The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Most Fundamental Test of Intellectual And Ethical Integrity

… is whether or not someone will argue against their interest.

If you are rich, do you ever argue for high taxes, perhaps? If you are a home owner, do you argue for policies which even the field with renting? If you have a job doing something harmful, do you argue that job shouldn’t exist or be changed to something less harmful.

People who always argue their interest are have no integrity and should not be listened to in public debates.

Of course interest has to be understood properly. One may be in a social group where arguing against apparent interest isn’t actually that. In certain left-wing circles arguing against women’s rights isn’t really against interest, because you’d be a pariah. And there is a reason why women married to right wing men, vote right wing: it’s not actually against their interest.

(These examples don’t mean I approve, they’re just examples.)

A lot of apparent insanity comes from people arguing what their social group believes, even if it’s against hard interest. It’s not in young right wing men’s interest to support climate change denial, but it’s part of what their ideology and group believes, so they do. Incels have some beliefs that make it less likely they’ll get laid or find love with a woman, but, again, changing those beliefs (or at least arguing from them) would leave them ostracized from their group.

A person with integrity has principles, and applies those principles. If one believes all people should be treated with dignity, for example, one might support another group’s rights even if that’s against one’s own interest and even if member’s of one’s own group would be angered by the stand.


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  1. Eric Anderson

    We humans simply don’t like to think. It’s perfectly analogous to exercise. Witness the obesity epidemic for crying out loud.
    Our brains are wired to first employ heuristics (mental shortcuts) as an expedient to rational thought.
    The tribal heuristic seems the most pernicious of all:

    We just default to our in-group with no regard to the rationality of the groups position. There needs to be a study done on the prevalence of resorting to the tribal position prior to engaging the grey matter.

  2. S Brennan

    “One may be in a social group where arguing against apparent interest isn’t actually that…because you’d be a pariah [if you didn’t].”

    Sorta like arguing that efforts to silence Assange is wrong:

    The smart move is to say nothing, or smarter, to argue in a milquetoast manner that offers plenty of excuses for the authorities abuse power.

    That way if some judge, with a sense of decency, is accidentally placed in a position of power over the matter and then throws a spanner in the works by declaring the kangaroo court extra-constitutional, [which it surely is]. Why then, our milquetoast manned commenter can say; “I wasn’t silent, I supported Assange, [albeit, in a half-assed manner that consoled the deep-state in meaningful way]”

    Or, if it goes the other way and Assange is disappeared into North Virginia’s extra-constitutional courts, which far, far, far, more likely, our milquetoast manned commenter can say in a job interview; “see I really didn’t support Assange, what I really was doing was supporting the stasi-state’s quest by asking everybody to support the process until Assange’s voice was extinguished permanently”.

  3. As written, the title should be “The Most Fundamental Test of Intellectual And Ethical Integrity: Within the Framework of the Ecocidal Civilization.”

    As for real non-psychopathic interest in the species and overall ecology, the only real interest and integrity is to stop the onslaught. As for the climate crisis:

    *End all industrial emissions.

    *Stop destroying sinks.

    *Rebuild natural sinks, especially by letting natural forests, wetlands, grasslands resume their natural ranges.

    All else is a lie.

    And anyone who works to destroy the Earth will also work to destroy people. There’s no “trade-off”.

  4. Z

    I’ve always felt that way too: that whether or not you argue against your self-interests is a test of the degree of your intellectual honesty.

    I’d throw in the left wingers that argue for virtually, or sometimes absolutely, unlimited immigration as another example of people arguing against their self-interests. But then again maybe they believe that being accepted by their group is more important than taking an honest intellectual stand against something they may not believe in, but also see as an unlikelihood of ever happening anyway. Even then though, there’s a long-term cost for compromising your intellectual integrity.


  5. “It’s not in young right wing men’s interest to support climate change denial, but it’s part of what their ideology and group believes, so they do.”

    Assuming that, by “climate change denial”, you mean “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming denial” (CAGW), then it’s definitely in their interest to support such denial, when they believe CAGW to be poppycock. What possible incentive could they possibly have to support what they believe to be an extremely low probability hoax, perpetrated ultimately for political, and other nefarious reasons? If they’re right wing politicians, they may want to virtue signal (and be rewarded by purple votes) but, in general, it’s hard to imagine any substantial incentive. (Likewise, if they’re Republicans, and want to promote a regressive carbon tax to address the whopping federal deficits, then in this particular case, they’d also have motivation to feign belief in CAGW.)

