moral codes. These issues arise from a platform of fact: such as an adolescent’s disobedience of his father. (I could have said, these issues arise from social-psychological fact. But that is misleading in a certain important way. It could suggest that we bypass understanding, or comprehension, of the justifications of deeds in order to refer them to blind causes. To the contrary, when I speak of psychology here, I mean considerations which understanding or comprehension is occupied with. The adolescent and the father make justifying claims.)

As with any code, a moral code furnishes a series of injunctions – after having conceptualized the arena to which these injunctions apply. Rape, and welshing on a loan, both aggrieve an aggrieved person, but morality places these aggravations on different levels.

What we now do for the first time is to delineate the factual platform: without assuming any injunctions for "everyman"; and without assuming the moral classification of deeds. This psychology allows for both sexual assault and non-repayment of a loan as injuries to targets – without mentioning the moral classification which calls the former far more serious than the latter and makes both injustices.

We are continually assailed by other peoples’ self-justifications and other peoples’ indignations, whether those claims are well-founded or not. The factual platform of these claims is correlative to a number of truisms which traditionally are the non-injunctive portion of ethical wisdom.


Human deeds have repercussions.

People need each other (prior to formalized obligations).

People live in immensely complicated networks of mutual obligations.

People can form adverse interests and these interests get arbitrated.

Expanding on these truisms,

I may not be able to survive corporeally without other people.

Other people are opportunities for my gratification, my fulfillment.

I must continually impress other people favorably, rise to their standard, in order not to be rejected and discarded.

Other people impose imaginative cultivation of life on me – sometimes called a culture, or life-mode.

When we speak of matters dimensioned by these truisms, we are pursuing the proposed psychology.

As we see, there are two ways of defining these matters. On the one hand, I can define them looking out at the world and the collective from my vantage-point, the vantage-point of a generic individual.

On the other hand, one can rise to a level of abstraction on which relations between people are defined equidistant between both parties, or isotropically. An appeal; a promise; a demand; an obligation. Our study needs both the focal perspective and the isotropic perspective; that it needs the isotropic perspective is an important lesson.

Individuals acting simultaneously produce social circumstances which then confront individuals as general, impersonal conditions – an example is an economic depression. The individual acts in society and society cannot be taken as inert. Society displays emergent phenomena which have a career of their own. We may note that:

–Society divides in many interested bodies. As a result, an individual act which is revered by some is hated by others.

–Society evolves through the interplay of opposing interests.

–Social tides overwhelm the effect of the individual choice.

–Society both produces individual roles and cancels opportunities (marriage, the entrepreneur, war, economic depression).

Although it is not our task to defend customs and social codes, they exist, and give collective life a temper. The temper of homosexual life changed greatly as between the Fifties and the Nineties. In the Fifties, homosexuality was criminalized and its community was underground. In the Nineties, homosexual life was promoted as a garish party, with an edge of desperation introduced by an epidemic affecting homosexuals. One individual cannot choose, or produce, a collective temper in this sense.


Returning to the factual platform, let me name it the psychology of inner and communicated self-justification, and social control. The immediately preceding remarks explain why our study needs to include social control and to be isotropically cognizant of interpersonal relations.

Questions of self-justification have different modes:


–a self-justification quandary

–a self-justification dispute

–self-justification advice.

Consider some issues of social conduct which can be framed in terms of how they relate to self-justification.

–What is the collective adult attitude if an older youth mocks a natural disadvantage such as being a dwarf or midget, or mocks a prosthesis such as thick eyeglasses?

–What is the collective adult attitude if an older youth jeers at the swollen appearance of a pregnant woman?

–What is the collective adult attitude if a person sees a child straying into the street and does not act until the child is hit by a car?

–Should a friend or family member perform an intervention for an addict?

–Should a Russian general who needs money sell a nuclear weapon to a terrorist?

The adult collective may have typical norms on some of these matters which demand solicitous conduct. Where do these norms come from? In some cases, the individual is demanded to defer to what is advantageous to the community. Not so easily explained, perhaps, is the discovery of kindness as a general principle. But there is an equally important consideration which our analysis will amplify. The commercial society we presently live in is in deep confusion about how the demanded conduct is to be motivated – since I haven’t been hired, or paid, to be solicitous, to pull children from in front of cars, to intervene for an alcoholic, to care what a stranger does with a piece of hardware I sell them.

B. Injuries and wrongs

Suppose A kills B. That act of itself belongs to animal psychology and does not concern the proposed psychology. We are searching for the factual platform of moral claims. Only when we have the psychology of self-justification, reputation, social control do the moral claims arise.

If A is an executioner, for example, then we have A’s self-justification and the justifications of onlookers, and the killing becomes a topic for us. If A is a soldier killing on the battlefield. If A performs a permitted human sacrifice. If A is a physician administering euthanasia. Even if A is a criminal killer, A will justify self to self, or else condemn self; as well, the issue of justification (and retribution) will arise for both the murderer’s and the victim’s "intimates" (family/friends).

It is when an act is given an explanation, a significance, that it becomes a topic for our psychology. The practical acts of life are sculpted culturally. They are intertwined with long chains of symbolism. Sunglasses were invented as a shield. Then they became a badge of hipness.

But more is at stake than mere badges of glamour. Whether a practical act is desirable, beneficial, at all. Is it a benefit to society if a physician treats a patient and heals him? What if the patient is Hitler?

The major crimes (murder, rape, robbery) are recognized as such in every literature from the earliest times. And yet. When an act is defined as a crime, it is being culturally molded. Is killing always a crime? Not if it is an Aztec sacrifice, not if it takes place on the battlefield. Is rape always a crime? Not if it is droit de seigneur. Among American Indians, consent to be tortured is a badge of honor.

Hazing: when the wielding of the power of status, and sadistic glee, are encouraged.

What is at issue is not only whether we have an injury which can be indicted by a prosecutor of the state, but whether it is, in fact, an injury. Smoking is a graphic example. Smoking began as a vice. Then it became a badge of glamour and a device of sexual seduction. It even went beyond that. The working class came to believe that smoking was a privilege of their class. Women were told that smoking meant that they had arrived, that they were as good as men. The ritual and glamour of smoking were elaborately celebrated in mass entertainment and advertising. So, although smoking is medically nothing but a grievous injury, it was treated as a privilege and a badge of glamour. But it didn’t stop there. Smoking was announced to be medically harmful. But people continued to smoke, insisting that what they did with themselves was their business. Then there was a social crusade against smoking, focusing on second-hand smoke.

