The Curse of Virtue
“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.” H. L. Mencken
How can virtue possibly be a curse? When it is misapplied.
Virtue benefits people around you by restraining your actions. Examples include honesty, considering the needs of people around you, moderation in speech and action. On a more active note, it also includes sacrificing some of your own benefits to help others. An example of virtue is the Golden Rule, “do unto others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12-14). The Jewish and Chinese versions of this rule – which I prefer as it discourages busybodies – and be paraphrased as ‘do not do unto others what you not have them do to you’. Virtue, so defined, works mainly because it involves adhering to uncontroversial norms. Nobody would claim that societies based on lying, cheating and selfishness would achieve superior results than a high trust society, such as ours, where regular virtues are largely practiced both in theory and in deed. Of course, people who practice these virtues, are admired by their peers and feel inwardly good about themselves. The notions of virtue and conscience are closely tied to the human condition and are an important distinction between humans our mammalian cousins. For a discussion of this see Robert Sapolsky’s excellent YouTube video; Are Humans Just Another Primate?
Herein lies the danger of virtue. When people ascribe virtue to contentious issues, it becomes difficult or impossible to reason with them because they think their point of view is self-evident and their self-regard is intimately tied up in these issues. Examples abound, but I will restrict myself to environmentalism (and its various sub-categories) and the oppression Olympics (often called ‘wokeness’ or ‘social justice warriordom’). For many people, these categories have merged. For example, Naomi Klein (who is a woke Marxist) wrote a book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate where she recognized how Global Warming alarm can be used to advance her ideology.
The problem is that these issues involve trade-offs and may be disputed by reasonable people. But, by viewing these issues are areas where they can define their virtuousness; discussion and dispute about these issues becomes impossible and must be rejected because these threaten their sense of self worth as affirmed by their peer groups. Consequently, if another person points out that, for example, the hypothesis of catastrophic climate change is widely disputed by competent scientists; they don’t argue their points but rather call you names such as the nonsensical ‘climate denier’. Similarly, if you dispute the identity politics of the oppression Olympics you will be called names such as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, homo- or trans- phobic or ‘alt-right extremist’. This inappropriate spread of the notion of virtue has the effect of dividing our societies into opposing camps where those who wish to uphold the best traditions of rational debate and honouring everyone’s individual experience and way of framing the world are opposed by ideologues who demonize you for having any contrary opinion to orthodoxy at all.
Intellectual Dark Web: If you prefer rational debate to shouting matches, try exploring the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ on YouTube. It’s a loose group of commenters, from various political perspectives, who post long form discussions that adhere to the norms of rational debate. Members include Eric Weinstein, Brett Weinstein (Eric’s brother), Jordon Peterson, Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, Andrew Klavan, Michael Knowles, Jonathan Haidt, Maajid Nawaz, Tim Pool, Candace Owens, Gad Saad, Brendan O’Neil, James Delingpole, Camille Paglia, Douglas Murray and many, many others.
Oppression Olympics: the notion that the worth of your opinions can be gauged by the group you belong to (rather than you individually) with the historically most oppressed group having the highest value. This is an expression of a kind of crude Marxism current among ‘progressives’ these days. The rankings vary over time as more ‘oppressed’ groups are discovered and weaponized. At the time of writing, from highest to lowest, the rankings roughly are: Transvestites, Muslims, Gays, Blacks, Indigenous and Brown people, Women, Jews, Males, Whites and Heterosexuals. Of course, an individual may be a combination of a number of these traits. This is called ‘intersectionality’ and can increase your value based on the points awarded to each category. For example, a Tranny, Muslim, Gay, Black, Woman (always the destination sex) individual would rank very high indeed irrespective of any value or interest their opinions or character may hold.
Unfortunately, yours truly is a heterosexual, white, male; about as low on the hierarchy as you can get. Therefore, you may disregard everything I’ve written here as it has obviously been written by someone who is irredeemable.