Tuesday, April 9, 2013
Riddled by Guilt
It's pretty much a commonplace to observe that the source of human psychological anguish is the guilt we feel for having somehow acquired sentience--the knowledge that we are "something" but not "everything"--that we possess some godlike powers of knowledge and yet (presumably through our own "most grievous fault") must nonetheless endure very un-godlike death.
This reality finds its religious "explanation" in the myth of The Fall of Man, of which I here summarize the Catholic version. Satan (whoever he is/was) goaded human beings into eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, thereby arrogating unto ourselves a self-awareness that only God "deserves" to possess, because only God is truly superior to, and not bound by, the physical laws of the universe. The fact that we must die constitutes definitive proof that--despite our presumption--we are not gods, we are not free, we are not perfect, and that we are, in fact, evil, and selfish and sinful. Original Sin, then, amounts to little more than the guilt we feel about "knowing" and nonetheless "deserving" to die.
The irony, of course, is that we cannot bring ourselves to want to not know, to want to reunite ourselves with unthinking, brute matter. Far from yearning to return to a state of robotic beatitude, incapable of choice, incapable of knowing good from evil, we instead cling stubbornly, as to the most precious of gifts, our ability to know, and hence to do, evil. We call this "la condition humaine" or "the quality which makes us human." We don't like knowing that we're "bad," but we sure prefer this awareness, and the appertaining guilt, to knowing nothing at all.
What interests me in this blog is the way(s) in which humans cope with this guilt. It seems to me that several responses can be chosen--and it's here that I'm going to play around with American political attitudes by looking more closely at four possibilities : A) the Religious (Save Me) Republican response; B) the Humanist (Save You) Democratic response; C) the Libertarian (Fuck You) Republican response; D) the Persecuted (Fuck Me) Democratic response.
Unquestionably, in deeply religious America, the most popular response is Type-A--the Religious (Save Me) Republican response (espoused by a good many Democrats as well). The person holding this belief is, essentially, puerile and lazy in his thinking. He acknowledges that he does evil, even that he knowingly and sometimes enthusiastically does so, taking pleasure in exploiting and dominating and controlling (as if he were God) while simultaneously regretting (like a small child) the empirical evidence that his actions are not automatically "good" and that he, too, in the end, deserves punishment and must "pay."
The second most popular response is probably the Humanist (Save-You) Democratic response. These Type-B individuals (of whom I am one) are relatively adult and responsible in their thinking. (Naturally!) Like the Type-A folks, they, too, recognize their yearning for personal knowledge and dominion, their love for experiencing the exhilaration and exaltation of godlike power. And like the Type-As, the Type-Bs feel guilty about their selfishness--they are quite aware that much of their behavior is not "good" and, indeed, deserving of punishment. Type-Bs, though, do not usually seek refuge from their responsibility by fabricating divine saviors and superhuman redeemers. Rather, they rely upon their own human faculties to make compensation for their failures and excesses; they choose to "pay for" their sins, to balance their selfishness, by doing good--by being, in the original sense of the word, liberal. Thus, by changing and/or moderating their own behaviors, by committing themselves to solidarity with others, they themselves expiate for their sin.
The third and fourth types of responses can probably be considered--and dismissed-- together, since they both involve a categorical refusal to acknowledge personal guilt and/or responsibility. These guys--at both ends of the political spectrum--are deniers of human reality and, as such, essentially dishonest, foolish, and often dangerous people. The parallels in their bad faith are apparent.
For instance, the Libertarian Republican says, with Ayn Rand and Rand Paul, "Fuck you: I AM God and I have no obligation to anyone but myself. Whatever evil exists is YOUR fault. I will do what I please and you must also do what you please, insofar as you are able; if you cannot care for yourself, then you deserve to die. But I WILL NOT DIE. Hahaha."
The Persecuted Democrat, on the other hand, but with similar blindness, asserts--along with countless pseudo-Marxist apologists--that he is a helpless victim. "Fuck me; you fuck me over, all the time. But you are EVIL. All evil is your fault. I am entitled to be loved and cared for because, as you will one day see, I AM God. Then you will die. But I WILL NOT DIE. Hahaha."
Both truly far out!
I'm not sure what legitimate (if any) conclusions I can draw from this little exercise in politicizing the riddle of guilt. Maybe I was doing nothing more than indulging myself in seeing patterns and parallels where, in fact, none exist.
I do believe, though, that at the very least, I have shed a bit of light on Republican vs. Democratic mentalities. Obviously, there are plenty of exceptions and plenty of overlaps. But I still believe that Type A and Type C persons--childishly believing that selfishness and greed are either a) forgiven, and therefore allowed, by virtue of belief in a savior or b) justified up front because "that's the way it is"--these people generally vote Republican. And the Republican platforms advocating survival of the fittest and favoring the rich few over the poor many certainly reflect this "forgiven" and/or "unrepentant" individualism.
Similarly, Type B and Type D persons tend to vote Democratic, enshrining in Democratic platforms the social activist notion that individuals do have responsibility for other human beings, either because "sharing the wealth" provides moral salvation for rational adults or because "collecting welfare" provides temporary sustenance to those who cannot (or will not) escape their economic dependency.
Perhaps this is all too neat and simplistic. Have I presented Type B individuals too positively? Have I been a bit unfair to the Libertarians and the Religious Right? Oh, for heaven's sake. Now I'm beginning to feel guilty. And I think it's your fault. Oh, wait.
Adam and Eve must have really enjoyed that damned apple.