Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama and the Wages of Guilt

This morning Hopkins Professor Fouad Ajami offers a sobering assessment of the Obama foreign policy "reset." Link here.

In his words: "Steeped in an overarching idea of American guilt, Mr. Obama and his lieutenants offered nothing less than a doctrine, and a policy of American penance. No one told Mr. Obama that [in] the Islamic world, where American power is engaged and so dangerously exposed, it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one's own tribe when in the midst, and in the lands, of others."

And also: "The crowd may have applauded the cavalier way the new steward of American power referred to his predecessor, but in the privacy of their own language they doubtless wondered about his character and his fidelity."

What does this tell us?

For decades now psychotherapy has been trying to replace traditional American shame culture with a culture based on guilt. Thus, it has worked tirelessly to transform our culture and our values so that our lives in community could become a permanent experience of psychotherapy.

It has been difficult to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of guilt-based therapies because it is nearly impossible to eliminate all extraneous factors from the equation, to discover whether good or bad effects in the patient were the result of therapy or something outside of therapy.

Thus, it has taken over a hundred years for people to have concluded that, by-and-large, therapy that attempts to rewrite your life history as a guilt narrative-- with crimes, guilt, penance, punishment, and redemption-- does not work.

And, I would contend, it has never really worked. Thus the need to inject a guilt narrative into the culture at large, to make the world safe for those who been acculturated in guilt by their therapists.

Be all that as it may, it is relevant to examine what happens when the guilt narrative comes out of the shadows and tries to work its magic in public. In this case, when it takes over American foreign policy.

Once we see this "reset" as therapy-based acculturation writ large, we can examine the results it produces. According the Ajami, a leading expert in foreign policy and the Arab world, the results are that you lose respect and people start suspecting that your character is less than good-- thus, that you are not trustworthy.

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