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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The War on Shame Cultures

At the beginning of Euripides' Hippolytus, Phaedra feels guilty about being in love with Hipploytus. This guilt turns to shame when the Nurse tells Hippolytus about Phaedra's love for him. To avoid the shame she feels -- and its extension to her children -- Phaedra kills herself and accuses Hipploytus of rape. She makes the accusation both out of vengeance for his rejecting not just her, but all women, and to ensure nobody believes him if (when, in her mind) he tells someone she was in love with him.

When Theseus discovers the suicide letter, he immediately takes vengeance on Hippolytus. But in death, Hipploytus not only does not take vengeance on Theseus and/or Phaedra's children, but rather, he forgives both Phaedra and Theseus. This act of forgiveness not only ends the vengeance cycle, but returns the play back to guilt and, thus, to the beginning of the play. Thus, we see a thematic unity in a play that seems, superficially, to be two different plays.

Forgiveness is an aspect of guilt culture, along with third party vengeance (in the form of a court system that has to discover things like motivation, etc. -- internal things -- thus reflecting the internalness of guilt itself), whereas direct vengeance is an aspect of shame culture. This is how and why Hippolytus' forgiveness returns us to guilt in the play.

One should also note that while the shift within Greek culture from a shame to a guilt culture is marked in the play within the human realm, we equally see this shift has not taken place within the divine realm. Artemis plans to take revenge on Aphrodites by killing Aphrodite's favorite. Given tragedies were in trilogies, one can thus imagine a second play on that story, with a third about the shift in the divine realm toward a guilt culture and trial (and forgiveness) system. Thus, the human realm is actually ahead of the divine realm in Euripides' world view. It is the gods who have some catching up to do with the humans.

Given that shame results in vengeance and guilt results in trial and/or forgiveness, we can see the kinds of problems which would arise in a mixed shame-guilt culture. After all, it is individual people who feel either guilt or shame. And, as we saw with Phaedra, guilt can become shame -- especially if the culture is still dominated by shame. What Phaedra does is an indication of the violence that can erupt when regression to shame from guilt occurs.

When we refer to a guilt or a shame culture, or a culture in which shame is decreasing and guilt is increasing, it is important to understand that within the culture there can be shame-drive and guilt-driven individuals, even if a certain majority makes the culture as a whole a shame or a guilt culture. Given the social nature of shame, one can expect a tipping point to be reached once a certain number of guilt-driven individuals is reached. Once the shame network collapses, there will be a large number of people who seek what the shame culture gave them -- and it is likely they will find it in religion or government. Monotheistic religions tend to develop guilt, so when the culture turns monotheistic, guilt will increase, shame will decrease, the network will collapse, and the religion will dominate. But once enough people embrace guilt (or it embraces them), the religion itself is no longer needed, and its dominance becomes broken. Which is what we see with the Catholic Church at the end of the Medieval period.

As noted above, a shame culture requires a network of people who are all morally regulated by shame. You not only feel shame, but you shame others. That creates the shame network. But if some people start feeling guilt rather than shame, those people cease shaming others. If you cannot count on others to shame you into good behavior, you may cease good behavior. A person regulated by shame who does not have enough people around to shame him or her becomes morally freed. This results in calls for some external authority to regulate others' behaviors. Ironically, it will likely come from those who themselves feel shame -- and no longer feel the social pressure to conform their morals -- who will want the external regulator. Those who feel guilt, after all, are internally regulated.

At the same time, there have to be enough people with guilt in the culture for there to be an institutional change from the institutions of shame to those of guilt. Those who are regulated by shame will take advantage of being forgiven. And not everything should be only forgiven. Thus, one needs  a court system in place to act as a third party judge and to ensure third party vengeance is undertaken. Only if the latter takes place can a full-fledged guilt culture arise.

And this is why the Euripidean trilogy, of which we only have Hippolytus, likely went in the direction of the creation of a celestial court system to work out differences among the gods. Once the vengeance cycle is cut off, the culture can move away from shame and toward guilt. This is the role of a court system. And it is the role of the external authority that emerges to regulate those who are still in the shame culture, so they will not take advantage of those who feel guilt. Only when those who feel guilt have sufficient numbers will they no longer need to ensure that one of their own has power over everyone. When this happens, we see the disintegration of the external power.

