What’s wrong and how to fix it

Sep 21, 2021 by

By C. FitzSimons Allison, Virtueonline:

Some decades ago, The Atlantic magazine printed a speech by lord John Moulton in which he declared that the measure of a civilization is irks obedience to the unenforceable. This commendable obedience, however, requires a keen conscience and a heightened sense of responsibility that inevitably results in guilt. (If no guilt seems to result, then this conscience is ill formed and the acceptance of responsibility is too low.) As Warren Penn has told us in his poem “Brothers to Dragons”: “For the recognition of complicity is the beginning of innocence.” In order to have a society that obeys unenforceable rules, it must be a society that accepts wide responsibilities inevitably result in guilt. Have I given to Doctors Without Borders? Have I even given enough? These are the questions of a high society, but they are unbearable without forgiveness. Therapists can be very helpful in dealing with inappropriate guilt, but the kind of complicity necessary for a high civilization is a guilt that cannot be assuaged without forgiveness.

Daily opportunities occur for acts of kindness, honesty, generosity, loyalty, unselfishness, courage, patience and love that none of us fully exercises, but which are some of the essential characteristics of a high civilization. One cannot have a sufficient quality and quantity of these virtues to avoid guilt. Guilt stems from the complexities and high demands for virtue and obedience. This results in a general of standards in order to avoid the pain of guilt and hostility towards those who enforce the law.

In his book Civilization and its Discontents, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) saw guilt as indispensable building block for civilization but he also saw it as civilization’s chief discontent. He maintained that without a society that is capable of carrying a significant weight of responsibility, and its inevitable offspring of guilt, civilization will face a lowering of responsibility; more violence, less honesty in politics, government, science and education — a general drift towards decadence.

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