Is Loyalty A Type Of Private Prejudice?

I believe in human rights, which is to say that I value righteousness and the utmost importance of moral accountability. I believe that we have the moral responsibility to care for universally acknowledged and shared values such as dignity and to be treated fairly and respectfully, to have equal opportunity and access to employment and education no matter one’s age, gender, sexual orientation, religion or culture and to have the freedom to enable independence – particularly the freedom of thought – which returns back to access to education. I remember when I was in secondary school, I was the person protecting “nerds” from the “jocks” because I was popular as well as smart, the one known to fight against authoritarian teachers and was frequently punished with suspensions and detentions. I reflect how Aristotle’s The Golden Mean and Confucianism were both incredibly appealing to me at a very young age because I naturally desired respect and equality as though instinctually aligned with that type of regularity and balance. I understood the relevance of self-cultivation, appreciated concepts of honour and integrity, and held the ideas of goldin (loyalty) in high esteem as they nurture relationships that promote social harmony.

Loyalty plays a significant role in moral agency as it enables cooperation in order to shape and apply ethical values, and we often approach the subject under the common understanding that it is an ethical principle held in esteem as a favourable moral condition. Indeed, loyalty to your wife or husband and commitment to a promise illustrates moral behaviour and accountability especially through difficult times either during a marriage or when experiencing personal affliction, sharing the burden and helping the other now a part of your life to find relief because you desire both you and your partner to be happy. While the inherent nature of our motivations remains problematic, it returns back to that regularity and balance, this pride in upholding morally worthy behaviour and this is only achieved in mutual recognition based on trust. But is that loyalty? Or is that commitment defined by an underlying friendship or a bond enjoined by empathy, this moral consciousness that I refer to as ‘love’ where one identifies the deeper need to see their beloved happy and desirous to share a life with them? That is, an effortless outcome caused by a will mediated by empathy that stands as a mechanism of reason to mediate the relationship between our private motivations and social patterns? There have been instances where women who are conscious of their husbands cheating turn a blind eye, men who tolerate unbearable circumstances because of their obligation to their religion rather than their will leading to all sorts of hidden depravities as visible with the Catholic Church and the crimes against children some priests have committed. Can one not say that a Nazi was loyal, that criminals who have killed and murdered show loyalty, that ethnocentric behaviour or Othering is a type of loyalty: “By the process of Othering, the colonizers treat the colonized as ‘not fully human’ and as a result, it dehumanizes natives. Othering codifies and fixes the self as the true human and the other as other than human. The Colonizers consider themselves as the embodiment of “proper self” while label the colonized as ‘savages.'”[1] Can we call criminals loyal?

At a social and political level, such unity can be empowering as it enables solidarity that functions as a conduit to communicate order, where numerous people identify with the same ideas and form a sense of belonging and comradeship. Foucault speaks of this power being as much a positive network then negative that shapes society into a coherent whole, indeed the very framework that enables emotional feelings of belonging and give one an identity and purpose. Loyalty nurtures cooperation and social harmony, but it additionally shapes distinctions and differences, that while it characterises ideas of social inclusion and connectedness also promotes exclusivity that loses the essential traits of a community. Therein forms a phenomenological reduction where prejudicial preconceptions are mistaken as the truth and where no other cognitive activity or individual volition is left. Injustice and highly immoral behaviour suddenly becomes “fact” because the group or power structure has reinforced the provision and motivation to believe automatically that it is fact and so prejudice becomes the enabler that destroys the ethical purpose of loyalty.

A man who is automaton in his sexist or misogynistic behaviour removes the individual and turns women into an object, unconsciously or immediately assessing her qualities comparative to this archetype shared to him by his environment. He would defend any man, even the most wretched of men, over a woman (rapists are suddenly given compassion over the victim who appears to be ‘asking for it’ and her behaviour is questionable despite the fact that he is the violent rapist) and without reason or logic involuntarily assumes that his faux ‘knowledge’ is a circumstance of reality. It just is, despite logic, despite evidence on the contrary, therein remains a deeply embedded benevolent sexism that is immovable because the power of this ‘knowledge’ has solidified into the unconscious iceberg where it is frozen into ‘fact’ and therefore no longer requires further thought. His loyalty to men is prejudicial, despite assuming that it is positive and even more disturbingly a moral attribute. Do the men of Sudan and other parts of Africa and the Middle East really find genital mutilation attractive?

Kant purports that the Categorical Imperative is that very maxim where the moral agent is tested, confirming whether they are enabled to rationalise and reason the just and appropriate way and motivated to act accordingly. Loyalty seems to me to not be defined as a standalone moral or ethical attribute but rather the product of one’s private motivations, illustrating the difference between someone who has conformed in blind submission leaving their behaviour to chance with someone who can rationalise and distinguish morally appropriate behaviour independently, to understand moral worthiness without religious or social approval and the need to belong as their primary motivator. They have transcended toward independent thinking and have overcome the fear of any potential aggression or isolation it may initiate. Loyalty is indeed a virtue, but it remains relative and regulated by something much more important. Reason.

