White people who accept white guilt are far removed from Weber’s Calvinists who, rather than feeling guilty for being set apart, rejoiced in the fact. This is interesting, psychologically, regarding the connections Weber made in The Protestant Work Ethic, but it also provides a stimulating contrast between how privilege was understood by two moralistic middle class groups – especially given the historical connection between the two, whereby the moralistic middle class of today can to a degree be understood as the heirs of the earlier Calvinist holders of that position.
Differences in how privilege is understood are acted upon is more central to my study, however. The Calvinists, or at least some of them, understood themselves to be set apart and different, blessed by God, privileged. But they hardly felt guilty for that. For the Calvinist, it was wonderful to be set apart. Instead of guilt, their response, according to Weber, was something akin to earning their privilege. They could not really earn it, of course, as it was an undeserved gift from God, but they could justify the privilege of their status.
I think there is a pertinent psychological lesson for those who feel guilty for their white privilege today. We are all thrown into a world not of our own making; we do not choose the country, race, religion into which we were born. Such is a fact of the world and our existence in it. Among the responses to this reality are the beliefs that (1) the world is a terrible and unjust place and that we should feel guilty for each of our privileges and (2) what Nietzsche called Amor Fati. What I will develop later as part of this project is a fuller articulation of the first worldview. What would someone have to believe about the world in order to see it this way? I think it requires a fusion of Christian and Marxist thinking that holds the world to be a bad place in need of redemption, wherein the primary feature of Heaven/Utopia is the dissolution of difference through the realization of state of equality. The second view might be understood as variety of nonrationalist, existential naturalism. In this view, ‘existence precedes essence’ is interpreted to mean that the cosmos was not created or designed to conform to our moral standards of twenty-first century leftist bourgeoisie, seventeenth century Calvinists, or anyone else. The universe preceded humans and will be here long after we are gone. This too will be developed further later, but the point I want to make here is the contrast with the moralistic worldview whereby the naturalist perspective as understood here maintains that the world is inherently neither good nor bad; it just is – and that we then decide to see or understand as one or the other. The doctrine of Amor Fati, as discussed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra and elsewhere and developed here, maintains that it is psychologically healthy to embrace the world and our still-somewhat enigmatic existence: to say Yes and thank you to the world and ourselves.
There is a huge gulf between Amor Fati and the worldview of the Puritans, but both views begin with a positive embrace of the world and see one’s life as an opportunity to perfect oneself. This is perhaps a first and necessary step in looking for and finding the good and beautiful in life. It is clearly not sufficient, however, as made clear by those of both Christian and Marxists perspectives who are obsessed with finding ever-more tenuous and particular examples of sin (Christian) or oppression/privilege (Marxist). In direct contrast with Amor Fati, these perspectives see the world as a bad place, wish it would go away, and long instead for a world that does not exist but where everyone acts and believes in accordance with their dreary and deathly vision of the world.
The naturalistic view of the world I espouse bears in mind that in nature the pecan tree drops hundreds of seeds, but only a very few become trees themselves. Those who do are fortunate (to the extent that one values the continuation of life). But I don’t think they, anymore than the few spiders or squirrels who make it to adulthood, should feel guilty for their privilege. Some humans are going to be more successful than others – and often this has little to do with whether or not they have earned it in advance. What we as humans can do, but that other organisms cannot do in exactly the same way, is post facto consciously make the most of the opportunities we have been given.