BlamelessnessOctober 18, 2008
Human wickedness, if accepted by society, is changed from an act of will into an inherent, psychological quality which man cannot choose or reject but which is imposed upon him from without and which rules him as compulsively as the drug rules the addict.
In my last entry I talked about how, in the absence of more traditional views of human nature in which people are generally disposed to do wrong, it was necessary to come up with imaginative explanations of why children are not responsible for their behaviour, thereby allowing them to be innocent victims even when they are observed to be behaving like complete bastards.
The explanations were:
- Children are too young to understand how to behave.
- Children’s behaviour is determined by their background.
- Badly behaved children have a medical or psychological condition.
It is possible to imagine situations where this is true, but a moment’s thought would tell you that these sorts of situations are obviously rare exceptions to what is usual. But if you were a believer in the inherent innocence or goodness of children then it is impossible for a child to do wrong without some kind of explaining factor, an explaining factor usually picked from this list. Invariably what happens is that normal moral judgement is suspended and the discipline of psychology is bastardised to provide morality-free explanations of children’s behaviour to replace the obvious explanation. As if this way of thinking wasn’t damaging enough it also requires that teachers must be assumed to be oblivious of the “science” of human behaviour and require endless training in pop psychology. Then, having been thrown out the front door, moral judgement is sneaked in the back door in order to condemn the ignorance or intolerance of those who have not accepted the pseudo-scientific, psychological explanation of children’s sins.
The truth is that we don’t need a scientific model of the human mind to understand why we do wrong. We all have minds of our own (complete with weaknesses and a general susceptibility to temptation). A quick study of one’s own mind, and the minds of those one knows, suggests that people think, feel and do bad things. Trying to suggest a complex personal motivation for an individual’s history of sinning is like trying to suggest personal reasons why an individual might inhale oxygen or bleed red.
In the next few posts I will cover each of these “explanations” in turn and explain why they do not constitute grounds for ignoring the more obvious forms of moral reasoning. The likely complaint is that by identifying the human condition as an unavoidable cause of bad behaviour I’m not addressing how to “fix the problem”. My point, of course, is that I’m not saying it to “fix the problem”, I am saying it because it is true. People do bad things for no good reason. And this isn’t a frustrated statement about naughty kids; it’s a fact about human beings generally. This is a problem that we are not going to solve. We can’t change ourselves into saints through the application of rational principles, so why do we think that we can have that effect on future generations?
Arendt, Hannah, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Schoken, 1951