A third possibility

“Attempts to confront or wake up patients during the events frequently lengthens the parasomnia episode and may induce resistance or violence from the patient.”
WebMD’s emedicine entry on Somnambulism

In comments for the previous entry, Doctor Science points us to an insightful post from Kit Whitfield (aka Praline) that suggests a possible third explanation for the insane popularity of the Munich Analogy — an explanation other than the obvious ones of unbelievable stupidity or willful dishonesty.

To review, briefly, this analogy is employed to suggest that any response to hostile nations other than Kill All the Bad People is mere appeasement. This assertion is deeply confused and irreconcilable with the facts of any given case, with history and with any prospect for effectiveness. It claims that every enemy currently demanding our attention is ≥ Hitler and that therefore said enemy will respond only to the application of unrestrained lethal force (which is to say, they cannot be expected to respond, only to be exterminated in their unalterably non-responsive state). It claims that any approach other than such extermination is naive and ineffectual and thus the moral and practical equivalent of unconditional surrender. For proponents of the Munich Analogy, there is therefore one and only one possible response to hostility: extermination.

This is brutally, self-destructively stupid. The slightest thought or exploration exposes the idea as nonsense. It seems impossible that any sentient being could find the idea persuasive. The fact that someone is capable of speech, therefore, can be taken as proof that he is too smart to credibly believe what he is saying when he invokes the Munich Analogy.

In the previous post, I suggested there could be only one other possible option: that these people don’t believe what they are saying, i.e., that they are saying something they inescapably know is not true, i.e., that they are lying.

But of course there is another option. When someone says something that they are smart enough to know is insanely false they may be lying, or they may just be insane. They may, somehow, have come to believe that this insane thing is true. (If insane strikes you as too strong a term, substitute “deluded” or “delusional.” But keep in mind that we’re talking about a form of delusion that leads inexorably to an exterminationist “Kill All the Bad People” mentality — the same mentality that is universally described, in its aftermath from Sarjevo to Kigali, as “madness.”)

Where does such delusion come from? How does someone become convinced that this unreal madness makes any kind of sense at all?

Here is where I will turn to KW/Praline, writing about “Macho Sue“:

The essential story structure of a Macho Sue tends to revolve around untouchable pride. If love means never having to say you’re sorry, being Macho Sue means the whole of reality loves you. Typically, Macho Sue’s storyline follows a certain trajectory: he begins by acting egregiously, picking or provoking fights and causing problems. However much the ensuing difficulties can be laid at his door, Macho Sue is not about to apologize, in any way. So the problems continue — only to be salvaged by some immense reversals that give the impression that he was right all along. The man he insulted turns out, suddenly, to be a bad guy. The woman who dislikes him falls into his strong arms when he solves a problem that is not the same problem he caused for her. People change their personalities, storylines shift and flip like a mechanical maze popping up new paths and lowering old gates in order to keep Macho Sue from ever, ever having to backtrack. As John Wayne says, “Never say sorry — it’s a sign of weakness.”

Similarly, Macho Sue’s suspicion of the unfamiliar is inherently right, because he already embodies all that is good and right: if something were good, he would already be doing it. Hence, anything new to him is some sort of corruption of the proper way of doing things. Usually it’s assumed that Macho Sue has a code of honor that is at heart the right one, that if people disapprove of his behavior it’s only because they don’t understand him and his righteousness, that his code of honor is never found inadequate to a situation, and that he never falls below it. It’s not only apologizing that’s considered too emasculating for him to endure, it’s learning. For his character to be improved and matured by encountering new circumstances would be a humiliating admission that he wasn’t just as he should be from the beginning.

That passage is about a particular species of bad fiction, but it applies just as well to a particular species of bad person. The flaw in both cases is the same: characters incapable of change and growth. (I’m reminded of a saying from church: “God loves you just the way you are, but God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”)

Characters that cannot grow, that see no need to grow, cannot adjust to reality and so they force reality to adjust to them. Funny thing, though, about reality: It doesn’t care what you think. And it’s got a nasty habit of reasserting itself with a vengeance. How does that proverb go? “Untouchable pride goeth before destruction, and a Macho Sue before a fall.” Something like that.

