Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Useful Guilt and Selfish Guilt

I’ve noticed that there are two types of guilt, useful guilt and selfish guilt.

Useful guilt leads me to change my behavior so that I no longer do the guilt-inducing action because I’ve decided it’s wrong.

Selfish guilt contains all the pain of guilt, and yet, is a selfish indulgence. We feel the pain of guilt to make ourselves feel better. So it is masochistic.

How does it work? If I violate one of my moral judgments – such as, that I should devote myself to the welfare of others, or not eat meat from animals that were mistreated – I’ve done something wrong. But if I don’t want to stop the action I can restore my psychic equilibrium by punishing myself with guilt for my moral infraction. I do a bad thing, punish myself and then feel that the perpetrator has been punished and my moral world is set aright. I feel as if justice has been done or the perpetrator has been punished. I am my own police, judge, prosecutor and prison. Since I have no priest I play that role for myself and gain absolution by causing myself suffering for my transgression. The painful guilt is simultaneously a pleasure since by suffering its condemnation – paying my debt to society – I can continue breaking that moral rule in the future.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Future of the World

An online journal called “Kosmos” asked for a reaction from its readers on the following topic:

"Here is the current topic for reflection:

Many of us have been living with the knowledge that our world and its institutions are nearing collapse. We long for that time – that rare opening – when evolution takes a momentous leap forward. The election of Barack Obama aroused an explosion of spirit in the world. It seemed to be an outer symbol of an inner knowing that the tipping point from collapse to creation may well have arrived.

The slogan heard around the world is “Yes we can.” What does this mean to you?"

Here's the first draft of a response:

What does the slogan “Yes we can” mean to me? It means that another empty slogan has gained popularity. The kind of change we’d like to see occurs through social movements - collectivities of more or less ordinary people getting together to push for what they want, not through the election of an official in the most powerful country in the world. Obama is a centrist politician who may, because of the dangers in the current financial situation, make some significant changes in the way things are done, but who will also reestablish, with some modifications, the prevailing order. Better than Bush but also Bush with a human face. Obama is a symbol of the civil rights struggles of the sixties, but he is also an acceptable establishment figure who wouldn’t have gotten elected were it not for the dangerous financial and economic situation.

I’m not sure that we are “nearing collapse.” Collapse could occur, but it’s hard to imagine what it would look like. The “explosion of spirit” in reaction to the election of Obama is not an “an outer symbol of an inner knowing that the tipping point from collapse to creation may well have arrived.” It is an outer symbol of the yearning for a better life which will be realized if common people of a like mind band together to wrest power from those who control things in ways that favor the interests of the powerful.

Much more heartening is some of the change occurring in South America where massive organization has produced some structural changes. By focusing on Obama, we divert our attention from the real work of being involved with others in creating the societal changes we want. To work creatively and productively with others who share our goals requires heightened inner and outer awareness in order to know what needs to be done, how to do it and how to be the kind of person who can engage with others and act together.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Origins of Belief

Some friends asked if I’d like to do a reading group on Michel Foucault. I said no, but that maybe we could do a group that uncovers our own beliefs and examines their origns in our own psyches. They recoiled in fear and disgust.

We each have a conscious and unconscious, consistent and inconsistent stance, perspective, or belief-system. Things we’re presented with – ideas, others’ beliefs, works of art, music, situations, current events – trigger reactions, feelings, thought, opinions and considered perspectives. Why those triggered reactions and not others? What is the psychic economy occurring at any given time, and in general over time, in this person that produces that reaction? Why does this one hate that music and that one loves it? What is it triggering in each? I contend that there is an interesting and elaborate psychological story to be told about why those immediate reactions occurred. It has to do with the person who one is.

We could come to learn how a stance, a perspective, being-disposed-to arises, is sustained and how it hangs together. And why, occasionally, conversions occur. Opinions are interesting, but they can get boring. What’s now more interesting is what caused you to hold that opinion. What psychic purpose does it serve?

While the representationality or mirroring-ability of our ideas and beliefs has been unmasked or thrown into grave doubt in contemporary philosophical discussions, we still compete for rightness – the rightness of rendering - in our discussions. Compete for who has got It right. And yet, all the while, we have no foolproof way of determining the It we are trying to get right and can legitimately doubt It’s existence. In our discussions we are trying to get a conception of reality to prevail. (Although, if we share rules for determining validity then we can often come to some agreement.)

What’s at stake in that competition?

1. How the world will look. 2. What we think we should do in it. 3. The integrity of our own beliefs and the legitimacy of the selves and lives that caused and are validated by those beliefs.