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Post No.: 0919loyalty


Furrywisepuppy says:


Recommencing our discussion on moral obligations and community loyalty from Post No.: 0915 – your parents or adoptive parents may have spent a lot of energy and time raising you, but you never consented to receiving any of that, at least from one pair of parents over every other pair of parents who could’ve been chosen in the world if you could’ve made such a choice.


If reciprocity is the key to our group loyalties then a libertarian should feel obligated to pay their taxes to the nation that helped raise them from young e.g. for the hospitals, schools, roads, infrastructure, defence, protective laws, police, vaccinations, economy, etc. that were provided or partially provided through public money and that they had benefited from – even though they never consented to receiving any of that when young.


Random sorting into a college fraternity/sorority can subsequently make members become more friendly and attached to their own fraternity/sorority, even though they never individually freely chose which group they entered in the first place. Do all these initial random or arbitrary lotteries deserve a subsequent moral obligation from us towards one group over another?


Now some people are opposed to holding people responsible for their failures to act – at least to the same degree they should be held responsible for acts of commission. So some think that even if it were true that one could save many lives by donating most of one’s disposable income to charity, one isn’t responsible for the deaths of needy people if one chooses not to give. But an omission to act is itself a form of action performed by an individual e.g. if one chooses not to give to charity, one is thereby doing something else instead – something that is, to some degree, implicitly condemning others to suffering or death.


But if we were to accept holding people responsible for their personal failures to positively act, are we to hold people responsible for actions/inactions that were performed by other people who are/were in some way affiliated with them e.g. a son paying for his father’s actions/inactions. A kind of collective responsibility?


Individualists may criticise such a person for failing to prevent/promote an act committed by another person, but they wouldn’t hold them responsible for that other person’s action/inaction. Some cases may confer a collective responsibility when people represent others though e.g. if an officer orders a soldier to do something, and that soldier does it, then although the officer didn’t carry out that act him/herself, the officer is nevertheless responsible for it.


In a highly democratic country, one might postulate that the chain of command runs in the opposite direction i.e. the citizens are responsible for what the politicians do because the electorate ultimately voted for them. It’d be the electorate’s fault if they chose the wrong head of government, and perhaps the electorate’s fault if they fail to prevent an elected party from doing something undesirable.


Some believe that a person can be held responsible for actions or policies implemented by a group in which they are a member of (a shared identity). Here we might distinguish between those who consented to join the group or not, were unwittingly born or raised into that group or not (perhaps by gender, ethnicity, age, religion or political leaning), or because they merely subscribe to the same ideas that led that group to perform a given act or policy or not.


So what happens if someone doesn’t give their consent? Should we be obligated to others simply by virtue of being influenced by them? Should we owe people for things we received even though we didn’t ask for their help, even if we may have needed it e.g. from the parents we didn’t choose? Of course if people explicitly, and mayhap implicitly, consent to, for instance, patriotism or any other loyalty towards a group, and/or consent to act upon reciprocity, then that’s fine from a liberal perspective.


John Rawls might’ve claimed that patriotism and familial love therefore fall into the category of voluntary obligation. It’s fine to choose these obligations as long as it doesn’t require people to violate any of the natural duties of universal respect for persons qua (as being) persons.


Standing against one’s own present government can still be considered patriotic because one is acting for, what one thinks would be, the best for one’s country. But this is assuming it is indeed all voluntary. What may strictly non-voluntarily oblige us to be patriotic? Do sentiments and emotions make something a moral obligation? Is patriotism or any other loyalty towards a group just a form of prejudice – a collective favouritism towards one group over another? (There may be a distinction between positive discrimination and negative discrimination though i.e. supporting one’s own team is okay but hating another team is not?) Moreover, one’s level of ‘voluntary’ obligations may actually be a function of things that weren’t voluntary – we didn’t ultimately choose our genes, parental upbringing and national culture but they influenced our consensual choices.


So what’s strictly voluntary at all?! Would we be quite so patriotic if we weren’t born to patriotic parents (whom we didn’t choose) or in a country that didn’t have such a patriotic flag-waving culture (that we didn’t choose either)?


On a practical level, it does seem beneficial for oneself to participate in politics and national matters because one, say, wouldn’t want an extreme opposing political view to take hold at the governmental level – but still, where’s the strict obligation to care about national matters? If we as an individual chose not to vote and in doing so increased the likelihood of a disliked party taking leadership who then makes decisions that’ll coerce us, or at least does things that we’re opposed to, then even though this would be a negative outcome for us as an individual, it was our free choice to not cast our vote. We’ll partly have ourselves to blame if this happens but it’ll be our own free choice. It’s therefore sensible to vote in a democracy, but it still shouldn’t be obligatory. However, a communitarian would say that political obligations like voting carry moral weight regardless of the benefits they bring to an individual who partakes in political matters – voting is right because it’s moral in itself because you’re a part of the nation you live in; not necessarily because it may benefit you.