Finally, smokers began to blame their suppliers, the cigarette manufacturers, for causing them to smoke and thus to pay the suppliers to kill them. At the time of writing, the cigarette manufacturers face demands for massive reparations which could bankrupt them. Suddenly, the average smoker, who defiantly continued to smoke after knowing it was harmful, has transferred all the responsibility to the suppliers.

This social history illustrates in full the degree to which the significance of acts is culturally molded and surrounded with symbolism, the degree to which both an injury and a crime are matters of perception, and the degree to which responsibility can be transferred by changing public opinion.

Another lesson here is that some acts are the topic of bitter disputes over their permissibility. (Abortion, homosexuality, pedophilia, in recent decades.) For other acts, what is uppermost is that they are known to be injuries but are interpreted as privileges and as glamorous (comparable to wearing sunglasses).

Smoking is an inverted gratification in that it is an objective injury which is understood as a gratification. Another example is cosmetic self-mutilation. Another example is religious flagellation. Here is where we begin to understand the extent to which the human search for gratification unfolds in the mind – the monumental extent to which it is a matter of interpretation.

More examples. A dueling scar. Torture as a badge of honor among Native Americans. Attending a John Cage concert. Suicide in Japan versus suicide in Catholic Europe. Is suicide necessarily a harm to the perpetrator? To the perpetrator’s "intimates"?

A crime is a blow to the victim’s interests. At the same time, to gain social acknowledgement of a grievance, and to be publicly classified as a victim, can be an asset to the victim. (Cf. recovery relative to a tort.) The word victimology has been added to English in recognition of these circumstances. Thirty years ago, society defined itself as aggrieved by homosexuality. Public opinion has now reversed to the point that homosexuals are defined as aggrieved by society. Homosexuals have gained a certain number of special protections and compensations in consequence of this recognition.

Conventional thought singles out crimes and victim status from the undifferentiated field of human acts as if they were interruptions to life’s flow. They are singled out by the long chains of symbolism which furnish the significances in question. Exactly as certain events are selected by the media and become News. In a sense, it is necessary to be thusly selective; if all of life were in the wrong, then I should not want to live and the human race should never have lived.

From time to time, pundits (utopian radicals etc.) appear who propose precisely that everyday life is a wholesale crime, that all that is normal is criminal. Indeed, this accusation comes in many, many flavors. Some pundits delight in their own powers of polemic; others are coy about the condemnation they pronounce on the common folk. The only instance I will mention is Lukacs’ argument that capitalism’s commercial mode of life is a a dehumanizing hell. (And I mention it because I think Lukacs would have been right if he had thought it through instead of glorying in his polemical virtuosity.)

Again, I have to emphasize the extent, the monumental or frightening extent to which the human search for gratification unfolds in the mind, the monumental extent to which it is a matter of interpretation. The upshot of Lukacs’ "Reification" is that a life which people may consider to be normal, and to which some are well-adjusted, is a dehumanizing hell. And yet, there is no reasonable way to escape this life, so we are not dealing with a choice. One of the things Lukacs was doing, without fully realizing its significance, was making everybody in a certain historical era the witless victim of a crime. Lukacs did not have the philosphical machinery to handle such an extreme premise.

As I say, some measure of Lukacs’ fault-finding is credible. Yet he misled his readers on three counts. i) He did not tell them that his description applied not only to capitalism, but to all industrial society, including the Soviet Union. ii) He told them that an escape had already been afforded, when in fact there was no politically meaningful escape, and when the Stalinism which Lukacs supported only created new indignities and gave other polemicists much to decry. iii) Not only was there no escape, but the very capitalism which Lukacs decried underwent refinement and maintained the respect of the public.

Lukacs had a gift for satire and rationalization which intoxicated him and led him into folly: convincing himself that normal life was hell, he escaped from normal life into a punitive cult called Stalinism.


Humans presumably have an "animality" which lends itself to squalor, nastiness, cruelty, etc. But animality does not automatically lend itself in this way. It emerges as the latter traits because it is molded in culture to embody those traits. Sometimes there is an official sanctimony and propriety which is more or less suffocating and has already polarized the realm of sensibility. Then the cultural molding of animality reflects this polarization. (We get insolent vulgarity.) On the other hand, animality does not have its bad reputation for nothing. There are miseries that automatically follow sexual infidelity, impulsive aggression, child molestation, etc. Whether these miseries are the decisive consideration is another matter altogether.


To earn merit by being harmed is not limited to vices or seductions, or even discipline. It has another entire dimension called sacrifice. It is part of a fireman’s job description to rush into a burning house to save a child, and we expect a parent to do so as well. One risks a grave loss to protect something precious, when the prospects are uncertain or unfavorable. Here, as well, we have the suicide bomber, the individual who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the ideological group. (This example also reveals a glaring difference in moral theology as between Christianity and Islam. And yet we have the President’s guard, which is supposed to give its life to protect the President if necessary. Death is part of the job description.)

Then people come forward who are envious of sacrifice, people who say, I wish there were something I cared about enough to sacrifice for it. Not only is the human search for gratification a matter of interpretation; not only does it involve the molding of brutish impulses; people judge themselves by whether they have the occasion or the capacity to comport themselves affectively in a human way. To love, or to care, or, perhaps, to be indignant. Passion. Somebody who falls short in these respects is called dull, a vegetable, an iceberg.

Another comportment which is known only to a small minority of the human race, seemingly, is the capacity to observe something keenly and respectfully without judging it. Another comportment is the ability to see through the eyes of a wide variety of people, to stand in the shoes of a wide variety of people. Shakespeare is famously associated with this capacity, because his dramas place widely diverse people alongside one another, and each can hold his or her ground, each evokes respect or empathy in the intended audience. Perversely, our civilization has no honored outlet for this talent except the writing of narrative fiction. Although such a person could also find a niche in psychotherapy.

C. Abusiveness, vengeance, inverted self-regard

How far can we go in explicating moral affections within this psychology? [sympathy, empathy, shame, guilt] Guilt is the emotion evoked in a perpetrator by the target’s indignation. "You owed me not to harm me." This "you owed me" is not gratuitious because we necessarily live in a network of mutual obligations. But the explanation is not good enough. Ways of disappointing another person are treated in profoundly different ways in law and morality. Welshing versus rape.

The dimension we have not yet considered is the insult to dignity. There is an intuitive dichotomy of dignity and humiliation which is crucial in pondering gratification and in pondering the degrees of severity ascribed to crimes. When my dignity is insulted, it means that other people treat my actuation as an individual with contempt, deliberately refusing me bodily comfort, jeering at my wants, my perceptions, my judgments, my explanations (or condemning them).