I’m not sure that the self-deluded exterminationist is in an entirely separable category from the mere liar. The primary audience is different, but the act is the same. Yet where the liar is wholly willful, the self-deluded fool is only partly willful, and that “partly” may provide a toe-hold of hope (“There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead …”). Neither utter stupidity nor wholly willful duplicity can be engaged, but delusion suggests at least the possibility of a productive response.

Here is where I wish I could tell you how best to present such a response. Instead, annoyingly, this turns out to be one of those posts where I conclude by asking you to supply the conclusion. Is such delusion something that can be engaged? And if so, how? Anybody found an approach that works?

  • Ecks

    Which raises the question: what lack is ‘masculinity’ attempting to console men for?
    Security. You’re not allowed to have anyone else do anything for you.

  • Tonio

    Probably when you got older you got better at recognizing that these embarrassing moments were not the social-suicide your hind brain was convinced they were, and they didn’t trigger such a brain-swamping hormone dump any more.
    “Social suicide” wasn’t the right word. I equated anything wrong with me or any disapproval from others with danger, and to a certain extent I still do. My peers probably didn’t mean anything by their laughter, but I cannot seem to appreciate that on anything more than an intellectual level. I suspect that on an unconscious level, I was hoping that an act of violence would serve as an object lesson, so people would take me seriously instead of laughing at me.
    You’re not allowed to have anyone else do anything for you.
    I approach that from a non-masculinity standpoint of fearing dependency on others, because something might happen that would cause them to dislike me and withdraw their aid and support.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    I’ll have you know the Swiss Navy is the most powerful force on Lake Geneva.
    (The Swiss do have some gunboats on the larger lakes. No, really.)
    Which reminds me of the confusion I caused (tangent!) in a theatre class doing a review/analysis of “The Sound of Music”. Captain Von Trapp (male lead) is a Austrian naval officer. Austria doesn’t have a coastline.
    (The answer is that he was a Austrian-Hungary Imperial naval officer. Austria-Hungary was broken up after WW2, becoming a half dozen countries in the Balkans.
    Oh, for real fun, historical Captain Von Trapp was the leading submarine ‘ace’ for the Austrian-Hungarian navy during WW1. Which is why the Germans wanted to recruit him.)
    My experience with Japanese is limited. I distinctly remember what I must call a ‘politeness fight’ between two junior officers in front of thier Captain. It seemed that one of them ‘won’ when the other lost his temper. The fight ended with the Captain looking at them both and raising an eyebrow.
    (I know enough Japanese to say thank you, and ask where the bathroom is. My accent is so horrible that they switch to speaking to me in English in self defense.)

  • Ecks

    Tonio,
    There are a couple of theories that basically point out that humans are social animals, to the point that we require the social good graces of others to survive. If you got booted form your hunter gatherer tribe, and couldn’t find another one fairly pronto you were in a whole world of hurt. Your survival odds go way the hell down, and on top of that your Darwinian fitness is plunging to near zero. As such, being excluded from the group is wired in to us as far more serious a threat than you’d imagine. There’s a bunch of work showing that if you ostracize people, even in fairly trivial ways (i.e., even if a pair of relative strangers do it to you) it really drives people nuts.
    So basically, what I’m saying is that to an insecure kid, feeling that everyone is laughing at you really IS very threatening. Your conscious brain might not realize it, but your unconscious ones were likely going into “holy shit, we’re SCREWED” mode. It’s not as crazy as you think.
    It sounds like you’re still a little insecure tho – but you’ve said in the past you’re a bit aspie, right?

