Saturday, September 15, 2007

Shame, shame, shame.

Inspired by a comment at Oh No a WoC PhD, and tangential to the main point of the post, which I do happen to agree with (cliff notes, with commentary by me, brackets Miz brackets: If you've got a 600K house with all the trimmings including a bloody koi pond [?!], and the dilemma is currently whether to sell the house, cut back on spending, or go back to work: mazel tov, seriously, and good luck with whatever you decide to do, but you're not frigging POOR, and it's rather grossly insulting to suggest that you ARE. signed, another person who is grateful for her relative socioeconomic privilege, does not wave the bloody shirt but won't wear the hairy one either, and tries to at least maintain some gorram perspective and sense of who the hell I'm talking to when the subject of financial wangst comes up)

(...or, no, I'll put it in PBW's own words, in case you're thinking of going over there; please do not follow my own example and give in to the temptation to snark at another commenter and thus further derail, no matter how--anyway, here's PBW:

My issue is with classism and elitism masquerading as victimhood and solidarity. It is not about Bitch PhD as a person or a blogger. Please try to at least get the basic facts right if you plan to point people to my blog as I am tired of having to explain it to them when they arrive.

My blog isn’t about smack downs it is about discussing oppression and until now the people who read it have been able to have a civil and productive conversation. I resent that this episode means those days might be gone. So much for standing up against the tide.”


on edit: Black Amazon's take on this, and her expansion into the more general subjects of entitlement versus gratitude, and the latter's application within the broader culture, particularly the loosely-defined progressive political communit(ies), is--as usual, it's BA--well worth a read or six.

--ANYWAY, on the subject of shame.

A commenter said this:

When shame leads to self-hate and inaction it is a pointless emotion. When shame stems from abuses that only perpetrators should carry and yet society expects from the survivors it is a function of patriarchy and should be shunned. But when shame signals a warning that you have done something wrong, you have fallen down, then use it as an opportunity to stop doing that, get up, brush yourself off, own your mistake, and forge a new way.


which got me a-ruminating, since this is the sort of thing that I think about a lot (quibbles over whether one wants to use the term "patriarchy" as the Monolith du jour or not aside).

I said:

*nod* I know people have talked about the difference between a “shame” and a “guilt” culture, but for the life of me I can never remember which is which.

In psych there’s this notion of “optimal” shame as an essential part of the socialization process, I remember from child development class. Basically, it’s like the littlest Bear. Not enough of it and the kid never really gets to grow, doesn’t learn sie can fix hir own mistakes (just that someone will be along to clean um hir mess), or basic empathy, which is actually hir loss as much as anyone else’s, because well, that’s actually a rather lonely and disconnected place.

At the other extreme, if you’re too heavy-handed with the shaming it can crush the kid’s spirit. Interestingly enough it can lead to the same sorts of coping mechanisms as too little shaming, i.e. narcissism. It can also make you a kind of Bontsha the Silent, someone whose spirit is just kind of crushed, who stops asking for or even imagining that sie deserves anything better than whatever comes to hir.

From another angle, I’ve often pondered to what degree one’s cultural and religious baggage influences how we deal with shame/guilt, even if on the surface we don’t identify with the religion or culture of our upbringing. For instance, more and more lately I’ve been thinking that maybe part of the reason why I don’t “get” certain approaches to various political movements, i.e. this weird sort of interpretation of “the personal is political” (I am thinking in particular of someone who announced that -anyone- can do social work or practical work to help women, -real- feminism is an “in your soul” thing) might -possibly- have something to do with, my own cultural/religious background, secular humanist Jewish, doesn’t really grok the whole “faith, not works” thing. Yeah, guilt we get, and we can overdo it, but mostly what I learned wasn’t “you have already sinned in your heart, and that’s just as bad as the deed;” what I learned was “what you DO and how it affects OTHER PEOPLE is what matters. You fucked up? -Go fix it.-” THAT is “atonement,” not self-flagellating or…

mm, then again, here it is Yom Kippur-ish (which I -always- forget about), and I don’t suppose fasting is particularly about anyone else but one’s own spiritual process. Still, on the whole, I’ve generally thought of My People as rather eminently pragmatic, for good or for ill.