So: I have dignity in the relevant sense if other people receive my self-actuation in a civil way or a respectful way, showing a preference for my comfort, allowing that I am entitled to seek satisfaction – allowing that my wants, perceptions, judgments are permissible and even creditable.

This definition concerns empirical attitudes between people. We have not yet arrived at the stage where dignity becomes abstract (the inherent worth of all); or the stage where my self-knowledge completely detaches from how I am treated by others, and I confer dignity on myself.

An injury does not have to be a wound to the body. A person who is involuntarily confined receives an injury. A slave receives an injury, even if the body is not wounded. A person who continually has to swallow the contempt of other people because of power relationships is injured. As we have just seen, the name of the injury in these cases is humiliation or an insult to dignity: there is an attack on my actuation as an individual.

What is more, if I do not retaliate against an injury, including humiliation, then I do further harm to myself, both because I turn my own "fight response" inward, and because I announce to my tormenter that he or she will not be deterred. Pacifism, if not completely psychologically unrealistic, is deeply counter-intuitive.

On the other hand, wisdom teachers have long taught that it is extremely foolish to try to avenge every insult in full. Resentment is an affection which endangers the resenter and dulls the life-tone. If anything, it is more prudent to be proactive (to have defenses, to deny the enemy an opening), than to be taken advantage of and have to cope with the repercussions. But a person pays a price in self-isolation for being shielded.

We have chanced on another piercing topic here. There are all sorts of situations in which I realize that a feeling is being evoked in me or elicited from me which I do not want to humor, a feeling such that if I gave into it, I would become damaged or lose something important. Resentment happens to be the easiest example to mention.

As one might say, some of these considerations are highly indirect; they exemplify a dialectical rationale.

All such phenomena belong in our psychology.

Just as smoking is an inverted gratification, there can be an inverted gratification if an insult to dignity is embraced as a gratification or a badge of honor. Hazing in a military academy. A monk’s or nun’s acceptance of the discipline. A Zen acolyte’s acceptance of discomfort and punishment. When inverted gratification is a life-style, we may say that the person’s pride is a matter of inverted self-regard.

Some of the inverted gratifications I have mentioned are disciplines carefully regulated by institutions in the name of noble goals. And so we have the inverted self-regard of the acolyte. But there can also be a subculture which is not enclosed by an institution, in which the encouraged humiliations are not presented as a discipline (supposedly yielding a permanently better person), and which is not surrounded with an ideology of nobility. Instead, brutish impulses, if you will, are molded by interpretation, in a social movement devoted to a mass public manifestation of self-defilement. (Sometimes explained as revenge: we had to do it to show how bad society is.) Thus (as when punk rocker Evil Jared eats a live rat on stage), the acts have to be understood by supporter and onlooker alike as defilements. (The public manifestation would not succeed if the acts were like duelling scars – badges of honor to everyone but the extra-cultural observer.) Hennix describes the punk posture not as "bad is good" but as "it is good that bad is good."


The problem of distortion of judgment – which is most clear in the case of chemical addiction – cannot be overlooked when we speak about inverted gratification and inverted self-regard. The individual’s judgment is distorted across the board because the addict is a slave to corporeal need. Then that judgment comes in conflict with the nonaddict’s healthy judgment. Which judgments shall define what the truth is? Whether or not "everything is cool, no problem." Who shall lead whom?

Our foremost concern here is not with the addict’s corporeal hunger. People are enslaved by the need for approval, and by internalization of the values placed on things by the public. People accommodate themselves to wretched occupations which are pictured as glamorous.

D. Justifying claims in dreams

I have a sense that my dream-episodes are different from my waking episodes in the degree to which claims of self-justification and indignation give them a temper. I concede that my dreams are filled with considerations of propriety, embarrassment, fear, failure, frustration, and disapproved impulses. Moreover, (A) obtains in the experience-world of the dream as much as in the waking experience-world. On the other hand, I am not sure whether shame plays a significant role. And it does not seem that self-justification and indignation are brandished as much in my dreams. Or, if they are brandished, I shrug them off easily. (Moreover, I don’t remember doing things in dreams about which I would feel remorse if I judged them by waking standards.) The question whether dreams are uncoupled from the moral realm allows a profound and subtle determination; but most readers will presumably complain that the question lacks realism.

P.S. The night after writing this (August 23, 1998), I had dreams in which self-justification and indignation were more obviously brandished. Or actually, attitudes were awakened in me which I do not want to encourage. I cannot claim that my dreams are shielded from such considerations. And yet the force of self-justification, indignation, guilt still seems less to me in dreams. Again, the difference, if there is one, requires a delicate elucidation.

P.P.S. I may have to abandon the speculation of the amorality of dreams altogether. Because our psychology wants to know what comportments we are capable of without judging them, and because we are concerned with what we feel and not necessarily with deeds for which we are held to account, dreams are a valuable laboratory for our psychology. The point is not to convict us of an act for which we were responsible. It is to explore what we are psychologically capable of. The discovery of a feeling in me which I do not want to humor. The discovery of an attitude which I thought I had rationalized myself out of. (Additionally the October 30, 1988. The possibility of a total lack of empathy for people whom I concede are sentient.)

E. Interdependence and duty

The rule may be announced to flee suffering and strive for happiness. And yet there is a problem: because of all the inverted gratification and inverted self-regard. Do people know which direction the proposed rule tells them to go in?

Hypocracy is pervasive. Achievements are surrounded with disputes over whether they are beneficial. If we dwell on that, then we may conclude that the arena of human striving has no natural direction at all. And yet by noticing considerations which I’m not showcasing here, natural directions do manifest in the arena of human striving. Then comes the discussion or dispute over what outweighs what. Is a common, presentable life actually a hell?

Or – even if a person is an outright criminal, does it follow that he or she will lose the popularity contest? – that the world will care more about the individual’s victims than about the "glory" which the individual attained?

These questions provide directions in which this analysis can be extended intensively.


When, in (B), I listed self-justification advice as one of the modes, it was not just to complete a roster. Our society is deeply confused, pathologically confused, in the area of self-justification advice.

That is because the only motivation structure which is fully legitimate today is acting for personal gain in the expectation of being fully paid. In fact, the capitalist interpersonal posture is summarized in three famous precepts:

Show me the money.

Mind your own business.

I don’t care.

Bill Gates is great because he is always a step in anticipation of what people most want to pay for. He is not the same as them; he sees the trajectory of their monetary demand and even manipulates it. He has the ability to anticipate commodified need. This is the only superior perception and the only excellence that people in our society are supposed to possess.

