Something is moral if it is good for people you know. Something is ethical if it is good for people you don’t know.

One of the most important concepts to understand for judging oneself and others is “morally/ethically neutral virtues.”

A virtue is something that makes a person a better person.

Better is not a synonym for good.

It is a virtue, in most cultures to be generous, to keep one’s word, to be kind, to work hard, or to be courageous.

Three of those five virtues are morally and ethically neutral.

A brave person who is doing evil (many Nazi war heroes to give the most socially acceptable example) is worse than a coward doing evil. A hard-working person doing evil is worse than a lazy person doing evil (usually). A person who keeps their oath (their word) to a tyrant, is worse than someone who doesn’t keep their word to a tyrant.

We admire people who are hard working, courageous, or honorable.

But people who are all of those things, or even one, in service to a bad cause, do more harm than those without them.

I find a great deal to admire in Genghis Khan, but he left a wasteland behind him. (And note that Khan was generally moral. He took very good care of almost everyone around him. He was not, however, ethical.)

Although Dick Cheney was not a brave man (he sought and received Vietnam deferments), even those who hate him will admit he worked like a dog. That is unfortunate. One of the things I liked best about George W. Bush is that he was lazy, which, because what he wanted to do was almost all evil, was a good thing. Left-wingers whining about him (or Trump) taking holidays were fools.

The virtues of our enemies are virtues.

Note also, very carefully, the distinction between ethics and morality. A person can be moral (look after his family, friends, and other people he knows) and deeply unethical. Joe Biden is a deeply moral man: He loves his family and friends and would do anything for them.

He is also a deeply unethical man, who has supported many monstrous policies which have hurt millions and millions of people. He’s, frankly, evil, if you don’t know him. But what a friend he would be.

However, he’s not your friend, and if you vote for him because of how wonderful he is to people he knows, you will get hurt badly, and be somewhat responsible for that hurt.

It is also possible to be ethical and immoral, as in leaders who treat people they know like shit and people they don’t know well. Huey Long fell mostly into this category. To the extent that JFK did good things (his legacy is mixed), he certainly was.

A wise peon, and most of us are peons, prefers as a leader someone who is immoral but ethical, because they know that they aren’t their leader’s friend, or family, or direct servitor.

And, generally speaking, an enemy who is lazy, stupid, and so on, is preferable to one who isn’t. The only broad exception is that honorable enemies are better than dishonorable ones, because you can cut deals with them, and it is enemies, above all, with whom you must be able to negotiate.

In the small world, of small people, there are many we admire for their virtues who have turned themselves into creatures of bad leaders. Take, for example, special forces, whom many worship. In many cases they have done truly amazing things to become special forces: worked brutally hard, put up with privation, been loyal, and disciplined.

But when you let other men (or, more rarely, women) turn you into a weapon or tool, you are responsible for how they wield you. If your loyalty, skill, and discipline make you a better weapon or tool for doing evil, then your virtues have been corrupted.

(Ivy League graduates as well as military men and women should think deeply on this. But so should those who consider themselves elites in the financial industry, for example.)

Virtue in the service of a bad cause or evil master is still virtue. It is still admirable. But it turns virtue to the service of evil.

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