Thoughts on this, either the shame/guilt thing or the influence of religion and culture? I realize I'm painting with a rather broad brush here, particularly viz Judaism and Christianit(ies). Still, I do think the New Testament switch from outer to inner--and I am not saying this is always a bad thing, by any means, I've said it before, on the whole I tend to like the dude in the sandals a lot better than much of the Old Testament, whatever problems I have with many of (H)his followers and/or fanfic writers notwithstanding--has maybe -something- to do with the ways in which shame manifests in this (U.S.) culture.

...and now I am also thinking of Midori, who, in the course of a workshop on female domination, expounded on her take on the difference between the Japanese ways of processing shame/guilt (she was one of the ones who made the distinction, dammit, and I STILL can't remember which is supposed to be which) and the--well, at least the U.S. one, I don't remember how far she expanded that, but she did connect it to predominantly Protestant-influenced cultures, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, she was particularly of course referring to sexualized shame/guilt; very roughly i think her take was that in Japan, it's a lot less about internalization of "I am a bad person for having these fantasies" and more about a sort of socialized shame; i.e. if a wanker wanks in the forest and no one sees or hears, ain't nobody's business if sie do; neither Santa nor the baby Jesus is interested in whether you've sinned in your heart. I'm probably getting it horribly off, it was a long time ago.

24 comments:

Trinity said...

Belle,

Some time ago when I knew a Christian spirituality didn't work for me and was totally clueless about appropriation, I picked up a book on Judaism.

One small bit caught me and has stayed with me to this day, and it was exactly that: what makes you bad, judgment-worthy, not okay is what you DO, not what you THINK. No one knows that you thought such and such until you tell 'em, except God, and God doesn't care until you act on those thoughts.

It was a fucking REVELATION to me, who'd been raised Christian.

For me the story of my life has always been bound up with shame for what I'm thinking, for what I want. It's this sense of... your whole desire matrix is wrong if you often feel selfish, lusty, aggressive, violent, and you're supposed to make yourself less like that.

I still wrestle with it a lot: do I want what I should? do I think what I should? but I think I'd be a lot more dysfunctional if I'd never seen that book.

Daisy Bond said...

Coming from a basically humanist Jewish background as well: agreed. Judaism is a lot less heavy on the thought-policing than Christianity, and a lot more heavy on the action-policing. The action-policing is both negative (I'm thinking of the enormous focus in the Torah on punishment, vs the Christian ideals of forgiveness) and positive (tikkun olam)... Which is, of course, good and bad. Good in terms of moving people to action instead of just thoughts, inspiring activism. Bad sometimes in terms of being resistant to forgive people, oneself included.

belledame222 said...

The action-policing is both negative (I'm thinking of the enormous focus in the Torah on punishment, vs the Christian ideals of forgiveness) and positive (tikkun olam)... Which is, of course, good and bad. Good in terms of moving people to action instead of just thoughts, inspiring activism. Bad sometimes in terms of being resistant to forgive people, oneself included.

Yes, that's well put. Like I said, I don't necessarily think the basic idea of "it starts from within" is a -bad- one--hell, all of psychology as well as spiritual mysticism (the latter being where i always figure the Jesus of the Gospels is coming from, more than some sort of extra-rigid Thought Police) is predicated on that.

but yeah, misapplied, I think that can really fuck you up. christ knows the whole EXAMINE yourself crap can really get bogged down in the nastier side of that. dude, maybe instead of all that EXAMINING, just -ask- whoever what -they- want you to -do- to help them, hm?

belledame222 said...

trin: I don't see how that's appropriation? You weren't claiming to suddenly Understand Judaism better than anyone else; you found an idea that resonated with you. Nothing wrong with that, at least as far as I'm concerned. That's how we learn, I think.

belledame222 said...

anyway, i tend to think that the whole "punishment" vs "forgiveness" is maybe at least somewhat separate from the "internal/external" thing.

...actually i hadn't thought about that as much; I'm gonna have to think on that some more. mostly I really don't like the God of the Old Testament, but I dunno if that has so much to do with what he asks for by way of atonement (i.e. sacrifice animals & build arks instead of turning all introspective and Repenting) as how -petty- and grudge-bearing He is...seriously, I would've thought that a truly omnipotent Deity would have no -need- to be jealous, if it's control freakery in a flawed and relatively powerless mortal then why have laxer standards for God?...

belledame222 said...