And yet it simply does not produce credible results to ask that all service, all postures of one person to another, be motivated in this way. I already mentioned it in the cases of solicitude and sacrifice. A person who fails to save a child from traffic will be greeted with torrential indignation. And yet, nobody hired him, nobody paid him, so so what claim do they have on him? What is more, an older child who jeers at a midget will be scolded by adults, but why? He hasn’t been hired to be nice.

The responsibilities of citizenship. Our country does very little to force people to serve on juries or to vote. People tend to find these duties onerous and to evade them. But, as the political thinkers well understood, if everybody could duck out, then the society would lose the ability to be fair to the individual in the way it had promised to be fair.

An intervention for an alcoholic.

What if it is needful to tell the public at large that they have taken a wrong turn, that they are on the wrong track? To speak prophetically, as it is sometimes called? Ironically, society sometimes rewards people to be its scourges. Las Casas. Chomsky. On the other hand, it is more understandable that if you tell people just what they don’t want to hear, you will be ostracized. Variants on that theme: John Brown; Marx.

The case of intervention in Bosnia illustrates that the public is deeply confused over whether we must intervene to stop war crimes or whether the imperative of solicitousness is outweighed by national sovereignty or refusal of tainted assistance.


I happen to emphasize questions of occupation and reward in this preview because I am personally preoccupied with them. But one also has a so-called private life which has to be sorted out in one way or another. The home in which one finds oneself as a child. Elder-junior relations outside the home. Peers. Avocations. Initiating "relationships" and new families. Are there not more murder-suicides over ended "relationships" than over loss of jobs? There is the case of a mother who believes that her life is over, so she kills her infant children before dying herself (in one way or another). These aspects are acknowledged in Part II.


F. Occupation, reward

The rationality of a "genius’s" expenditure of effort when a proportionate monetary reward is not forthcoming – and what is more, when the monetary reward is reaped by speculators who come later. Wittgenstein; Coltrane; Van Gogh; Mendel. (It is important to understand that astronomy was not Copernicus’ job, it was a secret hobby.)

Let us be clear exactly what is being said here. It is public opinion which today holds the named individuals’ services to the public to have been desirable or indespensable. But prevailing thought today cannot say how many of the now-renowned individuals were to be appropriately motivated. Perhaps Van Gogh, Wittgenstein, John Brown, Marx should have packed it in because the money was not forthcoming. And perhaps there should never be solicitude, sacrifice, an intervention for an alcoholic, civic responsibility. Perhaps people should not force themselves to be kind.

But personal gain and full payment cannot be the only motivation system for assistance to other people, for serving other people. And not everything which has to be pursued formally as a pastime is a mere pastime. The cases I named (Van Gogh, Marx) force the general public to concede that. And it is a staggering concession. And it is even more flawed than that. If you do not rush to another’s help because you are not paid, then people will greet you with a torrent of indignation – if it was them you failed to help.

That is what I mean by saying that when it comes to self-justification advice, present society is pathologically confused.

When we speak of genius, our evidence includes contributions which were made long before they came to be highly valued. But that has to mean not only that the one person’s opinion is superior to that of the many, but that one who has not been hired as a leader has an opinion superior to that of the many. Our society is deeply confused over the degree to which one can see more clearly than the many and over whether it is seemly to insist on it.

G. Morality as cultural history

There is much, in moral posturing as a branch of culture, for a philosopher to appraise. Society has a role for the moral standard-bearer. It is a peculiar job which seems not to require so much ability or accomplishment as a capacity for pity. Mother Teresa, for example. Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Once upon a time, morality may have meant saving people from their rude impulses by exacting upright conduct from them. Morality was the opposite of laxity. It permitted self-interest while limiting it in the name of social good order. But in recent centuries, the popular conception has been that morality consists in treating other people in a philanthropic and conciliatory way, at the same time upholding what is considered to be social good order. (Moral standard-bearers may often contest the established order as insurgents, but unless they are very foolish and intoxicated with their role, they understand that they wish to impose order as much as to demolish it.)

In some cases, moral leaders attack forms of property and statutory discrimination; and the reason they are viewed as moral leaders rather than revolutionaries is that they urge reform without defining the goal as seizure of power. In other cases, they are organizers of philanthropy. So "conscience" has to do with: feeling the pain of the less fortunate, opposing privilege, giving alms. Thoreau. Garrison and Douglas and Stowe. Lillian Wald. Gandhi. Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King Jr. Havel.

Then we may note the cataclysms of moral history, the moral revolutions. The rise of Christianity in the Roman world may afford important examples of the promulgation of novel commandments. (If Christianity was critical in ending slavery, gladiatorial contests, the husband’s power of life and death over the family, legitimate pedophilia.) The Roman Catholic assault on the practice of child sacrifice in the Southern American hemisphere. Las Casas’ crusade against the Spanish treatment of the Indians. The U.S. government versus Mormon polygamy. The Civil Rights movement after 1954 in the U.S. Moral revolutions are profoundly unlike scientific revolutions in that they demand that all people understand an issue and ask all people to act properly. They are either propelled by an army of humble people; or they are imposed by the force of a more evolved government on a less evolved society.

What is conceived as moral subject-matter can be only a fraction of the human adventure. It only gives orders to you which it gives to all other people as well, roughly speaking. Morality is concerned with respecting social good order, and being philanthropic to the less fortunate.

As for the imperative of self-aggrandizement implicit in capitalist society, publicists who defend it are counted as moral geniuses only by minorities of laissez-faire enthusiasts such as the Libertarians. In fact, the thrust of morality in the public mind seems to aim precisely against the Libertarian tenet that I owe nothing to people if I can outdo them competitively. But that is a serious difficulty and we shouldn’t slide over it. Morality enables the capitalist game by compelling respect for private property, by penalizing fraud, etc. At the same time, morality affords a sentimental compensation for the suffering to which large numbers of people are consigned in a polarized society. In that respect, "morality" is in direct conflict with some of the most important signals a capitalist society sends to its population.

On top of that, it is possible to argue that there cannot be a society without hypocracy; that hypocracy is a necessary constituent of a social order.

In the most primitive terms, morality seeks viability of the community. However, the goal is not for all to receive the same reward; it is rather to make privilege and disparity sustainable, palatable. In the longer run, revolutions in morality are correlative with the appearance of more advanced civilizations. A new character is promulgated among the general population. People expect to belong to monagamous families. They expect not to roam the wilderness, and not to produce their own subsistence, but rather to spend the days of their lives indoors, making things of no direct value to themselves in return for money. They learn to conceive their pleasure partly in terms of purchases. (When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.) So moral regulation of conduct is not merely defensive; when new virtues are discovered, then moral regulation of conduct is culturally creative.

In general, morality doesn’t furnish you with ability, content, inspiration. It doesn’t tell you what you should become specifically. Surely that is part of the reason why the topic has never appealed to me.

