I never approve or disapprove of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take toward life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid of ourselves. The basis for optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbor with the possession of those virtues we are likely to be of benefit to us. As for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested.
While literature is rife with the terror of a bad conscience – Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray – there is little evidence that we actually care about wronging others. We aren’t as smart as we think and end up believing that selfishness and greed is what keeps us alive. Children are taught all sorts of other good things – sharing and caring and all that – but they learn by watching how adults behave. The message is clear: Teachers and parents don’t practice what they preach; the wealthy stay rich through manipulation, and leaders maintain their power through collusion.