Guilt, or self-righteousness?

For conservatives prepared to consider the proposition that there is some kind of fundamental distinction between Western culture and that of the other civilisations of the world, the distinction is sometimes seen in terms of morality. We are, according to this interpretation, a more moral people. We can see this most readily in terms of a contrast with the East Asian civilisation. In China, the interests of the collective (family, nation, state) override moral considerations. Chinese people who know of their government’s use of late-term forced abortions to enforce the national family planning policy often simply deny that anything of the sort takes place; or, when presented with evidence, they get angry and start shouting. Anyone who has lived in China will know that discussions of Chinese brutality towards China’s own ethnic minorities proceed in a very unfruitful way. The Chinese government is prepared to peddle the most transparent lies, such as claiming that a small group of Tibetan refugees, shot dead by China’s border guards for fleeing the country, as shown on a mountaineer’s videotape, actually attacked the border guards. Lies come easier to the Chinese, which is why we call them “inscrutable”: we cannot gauge their moral sensibility.

The abuse whereby Chinese workplace bosses would refuse to allow their employees to marry—they were required to sign the documents—unless the bride first gave her virginity to the boss has been stymied by a change in the law, which does not now require workplace approval for the match, but sexual abuse in the workplace is not only rife, but standard, in China. The parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake of 2009 were arrested for protesting over the schoolhouses that collapsed like jelly as the money for school construction had been siphoned off by corrupt officials. Of the 80-odd earthquake orphans who were disabled as a result of the earthquake, not one—not a single one, according to the Chinese press—found a family in the world’s most populous nation willing to adopt him. As far as most moral issues are concerned, the Chinese do not really seem to “care”.

We care. It is what we do as Westerners. We are the nations intent on building up geo-political rivals by subsidies and technological transfer. Hillary Clinton cares about the rioting Egyptians (although apparently much less about the displaced Palestinians in much worse circumstances). From racism to sexism to homophobia to destruction of the environment, Western political views are directly informed by a sort of cod-altruism. We are worried about the plight of slaves in Mauritania and about child labour in Pakistan. And such supposed “altruism” feeds directly into the politics of guilt: it is “unfair” that other nations are poorer than we; we were the ones who engaged in the triangular slave trade; we are not doing enough to help the homosexuals of Iran; the underclass in Britain cannot be expected to control their own fertility, even in the age of the “morning-after pill”, and so it would be “unfair” not to subside their unproductive lifestyles; and the death penalty for cold-blooded killers would be cruel, as social disadvantage is deemed to play a key role in such individuals’ personalities.

Clearly we are different from the other civilisations of the earth. And it is not just the Chinese who fail to measure up to our moral standards. While the Islamic civilisation includes a large and unbending moral component, one of the key things that stands out is the cruel use of state power to enforce their moral code. For some reason, Islam never set out to create individuals who were morally upright; it did not set out to build individuals who did not need cruel punishments to stay in line. Hilaire Belloc’s wonderful tale, The Mercy of Allah, sets out an understanding of Muslim society that is every bit as selfish and greedy as Chinese society. To rob others, unbeknown to them until you are far off, is shown in that book as viewed as “the mercy of Allah”, who facilitates the crime. Christian concern for others, even those you do not know, does not seem to be present in those societies. In Britain itself, the paedophilia and sexually predatory behaviour of young Muslim men, long suppressed as an item of news, has recently hit the headlines. What surprises you is that such behaviour is not rare or a fringe activity, but one participated in by large numbers of Muslim youths working together. Crime statistics are apparently “top secret” in the UK, but statistics from a range of Western countries confirm the prevalence of crime among the non-European part of the population. In Sweden, for example, the still demographically small first- and second-generation immigrant population is responsible for a large majority of rapes and sexual assaults.

True, violent crime is less common in China, where it is the overwhelming social norm for men to frequent brothels, and the lower level of violence can also be explained by higher average IQ levels in East Asia, which produce a fairly stable population, who prefer to use their intelligence to rip others off financially than to use their fists or force themselves on lone women. Indian and Pakistani doctors in the UK are known for “feeling up” their female patients—presumably in their culture they would get away with this behaviour, and “anti-racism” ensures they often do in Britain too. Real hard violence, as a social norm, is, however, rather found in the African-descended part of the population, who lack the IQs of the Chinese and the economic prospects of everyone else. Many geneticists believe that not only IQs but also the tendency towards aggression is coded for in human genes, and further solid information on this subject is eagerly awaited by conservatives.