Might loyalty, in some situations, morally outweigh the natural principles of individual freedom and universal rights? If libertarians agree that people can do whatever they like as long as they don’t coerce, lie, cheat, steal from others or use violence, then what would a libertarian do if they found out that a close friend or family member lied, cheated, stole from or violently harmed somebody else? Wouldn’t they be morally obligated to snitch on their friend/relative in order to preserve and uphold those natural moral rights that make a libertarian world function? If they were directly asked then should they lie to protect their friend/relative? (Some argue that they don’t even need to be asked – to choose not to tell the truth is to implicitly choose to aid and abet a wrongdoer.)


Most people would say that they wouldn’t snitch on their friend/relative – this would therefore suggest that loyalty can hold priority over certain natural rights. Something has to give between loyalty and truth here because trying to uphold both positions is untenable. A communitarian would find those who wouldn’t snitch on their friend/relative admirable, whether their decision is ultimately right or not – the claim of loyalty arising from one’s sense of narrative, of whom one is, is a moral, not just a sentimental or emotional, stance.


But wouldn’t this sometimes make violating human rights morally permissible? For example, an American, for the sake of loyalty towards America, might torture a potential anti-American terrorist who comes from outside of America (outside the American person’s community) in order to protect the land and people of America. What rights should take priority in such cases of conflicting interests – the natural, voluntary or solidarity rights?


Most people in this scenario wouldn’t accept a violation of natural rights over loyalty. So what makes it acceptable to protect one’s friend/relative in the other scenario and not acceptable to protect one’s country in this latter scenario?


One could argue that it’d actually be the loyal thing to not protect one’s country via the use of torture because the bad reputation that’d be brought onto one’s nationals would be detrimental for one’s country. But does this mean one would allow violent means of counter-terrorism to be used the less one is loyal towards a country, if one wouldn’t accept the reputational cost of using torture the more one is loyal towards a country such as one’s own? And does this mean that committing crimes is fine as long as one doesn’t get caught doing them or as long as the negative consequences don’t outweigh the positive consequences? In other words, what’s the moral worth of being able to act immorally as long as there are no reputational costs for us doing so or as long as the personal cost-benefit ratio is favourable?! Almost all except psychopaths would say that there’s no morality in this kind of world.


Some contest that if communitarianism is wrong – that we should treat everybody equally without discrimination and shouldn’t be loyal to any particular persons – then we shouldn’t favour friends over strangers. Such special concern for the welfare of friends or country folk over universal human concern would be a kind of discrimination.


The Enlightenment philosopher Montesquieu said that a truly virtuous person would come to the aid of the most distant stranger as quickly as they would to their own friend – if people were perfectly virtuous then they’d actually have no friends. But this is a difficult world to imagine. Therefore, as the argument goes, there’s nothing wrong (or at least it’s human) to discriminate a little i.e. to favour one’s own friends, family and country folk over strangers or foreigners. (One might still however make a distinction between positive discrimination (helping those you favour) and negative discrimination (harming those you don’t favour); albeit isn’t giving an advantage to only one side equivalent to disadvantaging all other sides?)


Some thinkers dispute that it’s not the duty of fluffy loyalty as to why we should and do love our own families above other families. It’s because of more general or natural moral duties – to participate in loving relationships – since these are particularly valuable in themselves, or because it makes the world function better on a practical level. Life is simply better for everyone if we’re all partial to our own kin. One could even possibly argue that it’s entirely voluntary; although again the genes we happen to possess weren’t voluntarily chosen. (If we favour those genetically closest to us then what genes we inherited was a product of chance, not voluntary choice… if true voluntary choice exists in any domain or circumstance at all?)


Communitarians retort that, although we inherit our families and countries by chance, such loyalties are parts of a meaningful narrative and thus in this sense aren’t contingent or arbitrary, or voluntary or dependent on some cost-benefit calculation. Yet loyalties shouldn’t go so far as to commit injustices. In fact, communitarians argue that loyalties should be used to redress past injustices committed by one’s own country, for instance. But if loyalty is a strict obligation, then is it genuinely heartfelt? (It’s like if one is always obligated to express thanks, even if one doesn’t feel like it, then doesn’t this diminish its value?) And where should the line be drawn? Is revenge for the (perceived) injustices of people’s ancestors, or the seeking of (perceived) entitlements that are owed to one’s ‘own community’, through war, justified? Wouldn’t it be better to let go of the grudges of our ancestors?




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