  • Caravelle

    The Northern/Southern discussion reminds me of a horrid trait I had in middle school – I would do something embarrassing, my peers would laugh, and I would lash out violently at the laughers, sometimes not distinguishing between the laughers and non-laughers. Even today I’m not precisely sure why. I seemed to feel bad about myself when I did the embarrassing act, and the laughter made me feel even worse.
    I had something like that in high school, where I was so regularly picked on I acquired a reflex where I’d brush people off automatically if they approached me in the corridor. Once this led me to inadvertently hit a guy (I was walking and I don’t know, maybe he tried to talk to me or made a false move or something, and my arm just reflexively went up). He went “hey, why did you hit me ???” and I just walked on, assuming that he had probably been going to pick on me, and even if he hadn’t surely he would in the future. He Deserved It, basically.
    It’s only years later, when I was out of high school and thinking about this incident that I realised that guy actually hadn’t picked on me, ever. Well, maybe not ever but certainly not that I remember.
    The thing I find interesting is that not only did I hit a guy for no reason, but my mindset in high school was such that it took me years to even realize it.
    This kind of “everybody is my enemy” mindset might be why you lashed out at everyone. After all, even if the non-laughers didn’t laugh you probably felt on some level that by not overtly defending you they were condoning the laughter, and therefore where just as bad.

  • Caravelle

    As for flags, I don’t know much about them but surely vertical tricolors like Ireland, Italy and France can’t be put upside down can they ?
    And nobody can deny those are naval… well, they’ve got a few boats at least :p (including an aircraft carrier that used to sail off the coast of Afghanistan)

  • MercuryBlue

    Sure they can be put upside-down. Nobody’d notice, though. Backwards, yeah–upside-down, no.
    Now the Libyan flag…damned if I recall whether Libya has a coastline, though. I just remember the flag from this Flags of the World thing. Solid green.

  • Reynard

    Posted by MercuryBlue: Now the Libyan flag…damned if I recall whether Libya has a coastline, though.
    Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.

  • Amaryllis

    Me: Most cultures are not entirely honor-oriented or dignity-oriented, and there’s a lot of variation between groups within a society.
    Ecks: Indubitably.

    Hey, nothing like stating the obvious, is there?
    That was supposed to be the start of a new paragraph, when the Real World intervened (Honey! We’ve got company!) and I hit Post without stopping to think. I was intending some speculation on the relationship of ascribed status to the dominant honor/dignity paradigm in a society. In a dignity society, is a lower-status group most likely to develop an honor subculture – disenfranchised inner-city youth, defeated Southerners, etc.? And how does that related to the male/female status issues? Is a dignity society in which women have little real power likely to develop a compensatory notion of female “honor,” a “feminine mystique”?
    Praline: You have no job, influence or role outside your own four walls, but look how feminine you are! So we’ll hold the door for you, change the tire for you, not swear in front of you, call you “ma’am,” and so on – it’s your right as a lady. While in an honor-based culture, the notion of female “honor” seems to refer primarily to sexual purity, not social courtesies.
    Conversely, in an honor-based culture, are the lower-status groups more likely to be attracted to ideas or groups which emphasize individual, intrinsic dignity? It’s a cliche of historical fiction to have a warrior or aristocrat speak dismissively of Christianity as a religion for women and slaves; was there much truth in that?
    So would a Southern guy behave more like me or the hypothetical Japanese person here, or more like me? Or does he not care unless I said his momma was an X
    He’d expect his momma, or wife, to remember who likes what sandwich, of course! And as a proper Southern lady, she’d be ashamed if she couldn’t. Her honor is in acting like a lady, including attending to the comfort of her guests. His honor is affected by her “lady-ness,” both in how she acts and in what’s said about her.
    Okay, that was total top-of-the-head speculation. Any true Southerners may, doubtless will, feel free to shoot it down.

  • hapax

    Hmm. As far as the corollary between dignity/honor and guilt/shame cultures, I had always understood the latter to be a matter of density — when you have a high concentration of people competing for limited resources, it was necessary to put an external brake on those who would take more than their fair share, for the survival of the group. Meanwhile, low population, high resources (think the American West), you were free to light out for territories and accumulate as much as your personal moral code allowed.
    From what Ecks is saying, the dignity/honor distinction isn’t so much a matter of density of population, as the relative level of organization — that is, in a dignity culture, you can always kick the protection of resources up to a higher enforcing authority.
    I wonder if you could take population density and level of organization as the two axes of a Cartesian graph?
    In re Southern culture and hospitality, I’m not really sure about the question you ask, Ecks; although you would be more likely to offer a drink than food, and the question would be “What kind of Co-Cola you havin?” or “More sugar for you tea?”
    In the South, you have what I call the “guest – host dilemma”, though, in which as the guest, you are absolutely obligated to allow your host to do nothing for you; and as the host you are absolutely obligated to allow your guest to do nothing for him or herself. This leads to intricate dances over such weighty issues as washing dishes, making beds, and emptying the wastebasket. And yes, now that I think of it, the whole ridiculous negotiations are very much fraught with sort of honor concerns you have mentioned. (In fact, I think this is very much how it plays out for women, as opposed to the violence and taunting you refer to with men.)

