And so we begin.
This week I’d like to discuss how Wardog wanted to vote out Wendy because she stayed loyal to Reem. Wardog said he couldn’t work with someone who wasn’t more flexible, because she would be a danger down the road. Of course, he’s only pondering the practical side of Wendy’s loyalty, but I’d like to consider the ethics of it. Is it more ethical to be loyal than flexible or vice versa? (Or neither?)
There are some people who consider loyalty such a strong axiom of a good ethical system that almost nothing can supersede it. Like diamonds only being scratchable by other diamonds, these people believe that a loyalty can only be superseded by a stronger loyalty. For example, loyalty to a friend might be superseded by loyalty to a spouse or child. Or a whistleblower’s loyalty to his company might be superseded by loyalty to his community. Most of ethics for these people is therefore a weighing of loyalties to determine which one to support.
There’s a fairly strong evolutionary argument for the importance of loyalty in ethics. For most of humanity’s time on Earth, we probably lived in small tribes. Those tribes with loyal members probably had an advantage when facing threats like predators, famine, and attacks from other tribes. There’s significant evidence that most humans emotionally crave being part of groups in which loyalty is both given and received. Some people theorize that a lack of loyal friends and family is a common cause of depression and anxiety. (An idea often repeated by Survivor players having emotional breakdowns.) From the evolutionary standpoint, Survivor is an odd scenario, since it actively promotes disloyalty in small communities.
In Republic, Plato argued that loyal actions could vary depending on circumstances. He raised the scenario of giving a weapon to a friend. If the friend asked for the weapon to attack an enemy, it seemed to Plato that a loyal person should generally give the weapon. However, if the friend was clearly in an irrational state of mind (e.g. from mental illness or drunkenness), then being truly loyal would require not giving the weapon. Plato felt that we need to consider the full temporal range of our lives when making ethical judgements, not merely the demands of the moment.
Thus, loyal actions and flexible actions are often in the eye of the beholder. The person in Plato’s scenario might see himself as being loyal to his friend in the larger sense of his friend’s future well-being. However, the friend in his drunken state of mind probably sees the person’s flexibility as treacherous.
Plato’s scenario is not very ethically challenging, though. Few people would argue for giving a weapon to a drunk or mentally ill friend. The more interesting ethical dilemmas occur when people are mostly in rational states of mind, yet we still think they’re ignorant or irrational about some features of the future. When an elderly parent insists that she can still drive, but her children are worried that her eyesight is no longer good enough, are the children loyal to their parent’s future well-being when they take away her keys? Unlike many drunkenly irrational people, the parent might not change her mind in the future. She might also genuinely still be able to drive safely. Or maybe the children are being loyal to their community by taking a dangerous driver off the road? In these situations, people are likely to feel conflicted no matter which decisions they make, because when we impinge on the freedoms of other rational humans, especially people who we’ve respected for most of our lives, it’s healthy to at least partially doubt our own rationality.
However, simply as a Survivor fan and not pondering the ethics, I think Wardog is making a bad strategic decision to vote someone out so early just for being loyal. I’m reminded of the novel The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, where a criminal prefers honest police to corrupt police because the honest police are more predictable. Dalton Ross from Entertainment Weekly does a good job explaining this in further detail here.
And finally, Keith can’t swim? Did he ever look up Fiji on a map? He might as well have an allergy to slide puzzles.