Embracing A Guilty Feeling

When I tell people the name of this blog (aguiltyprogressive) I will often be asked “why did I name it that?”, or “what are you guilty about?” Some friends even tell me “you shouldn’t feel guilty, what you’re doing is good”. Nevertheless, I usually go on to relate my feelings of guilt, for not being actively involved for many portions of my life, when I was too busy or just distracted and how democracy is a participation sport, blah, blah, blah. My elevator speech is short and maybe sounds good. I end up feeling a little better, but I’m often left feeling dishonest, as if this is not really it. Deep down, I always sense my guilt is much greater and my explanation just touches the surface. During political conversations / debates topics often meander their way through capitalism, socialism, democracy, the whole range and I have begun to realize that much of what allows me / we to live the lives that we live has been dependent upon things / actions that I don’t believe in, that are or should be the real sources of my guilt.

I stumbled on the video below from RT America’s On Contact with Chris Hedges. Here Hedges is joined by actor, playwright and essayist Wallace Shawn (remember My Dinner With Andre) where the Shawn voices his own feelings of guilt. The video begins with a short segment where RT Correspondent Anya Parampil looks at how the American empire’s control of global resources has enriched us. She begins by quoting Vladimir Lenin’s statement that “imperialism is the highest state of capitalism … a system by which a nation maintains global dominance over sources and labor, sustained colonialism and economic monopolies”. She then applies this concept to the United States, beginning with it’s “vast network of military bases throughout the world (near 800 bases in foreign countries) primarily in Germany, Japan and S. Korea.” Parampil quotes the Pentagon itself as saying: “the Unites States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation or empire in history”. She goes on to explain how this military presence has served American businesses well in Central America, South America and most recently in Iraq about which Alan Greenspan famously said: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil”. In summation Parampil says: “these examples all suggest one thing – the U.S. is certainly striving to attain the highest stage of capitalism”. Boy does this little look at reality stir up the guilty feelings, waking up my urge and need to become more active.

Having effectively been primed, now Hedges turns the focus to one individual’s battle with guilt, examining Wallace Shawn’s journey of self analysis coated with sufficient layers of his own guilt. Shawn describes his own realization of guilt that seems strikingly parallel with mine, saying:

“he used to think of himself as a “complacent liberal, well meaning, someone who wanted the miserable people to be less miserable, but didn’t see (his) own role in making that misery and that since seeing his role, (he) has taken a big leap forward in insight, but in terms of behavior it (actually) wasn’t such a big leap … He was brought up in a privileged way, struggled a bit, was a little bit less privileged, had various jobs like a regular human being … but with his education and upbringing one would have to make a much bigger effort to fail completely … and then he stumbled into playwriting and acting.”

Hedges says that what makes Shawn important and difficult for many is that he “examines, not the elite, but the intellectual assumptions of the intellectually elite, the artistic elite”. One of Shawn’s plays dealt with: the seduction of power suggesting Henry Kissinger and eventually he started looking into what has happened in places like Latin America.

He says that for him, part of effective self analysis a “self examination kick … despising and hating himself led to a kind of liberation and freedom … (he) had been restricting himself to thoughts that were self flattering … (actually) limiting the number of thought he could have … (but) by allowing himself to have negative self thoughts, the universe expands immensely”. This all led him to an expansion of what he studied, where he went, what he experienced and eventually what he accepted or believed.

In the 80’s Shawn and Hedges had similar experiences in Nicaragua and El Salvador that became eye openers. Hedges says that what those experiences forced them to do was “grapple with the realities of empire … which is so hidden, even more hidden now, in this age of corporatized media than it was in the 80’s”. Shawn adds “war has become the normal state of affairs and bombs with our names on them are killing people every day … while our leaders (Bush, Obama, Trump) say we have to do it because A, B, C”. Is it possible as Shawn suggests that “people who have lost everything, have little to eat, nowhere to sleep, to work, no passports and ability to travel, that these people may have an acceptance and focus on religion that is beyond our understanding?”

One of the questions Hedges leaves us with is when he asks Shawn “Is (Trump) the result of a society that has failed to examine itself?” We can’t all have the same experiences that have led Shawn and Hedges to their critical look on our increasingly imperialistic country and world, but we should at least embrace what guilt we may feel to question, to educate ourselves and seek a truer path.

Posted in My Thoughts, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged , .


  1. This posting reminded me of something that happened when I was about 10 years old. It’s kind of surprising that I had this insight at such a young age… I remember realizing that European-American people like myself had taken all the land in the United States from the Native Americans, but I was unable to let go of the greedy impulse within myself that I knew had motivated the acquisition of all that land, even though I knew it was wrong. It was too tempting, too easy… but it still left an uneasy feeling. I was very sensitive to the society around me, from a young age, and I think I was “channeling,” perhaps, what I sensed the adults were feeling.

    • One thing I am realizing as I do this blog is the value I find by rereading them periodically. This one, in particular, helps to kind of ground me as I get a little off track. Thanks for the comments.

  2. Shawn’s assessment of Trump’s supporters is that they didn’t have the skills provided by the elite education he enjoyed–once again proclaiming the advantages of wealth and white privilege, and the superiority of one class over another. There has to be another way of looking at this–one that doesn’t reduce, diminish and blame ‘others.’ The two party political system has failed. The Republican slate was too big to examine thoughtfully and for the most part too unsuitable. What stood out were Trumps brash assertions of his own power to win, his plan to make his supporters “tired of winning,” a stunning offer to many people who are exhausted by the hard work and multiple jobs it takes to meet even modest needs. At the same time Trump’s masterful campaign planners had him courting voters in high value electoral college states. Meanwhile the Democratic Party asserted Hillary was “inevitable” (an assertion arrogant enough to discourage even a progressive feminist) and deliberately dissuaded the media from giving the Sanders’ campaign the attention it deserved. This is not, as Chris Hedges suggests, simply an election result caused by a country’s failure to examine its conscience.
    American elites should feel guilty not only about the devastating impact of our foreign policy, but also about the awful state of the poor in our country. For years even Democratic administrations have blamed the poor for being poor–another example of objectifying and blaming an “other.” Capitalism’s meritocracy over all, applied to everyone equally perhaps, but surely we have become a punishing culture with little compassion.

  3. I think I am quite a bit more critical of our system and the powers to be than you. I don’t really credit #45 (won’t reference him by name) with much. He is the figurehead, the fool the GOP loves. He is a distraction, whereas the real evil is performed by the GOP and sadly a good portion of the Neo Liberal Democrats. I agree with Noam Chomsky who says the Republican party is the most dangerous organization in human history (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/noam-chomsky-republican-party-most-dangerous-organisation-human-history-us-politics-mit-linguist-a7706026.html). And this was before and in spite of #45. Their focus on the wealthy and the corresponding efforts to curtail the masses (since about 1970) has led directly to organizations such as ALEC, supreme court judges like Scalia and now Gorsuch. They model a culture that seems incapable of actually feeling compassion, except where it can be used for propaganda. They seem to be very intentionally changing most of America into a 3rd world like image. It will never be as bad as in real 3rd world countries, but it will be constantly controlled and commodified. If you have read Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine”, it is like the slow metamorphosis we see in the US is a different kind of “shock”, slow and methodical. The goal is the same, however, as in other countries: the wealthy and powerful take everything they can, non stop, regardless of consequences while “We the People” allow them to do it. And herein lies our guilt.

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