Guilt is a very useful marketing tool; so is Fear. They are used by governments, political opportunists, salesmen and religions. Here is a bit more on guilt. Read for yourself. Think for yourself. Decide for yourself.
There are a lot of emotions that influence individuals to make decisions. All good salespeople, including copy- writers, are well aware that prospects buy on emotion and then rationalize their purchasing decision with logic. This is why successful sales pitches pull on emotional strings before reinforcing that initial appeal with facts, figures, and other hard data. Buyers use non-emotional logic to justify their initial feelings about a given product or service.
Since it's always the key issue in any sale (regardless of whether or not the buyer is willing to admit it!), is the emotion used to do the selling justified by the product being sold? Sometimes, but sometimes not. It depends on the skillfulness and ethics of the advertiser and the gullibility of the consumer. Therefore the selling of certain products is more fraught with potential fraud than others. Anyone with anything to peddle to the masses, including governments, religions, and other large institutions, is liable to use such principles. In fact, large-scale entities are masters at using emotional arguments to sell ideas and thereby attain or maintain power.
What emotions are they playing upon? Fear, greed, lust, the need to belong, and guilt (among others) are all powerful motivators that force people to act and therefore relieve the pressure these emotions provoke. Most emotions are self-explanatory, but guilt is in a special category of its own, for it is a more complex emotion than it would first appear. Also, it is probably the primary emotion used by institutions to influence their followers. How often are citizens made to feel guilty for not paying "enough" taxes or voting in a certain way "because it's the right thing to do"? How often are religious believers made to feel guilty for breaking any of dozens of edicts and proclamations imposed by the will of the "spiritually superior"?
Guilt is a prime stimulant of human behaviour and one of the most potent tools wielded by authorities to compel their subjects to obey. When one feels guilty of some type of transgression, the need to attain absolution and receive forgiveness can be extremely powerful. Induced guilt will gnaw away at one's conscience until the pressure becomes unbearable and the individual is forced to act. But what is it and where does it come from?
Generally speaking, guilt seems to arise when one's thoughts or actions have violated a given set of personal values. Since this violation of values is the core "hook" of guilt, what values are being transgressed and where did they come from? How did these values attain such power to control human thought, emotion, and ultimately behaviour?
The values are "sold" to individuals on an emotional basis and then justified with logic. This is hardly the way to establish a sound and reasonable platform upon which to base decisions, but it happens continually and perversely explains many of the absurd conclusions, laws, and regulations plaguing today's world. Any value - no matter how innocuous - is extremely hard to dislodge once it takes hold in someone's mind. And while it exists, that value establishes a boundary for "goodness" and "badness" that dictates physical actions in the real world.
Values migrate from the external world of the authorities (whether they be governments, religions, or influential authors or speakers) into the internal world of the mind, where they are then manifested once more in the external world as actions.
Because values are almost always acquired on an emotional basis and then cemented in place with "facts" as an afterthought, this leaves plentiful opportunities for senseless, harmful, and self-destructive beliefs to shape an individual's feelings of guilt. Therefore much (if not most) guilt exploited by external authorities is unjustified. If guilt arises from transgressing a "good" value (one that is logical and reasonable and devoid of emotional distortions), then we could say that that guilt is "earned". If instead it arises from breaking a "bad" value (based purely upon illogical or emotional conclusions), then let us define that guilt as "unearned".
Of course, deciding what is earned and unearned is subject to fierce debate. After all, even bad beliefs are very difficult to remove from someone's mind - people are admitting they are wrong if they admit to a bad belief. Trying to tell someone they're wrong brings to mind the old proverb: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." Individuals have to find the truth for themselves.
There is only one sensible procedure for establishing good values, avoiding unearned guilt, and therefore being manipulated against one's own best interests. One must establish a sensible, analytical structure for values and rigorously adhere to it.
As we have suggested in previous writings, we feel that
protecting one's physical safety from violence should always
take the highest priority, following by the protection of
one's property from fraud. Therefore abstinence from initiating force could be interpreted as the highest possible value, and prohibition of theft and fraud could be ranked as the next highest. No value that advocated the breakage of either of the foregoing could be considered a valid value. Thus, force is permissible *only* in the name of self-defence, where an individual has every reasonable belief that such force is necessary to protect one's own life and property.
This is in complete contradiction to many present-day values which hold that the force-backed defence of ideas is more noble than individual safety and property. This leads to thinking, laws, and regulations that subordinate physical safety and property to the altar of an abstract ideal or concept. Such values are wrong and unjustified, for once an idea is considered more important than a life, then any human rights violation becomes "permissible" to justify the defence of the idea. Thus have endless brutal and horrifying crimes been perpetrated by one segment of society against another (or between societies), all of them excused by the "ideal" of the reigning religion or government of the time. The earned guilt of causing harm to people has been made less powerful and less motivating than the unearned guilt of not following the "higher" value system of the day.
We would submit as one example of many, the "witchcraft" persecutions of the Middle Ages and later stages in history, wherein absolutely horrifying and sadistic crimes committed against women were considered "good" and "justified" because they upheld the ideals of the Church of that era. Would anyone today argue that the torture and slaughter of these women is permissible and acceptable? Then what about modern-day persecutions to uphold modern-day ideals such as "the drug war" and similar tragedies?
The earned guilt of initiating harm against another or stealing from another is a justified guilt and can and should have considerable force in regulation human behaviour. But when an alternative value system exists that invokes greater guilt than that caused by harming another person and/or seizing his or her property, we have an unsound value system driven by unearned guilt. Chaos, suffering, and injustice results from the defence of unethical and unattainable ideals.
Guilt has its place, but not at the expense of life, health, property, and ultimately liberty. To believe otherwise is irrational and unsound and contributes nothing to the advancement of society. All enlightened individuals wishing to better themselves should be wary of any self-destructive value system that manipulates them for the benefit of others.