I was a young child in elementary school; At the beginning of the year, our teacher presented us with this strange call to action to be a hero. If the teacher catches you doing something good for someone, they will reward you. Here was the catch, you are not rewarded for doing good things everyone can see. Only when the acts were discovered accidentally by the teacher. The idea here was that to be a hero, you need to act good for the sake of good.
This presents us with an immediate paradox. We should both act for the sake of doing good and not for the reward; however, we will still get a reward. I think the best way to explain this is to entrench the habit of being good as defined by the teacher. The reward is more of a myth that our actions will be rewarded. Then we will not need a reward because we will learn to love and act for the good.
The lesson I have taken away so many years later is that this statement of the teacher was to foster heroic acts that align with the values of the teacher. A hero is only someone who pursues values for the love of those values, they do not need a reward. I think the only way I could engage with the teacher’s statement is that I would be rewarded at random. This reward would come only if I am already inclined towards her vision of being heroic or accidentally look heroic. The latter was more likely because the teacher could not read my intentions.
I am sure these types of lures work to some extent. There were many of these schemes during your childhood to socialize you into society. But how many children grow up to love doing good because they love the good. The vast majority are unheroic, this is a large burden on them because they live unable to live up to the moral ideal. We struggle to do the good, error and lapse into vice. We are all failed experiments of our teacher.
I want to introduce you to a character named the Duc de Blangis featured in the text 120 Days of Sodom, by Marquis de Sade.
Born treacherous, harsh, imperious, barbaric, selfish as lavish in the pursuit of pleasure as miserly when it were a question of useful spending, a liar, a gourmand, a drunk, a dastard, a sodomite, fond of incest, given to murdering, to arson, to theft, no, not a single virtue compensated that host of vices. Why, what am I saying! not only did he never so much as dream of a single virtue, he beheld them all with horror, and he was frequently heard to say that to be truly happy in this world a man ought not merely fling himself into every vice, but should never permit himself one virtue, and that it was not simply a matter of always doing evil, but also and above all of never doing good.
Now here is the real question I want to confront here: Is Duc de Blangis a hero? You might say that he is not because he fails to act in line with virtue for its own sake. He loves vice in the same way you love vice, it is something that you do because you are weak and fail to live up to the higher moral ideal. He is actually just a weak and pitiful soul. If this is your opinion, I will ask you to reconsider as I go deeper into the character. I believe he is a great hero if such a character could exist and he might well be the only possible hero.
Let us observe what the Duc de Blangis has to say about your moral failings.
“Oh, there are plenty of people,” the Duc used to observe, “who never misbehave save when passion spurs them to ill; later, the fire gone out of them, their now calm spirit peacefully returns to the path of virtue and, thus passing their life going from strife to error and from error to remorse, they end their days in such a way there is no telling just what roles they have enacted on earth. Such persons,” he would continue, “must surely be miserable: forever drifting, continually undecided, their entire life is spent detesting in the morning what they did the evening before. Certain to repent of the pleasures they taste, they take their delight in quaking, in such sort they become at once virtuous in crime and criminal in virtue. “However,” our hero would add, “my more solid character is a stranger to these contradictions; I do my choosing without hesitation, and as I am always sure to find pleasure in the choice I make, never does regret arise to dull its charm. Firm in my principles because those I formed are sound and were formed very early, I always act in accordance with them; they have made me understand the emptiness and nullity of virtue; I hate virtue, and never will I be seen resorting to it. They have persuaded me that through vice alone is man capable of experiencing this moral and physical vibration which is the source of the most delicious voluptuousness; so I give myself over to vice.
Let us analyze the claims of our “hero”. He presents us with the standard moral conflict you have to face. You are filled with the desire to act in vice. This will lead you to act out this desire, but since you believe this to be wrong you are in error. Your moral failings are not out of ignorance, but because you live with contradictory desire. This conflict leads you to act un-heroic. There is no way that most people or maybe anyone can totally accept virtue even if they know what it is. The only hero presented here is one that is not indoctrinated into virtue, but instead defaults to vice. They know what is in accordance with their values and act consistently for these values.
This leaves us with a question: Will you purge yourself of the desire to vice or purge yourself of the knowledge of virtue? A hero can not live with contradictions in their own mind. They can confront contradictions in the world that test them in carrying out their motivations. But you as a hero must be clear in the values you hold and consistently act for your values.
The Marquis de Sade believes that to act heroic for virtue is impossible. There is no way people can suppress their true libertine desires to live what we think of as the virtuous life. The only thing that could keep people in line is fear of punishment and ultimately death. It is the guillotine which regulates man into submission.
What is the only thing that can stop a hero? Society and the crushing weight of regulating all that it opposes. The characters in de Sade’s story get away with unspeakable crimes. Why? Because the decadent monarchy in France has decayed in its ability to enforce virtue; thus our heroes are free to act out their own independent values. For them they have decided that what they want is to kidnap and rape people of all ages including children.
If you are going to take seriously the ideas of de Sade there are a lot of beliefs that you need to leave at the door. The most important belief: people have an innate love of justice and when free will choose to act in accordance with justice. I think that de Sade might be too pessimistic or is just selecting the most predatory behavior to wrap up into his hero characters. Still, your natural desires may be harmful to others. Logic is instrumental, our values come first and we can only use logic to further these values. We should understand our assumed virtues are contingent on the regulations that our current society places on us.
This does not mean that without society and consequences people would go around raping and murdering for fun. You may fall into the trap of rebellion is to be the exact opposite of the values of society. I think you could say that de Sade falls into this a bit. We are presuming a love of rape, eating shit, and more. That being said some people do in fact enjoy rape not just to be edgy and they will do so. In fact many people who are sent out and have to kill people in war do not get enjoyment from it, it actually scars them for the rest of their lives. Though if you want to kill people, war is one outlet that is socially acceptable for your bloodlust. Some will as always partake for the bloodlust. The question is whether teaching people virtue is what causes psychological distress for killing people; de Sade obviously would hard agree; I would softly agree.
I believe that most acts of vice are really undesirable and if you did them it would traumatize you. The question is whether this is caused because I am indoctrinated with virtue and I would naturally desire to do so. I am pretty sure I do not want to eat shit, but maybe I am yet to know my true nature. I would argue that this does not imply that I have a love for virtue, but I have a disgust of eating shit. I am sure if I was free I would act to do something counter to virtue, just not eating shit or raping anyone for that matter. I don’t think everyone has a natural desire to do whatever we restrict as a society. Maybe I am not black pilled enough as de Sade.
The lesson here of de Sade is they might come to the conclusion that their values are to commit rape. Virtue only acts to confuse their values. The strong will act out their libertine desires when there is not something called society to keep people in line. We will have to fear those who will act heroically for the furthering of their values.