The other day I was deeply engaged in a 2A argument and the question of the virtue of police officers came into focus. Someone suggested that he shouldn't have to require officers to be personally virtuous, that the proper police department would generate the appropriate results.
I immediately thought that doesn't make sense - a police department that produces Robocop or Mark Fuhrman or stop & frisk or broken windows policies undermines the trust of the communities they are supposed to serve. Upon further reflection I could concede the point, and yet an even more stark defense of my position arose.
In the first place, I myself find it useless to extend general virtues onto the victors of certain contests simply because they win. This comes to mind generally for sports. Last year's Tour de France raised the question of why there isn't a women's equivalent. The origins of the Tour were to inspire manly virtues in the French population in the wake of WW1. And yet today's cyclists, despite their perserverance, endurance and sportsmanship hardly evoke much of the warrior mystique. And even against the scandal of Lance Armstrong and others, I am rather hard pressed to see the winner of the Tour de France as much else other than the winner of the Tour de France. Thus according to the policy of the police department all appropriate benchmarks are applied to determine that best officer. The best policeman may very well simply be the one who makes the most arrests or solves the most murders. The best banker the one who makes the most money for the bank - the ideal institutional member, fulfills the mission of the institutional charter.
So doesn't the Progressive or liberal structuralist inculcate human values into the organizations and institutions of society? I think they do - I think they expect that fidelity to institutional rules imbue the follower with the values of the organization, which are some fraction of the idealized values for humanity itself. When you value the mores of the Red Cross, then your participation under its structure rubs off positively on you. When I was a Progressive, I would stress the institutional because only the institution transcends the slipshoddities of the individual and the meanderings of the masses. If you wanted peace, for example, it wasn't sufficient in my mind to have peaceful individuals. The only real peace was a peace permanently moderated by an institution. Let people do what they will, but slam them against the walls of the virutous institution and you will have the values of the institution expressed.
However, my current thinking about the dynamism of individuals and societies mitigates against my hopes for institutions, as well as my aversion to the idea that men are mostly empty and mostly need to be (ful)filled via their loyalty to institutions, be they churches, businesses or governments. And my friend correctly argued that it is a conservative principle for people to possess virtue, and that the virtue of the people that make any institution worthy of respect and loyalty. Although there is some balancing required, I think Kafka would agree with me.
As I look at this dynamic I see a conflict between the aims of civilization and the aims of society.
Civilization, according to Socrates is the organized specialization of labor. It is the specialization of labor that creates the interdependence of the farmer to the distributor to the marketer to the consumer. Each participates in such a way that the individual's privacy is maintained and scrutiny is not required. IE I do what I do in my specialization and I get enough renumeration from that. As a stevedore I do not have to be as articulate as a teacher. As a teacher I do not have to be as physically fit as a stevedore. They they can fulfill their role in civilization and 'be all that they can be' within the context of that civic duty. But they do not fulfill their human potential, they suffer the alienation that ultimately comes from their very specialization. The system does not recognize what else that individual is outside of their job, or as the cliche goes "I don't pay you to think".
In society on the other hand, we look to our commonalities and make calls on matters of character and deportment. Society is more about fitting in. We want the stevedore to wash his hands before coming to the table. We want the teacher to accept that everyone is not her student. We look through society's lens at more of the person in the context of their living life, rather than their civic participation that helps the world go 'round. When these people sit down at my dinner table, it is not enough that they tell me that their school is top ranked or that the harbor pulled in more freight this year.
So how do I reconcile the idea that some people's virtues matter and others do not? In fact, this is what I do according to my Peasant Theory. I do not expect that the overwhelming majority of people, the Peasantry, exhibit any particular decorum. I merely expect that they are provincial and spend most of their energy taking care of themselves and their families and property. It doesn't surprise me that they are vulgar and not diplomatic. I do not insist that they adopt 'policitical correctness'. That is because whatever damage they do, they do locally. As leaders of their own families and property, their misbehavior brings retribution upon their own heads and no more. It is for the professional class, The Slice, the Managerials to have the decorum apporpriate to the institutions they operate. In my view, only 30% of the population requires higher education - as they are the Slice, the Alternative Slice, the Anti-Slice and all such heirs apparent. The Ruling Class must have the wisdom of the ages and all such virtues required for understanding the conduct of human business, and they, outnumbered by their knighthood must command the respect of that powerful Slice class. The corruption of the Ruling Class spells doom for civilization.
In short, the more responsibility you have for society, the more you should possess virtue. This is essential to humanism as I see it. But let us consider the prospects for liberty.
Let us presume that the distribution of the talents virtues of the leadership are unpredictably random in the human population. I use the metaphor of slavery in this regard. The slave will ultimately recognize that he is a slave, whether or not he is ever educated in the nature and history of slavery. If it is possible for any slave or peasant to be virtuous and to accomplish the understanding of The Slice or even of the Rulers, then they should absolutely have the right to opt out of compliance with organziations put in place to institutionalize the values of the Ruling Class and to leverage civilization. This is, to me the essence of liberty, to limit the panoptics and influence of the institutions of the ruling class in order that every man might fulfill his human potential outside of those institutions. Imagine you are as strong as a stevedore and smart as a teacher and diplomatic to boot. You should be free to opt out of Slice or Ruling Class obligations Consequently, the benefits of institutional membership should be in your Logarithmic Shadow, ie ignored as beneath you. You should be queer or bohemian or hermetic or organic. You should not take up a seat in public school, and you shouldn't have bagboys take your groceries out to your car for you. You should be a man of independent means and your house it's own institution. You should be neither agent nor subject, you should be free.
It is this sort of free man who takes it upon himself to serve dutifully in the Slice or lead dutifully in the Ruling Class. We presuppose that there will be enough volunteers to take up the Mantle. So I conclude that higher standards of virtue must be applied to individuals commensurate with their responsibility over others in their social and functional roles. However the size and scope of institutions must be limited against monopoly and oligopoly. Thus the leverage of the institution and the necessity of its function should not outstrip its ability to be reformed. No institution should be too big to fail, and the failure of any institution should not cripple society but directionally straighten it.
The risk against tolitarianism is the presumption that powerful institutions which compel obediance to their members is that legitimate human values and virtues of the organization are in conflict with those of smaller human groups. The more powerful the institution the more it creates a chicken-egg situation of which values should predominate. Crossing the organization can cause irreperable harm ot a community which depends on the organizational function. These smaller human groups, these minorities, these communities should not be sacrificed. Certainly free men have the right to assembly, to create their own small institutions independent of those larger more powerful ones.
Trust and the Hacker
James Baldwin wrote that the downside of being a professional is understanding the underside of one's profession. The displeasure of The Slice is more consequential because they understand how the organization they run can be undermined - how their weaknesses can be exploited, or indeed how the organaization's strengths can be abused. So it comes as no surprise that we expect professionals to swear oaths of loyalty to be virtuous themselves.
It is therefore, and once again, the virtue of those capable of subverting that keeps the Slice, the profession moral. This is especially notable in the matter of computer security as more of our human institutions attempt to improve their efficicencies and effectiveness via information technology. We pay strict attention to 'black hat' vs 'white hat' hackers. The integrity of all of these institutions are at some risk no matter what, but the very knowledge that enables the professional to create, can equally be used to destroy, and this is the critical point I wish to illustrate. It is the virtue of the human bits that secures the value of the institution to society.