A while ago, I refused an invitation to try a new coffee shop as I was ‘loyal’ to my regular in the same suburb: a relaxed affair whose consistent quality of latte and soft blues music had lured me back time and time again. On reflection, however, I wonder at my use of the word – can one be loyal to a venue? People often state that they are loyal to their country, or their football team, or their brand of footwear, but by applying the word to so many abstract concepts, are we diluting its potency? Perhaps a quick snapshot of the history of loyalty might provide some answers.
Loyalty is often considered a virtue; indeed, the philosopher Josiah Rice contended that loyalty was ‘the heart of all the virtues’. This implies that loyalty is always a positive attribute to display. John Ladd questioned this idea, however, pointing out that a Nazi’s loyalty to fascism and anti-Semitism is ethically unsound.
In might be possible to remove this obstacle by arguing, as Ladd does, that loyalty should be reserved strictly for interpersonal relationships; loyalty is a social contract between people and should not be applied to causes or ideals. We are not loyal to our country; we are devoted or committed to our country; we are not loyal to our cause; we are devoted or committed to our cause. This is one way we can avoid using the word to excess, but I’m not sure whether I would say I was committed or devoted to my coffee shop. And we would have to reconsider such expressions as ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘fan loyalty’. The semantics involved would require a much longer piece than I have time for.
What I can conclude, however, is that there is a strong undercurrent of loyalty in the stories of this issue of Questions. Juni Desireé questions people’s assumption of loyalty towards one’s biological family in ‘Wanted’; in ‘Always Greener’, James Palmer examines how far loyalty towards one bloodline can be pushed; and Kristin Robertson questions the loyalty people can display towards animals in ‘Birdcatchers’ – in this case, a perhaps misguided loyalty towards a pestiferous parakeet.
I hope the stories contained in this issue will invite you to question your own inherent loyalties and examine what causes and ideals you are truly devoted to.