Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pretty Lady Indulges in a Radical Rant

Pretty Lady must apologize, but she cannot help herself. She feels a Diatribe coming on.

The trouble is, PL, that there is an extremely fine line between placing responsibility and placing blame. A line so fine most people have no trouble whatever crossing it.

Further, admit that it's possible that there are conditions which themselves prevent the taking of responsibility. Narcissism. Depression. Schizophrenia. And probably a vast number of more mild afflictions we might not even medically recognize at this point. Depression, too, can probably be caused by any number of otherwise physical ailments, obstructing treatment.

What I'm saying, here, is that taking the stance that people must take responsibility for their own healing opens the door for blame. You can say it as many times as you like -- and put in boldface, and underline it, and use the BLINK tag -- but it doesn't change anything to say that "'Blame' and 'illness' do not belong in the same conceptual universe". They do, for most people.
Well, and this is the entire problem.

Pretty Lady has a confession to make. On some issues she subscribes to Extreme Radicalism, at least on the working hypothesis level. And the working hypothesis which she has been contemplating, for lo these several years, is that Guilt is a false, destructive and illusory concept.

Pretty Lady pauses forbearingly, to let the extreme agitation and shouting from the sensible, moderate Christian and secular-humanist contingents die down a bit.

Rest assured, she has heard and considered all of your very sensible arguments. She has meditated upon the relevant passages of Scripture. She has frowned and shuddered over the Extreme Examples, such as Hitler. She acknowledges, quite cheerfully, all of these concerns. A part of her brain, however, continues to engage upon a completely parallel processing track. Please indulge her while she divulges these ruminations.

Consider, dear friends, how much scurrilous, phony, destructive, stupid, greedy, sinful behavior goes on all around us. Thieving, lying, conniving, manipulating, jack-assery and intellectual dishonesty, not to mention acts of aggressive warfare. Considered? All right, then.

Now then, consider how much of this behavior is engaged upon in order to directly or indirectly avoid the crushing, miserable feeling of personal guilt. How much energy we place into dumping this burden of past wrongdoing onto the shoulders of others. How much of denial, self-justification, self-flagellation, and most of all blame, blame, blame, stems from this need to get out from under this unmanageable weight of shame.

For consider: An error may be corrected. Guilt must be expunged. And we expunge it by thrusting it onto somebody else. A somebody who promptly, in desperate self-defense, thrusts it right back.

Vicious, vicious cycle.

Furthermore, consider how much of clarity regarding scientific studies of potential cause and effect is muddied or obscured by the addition of a superfluous Guilt Factor? The hypothesis 'This appears to lead to that,' in and of itself, is neutral, testable, and potentially falsifiable. The statement, 'This is a Very Bad Thing, because it causes that, so stop doing this, you stupid jerk' is, to put it mildly, loaded. It appears to Pretty Lady that if we were to remove this entire notion of stupid jerks doing very bad things, science would get along much faster.


Well, will they? Really, will they?

Many of them, Pretty Lady supposes, will. History suggests that this is a common tendency of humans in their natural state, particularly those endowed with an excess of testosterone, and not over-burdened with brains. History also suggests that these sorts of individuals are the ones least troubled with esoteric considerations of ethical philosophy. So perhaps guilt was not keeping these people in check, much, ever.

No, it seems to Pretty Lady that the people whose psychologies wrestle with neverending concerns of blame and shame are, overwhelmingly, those of us who are least equipped to cope with invading Vikings. Chained in our helpless misery, we blame ourselves, we blame them, we tie ourselves into veritable knots of impotent ethical squalling. It keeps us busy in the dungeons. Pretty Lady suspects, in fact, that the entire concept of guilt was invented by boorish Atilla the Hun types, in order to keep the proletariat subjugated.

So now. In place of guilt, Pretty Lady tiptoes in and inserts the mantle of responsibility. For no matter what dungeon we find ourselves in, we still have the power to choose our response to the situation.

Note that the word response does not, in and of itself, prescribe what the nature of this response must be. Sobbing and rending of garments is an option. Curling up into a fetal position, fine. Impotent cursing of the oppressor, quite common.

Once we have allowed those feelings of desperation and misery to surge through us, however, we are left, drained and quiescent, sitting in a dungeon. This is our moment of choice; our moment to select one of two pathways.

The pathway of guilt, blame and shame leaves us in this dungeon forever. We may entertain ourselves indefinitely, flagellating ourselves, blaming the oppressor, ranting ourselves into a state of complete madness.

Or, drained of that, we may consider other options. We could dig our way out with a teaspoon. We could trip the guard and take his keys. We could do five thousand push-ups, then mug the guard and punch our way out. We could compose epic poetry. We could pray.

So, dear Chris, Pretty Lady will boldly repeat the statement that so offends you: People are responsible for their own healing. You--depressed, narcissistic, imprisoned and helpless though you may be--yet retain sovereignty over your own soul. To declare otherwise would be an act of totalitarianism and despair, for this would deny your humanity.


Anonymous said...

You may be onto something, Pretty Lady. If Cain, instead of murdering Abel, had decided to learn from his experience and next time presented a better sacrifice to God...

If Judas, instead of running back to the Sanhedrin with the 30 pieces of silver and then hung himself, had gone to Jesus and asked forgiveness...

If our 42nd president, instead of denying what he did with Monica and bombing that aspirin factory in Sudan, had come clean...

If our current president, instead of staying the course in a disastrous war, followed a saner approach to the war on terror...

Well, you get the picture. (Or, rather, hopefully, I have gotten the picture.)

Anonymous said...

Fabulous, PL.

Chris Rywalt said...

I think I see the problem.

I may not have sovereignty over my nervous system -- my brain. I may not have control of my thoughts or feelings. This is the case in narcissism or depression or any number of other illnesses.

I may not have sovereignty over my body. This is the case for everyone. You get sick, you age, you die. It's especially pronounced in cases of disease, like cancer, where your own cells rebel and try to kill you.

But, you say, I'm have sovereignty over my soul. What's that? If it's not my body and it's not my nervous system, what is it? What control do I have over it? What can I do with it? How does that help me take responsibility for healing myself if I can't think properly or walk properly?

In short: If depression destroys who I am, how am I to be held responsible for anything? I'm not even there any more.

Desert Cat said...

So now. In place of guilt, Pretty Lady tiptoes in and inserts the mantle of responsibility

Which, whether you realize or not, is the difference between most religion, including religiosity within Christianity, and the true healing and restoration that Christ brings.

Because it is not until we recognize that we have sinned and "fallen short of the Glory of God"--not blaming our circumstances or our parents, spouse, boss, the President, or any other people or causes--not until we claim responsibility for the ways in which we do not live up to the ideal, do we have the mindset and ability to approach the Throne of Grace for forgiveness and restoration.

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I, a standard issue Christian, believe that guilt and condemnation are destructive forces. They may be useful for social control purposes, but they are no basis for a relationship with one's creator.

Here is a verse containing a concept that may seem foreign to many a non-believer: "There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit, alive in Christ Jesus, has set you free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1 (my emphasis).

k said...

Today is September 22, 2007, and I'm partway home from my long summer oddessy. I'm actually at home in one sense: in the house where I spent most of my childhood and portions of adulthood, here in Northern Illinois.

I have a peaceful and quiet space, now, to catch up on some blog reading and commenting, where I didn't have that space before.

I'm re-reading this post. It absorbs me just as much as it did the first time I read it.

Pretty Lady, I have no idea if you'll ever read this comment. But if you do, I want you to know what a beautiful, and important, piece of writing this is.