Knowledge begets responsibility which begets guilt
Guilt is both a curse and a salvation. I conclude that guilt is perhaps one of the few internal mechanisms that can prevent human self-destruction.
Rational analysis and recognition of self preservation can drive us to correcting problems that have immediate and visible impact on our life but it is this internal friction we call guilt upon which we must depend for avoiding long term consequences resulting from our behavior.
Guilt is difficult to analyze because it is ‘dumb’. It is a feeling of being blocked and frustrated without knowing why we feel that way. This develops when embraced by powerlessness while clutched by the unknown. Guilt is a bind of life.
A feeling of guilt emanates from our peculiar ability to apprehend life’s totality but unable to move in relation to it. “This real guilt partly explains willing subordinacy to his culture: after all, the world of men is even more dazzling and miraculous in its richness than the awesomeness of nature. Also, subordinacy comes naturally from man’s basic experience of being nourished and cared for; it is a logical response to social altruism.”—Ernest Becker.
Stewardship-- the conducting, supervising, or managing of something… the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care…
Stewardship is a word used often in the Bible and was at one time used often in England. It was used in England because the youth of the landed aristocracy was taught that they were responsible for the care of the family properties in such a way that they passed on to the next generation an inheritance equal to but more appropriately larger than that received. Each generation was not the owner but was the steward for the family estates. Any individual who squandered the inheritance was a traitor to the family.
I am inclined to think that each human generation must consider itself as the steward of the earth and therefore must make available to the succeeding generations an inheritance undiminished to that received.
In this context what does “careful and responsible management” mean? I would say that there are two things that must be begun to make the whole process feasible. The first is that the public must be convinced that it is a responsible caretaker and not an owner and secondly the public must be provided with an acceptable standard whereby it can judge how each major issue affects the accomplishment of the overall task. This is an ongoing forever responsibility for every nation but for the purpose of discussion I am going to speak about it as localized to the US.
Selfishness and greed are fundamental components of human nature. How does a nation cause its people to temper this nature when the payoff goes not to the generation presently in charge but to generations yet to come in the very distant future? Generations too far removed to be encompassed by the evolved biological impulse to care for ones kin.
How is it possible to cause a man or woman to have the same concern for a generation five times removed as that man or woman has for their own progeny?
I suspect it is not possible, but it does seem to me to be necessary to accomplish the task of stewardship.
Guilt may be our only hope for human acceptance of the responsibility of stewardship.