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The Priority of Virtues

Does Virtue lead to Misfortune and Vice to Prosperity? Do we live in an Evil World where vice is rewarded while virtue is punished? Is Virtue counter-productive in This World, and does the only hope of vindication for the virtuous lie in an After-Life?

Not at all. Though this World is not perfect, there is an essentially progressive logic to it; and not only does this Logic reward Virtue, that it does is the very definition of Virtue indeed. However this logic is not the mystical logic of good intentions rewarded by fairy godmothers nor is it the official logic of social conformity rewarded by benevolent authorities. It is the implacable logic of Reality, that rewards the Essential Virtue of each domain of Existence with its Tautological consequence.

Thus, the First Virtue, that applies to anything or anyone that Is, is Survival. What survives, survives — what doesn't, dies out. Those individuals or groups, genes or memes, that would sacrifice this Virtue to any other virtue will not be there very long to embody the "superior" virtues to which they commit the sacrifice of Survival, this First Virtue. Whatever real or alleged "Superiority", "Purity", any and all Principles embodied or claimed by the sacrificer, will disappear with those who claim them over their own survival when said survival is at stake.

The Second Virtue, that applies to anyone who Acts, is Success. What succeeds, succeeds — what doesn't, fails. Any agent who would sacrifice the Success of his action to any other virtue of his action, will see his action fail, and the resources he committed wasted. When this action is a struggle against an Enemy, then Success equates with Victory, and Failure is Defeat. Little will matter the "preserved virtues" of the failed and defeated, for their resources will be wasted or seized, and not available anymore to fuel "virtuous" action successful or un-. So called good manners, proper forms, rules of engagement, taboos and other principles of action or inaction will lead to failure and see the extent of their acceptance dwindle when they are promoted despite their opposition to Success.

The Third Virtue, that applies to any sentient being, is Truth. What is true, is true — what isn't, is false. Truth accurately describes reality and guides action towards success. Falsity misleads about reality, it will take who follows it towards failure. The time you spend avoiding Truth to pander to your own emotional weakness, to the displayed sensitiveness of others or to the Official Creed is time you waste not correcting courses of action that lead to Failure or Death.

I'm sure you can similarly figure out for yourself the essential Virtues attached to each subdomain of existence, to each class of action, etc. You can also imagine how subjectivists, mystics and other liars will fallaciously confuse genres to reach absurd conclusions. For instance, they may invoke my argument to identify the Virtue inherent to Lying, which is Success at misleading a victim from truth, which they will say opposite to my Third Virtue of Truth, and something inherently Vicious and against good morality. Except that this Virtue is opposing Truth in the victim, not the Actor who does the lying, and so there is no contradiction in my theory, there is conflict of interest between the liar and his victim. Moreover, whereas lying to innocent people to defraud them is indeed a vice, lying to aggressors to save yourself isn't; and lying as part of a magic show is just what the public is looking for; and so once again, any contradiction stems from emotionalists who fail the korzybskyan sanity test and are unable to either abstract the concept of an action away from its context or to correctly take into account the context when the concept is applied.

Other typical fallacies will be the confusion of identity in situations when someone readily sacrifices his biological life for someone or something he loves. The absurdists will praise sacrifice as such and see it as a Virtue in itself. But the Truth instead is that sacrifice is the price, the negative part of the deal, and that the survival of something worth more than the price is the desired result, the positive part of the deal, and what makes the action virtuous if indeed the outcome is the best the self-sacrificer may hope to achieve. The Truth is that our biological lives are finite and have finite value even to ourselves, that we as individuals can choose to a large enough extent what we identify with and what is sufficiently part of us; and so we may want to promote the survival of that which we identify with above the continuation of what would be left of our biological life without it. This will especially be the case when circumstances are dire and our expected self-controlled biological life is short anyway. Which is why an adult in a rich country at peace won't sell himself into slavery for a small chance of survival of his kids, but the same adult in a poor country at war may do it gladly: what he's getting for it might be the same in the two cases, but what he's paying may have dwindled from a lot to very little.

Now, another Virtue is the ability to recognize that sacrifice (big or small) is sometimes worth it, and to distinguish when it is and when it isn't. And it is indeed yet another Virtue to have the Discipline of making the sacrifices that are worth it without having to pay the price of either thinking about it every time or erring too often in the process, especially when innate reflexes and bad habits would otherwise tend to have you make the wrong choice. But that is very very different from Sacrifice as being good in itself: this is Discipline being good in itself. Getting less is bad, sacrificing more is bad; getting more is good, efficient discipline that gets you more for less is good.

