Peak Virtue

What does it mean to be virtuous? What does the end-game look like?

It’s a weird question, sure. But it seems to be a question not too many speak about.

Here’s what I mean: If you’re a Christian, “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-40, Luke 6:28-30) has probably been said to you by people who hate Christianity–and likely other Christians!–to discourage you from fighting back against anything, ever.

But this is silly, right? That’s not what God wants, to let us be patsies and doormats and get rolled by any evildoer whoever happens to come along with ill-intent towards us.

After all, what’s more virtuous: To stand up and fight against those would world enslave or exterminate you, or keep you from proper worship of God? Or to refuse to fight until your enemy runs the world, and you and your children and grandchildren are in abject misery but at least you can say “Man, I turned the other cheek like a goddamn champ!

See what I mean?

This isn’t going to be a verse-slinging post, or a theological one. But I think this example makes a good point out of pinning down what is virtue and how does one practice virtue?

I’ve presented a little bit of an unfair binary question here, but let’s play it out for a bit. Virtue is either:

  1. Standing by your principles, even if it means you and your loved ones die; or
  2. Occasionally violating a principle or principles now in order to prevent ruin and damnation for future generations.

I think it’s pretty clear that this is a difficult choice to make, one that will make the principled feel “icky” (a technical term). But it might be the most difficult choice a man faced in his life.

What would a deontologist do? If you “always do what is right,” do you aid the wounded man you know for certain was about to rape and murder your wife because “it’s the right thing to do” (give aid to the wounded) even though that man will resume trying to rape and murder your wife, or do you let the attempted rapist/murderer die?

Which is objectively better? Which is right? Which is virtuous? Continue reading “Peak Virtue”

Bright Lines

In the law, there’s a concept called a bright line rule. These are those mythical legal answers where there is a definite write and wrong answer: If X happens, than legally Y must be the consequence.

I say “mythical,” because the law, as we know, tries to codify all of the wonderful occurrences that could happen in this thing we call life.

Don’t laugh, but legal language struggles mightily to be as precise as humanly possible, attempting to cover all of the bases and possible contingencies so as to avoid confusion, not create it.

Okay, seriously, you can stop laughing now.

But think about it: Killing another person is bad. That’s a bright line, sure. But in order to determine if the punishment fits the crime, we need to know:

  1. Was this a premeditated killing?
  2. If so, what was the mental state of the accused?
  3. Was it an accidental killing?
  4. If so, was it a crime of passion or negligence?
  5. If it was a crime of passion, what was the situation leading to the killing? (e.g., Self-defense? Finding one’s child or spouse being sexually assaulted?)
  6. If it was a crime of negligence, what were the facts of the situation? Were all parties contributing to the negligence, or just one?

And so on. There’s a balancing test here to determine the severity of the punishment.

The bright line has already been violated. Now we’re looking at the degree of the violation in light of all available evidence. It’s . . . a messy process.

Mind you, this is with an “easy” case like killing another human being. You can see why bright lines in the law are relatively elusive, though not for lack of trying. What laws attempt to do is provide enough flexibility to account for rare or unforeseen situations.

So what does this have to do with life in general?

Because in life, bright line rules seem to be the way to go . . . and with a similar level of flexibility allowing one to balance the factors in the appropriate situations.

This sounds messy, doesn’t it? But life is messy. Things might go according to plan 90 percent of the time, but there’s always that 10 percent where things go crazy.

Being the most rigid, holier than thou guy around might make you feel good, but the building will still be burning down around you. Continue reading “Bright Lines”

“Be Nice . . . Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”: Surviving in the World with your Principles Intact

By nature, I am slow to anger and quick to forgive. This might make me a good Christian and a rather pleasant guy to be around, but in any kind of conflict or war I know I would be a liability–a good man but not good at being a man, as Jack Donovan would say.

The thing is, I do think we are in a war. Emotionally, I do you logically, spiritually, and increasing the physically, it is a reality, both at the national and international levels.

At least here in America, we are more divided than ever. I have tried, but I am sick of trying, to demonstrate to people that I do not hate them. Some people are going to hate you no matter what. How you deal with them is still a mystery to me, although I have my ideas.

Anyway, it seems that a sad fact of life that you were decency will always be used against you. Always.

I don’t think this used to be the case here in the United States. Cynicism is a very un-American trait, but I think we as a nation could afford to be more open, honest, and trusting if there were higher levels of trust and more social cohesion. Now, for a variety of reasons, society is breaking down. We are witnessing it in real time.

Paeans for unity are meaningless, because lots of the people who make them really want division, anger, and distrust. If there was actually unity, these people would be out of a job.

So is the only way to survive to be cynical? Distrusting?

I have a problem with this because this is not my nature. Both as an American and a Christian, I’d prefer to be decent and to treat others the way I would wish to be treated. However, given the hatred that I see and receive, I feel my basic outlook changing and I don’t necessarily like it.

With these thoughts bouncing around my head, I recently completed a two-day negotiation training course for work. In it, I had a little bit of an “Ah-ha!” moment when, in discussing game theory, I learned about Robert Axelrod‘s negotiation strategy.

How did something from the world of mediation and negotiation help with this internal dilemma? Let me explain. Continue reading ““Be Nice . . . Until It’s Time To Not Be Nice”: Surviving in the World with your Principles Intact”