I have been away from this blog for months, first because of work, then because of technology: my computer was fried during an electrical storm. Now I am back. I can’t predict work pressure, but at least the computer is in working order. And I have missed being able to post in Vulgar Morality.
Will I do better in the future? I promise to try. I think the subject matter is important.
The theme of this blog is the need to engage in a specific kind of behavior if we wish to maintain or expand the circle of our freedom. That behavior is what we mean, conventionally, by morality: self-control, community-mindedness, courage, honesty, all the traditional virtues.
There are many reasons for recommending morality, but here I focus on one: if we don’t govern our individual behavior, someone else will. If we are out of control, some power — usually the greatest power: the state’s — will enforce control. Paradoxically, therefore, the only way to preserve individual freedom is for the individual to govern himself according to the community’s rules of behavior.
From the perspective of the Vulgar Moralist, those rules are traditional. They have evolved, and proven themselves successful, over the history of the community.
That’s what the “vulgar” bit is all about. The old Greek philosophers meant “conventional” when they used that word, which they contrasted with “philosophical” and sometimes with “natural.” To the Greeks, anything based on public opinion was arbitrary, thus likely to be false: only reason or nature led to universal truths.
That belief, applied to the physical world, inspired modern science, and has delivered untold benefits to the human race. When applied to moral or political life, however, it has been catastrophic, costing the lives of untold millions in places as far apart as Buchenwald and the killing fields of Cambodia.
We can’t have freedom without morality, and we can’t have morality without tradition –without great respect for the weight of public opinion across centuries of community life. Since the defenders of morality are nowadays considered prigs, and defenders of tradition are scarce, arguments of behalf of either are rarely heard.
Still, that is what the blog will, once again, set out to do.