Indeed, it is no coincident that the U.S. government has gained in power in direct proportion to the extent to which members of the guilt culture in the U.S. have felt threatened by members of the Middle Eastern shame culture. All calls for more policing within a guilt culture country are always directed toward whatever shame subculture continues to exist. And when we see our military acting much as the police in dealing with shame cultures around the world, we should also perhaps not be surprised to see our police being militarized as well. The boundaries are being blurred because each organization is fighting the same foe -- shame cultures.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Interacting Neural Systems Affect If One Is Social or Antisocial

Scientists at Caltech have discovered that there are two systems of neurons that influence whether and at what time one is either social or antisocial. Specifically, the antisocial system induces self-grooming, or repetitive behaviors.

Each system inhibits the other, so that one switches from social behaviors to antisocial behaviors. Certainly we see most people switching between these two behaviors. However, people with autism seem to have the social system turned off most of the time.

As it turns out, the social system is also an inhibitory system. It inhibits neural activity. The antisocial system is an excitatory system. It increases neural activity. In other words, this discovery supports the Intense World Theory (IWT) of autism.

The IWT says excitatory neurons are working more strongly than are the inhibitory neurons. That is, positive feedback dominates. In very social people, inhibitory neurons dominate, meaning negative feedback, meaning equilibrium dominates.

Of course, these are likely not the only inhibitory and excitatory systems in the brain. And it is likely that there will be not only other alternating systems, but also co-dominant systems. But this research provides some pretty strong evidence for why it is that excitatory dominance would result in autism.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Theory of Mind and Social Regulation in Post-Guilt and Post-Shame Cultures

Most people think that intellectual work is solitary work, that scholars sit alone and think, then write. And there is some truth to that. But there is a reason intellectual work has been connected to higher education, and it is the classroom conversations.

The two postings on shame and guilt emerged from my own preparation for a class at SMU where we are discussing the various permutations of the Phaedra/Hippolytus myth. Each permutation was written during a "tragic age," an age wherein tragedies were written. These ages are rare and come about in the aftermath of drastic cultural change, to try to figure out what just happened.

After discussing the shift from a shame culture to a guilt culture, as dramatized in Euripides' Hippolytus, one of my students came up to me and asked about my claim that when shame is breaking down and hasn't been entirely replaced by guilt (or, equally, when guilt is breaking down and hasn't been entirely replaced by ???) that people begin to look to something outside of themselves -- religion or government -- to regulate their behaviors. He asked me if people really wanted religions or governments to control THEMselves, or if they really wanted others controlled.

This is where the theory of mind comes in.

How do you know others need to have their actions controlled? Or, equally, what makes some people think others can control themselves?

One has a theory of mind if one thinks that others have a mind like you have a mind. Of course, humans also tend to overgeneralize. Thus, we assume that others' minds are exactly like our minds. When people violate our expectations, we don't assume that they have different minds than we have, but rather that they are mentally ill or immoral or irrational. That is, they should be identical to ourselves, and so any deviation is an evidence of some sort of error or mistake.

What this means is that most people favor the kind of society they believe will be best for themselves. Those who think that everyone needs to have their morals enforced by something outside of themselves really think that they themselves need to have their morals so enforced (and this necessarily precedes the emergence of those institutions of enforcement, which of course act in their own self-interest and hasten the decay of the degrading institution). And those whose behaviors are regulated by either shame or guilt think everyone else's behaviors are so regulated as well, and thus do not need religion or government to ensure good behavior.

Things are pretty straightforward in "pure" shame or guilt cultures, or even a solidly transitional culture like Medieval Europe, but what about contemporary, complex societies like the U.S., where you have people controlled by shame, others transitioning from shame to guilt, others controlled by guilt, and others transitioning out of guilt? One would expect a combination of rebellious people (teens, gangs, etc.), religious conservatives, classical liberals, and progressives. What kind of society is best for this mixture of people who believe themselves to be internally controlled and those who believe themselves to require external control?

