Guilt - a thread that guides us

Most of us at some point, to a lesser or greater degree have had the feeling of guilt. Those that don't experience guilty feelings are often labelled Sociopathic and for those that ignore and consistently oppose the social expectations are judged as Anti-Social.

Socio being the operative word then, let's look a little at how guilt has a multitude of contribution’s from social encounters and society at large. 

Simply put, society, family or culture collectively creates and agrees to ‘the rules’, ‘the law’ ‘the expectations’ and ‘the roles’ to which an individual must adhere to, or face the consequences as such.
Punishment, criticism, exclusion are just some of the ways to keep these premises in place by inviting one to feel guilty and submit or to accept the sentence that is duly passed.

Note the word ‘invite'

The dynamic in this type of transaction can quickly become binary and/or polarised. Often you will find a ‘judge,’ and on the receiving end an ‘accused’. A persecutor’ and a ‘victim’, ‘a sadist’ and ‘the willing masochist’, a ‘dominant’ and a ‘submissive’.

These are externalised archetypal behaviours that are easy to see where guilt would be part of the inevitable outcome. Yet what can be a little harder to spot, is how we end up with the feelings of guilt when there is no obvious outside influence or force.

Some may say that through a millennia of socialisation, guilt is something learned through the way we have experienced living together in groups. Enabling the group to develop moral’s and ethics that support cohesion and togetherness, and relational structures that each group decides that are of value. This could be one of the benefits of feeling guilting, (if indeed there is a benefit), yet in this context I would refer to this type of guilt more specifically as ‘conscience’.

Many of us have been born into historical structures and collective narratives that were made aeons ago, and we have unconsciously and tacitly agreed to the way things 'are' or 'should' be. Herein you will often find the subtleties of guilt that are hidden just outside of our awareness.

Feelings of ‘badness’, ‘lack’ and ‘low self worth or value’ are all part of the guilt ‘catch all’ picture here. This guilt I refer to as ‘malignant’, as it is often difficult to locate its origin and has a slow insipid erosion over time on one’s sense of self.

Some of the malignant origins are clearly steeped in early religion. I briefly mention those omnipotent, omniscient mythic entities that are permanently watching our every move, lest we step out of line and end up in a hell, looking for ways to absolve or expiate one’s guilt. To work harder, renounce (sacrifice) or give up your self (self-less), are also part of an historical doctrine aimed at control and managing others. 

Just over a hundred years ago in France, 1 out of 4 people were locked up in asylums or institutions in an attempt to create social order and those that didn't fit with the remit were labelled the lunatics and dealt with accordingly. It was only when the French government saw that it was nearly bankrupting the state that they started to release the 'inmates' back into society.

And that brings us of course to money. That earth metal symbol that the ancients saw in reflected sunlight from the heavens, and collectively agreed that this was indeed spirit and ‘god’ mirrored in matter. The early cultures believed the more ‘Gold’ you had, the closer you were to the light or spirit of the sun ‘God’. And of course those that had this knowledge or sacred language (jargon) inherited the power in its manifest hierarchical roles and guises.

In fact the early Roman’s saw gold as sacred also, but in being human, you were considered damned if you were to literally touch this aspect of the divine. This is why ancient money was handed over to the Jews (early pagans) to deal with on behalf of the Romans, as the Jews were considered ungodly in the first instance by the Roman’s. The term ‘Filthy Luca’ (dirty money) has its roots here.

Here we start to see how social status relates to those that have, and to those that have not, and the history of our need for materialism and object fetishisms. The more or less we materially posses of ‘worth’ and ‘value’, equals; the more or less ‘worth’ and ‘value’ you 'are'.

The origins of merchants (mercantilism) and capitalism lie here and more importantly, whether you perceive, or are perceived as good or bad, worth or worthless, of value or value-less.

Lastly but by no means least there is ‘existential’ guilt. The inevitable burden that one may feel knowing that in every decision one makes will have an outcome for better or for worse for ones self and for others. This is why many will submit to being told what to do, and agree to an authority (be that the leader, the boss, the parent, the government, the god, the spouse, the society/culture) lest a mistake or wrong doing is made, and guilt is the outcome. And often paradoxically (or co-dependently) the authoritarian character in their assertive role often needs the agreement of the submissive other to assuage their guilt.

Guilt then comes in a few disguises, masked by history and the passing of time. Not just priests and law makers, but all humans have cultivated a need for cultural meaning making systems born out of a need to find meaning in our mortality. We are all born in nature as mortal animal and over thousands of years we have developed a way of finding symbolic meaning for our lives in multitude aspects of culture.

Guilt then is partly a construct that is imposed on us by history and our cultural indebtedness. However, this will only remain part of our makeup if we continue to unconsciously impose the guilt position on our selves, tacitly accepting and agreeing to it when invited.

Perhaps then imagine for a moment, what would happen if we were to personally to decide to let go of all the inherited and historical guilt that we carry and to also collectively give up on the guilt, that is part of the glue that keeps the wheels of society turning.