The Necessity of Virtue
February 22nd, 2018
Virtue encompasses and extends beyond moral and religious contexts.
The ideas transcend reality through compelling stories. The necessity of virtue is both for the individual and for society.
The Origins of Virtue
You cannot understand what makes a virtue until you modulate what constitutes being. Modern people are fundamentally materialistic. And there is some utility in that. We are masters of material transformation. And the fact that we are materialistic in our scientific philosophy has made us extremely powerful, perhaps too powerful for morality — powerful from a technological perspective. But it has blinded us of many things. One of the things it has really blind us to is the nature of our own being. Because we make the assumption that the fundamental constituents of our reality are material. But we fail we to notice that the fundamental constituents of our own reality are not material — they are emotional, they are motivational, they are dreams, they are visions (e.g., Black Elk Speaks), they are relationships with other people, they are conscious and they are dependent on consciousness. We have absolutely no materialistic exclamation whatsoever either for consciousness or self-consciousness. And we do not deal well from materialistic perspective with the qualities of being.
The qualities of being exists. For example, there is nothing more real than your own pain. Pain transcends rational argument in the sense that you cannot argue yourself out of pain. It is just there. Pain is fundamental; consciousness is fundamental. And unless you understand that then you cannot think properly about virtue.
Life is Suffering
Life is suffering. It is the default. If you are not suffering then that is great but that is not default state (the same way the wild man is the default state before the man).
People like to attribute their vulnerabilities to some flaw in their own nature. But what they are instead conditions of existence. Human beings are predicated on some fundamental limitation — in that we are what we are. So that means the awareness of human being comes along with suffering.
So life poses the question: How do you conduct yourself in the face of suffering? Not only yours, but everyone else’s suffering. It is an in escapable question. It is a false illusion that life can be conducted without suffering.
When you limit yourself, arbitrarily in some ways, whole new worlds of possibility emerge. And so there is a powerful metaphysical idea that being is not possible without limitation (i.e., games have limits).
The Antithesis of Virtue (the idea of anti-virtue)
There has to be more to life than happiness because there will be a lot of your life where you will not be happy. Socialism tried to solve this but everyone ended up being enslaved by malevolent utopians. If you are enslaved for example by malevolent utopians and they’re pushing you into a form of slavery and they are beating you to attain their ends the idea that you are made for happiness is not going to be of much comfort under those circumstances. And so Solzhenitsyn’s point was you are weakened by your belief that life is for happiness because that philosophy cannot sustain any sustained challenge and you will for sure encounter such a sustained challenge in life.
There is a trans-national and trans-ethnic morality. We do not know what it is but we know what it is not (via negative): It is not pointless torture and genocide. At minimum, to be virtuous is to live your life in such a way that the probability that you would engage in such actions given the opportunity is minimized. people think well they’re already doing that, because if they were in Nazi Germany they would have been a rescuer not a perpetrator but that’s wrong. you could take this audience and put them back in 1939 or thereabouts and 90% of you would 95% of you 99% of you would either be in the perpetrator class or the going along with the perpetrator class. and you may sit and believe that you’d be in the 1% maybe you would because how do I know, but that isn’t how the historical facts sort themselves out. Part of human existence is that we are very susceptible to malevolence.
Recognition of Vulnerability and Capacity for Evil
The recognition of your own vulnerability immediately allows you to understand what is evil (because you know what harms you, or what you do not want). What conditions allow you to manifest that drive?
One of the things that is useful about recognizing your capacity for evil — if you can do that without traumatizing yourself — is that it is the pathway to recognizing your ability for good. You do not get to one without the other because you have no idea what you are like before you know how terrible you can be and not only that you will not take yourself sufficiently serious. If you know you are a loaded weapon — and an unstable loaded weapon — you are much more likely to pay attention to what you do. But that means you are not particularly nice.
I do not care if you believe in God, because I do not know what people mean when they say they believe in God. You should be cautious about making yourself the judge of being. Because there is always a possibility that there are a few things that you do not know.
