Friday, March 23, 2012

The Perfectibility of Humanity, Marxism and Psychoanalysis

During a panel discussion exploring the relationship between Marxism and psychoanalysis, one panelist explained that, for many Marxist psychoanalysts, Marxism provided the necessary optimism that humanity could change. In fact, Marxism had to believe in the perfectibility of humanity! Without this belief, they would have absolutely no rationale to pursue their bloody utopian ideal that cost the lives of 100 million, according to some estimates.

The panelist went on to explain that both psychoanalysis and Marxism deny that we share a basic ego defect that precludes meaningful change. While Marxists believe that we are the product of society, and society is the product of the means of production – and so just change the means of production and humanity is changed – the psychoanalyst believes that when knowledge and insight are changed, humanity is changed.

These observations highlight how a very basic difference in worldviews can effect everything else that we believe. If we believe that humanity is basically good and perfectible, this belief exerts a profound effect upon our politics and the way we view life in general. This is the logic behind promoting the “Arab Spring.” If we can just eliminate those repressive regimes, these Muslim nations will find new life – a virtual spring of luxuriant new growth.

This worldview plays itself out in many different areas. At the Socrates CafĂ© at the Ethical Culture Society, conversation usually centers on dealing with the ills of the world and what can be done about them - having the right government, the right laws, or just the right understanding. Mankind is basically good. If we can only come to understand that we all will benefit if we just work together to do the right thing, we will live in peace and harmony. This, of course, will require the reeducation of the mentally backward – that means us.

I protested:

  • Sometimes we might benefit more by doing the wrong thing. If we tell a little white lie to protect the boss, we might get the raise or promotion we’ve been seeking. If we don’t, we’ll miss out. I therefore don’t think that these pragmatic solutions will work.

According to the others, I was ignorant, and so I added:

  • Besides, you can’t build a better world on sand. You are moral relativists – you believe that there are no higher God-given standards. For the moral relativist, morality is just a matter of how you think and feel when you get out of bed. What reason, then, do you have for doing the right thing? Consequently, the spread of moral relativism is strongly associated with the spread of crime. As a Christian, it is a delight for me to honor my God by doing the good.

The response was thunderous:

  • You have no reason to suggest that we don’t have our own basis for moral thinking.

I agreed with them:

  • Truly, the law is written on the hearts of all of us. We are wired for moral truth, and I’m therefore glad that you know the truth. However, you do not have an adequate logical rationale to do the truth, if it’s just a matter of our feelings – the product of chance evolution.

One participant shook his head, “You have a very low view of humanity.” Another began to attack the Christian faith:

  • Your religion is fear-based. If you don’t do what your God wants, he’ll condemn you to hell. What type of God is that!

I responded that serving my God was the greatest joy in my life. However, later I thought of a better answer:

  • I can certainly see why you’d call Christianity fear-based. Anyone on the outside should experience fear. In fact, this would be a very healthy response, like feeling fear when standing at the edge of a tall building. Besides, your assertion seems to suggest that if there is a Creator, He has no right to judge His creation. But do you have a basis for this assertion?

Once again, this worldview is based upon the belief that humanity is basically good and therefore couldn’t possibly deserve eternal punishment. We’re just too good for that type of thing. The only reason that Hitler had not done what was right was either because he wasn’t raised properly or hadn’t received the right understanding – both of which weren’t his fault. In fact, there can be no real fault, because if we have received all of the benefits of a proper environment, we would naturally be good and loving. Therefore, subjecting Hitler to eternal consequences would show a gross lack of understanding on the part of God.

Interestingly, this “understanding” is mere philosophy/religion. It rests upon nothing any more substantial than cultural bias. In fact, all of the evidence tends to prove the very opposite thing – the more our needs are satisfied, the less we are concerned about moral living. While absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute satisfaction with ourselves also corrupts.

Ironically, what might look like a high view of humanity might not be so. A high view of humanity:

  • Regards us as moral agents who are fully culpable for the things that we do. We’re not merely the result of formative processes. This idea is demeaning.
  • Does not regard us as the result of a mindless process – an accident, the product of a bloody process of the-survival-of-the-fittest. Instead, we are created in the image of God and now we grow into His likeness “to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephes. 4:24). Consequently, our lives are infused with meaning and purpose.
  • Does not regard us as just another animal, valued for its usefulness alone, to be discarded when we outgrow our social value. If our value comes from the fact that we are basically good people and are perfectible, what will happen to our value when it’s found that we are not perfectible? Likewise, our rights should not depend upon any social equation or a temporary concession made out of expediency. Instead, our rights come from the fact that we are beloved by our unchanging Creator, who assigns great penalties to those who victimize other humans.

Furthermore, if we derive our sense of value by thinking that we are good or perfectible, we are then coerced to go to great lengths to defend this source of value by denying whatever data that suggests otherwise. How can we possibly face the extent of our selfishness and nastiness when our value as a person depends upon seeing ourselves as good?

How then can we face the truth about ourselves and still live at piece with ourselves? While some need to attach themselves to a utopian ideal to derive their sense of self-importance, we can attach ourselves to a God who will always be there for us:

·        For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

It is only this kind of love that can give us the optimism we require.

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