Between some deep thought, some Ayn Rand and more Vienna Fingers than I really should have consumed, this, friends, is my conclusion:
USA? We've got some issues, yo.
It all started way back when, say 3 days ago, I was furiously writing in the notebook that I keep with me in the car and—yes—might have been guilty of scribbling while driving. I know, you don't have to say it. That is a bad idea. Admittedly, they should probably administer DUIs for this.
In any event, I was surely on the brink of having a head-on collision as my gel pen & I deliberated over the notion of guilt, our nation, religion, capitalism, and whether or not Fergie's ass really doesn't have any cellulite on it, or if it's the tights. For the record and in the name of my self-esteem, I prefer to believe the latter.
The Unfortunate Role Guilt Plays In Our Lives
Supposedly, we're this great nation of freedom & liberty, but it seems that realistically, we're actually some of the most frightened cowards on the planet. Was that too straightforward? Let me try again.
There's no denying our freedom and liberty in terms of politics & capitalistic opportunity–in short, as a society. As a nation, we're some of the baddest, raddest cowboys around. On a large scale, we're all sorts of free. That is, until Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake get together, in which case freedom is explicitly frowned upon. Silly nudity.
On the flip side, however, what concerns me is that these same principles don't apply on a humanistic level; as individual citizens, we aren't free in the least. While slavery in the U.S. has been technically abolished since 1865, it exists in other forms, and regrettably, our lifestyle reflects that. The truth is, many of us are slaves to our own guilty conscience, which may not always be the most accurate barometer.
In effect, we make decisions based on what we “should” do in line with our guilty conscience (which, if I may point out, in this context is not referring what you “should” do by your own personal moral standards, but what you “should” do as a function of societal pressures to be, act, live a certain way). Ultimately, our entire lives are characterized by decisions born from guilt, essentially transforming guilt into a tool that plays the role of compass. While we're on the topic, this is fundamentally how religion operates–by providing us with a set list of consequences for certain behavior, it's easy to control large groups of people by capitalizing on their guilty consciences. But, I digress.
The point here is that oftentimes, we aren't these fearless rebels like we're made out to be. We're terrified to move outside of what's commonly accepted.
Ayn, Ashley & Altruism—And How It Relates Back to Guilt
So, back to my girl Ayn. She talks a lot about our social system being based on an altruistic code of morality, in which it's perpetuated that self-service is our highest moral duty, virtue, and value. In saying that, she cautions about not hiding behind superficialities as to whether you should or shouldn't give a dime to a beggar, and claims that the issue isn't whether or not you give the beggar the dime, but whether you do or do not have the right to peacefully exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether or not the needs of others is the moral purpose of your existence. Altruism answers yes. Our society answers yes.
The question becomes as simple as one little word: Why? Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must we sacrifice ourselves in order to be deemed worthy? Why is it moral to serve the happiness of others, but not your own?
Rand's answer? Mysticism. The unearthly, the supernatural and the irrational is called upon to justify it–or, more appropriate, as Rand states, to escape the necessity of justification. My answer? Altruism, in its purest form, doesn't exist in the first place, and there's a hidden benefit in doing seemingly selfless work such as volunteering, which is the feel-good feeling that one receives in return. Therefore, we aren't really living for the sake of others, as it may appear. More on that in another post.
To get down to business, here's the issue that plagues us without us even knowing it: While society answers yes to altruism, its systems answer no. Our system of capitalism is defined by individual profit motive, whose values stand in stark opposition to our altruistic societal ideals. Talk about a mind %$#.
Now let's really get wild and juxtapose that with another fun factor. According to the American Religious Identification Survey of 2008, 76% of the population identified themselves as Christians. 34% of them considered themselves “Born Again” or “Evangelical Christians.” That terrifies me for so many reasons, but I'm not going there today. The point is that it's reasonable to claim that 76% of the population, by default, maintains an altruistic philosophy.
Big, Bad Conclusions
So what the hell does all of that mean? What it means is that we have is a bunch of altruists living in a capitalistic society. Is it any wonder why our nation is plagued with guilt? Essentially, we've got one force badgering us to be capitalists–which emphasizes individual gain–and another force badgering us to be altruists–which emphasizes individual sacrifice. Does this call for some mad eenie meenie miney mo, or what? Therefore, it's nearly impossible not to make a decision based on guilt, because either way you cut the cake, you're still alienating one in favor of the other.
In the end, I can't help but believe that this serves as further support for a call for critical thinking, and the ability to deconstruct one's realities, analyze them and then use those conclusions to serve as one's compass. Perhaps then, we won't be guilted into life, but rather, will start actually living it.
Oh yeah, and one last thing. For the record? I don't need tights.