Monday, October 13, 2014

On Collective Guilt

Guilt is a form of social regulation in which one is internally regulated in relation to external principles -- more often than not, religious principles. This is beyond being concerned with what others think, as one sees with shame. Religious principles transcend the merely human, while shame is deeply embedded in the human. Responsibility, which follows guilt, is equally deeply embedded in the human. As Kimura observes, "Responsibility is the individual’s ability to respond to any situation in life as the cause, not as the victim, of the situation." That is, the human being is the cause of the situation that that human being is in and is the cause of that individual's future. Shame, guilt, and responsibility are "conservative" forms of social regulation.

The social regulator that emerges after responsibility is collective guilt. It is the common trope of the progressive left. While traditional guilt requires an external source of principles that acts to unify the group into a collective (think of Catholic Medieval Europe), collective guilt is collective first and foremost. People are placed into groups, and the situation of those groups are compared. If there is a group who is doing better than some other group, and we combine it with the assumption that the world is a zero sum game (an evolved psychological trait it takes effort to overcome), the result is the conclusion that that inequality came about due to exploitation from the group which is doing better relative to everyone else.

Thus, men should feel guilty relative to women; whites should feel guilty relative to other racial/ethnic groups; the rich should feel guilty relative to the middle class and poor (and the middle class should feel guilty relative to the poor); etc. Those who are working to rectify these disparities are exempt from collective guilt and are made saints. Thus the feminist logic that a government almost entirely controlled by men can and ought to take care of women; thus the African-American progressives' logic that a government almost entirely controlled by whites can and ought to take care of African-Americans; thus the egalitarians' logic that a government entirely controlled by rich people ought to be given more power to redistribute wealth.

A major difference between traditional guilt and collective guilt is that principles are not involved in the latter. There is a rejection of natural laws, whether those natural laws come from a theological source or from a natural source. Human beings have no nature, there are no cultural universals, and social orders have no rules. The result is unprincipled guilt -- a sense of guilt with no foundation in anything other than a sense that, because you or others are doing better than others, you ought to feel bad. But why ought you to feel bad? It is the feeling -- the only "principle" left in your repertoire -- that the world is a zero sum game, meaning your advantage is necessarily as the expense of others. But this notion that the world is a zero sum game is a primitive evolved trait. It is ironic that those who call themselves "progressives" are basing almost all of their ideas on a very primitive part of their evolved psychology. Of course, progressives would equally deny that this is a factor, since they deny human nature.

If the world is a zero sum game, the only fair outcome is equal distribution of resources. This idea is the closest thing to a principle one comes to with the egalitarian psychology. But while I demonstrated the foundation of this principle, egalitarian logic dictates that egalitarianism is itself less a principle than an ideal goal. Using this logic, the progressive can argue that they are future-focused (progressive) rather than foundational (and, therefore, "conservative"). Thus the source of their antifoundational arguments.

Out of this idea of collective guilt, we can also begin to understand politically correct thinking. Political correctness is based entirely on collective guilt. Certain groups can say and do things other groups cannot. Political correctness is designed to reform the group by making it impossible for members of that group to say and do certain things. Only those who need to feel guilt need to be reformed.

With traditional guilt, it is important that one protect one's external principles from competitors. This is why we get things like the Inquisition and religious radicalism. Given that the nature of guilt -- even collective guilt -- requires something external to feel guilty about violating, it makes sense to want to protect that external source. It is, after all, what makes you and others virtuous and thus works to create community. Anything that threatens that threatens the very structure of the community. This is why Islamic radicals hate Christians and Jews and why Medieval Christians hated Jews and Muslims. And it is why progressives sincerely see conservatives as evil villains. It's not enough that they be wrong; no, they have to be a poison to society itself. At its most extreme you get the purges of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. We continue to hear people argue that these are extreme examples, and in no way indicate what the "moderates" of these world views believe, while at the same time we hear a discomforting silence from these moderates when these outcomes do in fact emerge. Idealists driven by guilt -- collective or traditional -- are among the most dangerous people on earth.

Of course, we must keep in mind that while collective guilt emerges as a social regulator, that does not mean that people do not still feel a sense of responsibility, traditional guilt, shame, or familial bonds. Collective guilt is built on top of these. Further, a society in which collective guilt has emerges as the dominant form of social regulation will still have people in it who are socially regulated by responsibility, traditional guilt, shame, and familial bonds. This is bound to create social conflicts among these different groups with different dominate social regulators. For those who feel collective guilt is insufficient as a social regulator -- because of the inherent paradoxes of this world view, or because they learn some evolutionary psychology and/or basic economics, for example -- naturalistic principles emerge.
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