  • lonespark

    Is the guest-host dance anything like the vicious fights people get in over who pays the check at Red Lobster?

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Since the U.S. uses the same flag for everything, many Americans don’t know that different nationalities use different flags for national, naval, and merchant use… For instance, Britain uses the Union Jack for the national, a Naval Ensign for warships, a blue Ensign for military auxiliaries, and the red Ensign for merchant ships… images for each…
    http://www.flags.net/images/largeflags/UNKG0001.GIF
    http://www.flags.net/images/largeflags/UNKG0007.GIF
    http://www.flags.net/images/largeflags/UNKG0003.GIF
    http://www.flags.net/images/largeflags/UNKG0005.GIF
    So, maybe you can show them upside down…

  • Ecks

    Hm, putting things together I’m picking up a picture of the US south where men and women both have honor, it’s just in completely different domains. It’s like they take the cliched roles to extremes. Boys are the providers and defenders, and your whole worth as a boy hinges on being man enough to stick up for yourself and your woman now, to provide, and make sure nobody takes advantage of you. Which makes it ESPECIALLY important, that nobody come take away your gun, because that would just be literal immasculation.
    Women are not just the kinder fairer caretaking sex, who build the relationships, but their honor (and therefore their mans) is fully reflected in this. So women want a “real man” who will look after them (which I never understood – “you WANT the asshole who doesn’t think beyond his own knuckles/nadgers?”), and they have to out ‘nice’ everyone else to rack in maximum social brownie points for the couple. Hence all the charm schools, pageants (which I never understood either), so on. It’s all a form of market place advertising that “I’ll rack us in the social favors” for women, and “Nobody will want to mess with us” for guys. Endless social signaling over stuff I would never have thought (as a northerner) that you need to worry about all that much.
    Hapax: From what Ecks is saying, the dignity/honor distinction isn’t so much a matter of density of population, as the relative level of organization — that is, in a dignity culture, you can always kick the protection of resources up to a higher enforcing authority.
    That’s a very astute way of putting it, although the two tend to go together to some extent. In very low population and possibly very high population densities there tend to be problems with having higher authorities. The western frontier had one sherrif a town, and lots of easily portable property (cows, gold), that could be pinched easily. The north had enough population density to have more concentrated police centers.
    Still, apparently political scientists have stopped talking so much about the effects of different types of ‘isms’, in favor of talking about cultures with ‘strong’ institutions vs. weak ones (well, at least some of them have). Japan is a cause celebre here. They switched rapidly from feudal monarchy to democracy after WWII, because they had a history of strong instiutions – public trust that competent authorities would sort problems out, and could and should be successfully appealed to. The only difference was switching the format of those authorities. Soviet Russia had relatively weak trust in public institutions, so after the collapse of the communist regime (which maintained power through strong man tactics) everything fell apart to a great extent. South Africa has even bigger problems – and a long history where the police where the people who’d come along and kill you just for being Black is probably part of that.
    I’m starting to get out of my depth here, but there does seem to be a general pattern.
    I wonder if you could take population density and level of organization as the two axes of a Cartesian graph?
    Perhaps – but I’m not sure what the density part would add. One of the traditional categorizations makes a 2D graph like the one you’re discussing with collectivism/individualism vs. “authoritarian power distance”. That mirrors one of the main models of interpersonal relations, which sees us as a “circumplex” with two dimensions – warmth/coldness and dominance/egalitarianism. So I’d put me in the reasonably warm, egalitarian dimension, Jesu would put me in the cold, dominant quadrant (with some extra hidden third dimension of toxic slimyness too no doubt), George Bush would go in the warm/dominant quadrant, etc.
    Holy shoot, I think I just tangented out to the other side of the universe :)

