Hachikō (1923-1935) was a Japanese Akita dog remembered and celebrated for his outstanding expression of loyalty. He developed the habit of picking up his master, Hidesaburō Ueno, every day at the train station after Ueno returned from work. When Ueno died, Hachi continued to wait for him at the station for the following nine years until Hachi himself died (Wikipedia).
There is a statue of Hachikō near the Shibuya Station in Tokyo, and there are movies made about him. Hachi turned into cultural symbol of loyalty, while at the same time revealing our tendency to value loyalty.
A couple of nights struggling with insomnia led me to discover Jonny Keen on YouTube, a 66-year-old man who regularly posts videos about his life, the books he is reading and collecting, his Christian faith and his theological interests, his memories, his marriage, the diaries he has been keeping since 1978. I wondered why I was so moved by, and drawn to, his video records. And, the theme that came to my mind is related to what makes loyalty, in general, so moving and worthy of celebration. There are traces of loyalty in every single aspects of Jonny’s life.
To be loyal is to not leave your post. It is to preserve what you value, what you rely on as the basis for your actions, in the face of a changing and unstable world. It is to stand firm, against odds, against authority and popular opinion, and even at times against reason and counter-veiling evidence. This is why, for instance, C. S. Peirce writes:
… most of all I admire the method of tenacity for its strength, simplicity, and directness. Men who pursue it are distinguished for their decision of character […]. It is impossible not to envy the man who can dismiss reason, although we know how it must turn out at last.Buchler’s collection of the Philosophical Writings of Peirce (1955, p. 20)
The passage is taken from Peirce’s essay The Fixation of Belief, where in light of the topic of discussion it is perhaps appropriate to contrast tenacity with rationality as two opposing methods of inquiry. But outside that topic, we cannot maintain the opposition. In fact, Peirce himself advocates a type of loyalty to rationality and to the doctrine of fallibilism (see, for example, The Scientific Attitude and Fallibilism).
Here is a final example. If you have read N. N. Taleb’s Black Swan, you might recall his impression of the book Il Deserto dei Tartari, which tells the story of Giovanni Drago remaining at his post–without reason or evidence–until his death. Drago and his group were assigned to guard a border against possible enemy attack, an attack which did not happen, thus depriving their post/loyalty of reason and evidence, until Drago’s last moment. After reading the book, Taleb buys boxes of it and gives a copy to “anyone who said a polite hello to him”. We seem to respond to loyalty at an instinctual, pre-rational level.
It is, of course, admirable to exercise rationality, to be responsive to reason and evidence. It is also worth remembering that the virtue of rationality is sustained by, and embedded within, another set of virtues. It is worth remembering the place and worth of complementary virtues, such as loyalty, and the sheer beauty of remaining at one’s post.