Living Without Guilt
Olavo de Carvalho
Jornal da Tarde , May 13th, 1999
“That is what I looked for my entire life: someone would tell me that it is possible to live without guilt”. (Marilena Chauí, Diálogos com Bentro Prado Jr, Folha de S. Paulo, March 13th, 1999.)
“Living without guilt” is an objective that all progressive culture offers to humankind. The sentiment of guilt is condemned as a residue from backward repressive traditions, that it must abandoned at the gates of a new age of happiness and self-realization. This is a point of agreement among the adepts of the most divergent ideologies. Made sacred by consensus, the condemnation of guilt has so many and varied legitimations, that it no longer needs any of them and lives perfectly well as something self-evident that has no need of arguments.
What exactly, though, is to “live without guilt”? Above all, what is the precise nuance that is the mind of those who advance this idea?
There are only three meaning for a human being to be considered free from guilt. The first hypothesis is that of innocence, the concrete innocence of Adam in Paradise, of the Good Savage or of childhood in a Disney animated movie. The Bible and Rousseau, with a lot of prudence, keep this hypothesis in a mythical past. Saint Augustine confessed to be perverse from the cradle, and the whatever remained of the credibility on the innocence of children was mercilessly demoralized by Dr. Freud.
The desire to “live without guilt” would not have any attractiveness to the souls if it were appealing to a discredited idea. It cannot be, therefore, the primordial innocence that is being referred to by modern progressivism when it invites us to “live without guilt”. Complete and absolute innocence is a myth, a divine quality that nobody can realize in this world.
A second sense that “living without guilt” may have is that of relative innocence, unstable and demanding work, in which we can keep ourselves when we purposefully abstain from doing evil, and, if we do it, we seek to fix it with devoted good will. It is a norm of reasonable perfection, within the reach of most human beings. That cannot be the meaning of “living without guilt”, for the possibility of a man fixing the evil he committed lies entirely on the sentiment of guilt that he feels when he sins; and to refrain from committing new evils he has to conceive in imagination the guilt he would feel if he committed them. Relative innocence is by no means to live without guilt: it is precisely to value the sentiment of guilt as a compass that guides us away from evil.
“Living without guilt” can still have a third meaning: it can mean the pure and simple abolition of the idea of guilt. In this case, whatever the individual does, his acts will not be examined under the categories of guilt, repentance, penance and reparation. No matter the nature of such acts, nor the consequences they cause for their neighbors, they will always be framed specifically to avoid the constraints of maybe needing a moral reparation. They will be explained sociologically, psychologically, pragmatically, they will be evaluated in terms of gains and losses, described in terms of desire, gratification and frustration. You must only not judge them.
This last meaning is, with all evidence, the only one which is, in practice, possible to “live without guilt”. It is this one, clearly, that the modern ideologues have in mind when they offer humanity this ideal future.
In the present there are already many people who live without guilt, who do not submit their actions to the judgment of moral conscience, who are not constrained when their actions cause harm to their neighbors. They are called sociopaths. They are not mentally ill, nor are they retarded. They are intelligent able people, not rarely gifted with genius and astonishing social graces, just lacking the moral sensitivity necessary to feel guilty for their actions. Among them are thieves, drug dealers, gang leaders – and all leaders of totalitarian movements, without exception. Those who wish to be like them feel their hearts beat strongly, full of hope, when they hear someone announcing it is possible to live without guilt.
Our civilization started when Christ told the apostle: “Take your cross and follow me”. Two thousand years later, the ideal is to throw the cross away, no matter on whose head it is going to fall, and then run to follow the car of history, no matter who it is going to run over on the way.