  • Ecks

    Hm. When I get my own country I’ll avoid all this mucking about by declaring the flag to be completely white, except with a large black arrow labeled “this way up”

  • Tonio

    Your conscious brain might not realize it, but your unconscious ones were likely going into “holy shit, we’re SCREWED” mode. It’s not as crazy as you think.
    My parents always seemed to grant their love to me on a conditional basis, and in my teens my father was abusive. I’ve wondered for years if he was abusive to me very early in my life.
    but you’ve said in the past you’re a bit aspie, right?
    Sure, but that results in my misreading social cues.
    This kind of “everybody is my enemy” mindset might be why you lashed out at everyone.
    It wasn’t a me-versus-everyone-else mindset. It was more of a simple duality mindset, with me as separate from everyone else without necessarily being in opposition. A feeling of aloneness and isolation instead of persecution. On an emotional level, perhaps I wasn’t concerned about distinguishing between the laughers and non-laughers. Or at least I was too focused on my own reaction not to even notice the distinction. I didn’t even think of the non-laughers as condoning the laughter.
    When I get my own country I’ll avoid all this mucking about by declaring the flag to be completely white, except with a large black arrow labeled “this way up.”
    Pointing downward?
    My flag would show two doors, each with a sign reading “Use Other Door” with an arrow pointing to the other door.

  • jamoche

    “Keep Right”, with an arrow pointing left?

  • Ecks

    Well that makes sense, eh. Your parents conditioned you to be insecure about your attachment from a young age, teaching you that love is conditional and can be violently withdrawn for small slights – so you were bound to start out somewhat fragile and predisposed to that primal fear we all have of being alone and isolated (y’know how solitary confinement is considered worse than prison…). Mix that in with a low ability to read people’s body language, and combine with a predisposing belief that its quite possible people ARE out to get you… It’s no wonder you hit a few panic attacks in school.
    Sympathies.
    I remember one time after I got to university, I’d started coming quite nicely out of my high school shell, I was walking on campus, and ran into this fairly pretty girl from my high school. All of a sudden I could feel I was in two minds at once. My university brain was saying “oh, here’s another girl like any other, la di da, just socialize,” and my high school brain was saying “keep your head down and the danger will pass! Just don’t say anything dumb and move on ASAP.” It was really really weird, and one of the experiences that made me realize how much I hated high school.

  • Ecks

    Actually, I’d want my flag hung up vertically rather than horizontally like all the rest. And on the bottom, in very very small letters it would say “gooo fightin’ pacifists!”

  • inge

    Dahne: Are there many Macho Sue deconstructions? The falliabilities of the archetype would be interesting to investigate, I think.
    This should be in the TVTropesWiki…
    Dash: Richard Weaver claims that conservatives argue most comfortably from definition/category, while liberals argue most comfortably from cause/consequence.
    So conservatives are object oriented, while progressives are procedural?
    Tonio, about lashing out: I found that a working strategy as a kid. Giving it up when it wasn’t useful anymore was the hard part…

  • jamoche

    So conservatives are object oriented, while progressives are procedural?
    Ah, but object oriented includes inheritance, which means you can swap out objects at any time provided that they respond to the same protocol. So if you discover that women can do the same things as men, why, just instantiate a member of class woman instead of class man and carry on. Whereas procedural tends to be hard-coded. There will be a variable of a certain type, and no substitutions allowed.
    Hmm. Who gets to be functional programming?

