I’m a strong believer in pursuing one’s own rational self-interest.
But, I also think it’s good to cultivate and promote virtues that may not maximize one’s prospects in every individual circumstance, but (especially if widely adopted) will help to protect and promote those things we most value in the long run.
Thus, I agree with Eugene Volokh’s recent post about Courage, Shame, and Practice.
In it, Eugene responds to a commentator who questions whether he would behave differently from those (neighbors who sought the eviction of a terror target) he had criticized.
Eugene is no Bill Whittle, but I think he makes very strong points in his own clearheaded style.
We shouldn’t be foolhardy, but we also shouldn’t be cowardly. A culture of people who are often ready and willing to protect each other is stronger and safer than one where predators can be confident that their individual threats will meet little resistance.
I particularly liked Eugene’s final paragraph:
But dark days are here, and darker still are ahead. Each of us may one day indeed face a terrible test. If we don’t perform the small acts of bravery, how will we ever be able to perform the large ones? If we don’t try to make a habit of courage — if we don’t seize, in our mostly safe and comfortable lives, the opportunities to be brave — how can we make sure that our courage will be there when we really need it?
There was also an amusing exchange in the comments, in which a commentator began his criticism of that final paragraph with “Are you psychotic?”, and Eugene replied:
Tip 1: If you want a substantive discussion, don’t start by asking the other person whether he’s psychotic.
Tip 2: Assume the other person is not psychotic, and ask yourself whether there could be a sensible interpretation of what he’s saying.