In the end, the important point to recognize is thus that Virtues have Priorities. There is a precedence of Virtues, and failing to cultivate virtues in the correct order is itself a Vice. When evil men are in power and destroy a civilization (their own, or another one), is it Vice being rewarded over Virtue? No, it is Vice being rewarded over an even worse Vice. The cruel barbarians who enslave a town may be vicious murderers, their very success proves that they correctly cultivated survival and victory, whereas their victims failed. Whatever secondary virtues the conquered may have possessed that the conqueror did not, they lost the primary virtues that would have made them prevail. It is the failure of their primary virtues, and not the success of their secondary virtues, that is sanctioned by the victory of the "barbarians" over the "civilized". And that victory proves that those "barbarians" for all their faults were indeed cultivating some essential virtue that went amiss amongst the "civilized".

Thus, when the Roman Empire fell to Germanic and Hunnic invaders, it had turned into a totalitarian bureaucracy where even "free" men were burdened by extraordinary taxes and exacting regulations, whereas the Germans and Huns still applied Common Law amongst each other, and were tied by personal bonds rather than impersonal Statutes. Unlike the "citizens" of the Roman Empire, the barbarians still had a Self to fight for and to assert violently. Ignorant and unrefined as they may or may not otherwise have been, the Germans knew some essential principles of Law that had been lost in the Roman Empire. In a very strong and essential sense, they were more civilized than the populations they conquered.

The Priority of Virtues may often seem harsh to the weak of mind, who would rather take the primary virtues for granted and do without the price of maintaining them. They will soon enough find a superior entity to promise them a better life for the price of their freedom, until they find out, but too late, that this "better" life is not worth living without the freedom to be a Self who lives it.



But personally, the second virtue, success, makes me ask what constitutes success. It could be argued that the coherent meaning of all three virtues, whatever constitutes them, would lead to success. I was thinking what more specific virtue could be in place of the second item, to make it either co-exist or live as a standalone virtue together with the other two.

Apparently, your explanation regarding barbarians states the gist of the presented ideas. Arguably, in many ways, it is justifiably "right" (but what "right" is, is another story) for them, and their "success."

Nevertheless, well said.

What is Success?

Success is relative to the task at hand. If you're trying to solve a problem, then success is actually solving the problem. If you're trying to go from A to B within established constraints then success is arriving safe and sound in B within said constraints.

Now, if you've successfully completed an action that was ill-conceived to begin with, then indeed there is a problem: the prior action of choosing what to do was a failure, and you didn't cultivate your virtues in the right priority -- success at the secondary task, failure at the primary task.

The Priority of Virtues applies to every endeavor. Consider what you're doing. Do you have your priorities right?

Minor corrections

While it is a popular mis-conception and indeed the origin of the name "Hungarian", Huns and Hungarians have little in common (besides being horse herding nomads) and are separated by about five centuries in European history.

What is missing from this essay, IMHO, is the Virtue of long term at the expense of the short term. Of course, from the PoV of Survival, short term always trumps long term. One cannot survive tomorrow at the expense of surviving today. However, being able to invest today what is not essential to Survival is a non-obvious survival trait.

Risk-taking is another interesting matter. Excessive risk-aversion is a Vice as is excessive risk-taking. Also, there is no universal golden rule: what is an appropriate level of risk in one environment may be ruinous in another.

It is also worth emphasizing that the subjects of evolution are NOT individuals but behavioral patterns and systems thereof.

Short term vs long term

"You" can choose to a point what "you" is, and how much you care or don't care about the future "you" that may be -- or what "you" identify with. Do I care about "myself" in a few years? About the people who may carry my genes or my ideas? Maybe. But how much do I care about them? There comes the concept of time preference. And as for the level of risk-taking there is no universal rule for it.

Thanks for corrections.

Re: Minor corrections

I replaced "Hungarian" by "Hunnic". (The purpose of this message is to unconfuse those who'd read your correction and not find what you're talking about.)


By this logic, a rapist who "succeeds" at his goal of raping and killing a woman has more of the "survival" virtue than his victim, no?


Indeed. The rape victim lacks virtue by getting herself in the bad situation. Policemen lack virtue if they fail to catch and punish the rapist. Concerned citizens lack virtue if rape gets out of control and racist "rotating rape" becomes a common thing.

There are several questions. Is the rapist successful from his own point of view? By your values, do you identify with the rapist of his prey? What can you do to be more successful as a rapist or an anti-rapist (depending on which side you identify to)?

I didn't claim that conflict didn't exist. Conflict DOES exist. Sometimes you have to choose your side. Once you have understood that conflict exists and that some people are your ENEMIES, you can start to make decisions accordingly and find appropriate counter-measures. Failing to understand the issues and act appropriately is error when it is a one-off mistake, vice when it is systematic.
eyes black and white

January 2018



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