Adult moralists are always angry people. The more the moralist is confronted with sloppy old experience, the more hysterical he or she becomes. We all get hysterical, but some of us lighten up and come to our senses more often than others. Some of us operate from hysterical moralism most of the time. Famous political moralists like Joseph McCarthy, Spiro Agnew, J. Edgar Hoover, and Hitler are great prototypes of the disease in our culture.
More lawyers come to me for therapy than do members of any other profession, and it's not coincidence, since so much of their training is to learn to live by rules. One important rule they try to live by is that the proper way to be angry is to have a fight using the rules. They often try to do this in their private lives, with complete lack of success. Perpetual arguing to convince others of the Tightness of your case doesn't work worth a damn in personal relationships, and we all know it but can't seem to stop.
A law school education emphasizes the idiocy already built in by the culture. Law school begins with memorizing torts - formally learning the cases from the past and the principles they represent - and it gets worse as it goes on. After three years of law school a graduate usually takes the next step toward a law career: the bar exam for which he or she has to take a cram course to memorize cases, principles, generalizations, and values.
When the exam is administered, the potential member of the bar knows in advance that he or she must score in the upper fifty percent of those taking the exam or fail. In the
, if you are in the lower half of the group, but
close to the cut-off, you may appeal your grade and request that your paper be
regraded. District of Columbia
However, they will not tell you the new grade until after the next bar exam has been administered. If you want to be sure you can go to work as a lawyer, you had better take the exam again even though you may have passed already. This is to teach you a lesson: do what you're told, no matter how ridiculous or unfair, if you want to be a lawyer. This continues, year after year, with the only apparent purpose being to make sure you have really learned to kiss ass in the culturally approved way.
Having passed the bar, if you are a high achiever, you then typically do a three to seven year stint of working 70 to 80 hours a week for a law firm trying to "make partner." After you have proven, through many additional trials, that you have learned to kiss ass in all circumstances, you may make partner. By the time you make partner you are a workaholic, so you keep up the pace out of habit, but also because you don't know what in the hell else to do in life but work and count principles.
This is the group from which we choose our political representatives. This is where judges come from. Though the learned disease of moralism is rampant in all professions, the middle-aged lawyer is the quintessential prototype for this disease. Lawyers are the best representatives of the way people are today. They are the mind of our culture.
One of the things that helps this disease of moral hysteria to progress is detachment from identification of ourselves as our experience. Hard physical work for the sake of survival used to keep more people in touch with the world of being. As life becomes less toil and more thinking and problem-solving, there is less opportunity to have one's attention called forth from the mind by more immediate demands of survival on a day-to-day basis. The gap created by lack of grounding in our experience leaves us dependent on ideas, principles, rules, values, and imagination as our primary modes of orientation.
These ideas and values are tightly held in the same way an adolescent grasps onto roles when he joins a gang or becomes a Christian or a Hare Krishna or falls in love and gets married in high school. Without roles and rules, we fear we will lose control of ourselves. We will go crazy. We will lose our minds. The more intensely these rules and roles are defended; the further removed from grounding in experience the individual becomes.
After enough practice at role-playing and idealism, our whole way of orienting ourselves in the world depends on principles of orientation rather than on the ability to respond as needed based on what we perceive. This moralism, this web of entrapment of human aliveness, is a crippling disease. We all have it. It is terminal. It cannot be cured. It's a hell of a lot worse than herpes. It is as deadly as AIDS. It is in our schools. It is in our minds. It is in the bloodstream of our culture.