  • Ecks

    Actually there IS evidence that people will sub-type away people who counter their stereotypes. Someone who thinks of Black people in highly stereotypic terms will quite happily think of Bill Cosby or Michael Jordan, or their polite middle class black neighbour and say “oh yes, but they are different,” without changing their general stereotype. So in an OOP sense, they really do seem to handle disconfirming examples, by just spawning a sub-type leaving their original category alone.
    My other theory is that conservatives work on endless “go to” loops:
    “Taxes might go up! Go to line 1… Taxes are bad!”
    “Taxes are bad! Go to line 15… Government is incompetent!”
    “Foreigners! Go to line 16… America is best!”
    “America is best! Go to line 10… Need bigger military!”
    “But Bob, isn’t the American military part of the government? So does that make it incompetent? And where are you going to get that money to fund it without taxation?
    “Go to line 1… Taxes are bad!”
    “But you want a bigger army, right?”
    “I’m being challenged! Go to line 38… You hate America!”
    “You hate America! Go to line 16… America is best!”

  • Tonio

    I found that a working strategy as a kid. Giving it up when it wasn’t useful anymore was the hard part…
    I didn’t perceive it as working at all, because there were always people who would laugh at me. Maybe I wanted a universal get-out-of-jail-free card that would exempt me from hurtful things like others’ laughter. I started high school in a new town, and when the teasing began anew I didn’t lash out, I said nothing and became a dishrag.

  • JayH

    Amaryllis: The “culture of honor” and “culture of dignity” concepts sound like they’ve got some overlap with those other stand-byes of Intro Anthropology, the “culture of shame” and the “culture of guilt.” Feeling shame detracts from one’s sense of honor, as feeling guilt detracts from one’s sense of dignity.
    I’m going to display a lack of knowledge, here, which might turn out to indicate a deep-seated neurosis or emotio-psychic scar: What, exactly, is the difference between guilt and shame? As a kid, I just seemed to get the sense that they were two different words for the same thing: “You should be ashamed of yourself,” etc.

  • Jeff

    re flying flags upside down: Try Israel or Switzerland.
    Aha! At last an explanation why neither of these countries is a great naval power.

    Israel does have a navy. They recently bloackaded shipments (from Egypt, IIRC) to Lebanon.
    =========================
    The not-surprising bit was that women judged men much better than men judged women. The cool part was that men judged men better than women judged men.
    So m.j.m –> w.j.m –> m.j.w. Where did w.j.w fit in? (where .j. == judged)
    =======================
    As for flags, I don’t know much about them but surely vertical tricolors like Ireland, Italy and France can’t be put upside down can they
    They can. A flag with a horizontal tri-color will have the colors wrong way about top-to-bottom, and one with a vertical tri-color will have the wrong color nearest the flag-pole.

  • Ecks

    Guilt is private, shame is social. If you stole something from your friend, you might feel guilty even if nobody ever found out about it. You feel bad about what you DID, and who it makes you. Shame, like embarassment, requires an audience, except you did something incompetent or contemptible in front of them – or they will find out you did it, and you’re already dreading what they must think of you – even if they tell you they don’t, you still think they believe it about you in the back of their heads (“how COULD you have spent all mom’s money”). Embarassment can just be something going wrong (oops, you slipped, hee hee), shame carries a sense of moral wrong to it as well – whatever you did makes you a bad person.
    Any question that it takes a paragraph to answer is a good question :)

  • MercuryBlue

    Jeff: The Irish flag is a vertical tricolor green-by-the-flagpole, white, orange. For orange to be nearest the flagpole, it’d have to be put on with the wrong end inwards and who cares which side is up. For the flag to be merely upside-down, green would still be nearest the flagpole.

  • Jeff

    Jeff: The Irish flag is a vertical tricolor green-by-the-flagpole, white, orange.
    Ooops — you’re right. A vertical tri-color (or any flag with horizontal symetry) can’t be flown upside down. A flag without horizontal symetry can be.

  • MercuryBlue

    You’re confused again. It’s vertical symmetry that makes the distinction between right-side-up and upside-down irrelevant.

  • Amaryllis

    Ecks: Guilt is private, shame is social.
    Do you think it’s possible to be your own audience for shaming? That is, even if you believe there’s no possibility that your misdeed will become public, you can still feel shame: “I must be a bad person to have done such a thing,” as opposed to, or as well as, the guilty feeling of “that was a bad thing I did.”
    Maybe that part of the self that is ashamed is the representative, inside your mind, of the society that taught you what’s right or wrong. You know what “they” would think of you, even if they’re not there to say it, so you think it of yourself.