    Now, if our theoretical “young right wing men” believe that CAGW is not a hoax, but a real threat, they may still be motivated to deny it. They may be counting on personal enrichment (say, e.g., by being a top executive in a fossil fuel company) to allow them to buy them and their families that analogs of pricey lifeboats, that poorer folks can only dream of. The poorer folks get to drown…..

    I don’t particularly care what your opinion/guess is of how the population of “young right wing men’s” viewpoints on CAGW breaks down, statistically. However, I WOULD be interested to know, based on empirical data, how many “young right wing men” are living a lie, so to speak, when it comes to CAGW, vs. how many “young right wing men” honestly believe CAGW is a strongly motivated, and well funded, hoax. IOW, I’d be interested in the facts of the matter.

    Finally, while other people may be interested in empirical data on the true belief of “young right wing men” regarding the question of whether or not climate changes, I’m not one of them. While it’d be well to quantify such ignoramuses, as everybody has heard of the Ice Ages, when climate was very different, I doubt such “deniers” to constitute any significant part of the population.

  6. S Brennan


    Why is “left wingers [arguing] for unlimited immigration [an] example of people arguing against their self-interests.”?

    If you are insulated from the negatives of massive immigration* and most of the urban elite who comprise the vast majority of the “left wingers” are…AND the negatives effects perceived by lower-class citizens accrue as positives** to the urban elite, well, aren’t they arguing for their benifet? Now if the urban elite can obscure their avarice in a veil of virtue signalling…so much the better, eh, as your post most surely proves…?

    *[of any kind]

    **[wealthy urban liberal elites surely benifet*** when they can pay low wages and receive high rents for their properties, which, BTW, increases the absolute value of rental property as a local population]

    ***[as do wealthy right-wing elites who also support unlimited immigration*]

  7. Hugh

    I think intellectual integrity comes from applying the same critical thinking to all comers, and all sides. For example, it is not intellectual integrity to apply one set of standards to right wingers and another set to the left.

    Ethics exists in a social context. It is about how we behave in society. For me, it is synonymous with social responsibility.

  8. Z


    I was referring to the vast majority of left wingers who are pro-labor.

    Not all these people are for unlimited immigration, of course.


  9. Willy

    This of course assumes the person isn’t a player.

    John Boehner argued against drugs and now peddles dope. Trump argued against the swamp is now is the swamp. Obama argued for change and did very little of that.

    So many of today’s “leadership” argue against their interests before embracing them that is seems like standard operating procedure. So, maybe this rule applies to those who already possess at least some integrity. But that’s the hard part – determining who. I’m still stuck at the place where if somebody calls me “bro” or “buddy” far too quickly, after I’ve never done anything to earn such a distinction, I can be reasonably sure that they’re up to something, that they’ve spotted agreeableness and integrity in me and quite likely, I’m being played.

  10. bruce wilder

    Do you know your interest?

    Or, merely imagine you know your interest?

    If you imagine that this is a dog-eat-dog world and it is in your interest to act as a predator, do you get a gold star for recognizing the opposed interests of your chosen prey?

    If you imagine that you benefit from social cooperation among strangers, from strangers respecting and observing rules that serve to protect your health, safety and welfare, and you cheat in observing those same rules, because it benefits you at the expense of strangers who will not be protected from the consequences of your taking risks with their health, safety and welfare, you are making a calculation when you should be (ethically) following a rule. Is the rule you ought to be following an abstract ethical precept or a calculated imperative arrived at in a political process that may or may not align with abstract ethical precepts? Do you know better than the political rule? Is judgement required by the indeterminancy of how the rule applies to circumstances?

    Is the political rule an actual guide to behavior or merely a clever tripwire for punishing consequential lapses of judgement?

    The predator is not advantaged to be fair to his prey, to treat his prey as an equal. But an intelligent predator may be advantaged by taking some care of his prey, as a shepherd cares for his sheep. The shepherd may be responsible to a farmer who owns the sheep. Between the farmer and the shepherd, who are cooperating as strangers of a sort (not family engaged in common enterprise), there may be expectations and obligations. Is the shepherd the farmer’s prey?

