i don’t mean to say that a culture’s notion of virtue is nothing more than the glorified self-interest of the dominant class. that, i think, certainly is one possibility – what you might call the road more travelled. i believe, however, in the existence of the road less traveled. however, it seems to me that the two roads have a tendency to turn into one another. tyranny can come out of good intentions, and aggrandized self-interest can be a progressive force.
the development of Capitalism provides an excellent example of the intercourse of these two sorts of virtue. as i read Lao Tzu, whose wisdom i trust more than most any other, the Way is exactly a vital exchange between Good and Evil. Hence, the Fall from Grace (i.e. the Fall from the Way) is exactly a disruption of this intercourse of self-interest and integrated survival (what is called imperialism). for radical ecologists, this Fall is nothing other than civilization as we know it. this is the essential Christian view as well, though it is much distorted by integration into a system of worldly power. Islam, too.
the Day of Judgment that is an article of faith in the Christian and Islamic traditions expresses the understanding of Imperial Civilization as founded upon a Fall from Grace; Grace being the State in which Good and Evil (compassion and self-interest) engage in a vital living intercourse. This, incidentally, is the Real foundation of the more or less fictional transgressive morality (the special rules for special people) that is inherent to all systems of the self-selected Elect. That is: all of those transgressive moralities (from the Jewish slaughter of the inhabitants of Canaan on down) are rooted in the dynamic Reality of the Way, which mixes up the categories of Good and Evil as part of an integrated Ecology.
The Key element of society, as Confucious said, is jen, humanity. Same thing Socrates called Virtue. This being the sentient action that links social forms to the vital, trans-conceptual, dynamic Way that the entire universe depends upon and expresses. The Human Endeavor is to marry Nature and Culture; or from the opposite perspective, Heaven and Earth. it’s not easy. all you need is Love, but there’s nothing harder to find and keep.
Cheney and Ritual Existence
I don’t think Cheney would describe his actions as immoral. I take Cheney for one of those guys who firmly believes himself engaged in the higher morality, the transgressive morality, of a self-selecting Elect. There are of course real consequences to embracing such a morality, but all high officials use these sorts of denial mechanisms to one degree or another. The wise, as Lao Tzu said, treat people like straw dogs – which is to say, as instruments in the great ceremony of civilized existence.
Ethics and Shame
i agree with your basic sense of ethics. it sounds like you think i don’t, but i’m not sure why. i’ve previously described accountability as a developmental tool. what i’ve said is that i don’t know, personally, what amounts to true accountability. i think the key is to satisfy one’s own sense of accountability, which is complicated by the imposition of what we might call false shame.
as i see it, we live in a society governed by false, imposed, shame. hence the pandemic hypocrisy of every institution from bank to church to state to marriage. the world as i see it is full of people embracing standards with some degree of deception, just as a means of survival. being confused is one way to comprehend the dissonance.
i, personally, am not a paragon of virtue. you ask what makes me ineffective? it’s that, in a nutshell. so, yeah, i’m working on it. right now, i’m working through The 7 Habits book. it’s actually quite fantastic, if you’ve never read it. i got it from Audible.com for free, as an audiobook. i highly recommend it. (an open door right there, jake) i’ve been listening to it as i work. i’m also getting more serious about meditation and physical practice again. and becoming more financially stable. oh, and re-engaging music as a practice. all in all, the Human Endeavor, on the microcosmic level.
i agree with Socrates, and i’ve paid for that belief. my sympathies lie with the idealists, but the real issue is not what one believes, but whether or not one embodies that belief… which is to say, whether or not one truly understands. i don’t. but i definitely feel the necessity of becoming better at making an effort to. i always have felt that necessity, probably too much, too soon. as has been said: foolishness consists of arriving too early and waiting too late. thus, as Hamlet says, losing the name of action.