Saturday, August 7, 2010

Liberal Guilt

You probably don't remember it, but back in the bad old days penitents used to flagellate themselves to expunge their guilt. Whatever quantity of soul-crippling guilt they had accumulated through sins of word, thought, and deed would be exorcised by a flurry of self-inflicted lashes.

The experience provided a spiritual satisfaction, almost a spiritual renewal that was as real as it was short lived. Flush with righteous feelings of guiltlessness they felt cleansed, renewed, revivified.

But that was not all they felt. They also felt that they had attained to a spiritual superiority that gave them the right, even the duty, to lord it over those whose piety was not strong enough to allow them to submit to the same purification ritual.

They did not suffer all of that pain, with its attendant pleasure, for nothing. They did it to gain status, to gain power and authority, to affirm their place among a moral elite whose spiritual fervor placed them a step closer to God. The closer you are to God the more you will unthinkingly embrace your self-righteous megalomania.

Exception made for the occasional session in the BDSM parlor, these practices eventually fell out of favor. Recall that bands of flagellants marched through Europe during the plague years, trusting that their holy wails would cleanse their world of the sins that had caused God to punish them with the Black Death.

As we know, the tactic did not work, and thus, it was discredited.

And so it remained until Freud brought back the sin, guilt, and penance narrative and placed it at the center of his mythic version of human nature.

As I have been at some pains to assert-- even though it is not exactly a secret-- psychoanalysis is all about guilt, and nothing but guilt. And while it does not cure what ails you, any more than the medieval flagellants stopped the relentless march of the plague, it does produce a righteous mania in its adepts. This mania is even more righteous because patients feel that they have earned it for having suffered countless hours on the couch.

Have you ever thought that the couch is the moral and spiritual equivalent of the rack. Some people imagine that the rack was merely an instrument of torture. Yet, I think it fair to say that those who were inflicting its pain believed that they were facilitating a deeper confession.

Freud began his career trying to induce his hysterical patients to remember the sexual traumas that had, he believed, produced their illnesses. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he saw them as crime victims whose symptoms were crying out for justice.

After a time Freud discovered that these memories were less than reliable, but still he wanted to retain the guilt narrative. So he decided that even if the abuse had not happened, what mattered was that these young women had really wanted it to happen. It wasn't real; it was their repressed fantasy.

They had become hysterical because they wanted to be molested and could not accept that they could wish such a thing. The wish was inconsistent with their proper, respectable veneer.

Psychoanalysis would therefore help them to get in touch with their sinful impulses, to embrace them, and to do proper penance. They could reduce their quantity of guilt by spending years on the couch talking to an invisible confessor. Thus,  the couch would be a mix of the rack and the confessional.

Nowadays people are more likely to learn how to plumb the depths of their guilt on the couch, or through the ministrations of other representatives of the therapy culture, than they are in church. Strange irony, that.

Wherever they learned it, whether on the couch or in the classroom or through the media, many people in our culture have learned the lesson well. They have learned that whenever anything bad happens to you, you should blame yourself first. Then you can undergo an exercise in moral self-flagellation, the better to ensure that you have cleansed yourself of your sin and had therefore ensured that it not happen again.

For those who buy this ideology, 9/11 is not about what the terrorists did to us, it's about the sin for which 9/11 is a just and righteous punishment. It's not what they did wrong, but it's about what we did to deserve the attack.

In a just universe the punishment must fit the crime. And a punishment that horrific must have been produced by a similarly horrific crime.

These left thinking people should never say that they do not believe in God's divine justice.

Whether it is imams from the Muslim Brotherhood or leftist radicals or Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the masters of liberal guilt were more than happy to tell us that 9/11 was our fault, and that we could best ensure that it not happen again by engaging in some public soul-searching along with some spiritual self-flagellation. We had to find out how bad we really were and we needed to do penance.

As you may have noticed, these people have found the perfect president in Barack Obama, a man who has made contrition and penance cornerstones of his foreign policy.

To these purveyors of liberal guilt, we should not have responded to 9/11 by fighting back. Led by the spiritually purified Andrew Sullivan-- who seems to have overdosed on therapy-- left thinking people decided that the way to defeat terrorism was to undertake a long much to the moral high ground.

That would show 'em.

Once we reach the moral high ground we can join the intellectual and moral elite. Then we can impose our superior spiritual will on the angry masses who have not undergone the correct form of penance and purification.

If you don't agree, as the majority of people, within and without New York City, do not, you should, Mayor Bloomberg says, shut up. You are suffering from the sin of Islamophobia and need to do a little moral self-flagellation.

As you may have noticed, Mayor Bloomberg is currently making a complete fool of himself over this issue. Who but a self-appointed and self-anointed member of a moral elite could so easily dismiss the opinion of the people? Who else could show the hubris required to declare that if we cave in to popular sentiment, we would be handing a victory to the terrorists?

Respecting the will of the people, upholding democratic values, would be a victory for terrorism.

The tragedy of Michael Bloomberg is being played out before our eyes. As with all tragedies, it is based on hubris. A man who has demonstrated entrepreneurial greatness by establishing himself as a master of the marketplace of information got convinced that he was also a master of the marketplace of ideas.

That, my friends, is the kind of hubris we see when a hedge fund billionaire like George Soros declares himself a political philosopher. And it is what we are seeing when Michael Bloomberg presumes to lecture the nation about philosophical principles.

Several people have said that the Ground Zero mosque story is not over. It has just begun to bring down a man who made billions in information technology, but who is about to be brought down by his own intellectual hubris.


Anonymous said...

Bonsoir Stuart,

“In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—and we should not stand for that.”

In addition to being hubristic, per your impassioned and eloquent argument, Bloomberg's statement seems a breathtaking inversion of reality. To give in to popular sentiment would be to DENY the terrorists a victory.

In his grandstanding, I do believe Bloomberg takes us all for morons.

And he is making Sarah Palin look like a genius into the bargain....She at least gets the appalling inappropriateness of the mosque in this location.


Marsh said...

Wow! That was a great post. Lots of insight.

I never looked at Psychoanalysis as another way to do penance.

Thanks for the terrific post!