As most other words, loyalty describes a ‘multidimensional interval’ rather than the ‘precise something’ most of us usually expect.

What kind of loyalty?
Loyal to whom/what?
How far would it go?
How is it affected by the passage of time?/How does it change the passage of time?

I’ve been mulling over this subject for more than 10 years now…

For me, this is closely related to the famous “Prisoner’s dilemma”.
You now, where two guys break the law together, get caught, are indicted for two felonies and the prosecution  has solid evidence only for the lesser charge. The two guys are held in separate cells, with no way to communicate, and are pressed hard to confess of the higher charge and/or to betray the other guy. During the interrogation each of them learns that:
– If both betray, each of them gets 2 years in prison.
– If one betrays and the other stays mum, the snitch walks and the ‘mute’ gets 3 years.
– If both shut up, each of them gets a year for the lesser charge.

Interesting enough for somebody who was never in such a situation. And it gets even more interesting if you start reading what the ‘pundits’ have to say about the whole thing.

The ‘cold rationalists’ maintain that it’s only logic for both of them to betray, simply because this is the only sure way to avoid the longer sentence. You never know what the other guy might do in a pinch, right?
The more down to earth, specially those with a more ‘intricate’ knowledge of the ‘underworld’, will loose no time to point out that something like that won’t happen if the the pair belongs to the mob…
Those with economically biased minds will be quick to point out that both of them should shut up simply because this way the team would ‘minimize the aggregate cost’.
Last but not least, sociologists will consider that it’s a good thing, for the society at large, that the criminals tend to be more disloyal than the law abiding citizens – otherwise crime would be even harder to fight than it is now.

Confused?

Then let be present the situation from the ‘loyalist’ point of view.

The ‘what’ of the matter has to do with the proportion between ‘blind’ and  ‘willingly/knowingly assumed’. A mobster will be loyal because he has no other alternative – he’d walk into a self-sprung trap if he’d snitch on his partner while a true friend/brother would be loyal for completely different reasons.

Loyal to a person? To a ‘moral value’? To a ‘time honored tradition’? To a ‘local custom’?
If both guys were loyal to each other…
If both were loyal to ‘do no harm unto others’ they wouldn’t have got here in the first place…

As far as ‘distances’ are involved… In the standard example, as ‘formalized’ by Albert W. Tucker, there’s a relatively small difference between what both of them ‘get’ if both of them snitch and what the ‘mute’ would get if the other one would choose ‘the easy way out’. It’s only fair to presume that the pressure for both of them to betray the other would be far bigger if the ‘betrayed mute’ would be ‘rewarded’ with ten years instead of three while ‘mutual betrayal’ would remain at two each.

Time… isn’t this the most interesting dimension? Where you can only look, but never actually go, back and where haze always increases with distance …
Time, where the ‘good’ kind of loyalty helps those who ‘practice’ it and where bad loyalty constitutes an extremely heavy dead-weight …

How to tell ‘good’ from ‘bad’ in this case?

Consider the long term fate of the provinces/countries controlled by organized crime or by any-other form of dictatorship. No capo/dictator/authoritarian figure would ever be able to impose his will over the rest of the population, absent the loyalty of his supporters…

OK, loyalties are what defines us. What keeps us in one piece. What keeps all of us together.
In fact, the few of us who have no loyalties are nothing but sociopaths.

“Joseph Newman argues that the sociopath has an attention bottleneck that allows him to focus only on one activity or train of thought, to the exclusion of others. Researchers, including Howard Kamler, say that the sociopath lacks not “moral” identity but self-identity altogether.”

Hence, it’s up to the rest of us to spot them and to protect ourselves against them.

How?!?

By not extending misplaced loyalty towards them, of course!

Sociopaths are people who have little to no conscience. They will lie, cheat, steal and manipulate others for their own benefit. They know exactly what they are doing, they just don’t care because they don’t think that way. If you are naive enough, they will brainwash you into doing exactly what they say and what they want which is the only time a sociopath is truly happy.

‘They know exactly what they are doing’…

What’s keeping us from doing the same thing? From keeping at least an eye open for those who demand undeserved loyalty? Under which ever disguise and under which ever pretense?