Tweets and Facebook memes concerning infidelity are so numerous that they must leave one to wonder if our moral standards are too high or whether our understanding of the human condition is skewed. In Plato’s Phaedo, Socrates cautions his interlocutors against misology and misanthropy. Both are apparently brought on by disappointment. Misology – a kind of revulsion or distrust of reason or argumentative discourse – leaves one accruing sophistry to all forms of debate.
But why should this occur? Socrates argues that this is the result of shifting blame or blame transference. Watching as one argument after another falls apart can be disheartening and lead one to believe that all forms of reasoning are in vain. But is reason or logic the culprit responsible for the failings of debate? Isn’t it rather the virtue of reasoned debate that invalid inferences are detected such that one’s assent does not fall prey to the eristic trickery associated with the form of argument adopted by sophists? Likewise, misanthropy occurs as one is time and again confronted by abhorrent behaviour. Judgment again is presumptuously determined by an assumed understanding of human nature, so that the expectation is that it must and should be fashioned on what is Good! Is this not to evoke judgment from a position of acknowledged ignorance?
Let us start from the beginning then. What of infidelity? In-fidelity is the lack of or privation of fidelity. That is, someone can only be accused of infidelity in a presumed context or situation of fidelity. So what is fidelity? Fidelity is a form of faithfulness or loyalty to a person, people, ideology or religion. So fidelity is selective and exclusionist in form. We pledge allegiance, or faith in our spouse, country, and religion to the exclusion of all others. Though this is not bigotry, it most certainly is discriminatory. And why not? Fidelity is not an arbitrary act; indeed, it is precisely in the contrariety of this act that the lack thereof becomes the source of such impassioned disappointment. Let us take fidelity to one’s spouse or significant other. Fidelity involves being present to the other which involves both a sense of transparency and acceptance or receipt of oneself transparently. Without getting into the numerous problematics regarding the proper rendering of “presence” (Gabriel Marcel’s negotiation of Creative Fidelity will not disappoint! ;)) and transparency, suffice it to say that being present to the other involves being or feeling (completely) yourself, and accepted for who you are. There is a deep-seated, almost ominous, bond that is perpetrated which is inclusionist as or in its exclusionist act over and against all others. High stakes! For the expectation is that fidelity is constantly renewed and reinforced throughout time! Couples marry not with an ephemeral view to the person they are committing to in the present; instead the commitment involves remaining ever-present and eternally faithful to the other!!! This is futuristically oriented to a person I have not yet encountered, premised on who I can only imagine that person to be based on our shared history. I am placing my trust in the other person that she or he shall remain worthy of my esteemed consideration.
Epic fail! There’s Socrates rolling his eyes uttering under his breath, “No wonder!” Transparency presupposes openness and mutuality, but what happens when this is compromised? What happens when people begin to feel a dis-connect (reasons abound!)? Fidelity was conditioned on or couched in our understanding of transparency and acceptance. If one or both cease, can one truly be accused of in-fidelity when one strays? Infidelity, according to this view, does not speak to the act of engaging in sexual relations with another when one is still officially or formally married or in a relationship. Recall that in-fidelity is the privation of fidelity and hence rests in the appropriation of the conditions of transparency and presence. So though fault can be found with a “transgressor” for not formally ending a relationship prior to enacting upon this sense of dis-connection or un-involvement with the other, it is not clear that this person is also an infidel! One might say therefore that in-fidelity is not the result of faithlessness, but faithlessness is the result of in-fidelity.
Still disappointed? To presume that acts of “infidelity” are also expressions of disloyalty or betrayal seem to involve at least the possibility of assuming some notion or understanding of Goodness quite distinct from our understanding of human nature. The present discussion was not a detached discourse searching for some universal definition (what we philosophers call “real definitions”) of in-fidelity. It was actually within the context of human affairs and our understanding of ourselves as the negotiators of meaning that infidelity came to be understood as connotative of belongingness, transparency, and presence to the other. Don’t then be disappointed with others (at least not necessarily) but instead consider the possibility of a skewed understanding of terms hi-jacked to do the work of (moral) assessment.
Perhaps Socrates is right. Perhaps one’s disappointment is not to be identified with the other, but is really the result of one’s own ignorance. Consider the possibilities this narrative opens up: one can be noetically mistaken with regards to the proper understanding of terms employed to inform judgment, or one can simply be wrong in their estimation (the worthiness or compatibility) of the other, or yet still with regards to the proper understanding of “self” as essentially static (which can lead to terribly skewed expectations).
Imagine the release, or relief, that comes from this realization! Often feelings of betrayal are toxic and leave one feeling bitter, untrusting and full of hate for someone they presume had deceived them all along. It is perfectly possible that the person whom you once loved possessed all of those wonderful virtues you previously adored and which in your presence made for that genuine bond and faithfulness.