Friday, October 05, 2018

Judge Kavanaugh and the Question of Moral Responsibility (or evasion)

(The remarks that follow assume one has read Neil H. Buchanan’s piece, ‘The Kavanaugh Travesty: A Roiling Brew of Alcohol and Entitled Self-Righteousness,’ that I linked to on Facebook yesterday.)

I find it more than plausible that Kavanaugh fancies himself as deserving of the privileges and feelings of superiority that are often part and parcel of being a member of the entitled meritocracy in this country, although I suspect he subscribes to the principle of noblesse oblige by way of easing his conscience, hence the frequency of first-person references (as a possessive pronoun) to a “lifetime of public service,” the “coaching of young girls” and so forth. In addition, we might plausibly if not reasonably infer that he believes his feelings of contempt, anger (if not rage), and defiance (for example) are justified because the accusations of sexual assault and accounts of his drunken behavior have spilled over onto and thus sullied the images of sanctimonious purity with which he and his supporters have painted his roles as a “son, husband and dad.” That portrait, in conjunction with the “good name” his legal career has—in both his mind and the minds of his supporters—etched in stone, serve as sacred artifacts or insignia of his meritocratic entitlement. Still, one wonders how a person of his intelligence and “fine breeding” as it were, can live in good conscience with an abundance of evasions and lies that typically add up to denial and self-deception.

I’ll hazard a guess: the (often perverse) moral psychology intrinsic to substitutionary atonement doctrine in Catholicism which, I believe, is intimately tied to the Church’s teachings and practices of sacramental confession requiring “disclosure of sins (the ‘confession’), contrition (sorrow of the soul for the sins committed), and satisfaction (‘penance,’ i.e. doing something to make amends for the sins),” are at least a necessary condition to a possible if not plausible psychological explanation. Assuming Kavanaugh is a “good Catholic,” the moral psychology of substitutionary atonement in conjunction with the act of confession permits him to view his past behavior in a far more forgiving and excusing light than the rest of us (at least those of us who do not believe in substitutionary atonement or practice sacramental confession) and again, in his mind at least, thus serves to rationalize or pardon his expressions of anger and defiance at those believed responsible for soiling the sacred signs associated with his “good name” (as well as the conspicuous lapse in the kind of judicial temperament one associates with a candidate for the Supreme Court). One result of putting things in this psychological and theological framework is that it suggests or implies the possibility that Kavanaugh does not see himself as truly evading moral responsibility, for such responsibility as is relevant was assumed and faced in the theological precincts and moral psychological context of his Catholic faith.


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