  • http://yagowe.livejournal.com yagowe

    @MercuryBlue:
    No, Jeff is right. For example, Canada’s flag has vertical symmetry (ie. the line of symmetry is vertical), and it clearly can be flown upside-down.

  • lonespark

    Yes, there can absolutely be self-imposed shame. I think it does rely on perceptions of other people’s judgement, but not necessarily on the reality thereof.

  • MercuryBlue

    Okay, now I‘m confused. I thought vertical symmetry was that which when you flip it so up is down, it looks no different.

  • Jeff

    Mecury: The line of symmetry is the line of “rotation”. An object with the same top and bottom has horizontal symmetry (if you “slice” through it horizontally, both halves will look the same). An object with the same left and right has vertical symmetry. So a flag that is a horizontal tri-color has vertical symmetry and vice-versa.
    Next, we’ll analyze how “cleeve” can mean “join together” and “break assunder” at the same time.

  • MercuryBlue

    Oh, it’s just the English language being illogical again. Got it. (Also: cleave.)

  • pointatinfinity

    Ecks: Guilt is private, shame is social.
    Amaryllis: Do you think it’s possible to be your own audience for shaming? That is, even if you believe there’s no possibility that your misdeed will become public, you can still feel shame: “I must be a bad person to have done such a thing,” as opposed to, or as well as, the guilty feeling of “that was a bad thing I did.”

    I would consider this subjective guilt (judgement of bad person) versus objective guilt (judgement of bad deed) and would put them both into the bracket of “guilt” by the definition we are talking about. I would think that subjective guilt is a bit higher in the motivations towards self-responsibility than shame (fear that others will think you a bad person); however, subjective guilt has its own particular problems. If taken too far, it leads to branding oneself a bad person for doing one bad thing, and does not, to me, appear to have paths to redemption; once you are a bad person, you cannot become a good one, because the bad thing you did happened. It also leads to difficulties dealing with others, if their standard of what are bad deeds differs from yours: “They seem like very nice and kind people, but they are doing X, which makes them bad people, but my emotions tell me they are good…”
    Indeed, in my experience, objective guilt is much better for my mental health: “I did a bad thing; I feel guilty about it; that motivates me to fix up the consequences of my bad thing and to not repeat it.” Without worrying about bracketing myself or anyone else into “good people” versus “bad people.”
    To console myself for not looking good in photographs, I adopted the slogan, “A photograph is not of a person but of a moment in time.” In the same way, in my personal ethics, “Bad is not done by a person, but by a moment in time”, that is, a situation.

  • Amaryllis

    pointatinfinity: I was thinking about the social/personal distinctions between “shame” and “guilt,” and realizing that sometimes the only representative of society is the person ashamed of himself.
    In real life, most people feel both emotions after they’ve messed up, and it’s hard to tell where one feeling ends and the other begins.
    once you are a bad person, you cannot become a good one, because the bad thing you did happened. But the bad thing may be atoned for, which removes the shame and restores the sense of self-worth or honor, in the same way that confession and reparation absolves one of guilt.
    It also leads to difficulties dealing with others, if their standard of what are bad deeds differs from yours: “They seem like very nice and kind people, but they are doing X, which makes them bad people, but my emotions tell me they are good…”
    Shame-based societies tend to be more homogeneous and group-oriented than guilt-based societies. It’s easier to feel comfortable judging other people if everybody’s standards for what’s shameful are similar.

  • Chris

    A lot of posts here seem to think that people who would invoke Munich are wrong about everything. I think a starting point with anyone is to listen to what they are saying and go out of your way to think of areas where you agree. For example, a Munich “type” if there is such a thing, might think that Jimmy Carter was naive in thinking that North Korea would tell the truth when he was negotiating with them in the 90s. That’s not a crazy position to take. As someone who has become almost wholly pacifist, I think that the biggest problem with us peace proponents is that we don’t nonviolently and realistically oppose tyrants nearly as much as we nonviolently and rather smugly oppose certain policies of the United States.


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