Loyalty

“Admonish your friends in private; praise them in public. And distrust anyone who does the reverse.”—Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Why’s Taleb right? Two reasons: (1) People who praise their friends publicly aren’t just praising a friend; they’re declaring a loyalty, which gives them skin in the game (i.e., a small stake in that person’s reputation; if you go down, I go down). By contrast, those who do all of their praising in secret are invariably flatterers who want something from you. (2) People who habitually trash their friends in public can’t be trusted. Witness the younger generation of university-aged activists: they turn on each other with shocking regularity, often going so far as to post private correspondence publicly in the midst of a “call-out” (i.e., witch-hunt) campaign against someone who was supposedly their friend last week. With friends like this, who needs enemies? Indeed, with friends like this, who needs the NSA?

It’s interesting to see how much people value social justice on Facebook (via various forms of virtue signalling). But justice isn’t the only virtue in the moral universe, and, as such, it’s also good to note how much they value friendship and loyalty. Because “no man is an island” and you can’t right the wrongs of the world alone. The realization of any project of social justice requires widespread cooperation: indeed, it requires a social movement. And social movements are now, as they have always been, held together by bonds of friendship and loyalty. As such, how can advocates of social justice who make manifest on a regular basis that they don’t value friendship and loyalty ever hope to change the world? Even the shadiest criminals know that there can be no successful thieves without honour among thieves. Why, then, do activists think there can be successful activists without honour among activists?

The wisdom of Martin Niemöller famous lament (“First they came for the Socialists . . .”) applies to private life just as much as it applies to public life. That loose cannon you hang out with, who turns on his own friends from time to time with a ferocity that astounds you: mark my words, he’ll turn on you one day too. And that activist friend of yours, who seeks to publicly humiliate her former friends and allies by posting their personal correspondence on Facebook: mark my words, she’ll turn on you one day too. Movements, groups, and institutions that prize loyalty above all else are destined for moral disaster; but those that act like loyalty doesn’t matter have no future.

Loyalty’s having your buddy’s back in a barfight he started. Loyalty’s my country right or wrong. By itself, like any virtue, it’s a fucking disaster (law enforcement’s toxic “blue wall of silence” is a case in point). There are plenty of virtues in the moral universe, and we need them all; but let’s be sure about what each one is and is not. Being a loyal friend means having your friend’s back. End of sentence. No amount of casuistry will ever convince me that publicly shaming your “friend” is a manifestation of loyalty.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

About John Faithful Hamer

John Faithful Hamer is a college professor who still can't swim, drive, or pay his bills on time. His sense of direction is notoriously unreliable, yet he'd love to tell you where to go. His lack of practical skills is astounding, and his inability to fix things is renowned, yet he'd love to tell you what to do. His mismanagement of time is legendary, as is his inability to remember appointments, yet he fancies himself a philosopher and would love to tell you how to live. He wouldn't survive in a state of nature, of that we can be sure; but he's doing quite well in the big city, which has always been a refuge for the ridiculous, a haven for the helpless, and a friend to the frivolous.

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