Consequences from Lack of Virtue
We can make the argument that liberal-left socialists who wants equality are no different from Cain (in Cain and Abel) in the sense that they are asking why other people have it better than them. The answer to them should be that they need to make the appropriate sacrifices. And that is not what they want to hear. One of Cain’s grandchildren is the one who makes the weapons of war. That brilliant little story so long ago associates the moral failings of the resentful individual who is unable to take responsibility for their own being directly with atrocious acts of social conflict.
If you want to be virtuous you have to take yourself seriously. And you have to understand that you are networked with other people. You are not just one dot among seven billion. You are in a causal network and all your actions matter.
if life is meaningless then who cares what you do, but if life is meaningful — if what you do matters — then everything you do matters. And that puts a terrible responsibility on the individual. People are generally unwilling to bear that responsibility.
Life is Suffering
Life is suffering. What does that do to someone? It makes them resentful. It is a character of being. People feel resentful when they feel taken advantage of. But being resentful could mean that you are being taking advantage of or that your head is not screwed on straight so you should look at yourself or else someone else to help you figure it out. In order to do that, you have to tell the truth (you have to look at yourself for who you really are… you have to have the "scales fall off your eyes" like in the Adam and Eve Origin Story). In order to tell the truth you have to be honest with yourself. And you need this in order to get to the truth of the matter so that your friends can help you identify if someone is taking advantage of you, or if you are insane. It may mean that you have internal restructuring to do.
And why do this? To avoid moral pitfalls: Resentment, hopelessness, nihilism. These pitfalls will put you onto the road to cruelty and atrocity. Misery loves company.
Mao, Hitler, and the Soviet Union: Their cover story is Utopia. All those people who participated in the process used rational utopianism as a cover story for their willingness to participate in the atrocity (e.g., one child policy and systemic murder and torture).
Atheists believe that rationality is the highest virtue. That is wrong. A rational person will say, "I understand". Then, having understood, "I will impose an order". Then "I will work to make that imposed order a reality". This is what every ideologue does. It is what every utopian does. And is is certainly convincing. But why do people do it? It is complicated but maybe they want an explanation for their being — but more importantly than that — they want a "mask" that covers up their tendency to atrocity with the appearance of virtue. And most utopian thinking is of that sort even though the "masks" can be very well argued/
In the Soviet Union there was no suffering. Because everything was perfect. And if you were suffering then you were deemed to be the enemy of the state. Your own suffering makes you a heretic. You undermined the whole system by suffering.
The Path of Virtue
Let us assume that virtue is worth pursuing. It is worth pursuing because a virtuous path is the only path that justifies being to itself. That is the definition of virtue. A virtuous path justifies being to itself. Being is suffering. So you need a justification for your suffering. So then you might ask yourself, "are there times in my life when I feel that my suffering is justified?" This is a good question and you could ask yourself the reverse question to which is "are other times in my life when my suffering is clearly not justified?" and I could say well watch yourself for three weeks and see when you’re somewhere that justifies itself.
How do you know: If you are deeply engaged in something your self-consciousness disappears, so engagement in something meaningful seems to make self-consciousness vanish. It makes self-consciousness vanish and it seems to make time vanish. When it is intrinsically meaningful than the sense of time disappears.
You will disintegrate and then you are weak, and you can feel that and then you will cover it up with a bunch of rattling arguments trying to convince yourself — and other people — that what you were doing was actually okay, and it is your rational arrogance and authoritarianism that forces you not to drop your stupid presuppositions and just pay attention to what your being is revealing to you. We do not think that way. But being reveals things (like it). It happens all the time but we just don’t pay attention. Why? Perhaps we really just do not want that responsibility.
The Tao Te Ching was not written by a philosopher but a master of being. A philosopher thinks, but a master being does not think. Because thinking is a tool and being is something that supersedes any tool. "It is by sheathing intellects bright light that the sage remains at one with his own self ceasing to be aware of it by placing it behind. Detached, he is unified with his external world by being selfless he is fulfilled thus his selfhood is assured."