To repeat, the topic of this manuscript is the factual platform which moral codes essay to manage. Our results can aid greatly in analyzing morality as cultural history, as I have just outlined it. However, the psychological constituents are rationally prior to the sculpting which morality inflicts on them. Nothing requires us to use the results of this analysis to explain the lionization of Thoreau or the U.S. Government’s war on Mormon polygamy. Once we are underneath public moral perceptions, nothing says that we have to argue for them.

Can the psychology which I propose be entirely uncoupled from the moral realm? The cases of permitted cannibalism and permitted incest and permitted human sacrifice in primitive society. There may be customary or labelled behavior which is not surrounded with a systematic ethics. Yet the acts still harm people, we may imagine; life-tone is still affected. Again, whether that outweighs, or is outweighed by, something else remains to be seen.

H. Interdependence and occupation

It is a truism, already implicit in (A), that people are expected to assist other people, to perform useful service. The rule in our society is that such assistance is commanded by the person being assisted, who commands it precisely by fully paying it with money.

But then, to cut a long explanation short, we live not just in any collective but in an advanced civilization. The society is so differentiated, so big, so complicated that various roles become far larger than life, or undergo a qualitative change from what would be expected intuitively. The arena of human deeds and helpfulnesses acquires a monumental dimension and monumental imaginative variety and becomes the great arena. Einstein.

There are people who perform useful service in the great arena in the expectation that their deeds will be fully remunerated. Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Stephen Spielberg. In Jordan’s case, he battles to receive not just an enormous remuneration but his full franchise value. Gates is understood to act solely for personal gain and receives no gratitude as a moral or spiritual leader. Ted Turner is just at the threshold of claiming moral significance for his self-enrichment. Bill Cosby has become immensely wealthy for entertainment on the moral high ground. Stephen Spielberg, Spike Lee have become immensely wealthy for statements of moral leadership. We could even include a fourth case, as when Miramax is fully paid for satisfying the public’s appetite for immoral statements – as if realizing the cash value of the posture of a Lautreamont (or whatever example you prefer).


I. Service larger than the reward system

Our consideration of human dependency, as an issue which moral doctrines manage, has led us to a consideration of occupation or useful service – and of the great arena and the metamorphosis which useful service undergoes therein. As my readers will know, I have a special interest in cases in which the social consumption of talent does not proceed in a routine way. I will devote considerable space to that zone of the factual platform. (It preoccupies me more than the issue of sorting out one’s private life.)

Ironically, those of us who have not been given high status are under an injunction to be humble. So even to theorize about giants or heroes is bothersome; it is taken as an assertion of unseemly self-importance on the part of the theorist. Does a peon dare speak of kings? But I refuse to confine this psychology to the self-justification of nondescript people.

The individual’s service to the world may be certified as a job, and yet transcend the very notion of a job, and transcend what is paid. Einstein placed in humanity’s hands the power to exterminate itself, and so was responsible for an ultimate turning-point in human history. His effect on humanity has been all out of proportion to his remuneration as an employee, and no ideology of individualism can change that.

Salk ended the polio epidemic. Should he have withheld the vaccine until society agreed to pay him its full value? To ask the dual question, did his aptitude for medical biology place an obligation on him to apply it to the service of others? The dual question reminds us that for ages, the idea was that talent was a gift which the individual was supposed to honor. The notion that one should apply oneself in the most mercenary way possible is a descent into ignobility which is historically recent.

Then there is "service" which is not even called a job, or paid – as with the writing of Marx. I am not invoking my own judgments here, I am sticking to judgments after the fact which have been supported by significant segments of the public.

To be realistic, we must note achievements which were not counted because the wrong person brought them to the table. African-American baseball players before the integration of major league baseball. And "ghosted" achievements. Achievements which were commissioned to redound to the credit of figureheads who did not author them.

Another lesson emerges here. A valuable contribution can be made long before it is understood to be valuable. But that has to mean not only that the one person’s opinion is superior to that of the many, but that one who has not been hired as a leader has an opinion superior to that of the many. It runs up against injunctions to be humble – against the "who do you think you are?" test. Our society is deeply confused over the degree to which one person can see more clearly than the many, and deeply confused over whether it is seemly to insist on it.

It is not universally agreed that Marx’s contribution was a good thing. As for Einstein, there are some who would deplore his disclosure which gave us the power to exterminate ourselves. Or, we could say, it is open to question whether an employee of a cigarette manufacturer, or of Union Carbide (Bhopal, 1984), is honorably serving society. They could as well be considered perpetrators of wrongs. Certainly one can find different opinions on the worth of the art of Picasso, the most honored artist of the twentieth century. (Note, incidentally, that the investment value of Picasso’s work is not undercut by any such controversy.)

Speaking of individuals who are larger than life, we have focused on those who purport to take the high road, but we cannot leave out the large numbers of people who are well-rewarded as entertainers for being publicly and luridly ignoble. (Johnny Rotten or whoever you want.) Giants of the low road, also, may not receive recognition until after their deaths. de Sade, who lived and died unrecognized and unpaid, then was glorified as a giant of the low road.

There is such a thing as a negative moral mentor, even though it is not popular to call them that. The public divides over whether Ayn Rand was such. de Sade, again, put a product in circulation, and was not paid its commerical value. Artaud was presumably not paid full value for the product he put in circulation.

Taking a further step toward realism, some people embraced by the public as moral leaders have a phenomenal commercial sense as well. There are also those who translate the morally provocative into vast commercial success. These figures make moral standardbearers of old, such as Thoreau (and negative standardbearers such as de Sade, Lautreamont, etc.) look pathetic. Why bother to get on a high horse if you can’t get paid millions of dollars for it? From a capitalist point of view, the only thing one should do with a moral advantage is to charge every dollar the market will bear for it.

The market principle is that there is a single measure of the value of every useful deed, namely the payment it commands. Moreover, it is a truism that adults are expected to give something back, to render some assistance to others in return for their keep. But there is no single or fixed scale of how useful a deed is, of what service has been rendered. This observation applies to self-created, larger-than-life roles, and it applies to the nondescript employees of a cigarette manufacturer.

Whether we speak of the great or the small, the good guys and the bad guys are often the same people. (Napoleon, Jefferson)

The question of how people are supposed to be motivated to make certain sorts of contributions to society comes up against the question of what is a contribution and what is mischief or harm. What we find is respects in which the arena of human conduct lacks a compass, or, furnishes nothing but a faulty compass.


We may imagine a row of offices in which lurk competing guidance counselers. People come to them at age twenty to ask, "Given my revealed inclinations and aptitudes, what choices should I make so that I will not have to look back with regret at my own choices, so that I will not have to hate myself?"

