Friday, June 15, 2012

Truth and Loyalty

Norman Finklestein, the go-to academic for the Jewish anti-Zionist take on Middle East events, was interviewed recently. I found this precious:
NF: Because Chomsky’s biggest virtue, you know what it is? Aside from his staggering intellect and absolute faithfulness, Professor Chomsky never betrayed a friend. He will defend them even though inside he knows that they’re completely wrong.
Q: But don’t those virtues of friendship and faithfulness come into conflict with the truth?
NF: I know that! I see that! But he cares very deeply about the facts. Let me tell you a story...
 Jonathan Haidt highlights that loyalty is an important virtue to conservatives that liberals tend to not value. That is, loyalty is seen by liberals as blind obedience, something peculiar to Authoritarian Personality types, an unalloyed vice. Yet that's in abstract. Loyalty is always prized at some level, even the liberal fringe like Chomsky and Finkelstein. Myrmecologist and sociobiologist E.O. Wilson argues that the essence of most of what is publicly esteemed as virtue relates to actions that help the group: patriotism, selfless giving, etc.

I have come to appreciate loyalty more, as like Haidt's liberal personality type, I used to think loyalty was simply not a virtue (that I don't fit the liberal archetype is besides the point). However, unlike Finkelstein I am under no illusion that loyalty is totally consistent with the truth, rather that there are trade-offs and sometimes a lie is worthwhile if it helps one in a relationship. All the virtues involve trade-offs as when one is too honest to be polite or too polite to be honest; moderation in all things. If you think you never lie then you are really self-deceived because as Michael Gazzaniga has demonstrated, our left, narrative, brain confabulates all the time when interpreting and reconciling data it receives from the right brain and peripherals.


George O'Har said...

You should if you can find the time read the New Yorker article on Chomsky from some years back (5? 8?). Most unflattering. His work on linguistics was all but mocked. Speaking for myself, I find his politics childish.

Hose Again said...

I'm fortunate to have friends and acquaintances that cover a wide range of the political/ideological spectrum. The idea that conservatives value loyalty doesn't connect with my experience. At all.

I'm not familiar with Haidt's research but now am curious if it's based on observing real behavior or what people say about themselves. The latter having limited value of course.