Saturday, May 31, 2008

Collectivist Ghosts

Slate's Ron Rosenbaum has elected to praise "liberal guilt". He defends voters who favor Barack Obama because of his race. In Rosenbaum's universe, this could be a "historic civil rights landmark." It offers an opportunity for liberals to demonstrate their "awareness of the need to contend with, and overcome, a racist past."

He gets mushy: "Guilt means you have a conscience. You have self-awareness, you have -- in the case of America's history of racism -- historical awareness."

He provokes bystanders: "Guilt is good, people! The only people who don't suffer guilt are sociopaths and serial killers."

The implication is, if you "historically aware" comrades deny guilt on this particular issue you are no better than a serial killer.

He wonders why conservatives "who make a fetish of 'values'" would disparage guilt: "Was not the century of institutionalized racism and segregation that followed the end of slavery a perpetuation of 'flawed values' that the nation should feel an enduring guilt over?"

And rubbing it in: "Do we abolish the very consciousness of the past and pretend we have a clear conscience?"

Rosenbaum asks a lot of rhetorical questions but ignores the important ones.

For example, am I responsible for every action made by my government, even those done without my consent and against every vote I was permitted to make? I say I am not. I say it makes no difference whether a King or a majority of citizens does the deed. I am not morally bound by their acts unless I willingly participate. Otherwise you might as well blame slaves along with their masters since all are part of the same corrupt system. After all, slaves did have 3/5 representation which someone kindly exercised on their behalf.

The next question is, Even if I accept that I am responsible for this generation's acts, am I responsible for acts several generations back. I say this is a preposterous notion. It's not only wrong, it's morally repugnant. It's the same sort of lame "contract" Edmund Burke and his followers use to tie generations together in arguments for conservative tradition. If the sins of the fathers visit upon the sons for ten generations there is not one person among us who escapes from some sort of historic atrocity, whether governmental, tribal, family or individual. For government to come in and try to sort things out is an exercise in fantasy justice.

The next question is, Who among us really thinks a success story like Obama has not already kicked history in the knee? How much more is due to a Harvard educated Senator? I think the "system" has already corrected itself in his case. He's already in the 1% tax bracket. He already commands more respect than any one person should expect. Merit was allowed to prevail. Guilt is not the emotion that comes to my mind.

The last question is, How does remote forgiveness work? How can I ever hope to earn forgiveness from that slave who had his freedom stolen? IMO, he is the only one who can forgive. His son cannot forgive for him. His race cannot forgive for him. No matter what I do to help this generation, I can never wash that slave's wrongs away. It's a sham to think otherwise. It's a sham to give that kind of power to his ancestors. It's playing God, pure and simple.

The truth is, the past haunts Ron Rosenbaum. A "four-centuries-long historical crime" rises up like a monster. Quickly he opens his bag of magic tricks and pulls out "liberal guilt." But there are many more monsters to fight in this hell-hole. They charge at us from the Trail of Tears. They spill out of Japanese-American internment camps. They re-vaporize from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Circle the wagons. Everywhere there is an historical offense which threatens to rip away our shield of liberal guilt. Sometimes the danger hides down cellar stairs only true seekers will navigate. Be brave in your redemptive quest. Do not forget the French Revolution, the gulags, or the Killing Fields. Perhaps someone will accept guilt for the sins of the Roman Empire. Why not you? You are human after all and therefore culpable. Even deeper, maybe we can feel guilt for the million abortions every year. We, ourselves, decided Roe v. Wade and we decided to get every one of those abortions. If any one of us feels guilt, we all have guilt. That guy holding up the convenience store, we should feel guilty for him too. We created him. We put the gun in his hand. We put his money in the cash drawer. We made him who he is.

For if we can collectivize guilt, if we can associate it with groups, nationalities, ideologies, races, geographies, or ancestors, we can strip it away from individuals. We can create a great historical river of guilt in which we can all bathe. We can wash ourselves of sticky concepts like individual choice and merit. Judging individual worth is simply too exhausting -- there are just too many people. Better to collect data from a large, historical sample and correct or punish on a grand scale.

BTW, I didn't write this. You did.

Don Jindra

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