I shall continue the preceding discussion by developing this thought relative to "geniuses" whose contributions were not recognized while they were alive. So, let the aspirants be the now-famous people I named previously. Suppose they are told, do not ever sacrifice for an "idea," do not persist in a dedication not rewarded with money. Suppose they are told that it is as well, or better, to succeed by being an outright charlatan than by making something that delivers as promised, like a refrigerator.

Then some of the achievements which today are most prized by the public (or most bitterly disputed) would never have come about. All the while, a Marx, for example, would be much too convinced about historical destiny and his place in it to credit such cynical advice, if that is what to call it. The point is that a simple counsel to be mercenary does not produce the results the public now says it wants. [There is such a thing as a self-created, self-rewarding actuation which potentially matters deeply to other people. If Marx had not done his own thing, we wouldn’t even know what he would be depriving us of if he were to sell out. Doing his own thing was the only way he could establish that common understandings did not cover his case.]

Let me restate what is at stake here. It is self-justification advice, what choices to make so that you do not have to look back with regret at your own choices, so that you do not have to hate yourself. I am not endorsing the luminaries’ contributions or the public’s embrace of them. There still remains the question whether the luminaries were under a transcendent obligation to make the "sacrifices" they made. We return again and again to the same lesson. Those who are proud of their cynicism would say that there was no such obligation. But they don’t believe that at all. They would be the first people to damn somebody who stands idly by during what is widely agreed to be a social wrong, especially since they would be likely to be the targets of the wrong.

And there can be no credible explanation why obligation, if there is such, only runs downward, only concerns opposition to evil. Do you really believe that it would not have been anybody’s business but Salk’s if he had discovered the polio vaccine and then destroyed it? People with AIDS, who otherwise have shown no loyalty to the scientific project, demand that science save them.

If there is a transcendent obligation to oppose wrong – but no obligation to actualize the gifts that some may have – then we have fallen into a perspective in which the meaning of life derives solely from contending with the worst that humans can do. If that is what you think, then you imply that it would have been better if humanity had never existed.



I shall delineate the psychology by marshalling various assertions. Because I am finding my way to a new subject-matter, these assertions are meant as a comprehensive sample; they cannot be complete. The rational sequence is only approximate. I cannot follow all of the notions which I employ back to some uniform ontology. The assertions are not necessarily on a par with each other in elementarity or importance. It is also obvious that many of the topics raised could admit vast elaboration.

We live in an interpersonal field of interests and demands such that we have to act; and human separation or individualization necessitates a degree of independence in our action. Indeed, as I observe below, It is collectively obligatory that responsibility for deeds be assigned to individuals. To be portentous, we have to strategize our futures. Other people can define us as having failed and assuredly punish us; and we can judge that we have failed ourselves.


It is not our topic here, but our life is a procession abstractly called temporality.

As is said, while we are alive, we always have a corporeal existence in a world.

We are care.

A baby is absolutely dependent on the solicitude of elders.

We seek our advantages by acting on choices.

During most of a life, we exercise imagination, which we distinguish from our corporeal existence in a world; imagination is immensely important in cognition and in gratification.

We acquire a native language and come to regard its order as inseparable from our awareness. All the same, it is an impersonation, since we were responsible for none of it. (Our selves are wedded to life-long impersonations.)

It is not our topic here, but we engage in an activity called cognition which is everywhere involved in the comportment portrayed here.

We are capable of happiness (felt well-being) and seek it.

We are capable of misery.

We seek our advantages by surmising the future (the cognitive modality called expectation).

Attempts to calculate our advantages which are reasonable can still go awry because we couldn’t see all the contributing causes or because we didn’t consider the consequences of what we want.

We can enter a situation believing that it will reward us or that our own actions can extract a reward from it.

We can fear an event which is presumably just ahead of us.

We can look back at our near past with regret.

Regret can pertain to what external forces did to us; it can pertain to circumstances we chose for ourselves.

We can be covetousness.

We can be envious.

We can deliberately harm other people to gratify ourselves.

We can harm other people by being heedless.

Dependent as we are on other people, we frequently have to accept their promises.

Other people can convince us of falsehoods. We can be deceived.

Other people’s approval is urgently important to us.

Discipline succeeds with us.

The discipline and restraint of our impulses is profoundly to the advantage of other people.

If discipline is coercive or repressive, there is also such a thing as non-repressive self-cultivation. Extending a predilection; escaping stress or constriction.

We can strive for power and independence and it is expected that we will do so, that we will not continue in the dependency and diminutiveness of children.

Because we live in a human field of dependence and selfish interest, pragmatically we need to be able to anticipate other people’s behavior. Many sorts of judgments are called into play.

We can, do, and must classify people into groups according to the impulsive behavior that is likely to characterize them (baby, child, adolescent, adult, elder, male, female, etc.). Impulse-groups.

The communities in which we live espouse public codes. These are rosters of high-order prescriptions of conduct imposed by elders on the young which view interpersonal interaction generically. The highest-order prescriptions are typically negative: that is, they stipulate wrongs. Prescriptions may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. That is, require the same of each person; or place complementary requirements on two people because of their difference in rank. (How a courtier behaves toward a king.)

Cohorts have cohort codes. How a member of a cohort must behave to be liked in the cohort.


A cohort norm concerns acceptance by the cohort. Public norms concern what are called public rights and wrongs. The point of this investigation is that it does not endorse any particular public code. However, such a code is always found; evidently they are pragmatic necessities. They bring to bear a level of disapproval which transcends an individual’s values and which transcends mere unpopularity. The attempt to explain the force of the latter prescriptions for our purposes will encounter circularity. The community’s disapproval is explained by the community’s disapproval. We would be trying to give social explications for such notions as harm, blame, guilt, punishment, remorse.


Pragmatically, we need to be able to envision the paths of other people’s choice-making. That means knowing what impulse groups they fall into; and knowing the applicable cohort code and the public code.

Besides telling us the probable path of another person’s choice-making, the public code tells us what we can demand from other people generally. I can invoke another person’s obligation to the norm if he or she fails to abide by it.

We impose approvals and disapprovals everywhere (called value-judgments).

We need to declare our thoughts, our approvals, our disapprovals to other people.

Most people want justifications for their value-judgements.

People display inborn differences – including those disadvantages called handicaps.

We are subject to ills of the body: misfortunes which can interrupt our plans and/or make us invalids.

When we occupy ourselves in ways that are not wholly conducive, it can temper us. There is an increase in power and independence which comes simply from submitting to this or that institutional culture.

