Sunday, July 01, 2007

Guilt Mongering Galore

Tibor R. Machan

In my youth I got a substantial dose of guilt mongering, mostly through the religion in which I was brought up. No, I was not raised Jewish but Jews are by no means the only ones who are inundated with feelings of guilt from the outset of their lives.

Nor is it only religious upbringing that has stood firmly for the policy of making us all feel guilty for, well, nearly anything that we might enjoy in life. Today, for example, it tends to be the environmental movement that preaches the misanthropic doctrine of our fundamental corruption. In the past the doctrine of original sin was the main vehicle for the idea. Guilt mongering seems to be a borderless movement, given how culture after culture makes itself notable for decrying the human animal in large measure for our desire to enjoy our lives.

Somehow, paradoxically, it is all right to aim for eternal bliss but not for just a few decades of it here on earth. If it feels good, well it must be something bad, seems to be the basic point championed in so many circles, religious, secular, ethical, political, psychological—well, actually, perhaps in clinical psychology happiness is still being affirmed as something proper to desire, although even there the latest trend, judging by recent books on the topic, seems to be to demean our aspirations to be happy.

Another paradox is that even though the bulk of the intellectual community has tossed the idea of free will—not for good reasons but because of the widespread perpetration of the fallacy of unjustified extrapolation or, what I have dubbed “the blow up fallacy”—guilt hasn’t been under fire. Yet, without free will, how can there be guilt? Dumb animals, as they used to be called, feel no guilt because, well, they couldn’t have done better than they did, whereas people can choose badly and that can leave its mark.

But even with free will, is it really the case that we choose so badly, so often? Is our so called materialism really such a terrible thing about us or is it but a very natural desire to fare well in life? (And notice, it isn’t really materialism to desire fine or even useful stuff. None of it is just material but mostly imaginatively and usefully shaped matter.)

Maybe what I would like to place on record is an affirmation of enjoying life instead of promoting, endlessly and with such zeal, the feeling of guilt in our lives. This self-flagellation has gone on long enough. It is time to call a halt to it and to demote all those who are its cheerleaders. Why do those who preach our essential guilt get to hold the moral high ground? Why are they tolerated for the finger wagging, yet mostly arbitrary, accusers who they are?

The Al Gores and Jeremy Rifkins and Ralph Naders, with all their little helpers, just will not rest until we have all surrendered to them and gotten in line to renounce pleasure and joy, little and great, in human affairs. Their erudition, the learning that they have amassed seemingly so as to appear unanswerable when they accuse, works only because most folks are hard at work making an effort to live instead of finding reasons to affirm this effort and to defend it. But defend it we must, lest the misanthropes will triumph yet again.

A very nice aspect of modernity, something so many grave people despise about it, is that it can actually help people live a flourishing life on many fronts. Human beings are multifaceted, what with aesthetic, philosophic, economic, medical, culinary, familial, athletic, artistic, and many other dimensions to their lives. After, at last, the modern era ushered in the preconditions for serious creativity on all fronts—by way of the affirmation of individual rights, limited government, free markets, etc., and so forth, we can now actually strive to live long, well, and largely fulfilled.

But this objective must be defended because there are just too many people who are dead set on thwarting the aspirations, if only by attempting to make us feel guilty for having them in the first place. Please gather up the wherewithal to resist their efforts.

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