The answer to this last question will depend on where you are at on the above spectrum. Rebels and classical liberals (libertarians as a group probably include both of these) will tell you that nobody needs government or religion to tell anyone how to live. And if you do feel you need that stuff, go find a voluntary organization to help you out. Religious conservatives and progressives will tell you that nobody can be trusted and everyone must be controlled. Each group is talking past the other three. (The rebels and the libertarians differ on the best inner control; religious conservatives and progressives differ on the best external control.)

If we look at things historically, though, we can see a pattern emerge. The shame culture of ancient Greece and Rome breaks down and becomes Medieval Europe, dominated by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church emphasized guilt, and thus moved Europe through the transitional culture it dominated into the guilt culture that (ironically) no longer needed the unity created by the Catholic Church. Individuated by guilt, Europe underwent the Protestant revolutions, followed by the Scientific Revolution, capitalism, and classical liberalism. This occurred because the external social control created by the Catholic Church was no longer needed -- precisely because the Church was able to successfully instill guilt throughout Europe.

The guilt culture of Modernism began breaking down in Postmodernism, resulting in the rise of Progressive politics. With guilt breaking down as a social control, and nothing there to replace it, it was believed that social control could only be achieved with an externalist institution. In a post-religious time, the solution was government rather than religion. In places where this world view was imposed on more Medieval-type societies (like Czarist Russia), we saw truly oppressive religious-government fusion. In places where this world view emerged naturally out of Modernism, such as Europe and the U.S., we saw the rise of the regulatory welfare state. In both cases, people who were certain they could not be trusted to run businesses without someone telling them the right way to behave made sure everyone was properly regulated since they falsely projected onto everyone the belief that nobody could be trusted to run businesses. But not just businesses. The drive to regulate the food you eat and the amount of soda you drink arises from this same world view.

Given the Catholic Church gave us guilt with which to replace themselves (they were really using what was already on the rise), we may wonder what the State is helping develop in us, which will allow us to replace the State (or at least decentralize and weaken it, as happened with the Catholic Church).

Speaking personally, I feel neither shame nor guilt. Yet, my morals are well-regulated. Unfortunately, I don't have a name for whatever it is within me that regulates my morals. I have no feelings of regret for past actions, but view them as learning experiences to become a better person and which led me to where and who I am today. But all of this comes from something inside; I don't need anything external to tell me what's the right thing to do. Which is probably why I'm a libertarian. But I'm a post-progressive libertarian (is that what a bleeding heart libertarian is?). I don't know what to name what regulates by actions, but its lack of a name hardly means it doesn't exist.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Shame, Guilt, and Tragedy

Tragedy is the art of sharp cultural transitions, stories told to try to make sense of the suddenness of change that just took place at a time when the society and culture have settle down in a short reprieve of peace and prosperity.

The tragic age of the Greeks took place during the long peace of the Athenian hegemony. The tragedies were trying to make sense of -- and celebrate -- the transitions from revenge-based personal justice to court-based third party justice, from shame to guilt, etc.

Seneca was writing his tragedies during the long peace of Augustus. His tragedies were trying to make sense of the same transition taking place in Rome, from an archaic individualism to an idea that humans should be good citizens first and foremost.

The tragic periods of England and of France emerged during the stable regimes of Elizabeth I and Louis XIV, respectively. The tragedies written in these two places, during these two time periods, are attempting to make sense of the transition from the Medieval to the Enlightenment periods. Guilt may have joined shame during the Medieval period, but now shame-avoidance is the name of the game, meaning guilt becomes dominant.

The most recent tragic period took place in post-WWII U.S., during the peacetime of the 1950s. Now not only is shame to be avoided, but guilt as well. Why feel guilty for who you are? Just be yourself!

What we are seeing here is different periods giving rise to different patterns of shame and guilt.

Heroic Individualist Period               -- Shame
Authoritative/Fundamentalist Period -- Shame descendent / Guilt ascendent
Enlightenment/Modernist Period      -- Shame denial / Guilt established
Egalitarian/Postmodernist Period     -- Shame denied / Guilt descendent
What we see here are that the two periods during which individualism is dominant are clearly dominated by a single form of social control, while the two periods during which collectivism is dominant are periods of descending social control. This may seem odd at first, until you understand that individualist ideologies argue that people are capable of self-governance, while collectivist ideologies argue that people are incapable of self-governance. Since shame is a way to govern one's actions, and guilt is a way of governing one's actions, one does not need any outside force (government, God(s), etc.) guiding you. But if these self-regulatory elements are on the decline and/or not yet fully established, then one may look for outside guidance in matters of morals. That may be the Athenian court system or an authoritative government. In other words, depending on what group makes up the majority in a society, either the individualists or the collectivsts are right about our ability to engage in self-governance. The individualists are right that they can, in fact, self-govern, and the collectivists are right that they, themselves, cannot.