...and then, too, it's true that most of the pettier-minging dictates about what to eat and who to fuck and when and this and the other thing are from the Old Testament.

still, I wonder--we'll never really know i guess--if the erm -flavor- of what's now translated as "abomination" (per Leviticus) was the same, then. I mean...well, what do I mean.

I mean, I don't know, Maud knows that food and sex and so on taboos of one sort or another are pretty well universal, if not the -specific- taboos, mostly. "Purity and Danger," you know. Still, there's something about the whole,

"Oh, I wanted to masturbate to that fantasy/eat that piece of cheesecake, but I didn't. I'm being GOOD."

...which of course comes in a number of contemporary religions, from the Gospel of Dworkin to the Gospel of Jenny Craig, as well as the more obvious ones;

but, well, hm, i sort of ran out of what i was starting to say, here.

belledame222 said...

...oh yeah, right, that in my world GOOD is sort of meaningless as applied to yer cheesecake eating/masturbation fantasies, on account of "seriously, no one else really gives a shit."

So, is it really at some level about the eternal watchful supranatural Eye who -does- give a shit about your every petty move? Or (in some cases) do people really believe that the masturbation, if not the cheesecake, actually hurts -another human- in -some concrete, measurable way?- Or what?

Daisy Bond said...

Oh yeah, I really like the ideas that "it starts from within"... As a starting point. I think it gets ridiculous when it become the be-all end-all of one's ideology. Meaning: definitely get things right in your head in terms of your relationship to the Father or the Void or whatever, but don't think that let's you off the hook in terms of behavior. Similarly, it's important to do the right thing, but it's worth a bit less if you're doing it with your gritted teeth with fear or resentment.

I agree that the punishment/forgiveness thing is somewhat separate from the external/internal thing. I've been thinking about punishment vs forgiveness and justice vs compassion lately because the other day my father said to me, "I just realized that Jesus didn't care about justice. All that justice stuff is in the Torah, Jesus only cared about compassion." And I think he's right. Which would make a good headline, I think. JESUS DOESN'T CARE ABOUT JUSTICE: FORGIVE THE TERRORISTS

And it's true, as you say, all those rules about food and sex are in the Old Testament (we'll pause here to note that gay sex is as much of an abomination as eating shrimp, and arguable much less of an abomination than breaking the Sabbath, and of course lesbian sex isn't mentioned in the Torah proper at all)... What's interesting is that Jesus was totally against that legalistic rule-following. Totally, totally against it; one thing we should all be certain he stood for is not mindlessly/zealously following those old rules.

Ironically, many Jews (observant and not) have managed to shrug those rules off, whilst Christians, who were never supposed to follow them in the first place, cling to them to the total exclusion of the entire Sermon on the Mount.

Daisy Bond said...

So, is it really at some level about the eternal watchful supranatural Eye who -does- give a shit about your every petty move? Or (in some cases) do people really believe that the masturbation, if not the cheesecake, actually hurts -another human- in -some concrete, measurable way?- Or what?

I don't think anyone believes masturbation harms other people. The cheesecake is debatable, depending on whether it was made of locally grown ingredients, or whether it's factory cheesecake.

belledame222 said...

don't think anyone believes masturbation harms other people

o, i could show you some quotes that might change your mind...

although technically i suppose they don't think masturbation per se is the problem, it's what you -think- about when you masturbate. But yes, "Please Fantasize Responsibly" was the title of a post at one fairly popular feminist blog some time back.

Alon Levy said...

The way I've understood it, the guilt/shame thing is that in Christianity, sinning makes you guilty, while in Confucianism, it brings shame upon your ancestors. I don't know if it really means that if you wank in the middle of a forest and nobody hears then it's alright, but it does make codes of morality a lot more about prevalent social norms. I haven't seen anyone say where Hinduism and Islam fit into this system, though.

The practicing Jews who secular Jews who grew up in Israel are likely to have heard of definitely fall on the guilt side. There they're not that different from Protestant Christianity, with its emphasis on faith rather than deeds. I've heard some people argue that to get proper reward in the afterlife, a Jew must also prepare himself to be in the correct mental and spiritual state. The joke goes that in Judaism there's no heaven or hell, just one place where everyone has to study the Torah all day long, which is then a heaven to the devout and a hell to everyone else.

