I think these strong emotions have a profound impact on what’s happening in our country today.
Walter Russell Mead (picture) writes 3000-word essays three times a week, and they are informed, provocative, and thoughtful. It helps that often, we find the wisdom he presents distilled in a single paragraph, such as the following excerpt from a piece about Al Gore:
[Gore] shares an illusion common amongst the narcissistic glitterati of our time: that politically fashionable virtue cancels private vice. The drug addled Hollywood celeb whose personal life is a long record of broken promises and failed relationships and whose serial bouts with drug and alcohol abuse and revolving door rehab adventures are notorious can redeem all by “standing up” for some exotic, stylish cause. . . Gore is sincere, as the fur-fighting actresses are sincere, as so many ’causey’ plutocrats and moguls are sincere. It is perhaps also true that the fundraisers who absolve them of their guilt in exchange for the donations and the publicity are at least as sincere as the indulgence sellers in Martin Luther’s Germany.Mead is onto something big. What is “noblesse oblige” anyway, but “absolving” the rich “of their guilt”? They feel guilty about living off the backbreaking labor of peasants in the surrounding fields, so host a harvest festival for the village, and give workers a goose at Christmas. Our modern elite go to charity balls, plant trees, defend gays, protect seals, oppose U.S. imperialism, seek scholarships for illegal aliens, and support the Democratic Party, all while leading their comfortable lives. And their good deeds give them the right to look down on small business people, retail clerks, Republicans, churchgoers, and until recently, police and military officers.
Here’s something I found on the Internet in my attempt to understand better the projection of guilt. It’s by Kathleen Basi, a blogger from Missouri with a Down syndrome daughter who writes church music:
[G]uilt really gets bad rap, unfairly so. Guilt, after all, is the sign of an active conscience. It’s generally the first alert that I’ve done something damaging to myself or to another person. It makes me uncomfortable until I do something to remedy the damage. It . . . makes me a better person.“Guilt makes me a better person.”
Now I understand why there is so much moral force behind our national elite’s collective effort to improve the lives of the rest of us. It is, partly at least, the power of guilt, projected.