Other people can induce experiences in us which are not veridical. We are suggestible; we can be mesmerized.

We are seducible.

We are capable of sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction need not be reciprocated.

Sexual attraction is not indifferent, it runs to types.

We are capable of the interpersonal attraction called love.

Love allows for infatuation.

Love allows for jealousy.

Love allows for obsession.

For many people, procreation is necessary to feel complete.

As achievements, sex and love are viewed by the community very differently from occupational contributions. They are treated as private personal gratifications, even though psychiatry recognizes them as achievements on an individual basis. Other things being equal, they are not publicized, and do not earn public thanks.

Procreation is an occasion of congratulation or penalty by the community depending on the dominant circumstances and ideology.

We are capable of directing resentment toward, and taking revenge against, substitute targets.

We relieve real frustrations through fantasized remedies (an application of imagination called compensation).

We are susceptible to boredom and will embrace that which is foolish for a diversion.

Our own attitudes can lead us to destroy precious opportunities.

It is a cliché that malice and resentment damage a person who fosters them within.

Some people evidently thrive as corporeal beings on malice, resentment, petty domination; they are energetic and live long lives.

Our discipline of our own attitudes is a precaution against the destruction of precious opportunities.

There can be chronic mental agitation from within, which is unrewarding (if not tormenting), which is not a choice. (E.g. mental illness.)

We arguably have agendas hidden from ourselves which can erupt as involuntary behavior or driven behavior.

A person displays interpersonal coping patterns, complementary role-taking, which remains consistent over many years whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous, approved or disapproved.

A person arrives it a station in life which remains consistent over many years whether it is advantageous or disadvantageous, approved or disapproved.

An adult’s corporeal survival typically depends on rendering an understandable service to others, for whose performance he or she receives individual credit and is paid. ("The occupation.")

It is collectively obligatory that responsibility for deeds be assigned to individuals. After all, if people were to perform jobs without receiving credit, they would die from destitution. What is more, there is a demand for wrongs to be ascribed to culprits. Responsibility is an excellence which is supposed to be cultivated. All the same, we have just seen evidence that much of a person’s comportment is beyond casual choice.

Some people manage a major change in direction in their lives. When the change is from aberrant, disapproved comportment to conventional, approved comportment, it is not so mysterious because the individual is being carried by social encouragement. From swimming against the stream to swimming with the stream.

A range of our capabilities assuredly diminishes later in life, meaning that a life is comprised of windows of opportunity.

Each life has a temporal limit called death, which is a unique life-circumstance in that it annuls the subject permanently. (Dying is the cure which disposes of the patient. Or however you want to define it phenomenologically.)

One can deliberately cause one’s death, and different motives for doing so are viewed very differently. In self-sacrifice. To relieve an abominable quality of life. As a reproach to others, an act of revenge.

The public code demands that people sacrifice themselves for others in certain cases. Self-interest as such cannot account for a person’s acquiescence.

Typically, some of the prescriptions in public codes are psychologically unrealistic. One result is that the society preaches the code, but openly flouts it. Another is that people cope by violating the code in secret. (So it is common for people to have a secret life at variance with their reputation and their public avowals.)

We can suppress parts of ourselves which are self-rewarding. (Scorched-earth self-discipline.)

We can surrender our hopes regarding the future course of our lives (called resignation).

We can surmise that there is nothing ahead for us but misery.

We can regret entire periods in our life.

We judge ourselves and are at risk of despising ourselves.

We judge ourselves and are at risk of preposterous self-admiration.

We imaginatively formulate our remote advantage (roughly, what is called having interests).

We have capabilities whose exercise is their own reward. Of special interest to this investigation are those which involve imagination and are also motivated by the surmise that they will matter immensely to other people. (See the Supplement.)

We have a life-tone.

We wield personal hierarchies of norms.

We conceive hopes regarding the future course of our lives.

Each person has a selfish inclination, but it is not true that each person aspires to autonomy of judgment. People flee responsibility. They want somebody else to tell them who they are.

An adult life is like a journey, and it may or may not have a theme. A person who has a strong sense of what they ought to be doing, and does it, is said to have a vocation. Some people gravitate to a role which other people approve for them. Some people can claim little more than that they find a way to survive. They would gladly have done other than what they did if they could have been rewarded for it.

Our greatest single motivation may be the cultivation of pride.

We differ greatly from each other in public approval, in the way the community receives our deeds when we do what we want.

To believe that the one can be right against the many invites condemnation. The claimant is accused of preposterous self-importance, reckless self-importance, unseemly immodesty, foolish impertinence. (See the Supplement.)

We judge ourselves and are at risk of reaching conclusions which diverge from other people’s judgments of us.

We differ immensely in our ability to compel others to do as we wish.

A person trapped in a community who does not approve of its inclinations or dispensations may incur harsh penalties for voicing opposition.

There is the observed social phenomenon of the prophet, or martyr: the person who reproaches collective conduct in a confrontational way, is punished for disturbing civil order, but who is later vindicated, at least to one segment of society.

Some people manage a major change in direction in their lives which cannot be explained as merely swimming with the stream. A change which transcends casual choice and which alters long-standing patterns. The individual may believe that he or she has succeeded in making a choice on a level at which the course is normally fixed.

Even though the human collective is composed of individuals, it displays aggregate phenomena which transcend individual choices and override their importance.

Society produces individual roles, and cancels opportunities. (Wars and depressions.)

Society imposes roles on people that have nothing to do with personal achievement: birth-identity. Some people are then forced to serve a controversial birth-identity. (E.g. gypsies.)

Social organization and technology magnify the impact of individual deeds on other people.

Our life in civilization allows many larger-than-life roles which do not exist in primitive society or would not take the same form in primitive society. The larger-than-life roles need not be benevolent: war crimes.

What defines a heroic role is the individual’s great influence on society; or great service to society (supposedly). People acquire a reputation as giants or heroes when they serve a massed interest.

Social organization creates official positions of responsibility in which one person can have an immense effect on others. A head of state who launches a war; a commander of a nuclear weapon battalion.

Correlative to official positions of responsibility is the need to envision the remote consequences of one’s actions.

Society divides in many interested bodies. As a result, given people of immense influence on society, especially those who create their own roles, the public may disagree over whether they were benefactors or not. There is no single scale by which to measure a deed’s benefit to others.

It is possible to manipulate masses of human beings, in particular when a government has them welded together. An example: a leader who leads his nation into a war that doesn’t have to happen.

A counter-manipulater of people, say, the strategist for the opposing nation in a war, may be well-served by distinguishing between leaders, and the rest, in terms of intent, responsibility, commitment, etc. The word is ‘ringleader’.