Alon Levy said...

Also, I've noticed the same thing about income in my own social circle. I have a family friend who's a doctor who makes $110,000 a year and still complains about not making enough money. It's frustrating. 9/1 to 8/31, I made exactly $23,710 before taxes. That's more than twice the national federal poverty level, and something like half again what the level should be based on the cost of living in New York.

I only reserve the right to complain about my crappy health insurance. In my defense, it really is crappy, and I wouldn't trust the American health care system if it told me I had five fingers on each hand.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Just wanted to note -- when I read the post that provoked the post you're responding to, I had this moment of ... how do I respond to this, I don't have any axioms in common here.

Maybe I should have commented. I don't know; I don't really feel safe around the big name crowd.


On to matters of more interest --

The problem with mysticism is that really, it only translates to other mystics well in practice. And it frequently translates to other mystics no matter what religious system they use, hence Daisy saying that some of my stuff makes me sound like a Catholic saint and my current obsession with Sufi poets and the like.

Someone who doesn't have the experiential stuff that backs up the ravings of a mystic will ... sometimes get somewhere useful, and sometimes go off in some really fucked-up directions.

Though I'm sort of too tired to actually pull a crazed mystic interpretation of Matthew 5 (which is I suspect where a lot of the 'sin in the heart' stuff comes from). Maybe tomorrow, if I become less fucked up.

seriously, I would've thought that a truly omnipotent Deity would have no -need- to be jealous, if it's control freakery in a flawed and relatively powerless mortal then why have laxer standards for God?...

There's God and then there's God.

I've been discussing Kabbalah on and off the past few days, mostly with my liege with a smattering of various other folks, so this is in my head --

(Keep in mind that this is a little hazy in my head and I may have bits wrong. I'm not the one who's studied this stuff; my liege studied Kabbalah at Brandeis and has in fact lent me a book on the subject, but since he lent it yesterday I haven't read it yet.)

God the creator is of the Crown Sephirot, Kether. The omnipotent entity, font of all being, the first consciousness.

Kether is something we can't see from here. Binah and Chokhmah (the next two spheres down) we can't really see either. This is the transcendent god-stuff that mystics are reaching towards. What the occultists I've talked to refer to as 0=2, is that top triangle.

You start getting manifest stuff, things people can relate to, the next rank down: Gevurah and Chesed.

The vengeful god is of Gevurah. (I believe Shekhinah, the divine presence commonly given female pronouns, God-in-Her-House, may be of Chesed, but this is the bit of this I'm least clear on.)

The god of Gevurah radiates all the stuff from the top three into reality, because everything has to go through that point; my liege says the god of Gevurah mistakes this for true creation.

But if the god of Chesed seems more limited than a true omniwhatever deity should be, that's because Chesed is not Kether.

(Corrections from actual kabbalists welcome; this is just what I've picked up from various sources without any formal study.)

Trinity said...

"trin: I don't see how that's appropriation? You weren't claiming to suddenly Understand Judaism better than anyone else; you found an idea that resonated with you. Nothing wrong with that, at least as far as I'm concerned. That's how we learn, I think."

Thanks B -- but I think I was on some level, actually. I really had very little clue about the whole idea that Judaism isn't like Christianity, where you just hear someone say something profound and DING! convert.

So I was shopping. And... eh. I don't really blame myself much because I didn't know, and I think being raised Christian really does make religion look like a club you join, since that's the way Christianity works.

At the same time, though, I think there's some vague possible blameworthiness because I should've recognized that many religions don't work like buffets that people experiencing spiritual malaise can just go to or not.

But I don't know. Appropriation is a tough one for me. I'm still more sympathetic than many leftists to the "cultures always merge anyway" tropes that get pissed on often. So I feel I never know what counts or what should.

belledame222 said...

Well, as a technical member of the Tribe: I forgive you.

seriously...it's not that I don't think appropriation is real, obviously, but at a level like that, I think the concept, especially a (self or otherwise) critique, would be...not useful. Speaking of shame. I do think the loosely defined left tends to overdo it in a number of ways, and not just in feminism either. I'm getting increasingly over it.

