In recent discussions of innocence vs. experience, a controversial issue has been whether we lose our innocence while learning new knowledge. On the one hand, some argue that innocence is never lost. From this perspective, innocence is the quality of being free from guilt, sin or moral wrong. If able to maintain values and morals, no matter how much knowledge is gained throughout, innocence will remain. On the other hand, however, others argue that once experience and knowledge is obtained innocence no longer exists. In the words of Robert Browning, one of this view’s main proponents is, “Ignorance is not innocence but sin”. According to this view, in order to stay innocent we have to experience life and gain knowledge whether it is good or bad so that we can understand what is right from wrong. In sum, then, the issue is whether innocence remains after experience or is innocence completely gone after experience. Innocence does remain throughout one’s life no matter what knowledge is obtained; knowledge can be used for the growth of morals which teaches us who we are in society and what we truly believe in, which is a positive thing and it is our responsibility to make sure our beliefs helps us and encourage others in life.
Exploring experience in terms of sexuality is one of the ways of determining whether one is innocent or not. The ability to remain innocent even after sexual exposure is not an inherent behavior to humans. The book “Functional and Dysfunctional Sexual Behavior: A Synthesis of Neuroscience and Comparative Psychology” focuses on the behavior of sexually native female hamsters. Comparing this work to O’connor’s Good country people, it draws a contradiction with the sexually experienced male hamsters’ shows. If one ever saw hamsters, he may bet they are cute, but it is not this hamster cuteness that makes the reader immediately grasp on the concepts mentioned above. According to many people, the idea of being innocent is closely related to sexual naivety. The author of the book is open and uses the words such as native and inexperienced to draw their relationship and refute that exposure takes away naivety from an individual. He focuses on describing the moral wrongs embedded in our modern culture. For this reason, he avoids the use of the word innocent as it has a moral outstanding associated with it. The reader is left with questions of whether the argument of the author regarding innocence applies to the hamsters at all. Questions such as; “Are men literally born to cheat? Does monogamy actually serve women’s interest?” (Agmo, 1995). The introduction of the book is rather fascinating. The author cannot help himself but continually uses provocative terms that indicate how rotten the society is in terms of sexuality. The free-speech introductory part of the book tries to explain why moral provocative words are to be avoided at all costs.
Based on the thesis of this article, it is evident that the book introduces the concept of innocence by differentiating the two commonly confused types of innocence. The first kind of innocence is what one grasps from the word itself, the lack of experience and exposure. The other type of innocence is the inherent and is acquired from birth. However, this type of innocence is short lived as one’s life starts curving and becoming complicated. The different paths that people take in the course of their lives deprive them of their inherent innocence. The vices conjured by man to meet and satisfy his desires are a major reason why innocence is lost. Lack of exposure and consequently experience is a major reason why most people still remain native. This kind of a lifestyle results to a type of innocence that can be defined as; “the quality of being free from guilt, sin or moral wrong” (Wright, 1995). This definition brings out the moral expectations of the society regarding matters associated with morality. This provides the reader with a double meaning of the word. However, the reader ought to be observant to grasp the double meaning hidden in the word naive. One should not only consider the literally meaning of the word. If one understands the single side of the concept of innocence, they will live not to trigger the wrong doings and always uphold the good. Unfortunately, no matter how ideal this may sound, nobody is free from guilt – in our Western culture, from the earliest age, children are constantly pushed into the state of feeling guilt for their misbehavior. The notion that education and the society instills is one that nobody is innocent. This is the default working of the society. The working of the society can be justified using real life examples. For example, taking the family of pets for illustration, despite them being inferior to the human race, they tend to depict behaviors of guilt. This is highly contributed by the view placed by the society regarding what is wrong and right.
