Monday, October 22, 2007

The Unquiet Conscience

Louis Althusser told us all about the vague guilt we feel when made aware that a policeman is walking behind us. Then, later, he strangled his wife in his sleep.

There is a lesson in that.

I got a note the other day from the Glendale Public Library telling me that I had an overdue book. The odds were in the Glendale Library's favor; I have a psychological block about returning library books on time. But I was pretty sure I had returned that particular book. Library workers sometimes fail to scan books in properly. I know this, because I was once a library worker myself.

I went back to the Glendale Public Library yesterday; I had other (overdue) books to return. At the front desk I registered my protest about the allegedly overdue book. Also, I checked the shelves. It was there, exactly where it should have been, and I brought it up to the front desk, where they checked it in.

Then I asked if I had any fines and I did and I asked if any of them were for the book in question and they were, so the nice library worker removed those fines and I paid for the actually overdue books and went home.

Here's the point:

Having foreseen exactly this course of events, I felt tremendously unquiet. There was no way for any grudging or suspicious authority to satisfy itself that I had not checked this book out, failed to return it, and then by virtue of claiming to have returned it earlier, gotten out of paying the fine.

Let me be clear. I had not done that. Nor did anyone accuse me of having done that. But because I could not prove I had not done that, I felt guilty.

A couple weeks ago I found myself wandering through Rite Aid with a full bag of Doritos that I had purchased at that same Rite Aid a couple of weeks earlier, and that same vague sense of guilt overcame me. Guilt, I guess, for having put myself into a position susceptible to sinister interpretations.

If, one day, one of the obligations of citizenship is not to put oneself in equivocal situations that could give rise to (ultimately unfounded) suspicions, life will be unbearable.

2 comments:

Charlie said...

Yeah, it's like when OJ got maybe a little too rough when trying to calm Nicole down---he's supposed to know that one day some other dude would up and kill her, thereby putting OJ in a terrible spot?

Please.

This life shouldn't require us to guard against every possible suspicion of the unduly suspicious.

The Secretary said...

A couple weeks ago I found myself wandering through Rite Aid with a full bag of Doritos that I had purchased at that same Rite Aid a couple of weeks earlier, and that same vague sense of guilt overcame me. Guilt, I guess, for having put myself into a position susceptible to sinister interpretations.

CC: All we want is not to worry about you.