If you fulfill your obligations every day then you don’t have to worry about the future. It is predicated on the notion that there is a wisdom inside people that is deeper than mere rationality. We are far older than mere rationality. We are deeper than rationality.
Rationality is bounded; it is a servant not a master. If you are a utopian and a rationalist, then you have to go around pointing guns at people to make them do what you already know what to do. Instead, you do what you believe is the right thing to do every moment of every day.
Giving Up the End
In Taoism there is this concept of giving up the end. Because you do not know what it is. It is an admission of ignorance (and fate). But that does not mean that you should not be headed somewhere. Follow your moral intuitions. Stop doing the things that make you feel weak.
If you do not know what to do, then following a moral code is a good start. It is a form of apprenticeship. Not doing the obviously bad things is a form of discipline. If you do really something that you really love, then you expose your nakedness. And when you make the decision to become great at something you expose your nakedness.
Sidebar Commentary: People flock to team sports because it exposes their nakedness.
You have to see what it is that is meaningful. And you have to fight for it. And you have to fight yourself. And you have to fight against other people. And you have to fight against nature. You have to stand up for what it is that sustains you. And that takes courage. And it also takes honesty. Partly because if you are not honest then you cannot trust your intuitions. And this is why virtue is a necessity. If you lie to yourself or other people then you corrupt the structure that you use to interact with being. And if you listen to it, it will guide you the wrong way. If you are very corrupt, then you might have to listen to somebody else and that might not be a very good thing.
And perhaps that explains how Hitler got all his followers; they abandoned their own moral code. Made them better and empty and hollow. And they train their leader to tell them what they want to hear.
Honestly is hard. A lot of things you do make you weak. You see, people you associate with may not be good for you (because it makes you weak, a good friend tells you what you do not want to hear).
If you’re resentful say something about it "X makes me resentful". "Quit pushing me around". "Battle it out" then you will not be mean, cruel, and vicious. Then you won’t be resentful anymore.
Guiding Stars on Path of Virtue
"You look at the night sky and infinity opens itself up before you and there is nothing to say except there is nothing to say. To wish on the star is to put your eyes above the horizon and to pick a transcendent point and to wish for something to want for something that’s beyond the concreted and immediate."
Follow your intuitions and a star will appear. It will guide you. And the star is whatever makes your life meaningful… And you may think "No that is wrong", and then the thing that makes your life meaningful will appear over there and then you take a few tentative steps in that direction. But as you step and walk towards these things you change, and as you change you get wiser, and what happens is if you keep following these things that make your life meaningful then you correct yourself across time. But you keep chasing, you move forward. As you learn from your mistakes you get wiser and wiser. And as a consequence, you self-correct yourself down the road so you do not keep making the same mistakes.
Religion as a Substructure
Belief has a religious substructure. Presupposition: There is a heaven and hell, and you should live your life so that you end up in one of them.
Christianity believes it is an after life thing. I don’t believe it is an after life thing. I believe it is a now thing. I see people who are in hell all the time. If you walk past someone in hell, you will not look at them. And if they see you looking at them they get aggressive and ashamed because they do not want to see you looking at them because of where they are. Heaven is a real thing too. Because every now and you are in it. But you do not realize it because you do not believe in it.
Gospel (Thomas). "The kingdom of heaven is spread out on the earth but men do not see it." This means that human life is very expansive; there are extremes and we bounce back and forth between them without even noticing. If you are doing things that land you in hell, then stop!
Virtue is an attempt to see that heaven. And it is a questioning thing. Just to see it. And the second thing is to attempt to live in it. There is nothing you can do that is better for being (you and your potential, others in your path of becoming). Human possibility is near infinite. We may occupy a more importance place than we may think. The consequences of our actions — our virtues or lack thereof — may echo far beyond what we may want to believe. So, try to find out what is good for you. Watch. When you find it, do the things that are good for you until you are thrilled to be alive. And see what happens. There is nothing you can possibly do that can be more profound and useful than that.
Allegory of Virtue and Vice by Paolo Veronese (1565). Depicts Hercules' struggle between virtue and vice, personified by the figures of the two women physically pulling him in different directions.