succumbing to peer pressure

Monday, May 26, 2008

Guilt is...Good?

Maybe I'm just a bit too Catholic, but Rosenbaum's argument justifying guilt, and why it's a good thing, totally convinces me (though I'm less convinced that that provides a valid reason to support Obama). The entire article is worth the click over, but here are some highlights:

Guilt is good, people! The only people who don't suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers. Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have—in the case of America's history of racism—historical awareness. Just because things have gotten better in the present doesn't mean we can erase racism from our past or ignore its enduring legacy.

Actually, I think it requires a kind of strength, not weakness, to face the ugly truths of history and to react to them in an honest way. "Liberal guilt" isn't a reason one must automatically support a black candidate, but that doesn't mean that liberal guilt—better defined as an awareness of the need to contend with, and overcome, a racist past—shouldn't be a factor in politics.

Of course, it's not enough just to feel guilty or to act on guilt alone. But guilt can often spur us to deal with the enduring consequences of the injustices of the past and force us not to pretend there are none.

It's especially surprising to hear "guilt" being disparaged by conservatives, since they present themselves as moralists; they are quick to decry liberals for seeking to abolish guilt over various practices conservatives deem immoral. But was slavery not immoral? For those conservatives who make a fetish of "values": Was not the century of institutionalized racism and segregation that followed the end of slavery a perpetuation of "flawed values" that the nation should feel an enduring guilt over? For those conservatives who are forever speaking of the way they value history and memory more than liberals: Should we abolish the history and memory of slavery and racism just because they're no longer legally institutionalized?


Again, to love America truly, one has to love the America that is and was, not a fantasy America free from flaws.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about "Guilt is good, but negatively affecting your physical or mental health is not"?

11:24 AM  
OpenID aearonlinn said...

I love some well-placed guilt! But then again, I've always said Catholicism is genetic, so that might be my issue too...

"The only people who don't suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers. Guilt means you have a conscience."

I think that sums it up though. Yeah, it can be taken to a bad extreme. But without it, I'd be... the people I write about.

(They drink blood, dude.)


3:28 PM  
Anonymous Tom said...

While sociopaths having no guilt is definitely not good, having too much seem like it would lead to a different set of problems. The idea of using it as a bragging point seems a little off too.

The current inequalities and obvious brokenness in the world should be reason enough to want change it, without guilt. Things are not right -> fix them. The reasonable guilt would be in not trying to fix existing problems, and then it definitely isn't something to be proud of.

12:09 PM  

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