So it seems clear that there is a real difference between the West and the other civilisations. This is not to deny that bad behaviour has not become much more prevalent among the Western underclass, possibly as a side function of state sponsorship of sexual incontinence and unmarried motherhood. The “wigger” phenomenon suggests that British youths are modelling themselves on their Afro-Caribbean counterparts, with negative social consequences. However, these phenomena are the result of the distorted morality or guilt of the Western middle classes, who have allowed bad behaviour to take root rather than being “judgmental”. This produces the curious circumstance that, whereas other civilisations, such as Islam, are unofficially immoral, in contrast to the full Islamic law, which would be unbendingly moral, we now officially support immoral lifestyles. Islamic revulsion at Western society has been frequently described in the press: it seems that calls for social integration fall on deaf ears, when that society smiles at images of young women drunk and half-naked lying on the pavement. At least officially, in their own communities, the Muslim leaders are not afraid to denounce immorality. It seems we are both more “caring” and less strict on the moral front than they are, or at least claim to be; there is a good deal of evidence that private moral behaviour is much worse in the Muslim community than it would be in mainstream Britain.

This produces a complicated picture. How can we be more moral if we are morally lax? The solution seems to lie in the cod-altruism mentioned earlier. Western society, and particularly Anglo-Saxon society, is noted for its sanctimonious and self-righteous tone. Western society functions as a competition for moral status, a game of moral “one-upmanship”. I think this explains the pretence of altruism: by displaying your concern for others, you prove your superiority to others, in this game at least. Free Tibet! I’d rather pay a bit more in tax! Save the whale! One of my best friends is black! We mustn’t be judgmental! All these are particular manifestations of the game of moral status.

Actually, the self-righteous do not actually give a damn about any one of their causes. I have tried to winkle out the bottom line of their altruism: when the self-righteous witter on about their concern for the 3,000 desaparecidos of Chile, I ask them if they are as concerned about the 30,000 members of the Matabele tribe slaughtered by the anti-imperialist, Robert Mugabe, in Zimbabwe. That generally leads to a tense conversation: their eyes glaze over, they refuse to listen to any more facts and get angry. Yet, if they really were altruistic, they would care about deaths at the hands of anti-imperialists too. It was shown at one point in the Somali famine that the agricultural situation had recovered in that country, but the fact that Western food donations kept rolling in made farmers reluctant to cultivate their fields. Why would it make any difference to the self-righteous if they were actually harming the Somalis by their vaunted “kindness”? Does it make any difference to them that the welfare benefits system has led to a large rise in the numbers of children brought up by single mothers? And that that situation is linked, in one of the strongest statistical links in the social sciences, with crime, delinquency, drug abuse, and the physical and sexual abuse of the children, often by their mothers’ string of “partners”?

If we are “moral”, we are moral in a way that is largely intended to flatter ourselves. That is why the objects of our concern are so curiously selective. In the 1990s, we were oh-so-concerned about the driving of the Bosnian Muslims out of their “safe havens”, which we viewed as part of a wonderful attempt to create a multi-ethnic society (ahem! among people killing each other), and yet the driving of the Croatian Serbs out of their “protected areas” failed to provoke a similar reaction. It was ordinary people who bore the brunt in both cases. It could be said that Western people are idealistic, and that they pick out the cases to show concern over with a careful eye on what would make themselves look good morally.

That is not to say that self-righteousness is not connected in some way with real morality. The fact that in most of these cases people are being treated in ways that would call for compassion—especially if you were a member of that society, and rather less credibly if you are just enjoying the sensation of concern via the television screen—is what the claim to altruism rests upon. To that extent, it seems that “youthful idealism” is used by a more cynical class of free riders to stake out their own claim to moral superiority, while not really giving a damn. I am a long way from condemning genuine altruism, although it would be very rare, and I do not think I have come across it in British society. Anyone who is really concerned about the starving millions in Africa would sell his house and give the money to the starving. I would not discourage anyone from doing so, as long as no-one else (for example, wife and children) were affected, in which case imposing suffering on them would not be genuinely altruistic. Quite simply, I myself do not care about the starving in Ethiopia—it is a very abstract concept to me, and charity is better directed to one’s own immediate community—but then neither do the self-righteous; the difference is, I do not feel the need to indulge in gesture politics on the issue.

