November 16th, 2008

More Guilt!

Here are some sketchy notes, from memory, on what we talked about at the discussion.

The idea for the discussion came from my reading of a Rand-influenced book, "Guilt, Blame, and Politics", by Allan Levite. (Thanks for recommending the book, miss_breeziness ). We did talk about the way racial guilt and wealth guilt influence liberal politics. But a lot of the discussion focused on personal feelings of guilt, where they come from, and what to do about them.

There was wide initial agreement that the biggest source of free-floating unearned guilt is... altruism.  (No surprise in a Rand-influenced discussion group.) Since no one can survive and be a perfect altruist, altruist premises always leave you feeling guilty.

The guilt/shame distinction was drawn along social lines, where guilt is more of an internalized judgment and shame is more of a reaction to the idea or fact of being found out by other people.

We drew a distinction between guilt in the objective sense, (yes, I stole the cookies), vs. guilt in the emotional sense (I feel bad about stealing the cookies).

We talked about types of atonement or restitution.  Some talk of "pay it forward" atonement - as in the movie, "Amazing Grace," where a former slave ship captain went on to campaign against the slave trade.  (He couldn't make restitution to the slaves who had died on board his ships, but he could try to stop the practice.)

We talked about forgiveness vs. acceptance. You often hear that forgiving others is something you do for yourself, so you don't make your own mind troubled by the process of nursing a grudge. But if someone you know continually lies to you, and hasn't apologized sincerely and tried to stop, it seems like all you can do is accept that they're a liar. It doesn't seem like it falls within the normal model of forgiveness. We also talked a bit about self-forgiveness, which, on its face, is a paradoxical concept.

We talked about survivor guilt, about the way guilt can lurk below the surface of consciousness, abut whether there was an evolutionary component to our capacity to feel guilt. We batted the nature/nurture question around. Are some more naturally inclined to feel guilt? How big a role does culture play? Which religious upbringing makes you feel guiltier - Judaism or Catholicism? We talked about the paradox that Objectivism holds guiltlessness as an ideal, but that Objectivists themselves sometimes are wracked with guilt that they can't live up to the ideal - some can even feel guilty about feeling too guilty!

Guilt seems to have a productive use - it makes you feel bad about things you did wrong so you stop doing them! But it is out of control in our culture, and needs to be hemmed in on a more reasonable basis.

makes self-esteem wilt.

The Education Crisis Continues

My wife found this quote about education:
“…more than eleven-twelfths of all the children in the reading-classes in our schools do not understand the meaning of the words they read.”
That's a famous educator, Horace Mann, from 1837. The crisis never ends!

Marsha thinks some of the problem is government-controlled schooling.  But she thinks that's an incomplete explanation:
Even today, many Chinese, Serbian, and Somalian immigrant children manage to learn a tremendous amount attending public schools, even Chicago public schools. These students often go on to challenging college programs and achieve professional success.
Those darned hard-working immigrants.  They like to make the rest of us look bad!

Different students have different views.
Some think learning's the big thing to choose.
Some find it kind of a snooze.