Self flagellation

Occasionally you’ll see media reports about these religious parades with people whipping themselves. These Flagellants do this as a form of penance. These days, it is not only religious nuts who practice this sort of thing but entire political movements. Bruce Thornton has a good description of this modern form of the practice in “Unwarranted Self-Abasement” (

that reflex of guilt and shame about our society and history, that eager rush to apologize for our presumed sins, that willingness to blame ourselves for the world’s ills and take seriously the self-interested slanders of states whose record of dysfunction and crime outstrips ours by miles. … seems eager to don once again the hair shirt of American sin.

Only a toxic self-loathing could put the views of such people ahead of our own security and belief in the justice of our cause.

This idea that criticizing your own culture and values is a sign of intellectual sophistication has many roots. The Enlightenment abandonment of faith and the rise of rationalism as the only road to truth unleashed a corrosive criticism that destroys everything but builds nothing.

When you look to the world around you, what you see first and in most detail is yourself. That puts your own imperfections as highly visible and annoying. If you see no further, if you do not see the big picture, if you do not learn to give credence to your own morals and values, then you become susceptible to the depressing effects of self loathing and self contempt. In a national sense, you can do this with hubris. That is, you can maintain your own ego but still feel guilty about your nation and community by blaming its faults on others, by separating yourself from your community to protect your own self while, at the same time, loathing the greater, social, self.

How much worse is our condition today, when this “self-abasement” has now hardened into banal clichés repeated in popular culture, school curricula, and the received wisdom of badly educated pundits … On the contrary, to the jihadists fired with faith in the righteousness of their own cause and beliefs, this eagerness to shoulder the blame for their dysfunctions, this desire to exchange flabby words for vigorous deeds will simply convince them that for all our wealth and power, we don’t really believe in our professed values and so are ripe for destruction.

We weaken ourselves with doubt and uncertainty and an inability to accept imperfection that is tempered by continual efforts towards improvement and growth. That weakening is what worries.

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