Eric Rushton vs. Guilt
The guilt seeps in when I go for a walk.
Part of the guilt is that I’m procrastinating. I should be inside doing something productive: maybe learning a language, or at least doing some writing in the one I already know. Or I could be improving my knowledge of social issues. There are so many social issues, man. So many facts and opinions that I don’t know about.
I feel guilty about being able to walk in the first place. Some people can’t walk because they’re either disabled or new-born babies. It’s a privilege to have legs and for them to be fully functional. Am I grateful for that? I don’t act like it. I don’t do anything for disabled charities. I just walk about and don’t think about it. How would I feel if I was disabled? I hate when things don’t work. When I was 14, I had a second- hand copy of Call of Duty 4 that was scratched and it played but the sound didn’t work. It used to stress me out so much and that wasn’t even part of my body. For deaf people, all their disks are scratched.
A couple of months ago, I began writing down three things I’m grateful for at the start of every day. As in I write them at the start of the day, they don’t have to be things that happen at the start of the day. If that was the case, every day I’d just write “Susanna Reid’s incredible professionalism during a tumultuous period for Good Morning Britain”.
I started doing it to combat my guilt and also because reading books about depression is one of my favourite hobbies – possibly only second to actually being depressed -- and loads of them talk about gratitude lists being useful.
For example, today I wrote:
“I’m grateful that none of my family are in immediate danger; I’m grateful for my health; and I’m grateful for coffee.”
Is it enough to be grateful for those things, or should I be trying to help out? Should I find sickly people whose families are in danger and make them a coffee?
I think we’re biased towards seeing the negative in our lives, so it’s hard to see how lucky we are. I know I’m in a privileged position in society -- I’m white and male and incredibly well-endowed. I have nothing to complain about and everything to feel guilty about. I should look at my penis every day and think, “I am so lucky that factors beyond my control made you turn out like this.”
But I love to complain. Complaining is in my DNA – I’ve got chromosomes that slouch around in my body, mumbling under their breath about how shit everything is, how stressed they are, how much they hate being personified in blog posts.
You put me in an only relatively bad situation, and I’ll complain the shit out of it, mate. I once complained during a free buffet that the sausage rolls were cold. How ungrateful is that? People are starving in this world; I should just enjoy the fact that I’ve got food, whether it’s my dad’s wake or not.
That took a turn. Probably too much of a turn. I’ve just used the death of my dad as a crutch to finish quite a mediocre joke that is in no way crucial to the rest of the piece. And now I feel guilty about that as well. I’m sorry. Rip Dave Rushton. Also, though, if and when I die, whoever’s in charge of sorting that out please please ensure the sausage rolls are hot.
Maybe if I keep my moaning to more existential worries rather than about any lack of material possessions then it’s alright. I can surely moan about love and death and all that, can’t I? The human universals. All the famous philosophers moaned about that stuff and they were mostly privileged white males. Stop moaning Sartre, you don’t know you’re born mate. To be fair, Descartes actually didn’t know whether he was born. But maybe he should’ve spent less time worrying about whether he exists and more time worrying about how there wasn’t even a minimum wage in the 1600’s.
There seems to be two options for dealing with my guilt: become a better person or become an absolute shitbag who doesn’t give a shit.
The second option does seem appealing at times. If I try to become a better person, I’d probably end up feeling more guilty because I’d find out more stuff to feel guilty about. A couple of years ago, I was more into politics that I am now. I used to read loads of news articles and learn about injustice and stuff, but it’s endless. The amount of shitbaggery going on is unreal.
But if it’s not happening to you and you don’t care, then what’s the problem? If we live in a godless universe and there’s no consequences of our actions after death, then why does it matter what we do? I guess it’s because we feel inside us that we’ve done wrong, we’re evolved to feel guilt. But if you just really worked on eliminating your guilt, surely that solves the problem.
Maybe people who are more virtuous are just bad at dealing with their guilt and that’s why they have to go on marches and tweet all the time.
To illustrate my theory of the benefit of being a guiltless shitbag, take the case of eating meat.
I know I shouldn’t eat meat. Animals have to suffer for me to consume it and there’re plenty of vegetarian alternatives. I feel guilty about it and one day I might become vegetarian or even vegan. I read recently about a thing called cognitive dissonance, which is a kind of mindfuck you feel when you hold two contradictory beliefs. Whenever I hear arguments for veganism, I feel like I suffer from the cognitive dissonance of believing 1) I’m a good person, and 2) I eat animal products, and eating animal products makes you a bad person.
I can’t hold those two beliefs at the same time. Conventional wisdom would suggest becoming a vegan to rectify it, but another way is to just give up on the belief that you’re a good person. Embrace being a terrible person, because if you genuinely don’t care then what’s the issue? If someone lays out to you the reasons for becoming a vegan, or doing anything else that’s moral, no matter how solid their arguments are, you can just come back with, “Yeah, but what you’re forgetting here is that I actually don’t care.” For some people, that lack of guilt is their natural disposition. And if it is their natural disposition, virtuous people don’t have the right to criticise them. It’s not their fault that they don’t give a shit about things. It’s just how they are. For some people, a mixture of environmental and genetic factors mean they worry about things more, and for some people a mixture of those factors mean they don’t give a flying factor about anything.
I think most of us are in that fuzzy middle area where we’re not monks, but we want to at least try to be decent. We feel guilty about doing bad things, but we also still do the bad things. That’s where I’m at. And to get rid of our cognitive dissonance, people like us have to make a decision and commit to being properly virtuous and correcting everything that’s wrong about ourselves; or we need to lighten up and learn how to not give a fuck.
I’m not sure which one I’ll choose yet. But soon I’ll probably feel guilty about posting what is essentially an argument for being a dickhead. Yet I won’t delete it. So maybe I’ll always be stuck in the middle.
Anyway, that’s about it.
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