One can imagine, then, why there are conflicts between fundamentalists and progressives on one side and Modernists on the other (these being the three dominant groups in the world today, the Heroic Individualists being relegated to urban gangs and teens, mostly). We can also see why the fundamentalists tend toward a certain degree of militantism. They feel both shame and guilt, but the guilt is not well enough established to guide them, and shame is slipping away. The fact that shame is slipping away makes one feel it more intensely -- you fear it will disappear, so you defend it. Thus we can understand why so many fundamentalist cultures are seemingly shame cultures, and why they lash out so violently when shamed -- they are in fact transitional cultures that fear losing what they know and do not yet understand what they are gaining with guilt. In the meanwhile, progressives are denying that people should feel either guilt or shame, though they are equally panicked that they are losing guilt, which is why they lash out against those who make them feel guilt. They defend guilt by trying to make people feel guilty for their food choices, economic decisions, etc. It is the reason they accuse everyone of racism, sexism, etc. It stems from their waning guilt.

All of this really raises more questions than it answers. But I do think we should now be able to make sense of the conflicts we see in the world. The fundamentalists hate both the modernists and postmodernists/progressives, but hate the former more than the latter, since they can relate to the authoritarian tendencies inherent in progressivism. The fact that the reverse is also true helps to explain why it is that progressives side with militant fundamentalist groups against "Western Civilization," really meaning Modernism. It also explains how the U.S. can be dominated by a progressive party and a mixed progressive-fundamentalist party (and how there can even be such a mixed political party, since each has similar aims).

In the end, one has to wonder: if shame and guilt are both denied, what, if anything, will replace them? What will allow us to self-regulate? Do we embrace both? Or do we transcend both shame and guilt?

I discuss shame and guilt here as well.

For further consideration of what comes after guilt, consider what I wrote here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Intense World Theory of Autism and Problems With Understanding Metaphors

Given what I have read here and there about mirror neurons, I was somewhat interested in reading Gregory Hickok's "The Myth of Mirror Neurons. However, after this excerpt in which he discusses autism, I am definitely going to have to get the book.

Hickok provides evidence against the idea that autism is a deficit; rather, he argues, autism is an excess. People with autism are too sensitive to sounds, touch, others' emotions, etc. We look away from others' eyes because the emotions there are too intensely felt by us. Indeed, I have always felt people's presence quite intensely, and it gets to be tiring, overwhelming after a while. Of course, if you're looking away, if you're paying attention to everything else as much as you are paying attention to a person's face, you are bound to miss any number of social clues.

So the Intense World Theory of autism seems to be gaining support. 

But does the IWT explain things like autistic literalism and a tendency to fail to understand metaphors? Obviously, there is a logical connection between literalism and failing to understand metaphors. Even if one takes everything literally, one can eventually learn to understand metaphors -- but it's a learned skill rather than a natural one, as occurs in neurotypicals. But this still doesn't tell us why autistic people do either one.

However, if we look to why those with autism experience an intense world, we may see why.

One feature of autistic neural structure is the overabundance of synapses. This creates a hyperconnected network with more inputs. One result is increased sensory processing -- which is why many with autism don't like being touched or are sensitive to sounds or smells or tastes. Another is that other kinds of information are processed in a way that more closely resembles how artificial neural nets (ANNs) process information and produce outputs. ANNs tend to be "hyperconnected" relative to the way real neurons are connected to each other. As a result, ANNs take longer to turn inputs into concepts, but once they do so, those concepts are much more concretized.Things are put into pretty solid categories, without much if any overlap.

