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From The Best Schools: Joy, Sin and Pseudoscience




Featuring James Barham:

From Part I :

Someone should write a book someday about all the effort expended over the past 100 years to relieve the human race of its guilty conscience.

You might wonder why I speak of the past 100 years. After all, satire has always been with us—and a good thing, too.

But the great satirists down through the ages—Aristophanes, Lucian, Juvenal, Rabelais, Molière, Swift, Voltaire, Gogol, Dickens, Twain—always criticized moral failure, not morality itself. They thought people should feel more guilty about the heartless and foolish things they do, not less.


The vanquishing of guilt was made possible by that great trinity of Victorian thinkers—Marx, Darwin, and Freud. Though all three were good Victorian prudes themselves, they lay the intellectual mines that brought down the edifice of Western morality, with guilt at its foundation.

From Part II:

the “progressive” forces can never rest on their laurels, because the human conscience is immortal and always reasserts itself if they relax their vigilance. That is why the struggle against traditional morality has to become more and more extreme with every passing decade.

At the end of yesterday’s piece, I pointed out that the supposedly scientific basis for much of the twentieth century’s fashionable cynicism about morality was the three-cornered intellectual edifice built by the Victorian trinity of Marx, Darwin, and Freud.

Today, all three towers are showing their age badly. That is why serious reconstruction work is required in the twenty-first century, if guilt is to continue to be successfully suppressed in the name of science.

With Marx and Freud effectively out of commission, today’s cynics and moral nihilists have little choice but to double down on Darwin, dangerous as that increasingly appears to be, as a long-term bet.

From Part III:

But we are not only animals. We are animals that have acquired minds or spirits.

And for us, our worst pains and our greatest pleasures lie not in the flesh, but in the soul.

Guilt is good for us because it is a warning signal that what we have done—or more generally, the way we are living—is wrong. To banish guilt from the human psyche makes as much sense as extirpating pain from our stomachs or our fingertips.

Without pain in our fingertips, we would not be able to flinch from a hot stove. Without pain in our stomachs, we would not be able to vomit up a bad meal.

Similarly, without pain in our consciences, we would not be able to learn from our moral mistakes, or to find the right path again once we have strayed from it.

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Moral relativism makes guilt obsolete and, as the OP notes, this is dangerous for society. Without guidelines--whether internal (such as the conscience) or external (such as laws or ordinances)--we have no way of determining right and wrong behavior. Notably, the Bible also mentions that one's conscience can either "accuse" or "excuse" one's behavior, depending on how it has been trained morally. Barb

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