The hypochondriac person anticipates cancer in a stomach cramp, an imminent stroke in the face of forgetting the pin number of the credit card, a crouching scoliosis after a lumbar contracture. There is a narcissistic component in that insistent role that the hypochondriac gives himself thanks to the anticipation of his illnesses. Psychology warns that the true pathology lies in not being able to distinguish reality from one’s own perception. The authors of the book moral hypochondria (Anagrama, 2022) move, following Erich Fromm, that concern from the physiological field to that of thought, and affirm that there are many people who feel morally very sick and do not stop asking for forgiveness for acts for which they are not responsible.
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Therefore, the moral hypochondriac thinks that he or she is more important than he really is – a textbook narcissist – and fails to differentiate the feeling that he has acted badly from the fact that he has acted badly. He is outraged by an injustice without verifying that it is really taking place, he feels guilty for a bad action, even a crime or a crime, that he did not commit.
“What the hell is wrong with the Western middle class with moral hypochondria?” asks Pau Luque (Anagrama Essay Award 2020 with Things as they are and other fantasies) Y Natalia Carrillo in this short essay. The petty bourgeoisie is, it seems, the most affected by this evil. The Western middle class deals with problems by “hyper-reflecting” and applying high doses of sentimentality to their thinking. We hyperreflect because we want to explain to ourselves why we feel guilty. Guilty for flushing twice when there are territories in the world devastated by drought. Guilty for sending an audio of several minutes. Guilty for buying an unnecessary dress. Guilty for descending from conquerors, for being grandchildren of Nazis, for not having defended a person humiliated for being who he is. Carrillo and Luque defend ethics against moral hypochondria.
“The disturbing thing is to think that only when one presents himself as guilty for calamities in which he has not actively participated is he legitimate to speak, because that is not the assumption of political responsibility, much less genuine concern for the disinherited of history or minorities. disadvantaged, but open-faced narcissism”, the authors clarify to this newspaper.
Carrillo and Luque use several examples in their essay. Both literary characters and real people afflicted with guilt. A universal and unavoidable guilt, arbitrary and unapproachable, impossible to annihilate. A secular version, it seems, of Christian sin. It is guilt, which is everywhere but, in the middle class, frequently becomes pathological and mutates into moral hypochondria. “Making someone feel guilty about their inherited privileges is politically useless and ethically superficial: at best, that person will go to therapy and come out of it having learned to deal with guilt, and it will be up to the therapist’s consultation their desire to change things will come, that is, they will not get anywhere politically; in the worst case, the emancipatory political movements will have gained an enemy that they did not have before”, they explain about the expansion of this type of response to life.
As a proposal to combat it, “the Didion method” could serve. When the nephew of the journalist and writer Joan Didion asked him, in the documentary The center will yield how he felt when, working on reports about hippy California in the late 60s, he met a five-year-old girl on acid, she replied: “It was gold.” She did not feel deeply moved or terribly ashamed or stickily responsible for how society, or at least that particular social group, that countercultural environment from which she could feel more or less close to her, had stolen her childhood from the girl. Joan Didion saw the report, she found the story.
Journalism, or at least a certain way of practicing journalism, would be a tool. Didion uses the eyes of journalism to see the world and thus creates a distance that prevents him from falling into moral hypochondria. “Didion won’t let any speck of guilt or sorrow cloud his journalistic gaze. What matters is telling the story. What counts is to describe that five-year-old girl, named Susan, put on acid in some room of a hippie house in California in the sixties, ”the authors write in the book.
“It is difficult to mobilize citizens without some dose of ethical outrage. So committed journalism, to call it in some way, does not hurt to appeal to our ethical convictions”, affirm Carrillo and Luque in the interview. “The problem is that journalism lately tends to go overboard, in the sense that some news headlines blur the line between ethical outrage and moral hypochondria. And the fucked up thing is that once that line has been crossed, journalism doesn’t have the power to steer the conversation back to the side of ethical outrage. Moral hypochondria, once it is under way, has a life of its own.
It is possible that this phenomenon is more visible in the ideology of the left than in that of the right, the authors affirm, without this being decisive. “The problem, more than being on the left or the right, is that many believe that the opposite of moral hypochondria is cynicism. Thus, the public conversation is saturated with cynics trying to ridicule moral hypochondriacs and moral hypochondriacs trying to make cynics feel guilty, a doomed enterprise, of course. But the opposite of moral hypochondria is ethics and political responsibility”, they affirm.
This little essay has already launched the alert. As a sneak, a warning against “the expansion of moral hypochondria”, it provides some tool to detect and combat it. “You can ask yourself, when you feel guilt, if you have played an active role in whatever it is that has triggered your guilt. If you have not played it, there is little point in feeling guilty, which is not to say that one cannot, or even should, assume some kind of political or ethical responsibility”, the authors state, because it does not mean that the moral hypochondriac does not is really guilty of political corruption, hate speech on social networks, aggressive machismo, racism or lgtbiphobia. The hypochondriac may also be guilty, but his problem is that he only sees himself as responsible when he feels guilty, regardless of whether or not he is guilty.