There is a collective demand for determinations of individual responsibility for immense events such as war crimes. (Even if the proportion of responsibility for events to be allocated to one participant is debatable.)


Supplement on partly self-motivated heroic roles

Heroic roles presumably bring to light immense differences in inborn ability, between Einstein or Jonas Salk and a filling station attendant or hotel maid.

Routinely, a person’s worth is equated with accreditation, remuneration, fame, the public’s estimate of them. The reason is simple. To deny the validity of these criteria of worth means that one person is calling many people stupid.

Most people cannot judge the individual cultural contribution on its merits even though they nominally have the education to do so. They can only judge it by how other people regard it. ("The mediocrities are subjugated" – not that unleashing any of them would make the rest of us better off.)

Depending on how one analyzes it, the larger-than-life roles can be more or less motivated by personal gain and more or less remunerated.

It is a recognized scenario: that a person who cultivates a gift which is capable of mattering to large numbers of people may never see the recognition that ensues.

A civilization can be dying; and that can sideline realized achievements (as with Alexandrian and Athenian science in the Roman Empire.)

Our age is pathologically confused about whether the individual owes it to society to cultivate "gifts" if he or she has any.

Our age is pathologically confused about whether the individual owes it to society to precipitate a prophetic confrontation with society if he or she sees the need for one.

History presents many examples of people who took themselves seriously or took principles seriously, so that they devoted great effort to <projects which potentially mattered greatly to people> without concern for success as it is understood today. Descartes in Amsterdam; Hume in France; Reimarus on the Bible; the Marx of the Grundrisse; and as many other examples as you like. Researchers deliberately worked in secret in the hope of gaining forbidden knowledge. Roger Bacon; Copernicus; Leonardo and anatomy. In my life I do not encounter claims of this sort of motivation (exceptions can be counted on the fingers of one hand). Middlebrow cultural lions may claim such motivation to inflate themselves, but the circumstances give the lie to such claims. Gödel worked in secret on a half-page proof of God; it hardly matches the level of what I am talking about. My sense is that today, claims of such motivation – claims to be devotées of principle – are collectively considered silly and insincere. But that means that the seriousness of life has died (to be replaced by glibness, banality, marketing). –Along with other dimensions of imagination that people in the past evidently possessed.



The roster of assertions delimits the maelstrom which people may attempt to manage with a moral code or moral instruction. But the material is not morality. No "oughts" are announced. No advice is given. What is even more important, there is no guarantee that everybody can reach the same equilibrium, or any equilibrium. The standardization of obligations and the arbitration of adverse interests differs immensely from community to community. As I mean to emphasize, the truism of the repercussions of crimes is suspended precisely in the case of the most revered individuals.

We are both essentially unfree intersubjectively and essentially responsible. The obvious word for it negativizes the phenomenon: anguish.

One could call these personal issues stupid, but there is a special problem with doing so. Such condescension doesn’t respect these issues’ centrality in our existences, the improbability of escaping them. There are considerations which slam intellectual posturing like a brick wall.

I must continually impress other people favorably, rise to their standard, in order not to be rejected and discarded.

There are all sorts of situations in which I realize that a feeling is being evoked in me or elicited from me which I do not want to humor, a feeling such that if I gave into it, I would become damaged or lose something important.

[That we are actuated in a directed way, are capable of happiness and unhappiness, have imagination, etc. are our nature. To burn them out would be an inhygienic hobbling of the creature, a death.]

The Positivists allowed that "there are no absolute norms; therefore norms and human relations are merely this or that social convention." One may consult "Wittgenstein’s Lecture on Ethics" (originally 1930), Russell’s preface to "A Free Man’s Worship" reissued as a book, Reichenbach, The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, Ch. 17, Carnap’s note on pp. 137-8 of Ray Lepley, Verifiability of Value, perhaps Moritz Schlick, Problems of Ethics.

These gentlemen were cosmically and sickeningly philistine: in denying the subject-matter we have just covered.


One of the reasons given for penalizing crimes, such as murder, rape, or child molestation, is that such deeds have consequences which spread like ripples, disturbing public order in a widening way or disabling members of the next generation. We may call this rippling the deed’s interpersonal repercussions.

My exposition wants to allow for this rule of thumb or truism. But it is important to understand that this truism is a teaching for subordinate people and that it is paired with an opposite lesson. We have the cases of some of the greatest social and spiritual leaders of history. The biographies of them that get circulated are children’s fables, not because the facts are not known or cannot be inferred, but because the leaders are too sacred for candid depiction. These leaders were, in the literal and vernacular sense of the word, criminals. They committed all manner of crimes including the most heinous. Roughly, they were warlords who parlayed an armed following into sovereignty over a society. They made an immense double contribution: they crystallized a body politic, and they gave it a creed to live by. In the public’s eye, then, the repercussions of their crimes dissipated or charged out. The people they harmed were of no importance. What mattered was the credit the public gave them for imposing a "just order" on a population from above, by force.

The greatest recognized spiritual leaders, then, were men who were above the code they ordered others to obey. They commited crimes, and the shock waves were smothered by public gratitude to them. Or another way of saying it is that they outran the repercussions of their crimes. They become the sources of legitimacy which the ordinary person holds sacred.

One advantage of our method is that it can acknowledge this phenomenon without embarrassment or apology.

These examples affect the question of a life’s theme and of what it means to take the high road. Presumably these leaders authored their own role, although it was immensely important that they immediately found a following and commenced to serve that following. In that sense there was an element of negotation in their accession to discovery of their own theme. As for the creeds which they devised and imposed, I have to say that those creeds are mythological and politically invidious in many ways. When the leaders gave positive laws, the laws were politically invidious. Whether the leaders themselves had any doubts about their message we can never know. They were criminals who told the people the lies the people wanted to hear, and became the greatest authorities in history. At this level, expressions like ‘hero’ and ‘the high road’ cannot be stripped of irony.


The possibility of personal issues which depend on lengthy time-periods and remote considerations allows the formulation of self-justification advice which is debatable. I give one example.

"The more time you spend on a life-path which suppresses a self-rewarding part of yourself, the harder it is to leave that life-path."

This assertion is countered by an assertion on our roster, the one which says that we are tempered by submission to an institutional culture. If the latter is right, then you may need to remain on a questionable life-path until you work through it; to flee everything which is uncomfortable results in an unsteeled person. All the same, if there is no personal disadvantage to remaining on a non-conducive path, that would be amazing. It would be like saying that the past does not leave its mark, that our psychological flexibility is unlimited. In any case, if you spend thirty or forty years on one path, even if you can still change direction, you can’t get the thirty or forty years back.