It is clear that a distinction needs to be made, one such already touched upon by Josiah Royce and while, albeit, there certainly requires more depth that he has offered, has attempted to explain that loyalty is a commitment and the conditions for genuine loyalty is choice, much the same way he establishes a distinction between a crowd and a community. “A crowd, whether it be a dangerous mob, or an amiably joyous gathering at a picnic is not a community. It has a mind, but no institutions, no organizations, no coherent unity, no history, no traditions.”[2] A community is an emotional extension of ourselves and a materialisation of our subjective individuality through something concrete that society enables and loyalty is that commitment to the choice of serving it ethically. Loyalty is the right word to describe the unity and connectedness that forms through freedom of choice just like a ‘mistake’ materialises only when one feels remorse after becoming conscious of making a mistake, otherwise it would not be a ‘mistake’ and in much the same way ‘loyalty’ only materialises when one becomes conscious of and decides to approach her values willingly. Criminals who are committed are not loyal but predatory because it lacks any cognitive ‘scrutiny’ that enables him to question right or wrong behaviour.[3] What makes something truly moral is the authenticity of the motivations; am I saying this and am I agreeing with that only so that other people will accept me or because I want something or I am afraid of being disliked, or am I saying this because I have a gut feeling it is the right thing to do and I am not afraid of trusting that despite potentially aggravating people or being disconnected or dislocated.

This leads me to the following. I have just left staying in the refugee camp for almost a month and the circumstances were rather dire. As I meet new people and hear their personal and sometimes shattering stories, I see how living under occupation in the extremely dense conditions where everyone is in close proximity to one another, rubbish piling on the streets that is sporadically collected by local garbage collectors paid a measly amount by UNRWA, unemployment at almost 50% where youth roam hopelessly despite many with high academic credentials but who are unable to afford the costs of further study, who are exposed to violence and prison that has almost become normalised, it is hard not to feel a sense of righteousness and to desire improvement. I am loyal to human rights and that all people deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity, the military occupation being predatory by imposing such discriminatory restrictions that it led to the very violence it was seeking to control.

However, the atmosphere of hostility that compelled Israel was also initiated by the aggression and opposition it experienced particularly from the Arab world that led to today’s oppressive military occupation and political groups such as Hamas continue to weaken the prospect of peaceful relations through continued hostility. They are justified. They seek to protect their own and the Palestinian social and political landscape has a great deal of improvements that need to be made. While conditions of the occupied territories can be improved as must the political regime of Palestine, the occupation itself must and needs to end in order to enable that domestic transition and further changes, which again returns to the problem of Israel building settlements and provoking further aggression. It is undignified having Palestinians leave the bus on their way to Jerusalem to be checked at gunpoint while the rest of us remained on the bus.

I care for people and unfortunately the majority of Palestinian people are innocent, they are truly suffering but remain hospitable and kind. Removing the intensity of the security and sometimes the bad behaviour of security personnel, so are the Israelis. Yet, when I say that I support the Palestinian people, I am immediately opposed to Israel. When I say I support Israel, I am immediately opposed to Palestine. I am forced to make a choice and I absolutely refuse to. Therein lies the fear that I will lose favour from either side. My political and legal criticisms will remain impartial and I am determined to be vociferousness against any clear legal, humanitarian and human rights breaches from both sides. I will liberally criticise racism present in Zionism without being called an anti-Semite and I will liberally criticise terrorists labelled ‘martyrs’ without feeling threatened. I believe absolutely in the inherent freedom to criticize governments. Silencing the Palestinian voice and having the military commit gross human rights abuses is unacceptable and I will fight that. It does not imply that I am against the existence of Israel.

I feel like I am a mother with two sons who both don’t seem to get along but both of whom I love very much and both as guilty as they are innocent, the cycle of distrust and violence in continuity because they are too stubborn to accept their misdeeds. I listen to both and hear the same narratives being repeated and I worry that heightened in-group/out-group hostility – the whole “I am right and you are wrong” behaviour – may create the conditions to enable underlying prejudices guide discourse that will eventually solidify into “fact” without thought. I am afraid it has but I refuse to implicit favoritism on either side.

I sit in transit on my way out of Israel, a tear rolls down my cheek.


[1] S. R. Moosavinia, N. Niazi, Ahmad Ghaforian, Edward Said’s Orientalism and the Study of the Self and the Other in Orwell’s Burmese Days, Studies In Literature and Language, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2011, pp. 103-113
[2] Josiah Royce, John Edwin Smith (1988). “Josiah Royce: Selected Writings”, p.272, Paulist Press