Analyzing the second form of the meaning of the word, we come to the realization that being free does not necessarily mean as it sounds. However, it may have a hidden meaning that one realizes that it may be the exact opposite of the moral uprightness. One may be morally free since they are not affected by their actions. Therefore, they have no regard of their actions and their effect to other people. Regardless of whether these actions have a negative effect to the other people surrounding the individual. This kind of being free can be considered as depicting the attributes of an animal since one is not led by their emotions to uphold that which is right. This simply means that the individual has no feeling and ideas which define goodness. This is a quality that is commonly evident to many individuals. Moral psychology deals with analyzing the existence of this kind of phenomenon and its occurrence to humans. However, it is observed that this phenomenon though common to humans, it is not extreme. Looking at the psychology, it is observed that some people are less emotional. This is a condition that is known as psychopathy. “The ability to be sensitive reduces with age.” (Kiel, 2007). However, this is attributed to a medical condition termed as personal disorder. The early stages of the condition are attributed by the inability to accept moral argumentations. The final stages are a characterized by a different view of the moral conduct and internal motives of moral behavior. As a result, psychopaths emerge. This people believe that they are morally right and as a result they are free from guilt or any wrong doing. This is based on their irrational view of the society. They believe that they are right and that the society is conspiring against them and their endeavor to live a better life. Therefore, they formulate their own rules and live according to their own making interaction with other people difficult. The interpretation of their goodness is contrary to society expectations.
The “Good Country People” short story by Flannery O’Connor actually deals with describing of a psychopath – the Bible salesman. The author of the book also draws a native character, Joy-Hulga, to illustrate how lack of experience can bury ones dreams and result in confusion. The book also uses symbolism to illustrate how innocence makes humans to be incomplete. This is illustrated by showing that Joy-Hulga has no leg and this makes her incomplete. “Experience defines the different fields of a human and the lack of it thereof can be considered as incomplete and a moral vice” (O’Connor, 2002). Contrast is used to compare the characters in the book. While Joy is native and can be termed as incomplete, the author further draws the Bible salesman as an experienced and manipulative individual. He uses his wit and experience to gain what he wants. He can be termed as a psychopath. Despite his viciousness, he conducts his business in the most innocent and unpredictable ways. This is done with the most innocent declaration of one’s appearance and intentions. The abstraction of the Bible salesman hiding a flask of alcohol and pornography inside his hollow Bible can be perceived as hidden critique of religion (here – Christianity) as a social and cultural phenomenon. Contrary to the salesman showing signs of innocence, his behavior illustrates moral degradation and is full of manipulative experience.
On the other hand, the “Young Goodman Brown” story tries to explain the process of everlasting frustration that inexperienced humans face in the outside world. On reading the story, one initially gets the idea of a psychedelic description of a bad trip. However, an analysis of the story indicates the real picture of the world. Here, psychopathy is evident in all its forms of existence. Accusations are accumulated on it from all fields. It is viewed as the corrupting the human race. This is illustrated by the mention of “abortion” in the story. Again, from the point of view of such a native being, all the social mechanisms, like catechism and religion, preaching’s from oldsters and the seemingly absent choice for disobedience to the power bodies like government or society, as well as constant issues of moral choice and outside pressure/appeal on moral emotions can have a profoundly frustrating effect on the individual.
There is an argument of whether or not innocence is lost in the quest for knowledge. This is a debatable argument where majority who are opposed to education and especially the study of science tend to believe that the pursuit of knowledge corrupts not only the individual, but the society as well. “However, there are those who value education and view it as the only salvation of the society from backwardness and dogmatic thinking” (O’Connor, 2002). This will highly support the notion that education, when incorporated in the society will uphold its moral behavior. The current insight from the theories of psychology and the study of how morals values are acquired and instilled in individuals raises many questions. The various ways through which the behaviors are acquired include; social interactions or being hard-wired into the brain. From the analysis of morality drawn in this article, it can be concluded that humans are moral beings striving to support their theories of moralities. Both psychopaths and sane people alike, everyone wants to be considered right and innocent.
The phrase “Ignorance is not innocence but sin” by Browning, is a question of personal preference in pursuit of knowledge or not. From the initial thesis, and the entire distinction between theories analyzed, a moral sentiment is made that innocence is a sort of precious commodity that is to be kept at all times. The “good country people” are not willing to pursue infinite self-improvement through education or scholarly/scientific explorations. After all, as Mrs. Hopewell said wisely – “It takes all kinds to make the world” (O’Connor, 2002).