Trinity said...

YES.

I so want to do a post on appropriation, asking about its borders, but I'ze skeert.

belledame222 said...

I don't have any general thoughts. I do think just saying "hey, I dig such and so, that makes sense to me" isn't such a bad thing.

belledame222 said...

also, I think when in doubt: you can't really go wrong with compassion. It's not like there isn't enough to go around. Even if it does result in saying or thinking things that, well? some people aren't happy about, for their own reasons. -There is enough to go around.-

and from one of the better bits of Paul, little as I like him in other respects:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Octogalore said...

I think the thinking/acting distinction makes a lot of sense.

It raises the question -- is free association on a blog post thinking, or acting? If someone gets whiny/entitled about something but then in her/his life acts non-greedy and gives back a good amount to others, is that person acting well or partially badly?

This obviously refers to the BPhD debacle. I'm one of the ones who would've suggested heavy edits before posting, but didn't have that much trouble with it.

It seems relatively unimportant whether one feels ones budget is frustrating, as long as one understands that others have far less privilege (which, admittedly, wasn't appropriately acknowledged) and as long as one does what one can to reach out to others in actions.

Maybe it's a question of audience, and it's inappropriate and selfish to post a public complaint about something that a good percentage of readers will feel should not be one. I'm not sure it reflects much more than really bad judgment, though.

belledame222 said...

yeah, tbh the OP (the BPhD one) was the least interesting part of the whole thing to me. Just: yeah, I can see the general frustration with the mm cluelessness, which after a certain amount of feedback begins to appear -willful.-

as long as one understands that others have far less privilege (which, admittedly, wasn't appropriately acknowledged) and as long as one does what one can to reach out to others in actions.

see, i think that from PBW's post and BA's and others', that's precisely what -wasn't- understood, hence the frustration. and hey, they're just blogging too, as far as that goes.

as far as actions: yeah, i think the "but i'm fundraising for Obama!" thing kind of rankled as well, because, um, point missed rather spectacularly...

but yeah, well, i just said i wasn't that interested, didn't i.

yeah, i've liked some things BPhD has said in the past, i don't think she's this awful person, and i know she's been a good friend to a friend of mine. i'm not particularly interested in demonizing her, but i'm...just not all that interested in her, period, i guess. at any rate i know that for whatever reason i never did get into being a regular reader there. hadn't actually checked in for months. shrug.

but yeah, i think the general question of "shame" is interesting.

UneFemmePlusCourageuse said...

One thing I've always wondered about the Christian fundamentalists is, if they're so concerned about following everything the Bible says, then WHY don't they keep Kosher? Doing that doesn't hurt anyone else. Legislating against gay rights, abortion rights, or the right to accessible birth control does. Hypocrites.

Octogalore said...

Yeah, understand -- it's a good jumping off point.

And the reference to Obama was all kinds of wrong and weird, esp as it seemed to be more based on form than substance from her perspective.

Off point, but there's a very simple answer to her question. I know the benchmark is 250K minimum total income for a $1M home, so that's about 150K for a 600K home. It's odd to go into that kind of mortgage on significantly below the recommended minimum income for doing it, then asking why it's not working. Go to a financial planner and find that out in about a minute. Then sell and get a condo for 400K. Done and done, without having to pour it all over the blog audience.

belledame222 said...

upfc: there's something specific in the Gospels and/or possibly Paul, too lazy to look it up, but something or other it's not what you put into your mouth, it's what comes out of it. which has been interpreted as "oh okay, we don't need to keep kosher anymore then." similarly with the circumcision, which i think Paul mentions more specifically. has to do with the letter not the spirit.

of course not too many people want to extend the "what you put in your mouth isn't the important thing" to o i dunno say a COCK, particularly if you've got one yourself; but well hey, no one ever promised you an olive garden, something or other mumble

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Ngah. Blogger's been barfing back entries all over my LJ feed for the past week, and just did something that included that stuff, and while I was skimming it to see if there was anything I was missing, I caught some of the numbers on the post ...

Dear moon inhabitant:
I manage this by having a mortgage payment that's less than half your rent. Because, y'know, on Earth we buy property based in part on what we can afford.

Okay, needed to say it somewhere, sorry for ranty.