Self-righteousness has become the moral stance of the British elite, many of whom are making large sums out of their concern for others. I am sure senior civil servants, bureaucrats in the health service, headmasters on six-figure salaries in failing schools, “quango queens” and charity directors all tell themselves that they are handsomely rewarded for their superior morality. They are all trying to do good, or so they tell themselves, and if they are actually imposing a financial burden on the low-paid, siphoning money off from front-line healthcare, teaching trendy subjects they know will damage the life chances of their pupils, wasting money on fatuous and politically motivated campaigns, and even directing money collected as “charitable donations” into their final-salary pension funds, they are able to rationalise it in some way to themselves. How lucrative “caring” has become! Quite often these people are prepared to siphon off large sums of money into overseas projects (collecting their salaries on the way). I would argue that the Chinese-style naked pursuit of self-interest at least has the advantage of allowing the Chinese to support their own society. They do not have to pretend to care about the Sudan, and so they can keep all their money in China. And they do not need to feign concern about the human rights of murderers, and so are free to support the death penalty and keep China a stable, low-crime society. And the Muslim society of wealthy Saudi Arabia sees no need to fund unmarried motherhood, so helping to ensure that most children in that society are brought up by both of their real parents. Amazing, is it not, how self-interest often fosters a healthy society?

How did Western society become so self-righteous? Is this merely a phenomenon of the twentieth century as our Christian culture receded? I would argue that the sanctimoniousness of the elite, and their middle-class hangers-on, has huge material advantages for the elite, in that it has vastly expanded the size of the state, but there are other advantages too for the elite of this form of self-righteousness. Whereas traditional morality required them to set a social example themselves, the new form of cod-morality requires nothing of them personally. You can be a serial divorcer and abandoner of children, and as long as you are passionate anti-racist and concerned about global warming, you are still a good person today. The cod-morality requires nothing more than occasional lip-service, whereas traditional morality was a tight life-long straitjacket of behaviour. We have reached the point where morality is what you say and not what you do. A pleasant person who never does anything to harm others, but voices his opposition to immigration—I would put myself in this category—is deemed in self-righteous circles to be a “nasty individual”, based entirely on his views. Someone who has ruined the lives of his wife and children has only to mouth platitudes to become accepted in the best company.

Clearly, though, self-righteousness is connected to our erstwhile morality. Even in the old days, those who were determined to be seen to be behaving in line with the church’s moral precepts were seen as self-righteous. They cultivated their moral images every bit as much as the new elite cultivate theirs. From one point of view, the change in society has been nothing more than a shift in the focus of morality, from sexual to racial matters. Incidents such as the persecution of the witches of Salem in early America show that the same tendency to self-righteousness, together with a taste for persecuting others that is very much alive in the new political correctness, has been there all along. Yet the difference is that the old self-righteousness of the family and the church fostered a good society: it held the fabric of the family and nation together. The new self-righteousness is destructive of the fabric society because it opposes the family and the nation, and it is for that reason, and not its mere sanctimonious tone (unbearable though that is), that I oppose it.

Finally, the church itself warned of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were probably not engaging in any form of immorality, but it was their self-righteousness that offended Jesus, who condemned them as “whited sepulchres”. A nation steeped in the Bible was on the look-out for self-righteousness, and this at least meant that a genuine difference between real morality and the cultivation of a fake moral image was clear to all members of society back then. Could it be that, as we have in the main abandoned Christianity, we no longer see the distinction between righteousness and self-righteousness? That having been weaned off the Bible, we take claims of morality at face value?

It was always a problem for the Christian church that it called for righteousness and condemned unrighteousness while claiming to oppose self-righteousness too. Is it not self-righteous to tell others to be righteous? I can only square that circle myself with the concept of a nation that is Christian, rather than individuals who are Christian. At one stage, Englishmen were told they were “building Jerusalem”, that England must become the kingdom of God on earth. It was not a messianic vision of the Second Coming of Christ, but was rather a messianic vision of a good society, right here in England. Once the values that were once seen as moral and right are assimilated by the majority of society, it becomes harder for one individual to stake a greater claim to morality by adhering to them. They were once the norm in society. True, there were individuals hamming up their devotion to God, but there was nothing unusual back then about loving your wife “till death do us part” and bringing up your children to behave themselves. This moral tone was what was great about England—we were individuals with integrity, not individuals who it took the strictures of a cruel and barbaric shari’ah law to keep in line. The goal of the Church of England was never merely to create moral individuals, but to create a society where moral behaviour was the accepted social norm. Whether the theology of the Bible was true or not, it is a fact of history that the “new personality” spoke of by St Paul was put on by many—the majority?—of Englishmen, and that a society that worked on its precepts brought the religion of Christianity alive regardless of the facts of science and history.

So it seems to me that our traditional morality has metamorphosised into the self-righteousness, the cod-morality, of our new elite. Having been profoundly influenced by the Gospels, our nation was ripe for the emergence of anti-racism and various forms of synthetic outrage to replace the old certainties. Is this some kind of original cultural flaw in the Western societies? Does our oft-proclaimed moral superiority conceal a tendency towards self-deception and gesture politics? The irony is, when the Western civilisation was at its height, it was better than the rest of them put together!


About dj1969

at the conservative end of the libertarian spectrum
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