Guilt & shame


That riot in Vancouver was a blessing, if well disguised.

At the risk of indulging in some much-needed repetition, I want to return to that Vancouver riot, which was my subject on Sunday. I am glad to see other media belabouring the subject, even where the angles they choose are such as I consider to be obtuse. For anyone who keeps our noses mired in what happened, after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final (and would, by common consent, also have happened had they won), is doing a public service.

That riot was a blessing, if well disguised. No one was killed, and the property damage was within fairly modest limits, thanks to the stupidity of the children themselves. They weren't really trying to accomplish anything. From what I can make out, the looting was not done on any serious scale, and the streets were soon surrendered to the lawful authorities.

The children – and I call these "young adults" that, consciously intending to insult and demean them – were merely "expressing themselves." They were never taught in school to trash streets, smash plate-glass windows, torch cars, or set murderously upon an individual who was chastising them. But they were taught to "express themselves," and this is what they chose to express.

They were taught "self-esteem"; and they were taught that guilt and shame are evils. They were taught that they have "rights," without regard to duty, and that they are entitled to "respect" which they need never earn. They were taught that religion is the principal oppressor of mankind, and that all forms of morality are bogus, especially the sexual.

And all of these ideas were expressed in the course of the rampage. To the older and more bourgeois, the principal imagery was of these children hamming it up before the cellphone cameras, and through all "social media." Far from expressing anger and rage, they were striking happy poses. They were enjoying themselves, on a large scale, as we see them enjoying themselves towards closing time in almost any campus pub.

Poorly behaved, but also well dressed, and of course, utterly spoiled children. Several of my readers were struck by all the fashion wear, and symbols of easy money. You could not hope to find, elsewhere on the surface of this planet, a less oppressed tribe. Yet they were, instinctively, trashing the very shop windows in which such gear is displayed. It was as if the mannequins had come to life, and were staging a rebellion against being plastic.

For that is what we saw: the revolution of the mannequins. Outwardly the scene was the same as in any mob disorder. To the untrained eye, one riot much resembles another; but this one was, inwardly, unusually "pure." It was violence directly expressing emptiness, purposelessness, ennui; a flash-in-the-pan violence, coming from nowhere, leading to nothing.

Here I want to provide what is, or was, a deep insight into the nature of evil, carried by that "Judeo-Christian" tradition which our young are taught to despise in our public schools. It is nearly opposite to the "Manichean" idea, expressed in other ancient cultures, in which good and evil are two balanced and contending forces, with black hats and white hats well-marked.

To this ancient, "western" view, there are certainly demonic forces loose in the world. But no hats. Ultimately, evil is a big zero. It exists, with a vengeance, where the lesser good is preferred to the greater; it exists, is pulled in, wherever the good has been vacated; it is a kind of vacuum.

By all means, find and punish the perpetrators: all ten thousand of them. But punishment is only a start, towards helping them discover that guilt and shame on which all human character is built.

Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest philosophical mind that has been, worked out this view in minute rational and conceptual detail. It is not standard fare for newspaper columnists. Yet here I am trying to draw attention to the very "zero" at the heart of that mob, and ultimately, any violent mob. The participants behave in ways that are finally unintelligible. To say they behave as animals would be unfair to animals, which are purposeful, and even merciful by comparison. (What they have no business with, they leave alone.)

It is a storm, which passes. And when that storm has passed, the wreckage may remain, and the consequences of the wreckage; yet it is as if the storm had never been.

In other religions, the same phenomena are accounted in different ways; in the Christian, which had dominated our culture, children were raised in awareness of their own potentiality for evil. The "doctrine of original sin" presented man in a fallen condition, needing to struggle upward. And through Christ, we understood a calling, towards "Heaven" glimpsed in sublime moments of beauty, goodness, and truth. These were not "generic."

By all means, find and punish the perpetrators: all ten thousand of them. But punishment is only a start, towards helping them discover that guilt and shame on which all human character is built.




David Warren. "Guilt & shame." Ottawa Citizen (June 22, 2011).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

photo: Elopde


David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled – especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

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