Sunday, August 17, 2014

Robinson on the importance of "repent[ing] from the perspective of the [villain]"

     "There is an old saying:  Act in haste and repent at leisure.  Perhaps we understand this in an inverse and diabolical sense.  We may actually enjoy repenting.  We make it one of the more strenuous of our leisure occupations, especially when we feel we are repenting for crimes that are only 'ours' in the broadest sense.  Butoddly enoughwe repent from the perspective of the victim, which we may have acquired only on our own terms and from a comfortable distance.  Words such as 'sympathy' and 'compassion' encourage identification with the victim.   But moral rigor and a meaningful concern for the future of humankind would require that we identify instead with the villain, while villainy is still only potential, while we can still try to ensure that we would not, actively or passively, have a part in it.  It would require that we forbid ourselves to hope the offense will soon be over, the journalists will find something else to talk about.  Then we will once again have leisure to repent the neglect and abuse that has receded into the past far enough to let us, in our heart of hearts, feel the most attenuated guilt, the kind made tolerable by our knowing that only a very delicate conscience would pause over it."

     Marilynne Robinson, "Austerity as ideology," in When I was a child I read books (New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), 56-57.

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