There are, as far as I know, two sets of morals which have dominated thought for the past century.

  • Postmodernistic interpersonal value acceptance. Basically, the widely spread “I’m okay, you’re okay” approach to interpersonal acceptance. Followers believe that it is impossible to establish an optimal best set of ethics. Moral behavior then becomes a question of following one’s expounded set of beliefs. The reason is that the only way of validating another person’s integrity is through consistency of action and opinion.
  • Victorian absolute value belief. As far as I understand, before postmodernism, there used to be a belief that there was “a” correct way of behaving. However, it was recognized that humans were fallible beings. Thus it was alright for a person to praise the virtues of a certain behavior and then proceed to do another. That is to say that the person would not be subject to the same accusations of hypocrisy that he would experience in the postmodern camp.

I won’t hide that I fall in the latter camp. I think the for personal finances (or any other goal where success can be quantified) it is better to strive for an ideal and then admit to failure than to devise a “reasonable goal” and then just try to be consistent with that goal. For instance, if I set a fitness goal, the goal I set is “elite” (*). Even though I realize that I won’t reach it, aiming for the stars puts things in a larger (more absolute) perspective and it is more inspiring.

(*) According to my estimate, human physical capacity spans about a factor 10. In other words an elite performer is about 3 times more impressive in terms of strength, speed, agility, endurance, stamina, etc. compared to an average person. In the same way, an average person is about 3 times ditto compared to a untrained/fully sedentary person.

However, in that regard, I also think that if someone is firmly in the postmodern camp, being told to aim for an ideal, or even trying to self-motivate to aim for an ideal will seem unnatural. Instead the thinking is better pursued along the lines of “I realize that I will never be a millionaire and besides I don’t want to work 80 hour weeks or take business risks just to be rich, so using that as a measuring stick will just be discouraging. Instead I will set my own goals and try make my behavior consistent with those goals.”

Originally posted 2008-06-26 07:20:00.