Sunday, 9 April 2017

Modern guilt

I published a post in January called Born into Debt, in which I wrote "just by being born, we're guaranteed to have a negative impact on the world", and asked whether millennial culture will be plagued by "the cringe of innate guilt" as a consequence.

If I hadn't published that post in January, I'd almost certainly be open to the accusation of having plagiarised ideas from this piece by Wilfred McClay in The Hedgehog Review, in which he says:

Indeed, when any one of us reflects on the brute fact of our being alive and taking up space on this planet, consuming resources that could have met some other, more worthy need, we may be led to feel guilt about the very fact of our existence.

McClay makes the point that the situation is even worse than I'd realised: not only do we now know that we're causing terrible harm to the environment and to the victims of globalisation, we also through technology and globalisation and markets have a chance to do something to rectify that harm - as well as naturally occurring suffering - in some way, but generally don't.

His piece then goes off in a different direction to my short post: rather than asking whether guilt would be a prevalent undercurrent in millennials' culture, he suggests that it has led to the rise of victimhood-claiming and sin-shaming:

claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself

He then goes on to suggest that the insolubility of modern guilt might be a reason to revive religion, since religion has systems of absolution that modernity does not.

I'm not convinced, personally: I think rather that we should in fact each be doing much more to reduce the genuine reasons for our warranted guilt, up to a point - beyond which we should simply accept that nobody asks to be born and life is bittersweet, including in the sense that while we can all be forces for good, we're also inevitably all forces for bad sometimes.

Perhaps there could even be a positive to that: it might teach us all a little humility and greater understanding of others' flaws.

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