In which Carrie muses on obligations to self and society while nodding to Nerdfighteria for giving her a place to nest her own humanity…
Tonight I will pose a question at the Socrates Cafe: How might loyalty to the “larger” contradict integrity of the individual? I anticipate people will jump to the obvious punchline which is “by compromise” and it won’t garner much enthusiasm by way of vote. It isn’t a very sexy question, I don’t think, because people already know the answer to it or it isn’t charged with tension by itself. Still, it is a question that has been bothering me for sometime…because I don’t have the answer…so I’ll examine it here. But before I get to the nitty-gritty, I will offer an observation in nature which might illustrate the problem.
At some period in time, ornithologists were concerned about declining bluebird populations. One amateur bird-nerd, our friend Tom, was also concerned and gave us seven bluebird boxes in the hopes that these birdhouses…now suspended in trees enclosed within a ten-acre habitat …would offer mating pairs a place to build their nest. One nest has been occupied for several weeks when a pair laid eggs and presently nurture their hatchlings.
At the egg stage, I observed the male bluebird (quite a brilliant and flashing blue like the water of Crater Lake) run off other birds, like the robber Stellar jay, and even chase down mammals, like the Golden-mantled ground squirrel. Quite a drama. Just a half hour ago, I saw the female catch an insect, smash it on some pavers, and consume it. I presumed it would transfer from her stomach down one of the hatchlings’ gullets before long.
This family of birds can be symbolized as the “larger” whereby each of the mature members are loyal to something bigger than themselves, though I hardly think they “think” this way.
Loyalty to the larger means speaking or acting for a greater body than one’s own. This body can be as large as the biosphere, and as small a relationship of two. More often we will understand loyalty as meaning: 1. to family, 2. to an organizational body like that of an occupation, political party, or spiritual affiliation, among others, and 3. to a country. All of these “larger groups” are included when I say one has loyalty to “the larger,” no matter how small.Loyalty does not mean loyalty to self, however.
Integrity is the opposite of loyalty to self (as defined). Each individual has an internal integrity whether biological, moral, metaphysical or any combination of these and others. Having integrity to oneself is similar to saying “I will stay true to myself” or “my personal values are primary to other sets of values” or “my survival is of the utmost importance.” Because conflict is the stuff drama is made of, all of these can be explained in literary theory categories: “man vs. self” “man vs. society” or “man vs. nature.” So, the tension.
When I consider my loyalty to Nerdfighteria who command: “decrease worldsuck and increase awesome,” how much of my integrity is at play when I live this command and how much am serving a larger body? Do I sacrifice self for this larger group and maintain integrity to self through my loyalty, or is it the other way around? How do we know that integrity doesn’t mean just something positive like “honest” or “harmonious” but is also, negatively, an expression of “selfishness” or “greed” in word and deed? Is loyalty to others inclusive of integrity to self? Is the individual informed by and subsequently matching the needs of the larger? What is the self without the external group? Is there such thing as total integrity, or is it measured in degrees? Is there such thing as total loyalty, or are we only serving our integrity? How do I know I am executing loyalty to the group and not just surviving? Is it possible to live with one and not the other?
I hope that at some point these questions can be reconstructed in a more understandable format, but I’m just at the inquiry stage for now.