Some thoughts on guilt and innocence

To the degree that there is an intentionality to guilt. it would involve consciousness of failure. In this sense, I mean failure to do the right thing: either because you failed to do right on purpose or by accident. Existentially, this makes guilt always already a reflective acknowledgment.

Imagining consequences of my actions can put me in a place to see “I should NOT do that…” But it is not guilt because it is not a failure to act morally but an actual example of using the power of thinking-ahead to avoid failing.

Failure to do the wrong thing might be how to consider innocence. But that definitely provides a distinct structure of failing. A consciousness of such failure would bring other concerns to me. Within Neoliberal America, there are enough people acting in bad faith and enough near automatic systems of punishment in place to make me worry, fret, and even fear about the consequences of doing the righteous thing.

In my work mind-walking with other seekers, I refer to the guilt-innocence interconnection as the Dyad of Entanglement: How I am twisted-around, threaded-up, and tied-to the effects of my own actions/decisions.

In terms of the notion of DYAD: some of the most important concepts by which we describe the world occur in a dyadic formulation. This is to be distinguished from the DUALISTIC or BINARY forms that most people use to privilege one side of the pair to the detriment of the other. A great deal can come from analysis, literally taking-thing-apart. But the analysed should not remain broken-up. The purpose of understanding becomes quite harmful when it transforms into the obsession with repeatability, predictability, and certainty.

Academia and the other diverse structures that have evolved for accomplishing useful research about nature and/or humankind itself never really put the analyzed back-together in the place discovered. They disturb in order to control. So complete analysis at best leads to an inconsistent synthesis. This is almost always a case of not recognizing the Useful/Useless Dyad. The privilege is for the USEFUL. The inconsistent re-placement as a partial synthesis privileges how the “knowledge” and “information” gained will allow for more/maximal control over nature… and other people (even when researchers in the neoliberalizing Research Industrial Complex refuse to see their own complicity in co-creating the Society of Control.

But the last is a possible line of thinkering concerning collective guilt. Let me return to the Dyad of Entanglement. In my Mountain-Dog school knowledge-gathering, disclosing this particular existential situation allows for the Transgression of Circumstances.

To transgress” usually implies disrupting the course of everyday activity or ignoring the norms of the culture in which I find myself. The term literally implies “stepping beyond” or even “running over.” As many know, it is Latinate synonym for the more Anglo-Germanic notion “to sin“–itself a term that denotes becoming a certain way: to-be-truly-off-course.

It is fascinating to me how such notions have wrapped up in them already conceptions of truth and, therefore, a sense of justice.

When I assess myself as being guilty, I admit that I have failed to live up to moral standards as I have learned them from family and teachers. Or, I failed to live up to the moral code I have developed for myself through reflection on those same standards. I can think of this as testing the health of my moral environment.

The traditions, customs, and mandates adopted over time by those who come before me can be thought of as the ethical climate of my culture. Very few people adopt wholesale the customs of their folks. Entanglement shows an abiding existential boundary that becomes clearer or fuzzier depending on how I examine myself in relation to the ethical climate in which I was raised.

In light of the abiding boundary, I must seek whether a feeling of guilt or of innocence is authentically the case or part of a constellation of imposed judgments that shame me for not following the normal course of action. The difficulty I always face is whether being ashamed arises from real harm done to another person or simply from not behaving as mandated. This is important distinction because the ethical climate may itself have become polluted. In that case, the only hope for my just activity begins with cleansing my own moral environment of whatever bad faith or ill intent I have picked up in response to the world around me.

For instance, if I live somewhere that has banned all abortions no matter what the medical necessity might be, should I feel ashamed for helping a woman get to a place that will address her medical needs? Or if I live somewhere that has weaponized child protective services to attack the parents of transkids who are helping their children get medical and therapeutic services, should I feel ashamed for helping those folks possibly get to another locale that is less harmful?

I would say I should not feel any shame whatsoever–though I very well may feel the fretful fear I spoke of up above for failing to be an accomplice in wrong-doing. The condition of entanglement means my living within a polluted ethical climate cannot be wholly innocent unless I pointedly refuse to wallow in the contagions.

I know… This is an ironic notion, in a sense, because many of those most vocal about imposing laws and standards onto the bodies of women or the care of transkids speak about such concepts as abortion and transgender as degenerate, sickly, and cancerous. But I do think the metaphor holds up after two years of a pandemic where many of the same people multiplied literal sickness by refusing to follow social distancing, masking, etc.

How then do I recommend to my mind-walking friends that they themselves learn to decontaminate their ethical sensibility?

More on that in an upcoming elaboration of a series of leaps in thinkering that get us back on the Way as Way-walking, Path-finding.

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