Matt Perryman

Why character is everything (and character means nothing)

By Matt Perryman

In Plato’s easier dialogues, you’ll find a randy Socrates espousing ideas about morality that we know today as “the virtues”

As he does with most things, Socrates speaks cryptically about virtue. Sometimes he’s talking about one virtue, like courage. In other places, he talks about the virtues coming as a single package. If you have one, you have them all. In other dialogues, virtues are a pathway to a higher, transcendent reality beyond this world of material stuff.

The most interesting thing is that he never reaches a point. You’ll watch Socrates dismantle the most arrogant Athenian noble, but in the end, you’re left holding the wrecked carnage of an idea that you thought you understood.

Later writers, notably Aristotle and the Stoics, gave the virtues their own spin.

The Catholic Church used them as a central piece of moral theology for centuries.

Today, we don’t talk much about the classical virtues outside of certain academic ghettos. I spent a few years in one of them.

Modern Western and European cultures don’t care much about virtue.

In our societies the person doesn’t matter as far as ethical and moral principles go. What matters is the rules and your obedience to them.

Who obeys them, and why, isn’t on the agenda.

The rule of law has a point, you know. If you’re always making calls based on your estimation of the individual, why, you’re apt to end up with a corrupt and broken system built around cronyism.

Even the best-intended folk are horrible, and I mean terrible, judges of character.

You haven’t lived until you’ve caught a criminal in the act and watched them stone-faced lie to a judge… and have the judge believe them.

It’s like asking a driver to rate his own performance. Everyone believes they’re near the top.

Fact is, you probably aren’t good at reading people at all, and that’s exactly how psychopaths take advantage.

I wrote a little short piece about predatory psychopaths, and how to spot them, over on the Substack this week.

You can read it here:

Matt Perryman

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