Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Casnocha On Felten On Loyalty vs Universality

[L]oyalty is essential in human affairs. Without loyalty, trust disappears and relationships crumble. The problem is, loyalties conflict. For example, when friends commit immoral acts, should you stand by them (loyal to friend) or uphold moral principles (loyal to principle)?...  
What's the difference between a little and a lot of wickedness? That's up to you. Figuring it out is an example of a tough decision Felten says we need to make, case by case.
More here. Loyalty vs universality is great example of a trade-off that comes up often and leads to tough decisions. Every time you spend luxury money on yourself or friends that could have gone to an effective charity or basic research, you're implicitly choosing loyalty. Two thoughts:

1) Contra Felten, I'm reluctant to say that decisions for any trade-off must be made on a case by case basis, because there are huge gains to be reaped in cognitive efficiency by creating rules and following them.

2) The trade-off can interact with some now vs more later. That is, being loyal to your associates and thus building connections in the short run can help you achieve your goals in the long run. These long run goals, in turn, may be designed to make a larger set of people (or even "everyone") better off, thus justifying a universally beneficial motive.

Yet, how many historical atrocities were once rationalized with this logic? If you really favor the welfare of everyone equally, it's probably safer to act that way while on the way to your goals, instead of planning to do so in some future world.