  11. S Brennan


    “I was referring to the vast majority of left wingers who are pro-labor.” – Z

    Not quite clear Z, the vast majority of “left wingers” have never stood with the working-class [at least since 1972], quite the contrary, they have attacked labor at every chance [since 1972]”. But perhaps I am wrong, show me Democrats/lefties today who have called for and actually followed through enacting policies that restrict massive influxes of labor in the past 25 years? I don’t think you can cite anyone of significance…truthfully, if [D]/lefty’s wanted to sweep the country, [they obviously don’t], they would emulate the FDR era’s stance on immigration and…stop trying to take guns away from rural people in order to solve a problem that plagues a tiny number of jobless urban zip codes.

    Until recent decades, [D]’s argued against big capital’s conveyor belt of unending immigration, now, right-wingers get to hide under the [D]’s tent and “virtue signal” to rural America that they are against immigration, when in fact, they are not…as the Bush family constantly makes clear to [R] donors.

    Here’s the link to US immigration for those unaware that US policy towards immigrants is not the poem that was placed a plaque beneath the Statue of Liberty…two decades after the statue was finished.

  12. Z


    We have a different definition of left wingers, yours sound more like democrats to me. But we’ll leave it at that.


  13. StewartM

    S. Brennan

    If you are insulated from the negatives of massive immigration* and most of the urban elite who comprise the vast majority of the “left wingers” are

    ? Really? Most immigrants, especially the more recent ones, from my experience tend to go to the more left-leaning metropolitan areas, not to the rural heartland where the righties and anti-immigrant folks hold sway.

  14. S Brennan

    StewartM, without casting any aspersions, you may want to read my post carefully again. Thanks.

  15. Joan

    I kept thinking about people with children while reading this post. It is socially acceptable to do nearly anything and write it off as “I just want the best for my kids.” I’m not arguing for or against it, just that I see it happen a lot.

    One largely unacknowledged reason women voted against Hillary is they were hearing “Syrian no-fly zone” and thinking of her involvement in Libya and wondering what her presidency would mean for their friends and family in the service.

    There’s also the issue of the left embracing and defending conservative Islam. I’ve witnessed first-hand leftist women argue against burqa bans. This is causing a lot of otherwise left-leaning women to dig out their running shoes.

  16. someofparts

    example of great integrity – Chris Hedges
    example of great lack of integrity – Tom Friedman

  17. Willy

    Intellectual integrity is harder for empaths, easier for psychopaths. Ethical integrity is the reverse. But empaths may be able to learn the science of objective discipline. Psychopaths can only ever fake ethical integrity.

    Something named “Christian Science” seems to hold promise, until one reads the inscriptions on their logo:

    “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons.”

    Bummer. So we keep looking.

  18. StewartM

    S Brennan

    Still don’t get it. There are not enough “urban elites” to win whole states like California or Mass, and you’ll see a lot more non-natives walking the streets of Boston or San Fran than you do walking the streets of a place like Huntingon, West Virginia. But you see a lot more anti-immigrant backlash in the latter than the former. While I certainly agree that laboring America has been hammered by 40+ years of neoliberal policy, selecting immigration as a cause has all the hallmarks of scapegoating rather than real causality.

    Curious, aren’t you living in Thailand?

  19. StewartM

    As to Ian’s point–isn’t the whole point of trying to live an ethical life is to align one’s self-interest with the interest of your society and that of the world at large?

    CO2 emissions are a looming danger, so you want the US and the world to turn to greener sources of energy. You thus want to make it cheaper or provide help for people to install solar panels on home and buildings. The fact that if you’re a homeowner, would the fact you too would benefit from such changes and could install solar panels on your own home show a lack of integrity?

    If you’re uninsured or under-insured, or have relatives or friends who are, would arguing for a truly universal health care plan show a lack of integrity?

    The reason I say this, is the right always portrays the left as a bunch of ‘takers’ who ‘want free stuff for themselves’, oblivious to the fact that the “free stuff” being asked for would really benefit everyone. So the real criteria for integrity is “are you arguing to get or to keep a ‘perk’ that just benefits you, or people like you’?

  20. S Brennan

    Curious, aren’t you living in Thailand? – StewartM

    Uhm no but, you are only off some 10,000 miles…so much for your omnipresent skills..sheesh.

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