To understand -- and create -- metaphors, there has to be conceptual overlap. At least a certain degree of it, anyway. For the neurotypical, "Achilles was a lion." evokes notions of fierceness and nobility. For an autistic, "Achilles was a lion." evokes an image of a large tan member of the cat family named "Achilles." That is because "lion" and "a person named Achilles" are two completely separate conceptual categories. A person can't be a cat.

This would also explain why people with autism tend to think more concretely and less abstractly. However, if one can learn certain abstractions, connections among various concepts become much clearer. Clear categories also make patterns more obvious because one sees patterns when one sees all of the distinctness of each category. Those with autism may have difficulty with metaphors (this is on some level literally that), but similes (this is like that) are another thing entirely. A simile notes both the difference and the similarity -- the latter being the shared patterns. "Achilles was like a lion." signals there is some sort of pattern shared between Achilles and lions.

Of course, all of this is conjecture. I'm noting a number of similar patterns and concluding similar things may underlie them. But I'm not sure what else make sense if we reject the theory that autism is a deficit and, rather, is an excess of neural connections -- inputs and processing.

Coincidentally, it has been suggested that Kafka had Asperger's. The fact that he never used metaphors is highly suggestive that he indeed may have.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Intellectuals in Charge

Fred Inglis complains that today's intellectuals are too timid.I think he is right to complain, but I also think he doesn't have a clue as to why his (our) compatriots are, well, not complaining all that much nowadays.

Intellectuals are, for the most part, politically on the left. And what do the left have to complain about? True, Marxism was proven to be a complete and dismal failure, but progressive goals of central banking, building a corporatist regulatory welfare state, graduated taxation, equal rights for women and minorities, universal health care, etc. have been achieved throughout most of the Western world. The U.S. is still moving in that direction in many ways, but the Europe of today is definitely America's future.

So we should not be surprised intellectuals aren't overly vociferous. They are part of the ruling ideology. One doesn't attack the ruling ideology when you are in complete agreement with it. And even when the governments in control are doing something with which you disagree, it's best to downplay it, since those are your people in charge. Are you in favor of more liberal immigration laws, but Obama has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants? Ignore it. Are you against wars, but Obama has engaged in military actions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, and Somalia? And, worse, had American citizens assassinated when they could have been captured and brought to trial? Really ignore it.

The handful of conservative intellectuals are likely happy with those aspects of Obama's policies, so you won't hear much complaining from them. And since "conservatives" simply want to conserve, you don't hear them complaining about any of the progressive elements in the government that existed prior to the current administration. No, those are fine. Which makes it impossible to take them seriously when they complain about slight expansions of the current system. After all, in a few years they will be defending those programs as well.

The only intellectuals who are out there making their voices heard are the various classical liberal intellectuals. But these intellectuals are mostly ignored. Sure, they have good things to say on the war, for example, but they believe in "free markets"! Of course, practically every opponent of the free markets think that regulatory corporate capitalism is the liberals' ideal free market system, when that couldn't be further from the truth. But these so-called intellectuals aren't interested in hearing such nuances (facts), because that would undermine their world view and the world they created and the power structures to which they are now obedient.

So we should not be surprised that we don't hear much from intellectuals. They are the ones in charge of the universities and the universities' rules. They are the bureaucrats that really rule our corporatist regulatory welfare states. They are the ones being elected to office. They control all the levers of power. Why complain? Why raise a fuss? One would expect them to be obedient to the system they created.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Many Worlds Theory of Inquiry

Noah Smith has an excellent piece in BloomburgViews on the fact that economics is neither a science nor literature.The latter may seem obvious to most, but the former is less than obvious to almost everyone. But economics -- indeed, none of the social sciences -- are sciences in the sense that physics, chemistry, or biology are. Those who have tried to make it a natural science have misled the field -- to the detriment of the field as a whole, and to a those peoples negatively affected by the social policies influenced by a field so misled.

But Smith does not go far enough.

First, as I already indicated, he leaves out the other social sciences. All of the social sciences should have similar methods of inquiry. Similar, but not the same, in the same way that biology uses similar, but not always the same methods as chemistry.

Second, there are more divisions than science, social science, and literature. Literature should include the arts as a whole. And they should be separated from other humanities, like philosophy (which has its own methods of inquiry). And math should equally be separated out from all of these. It is its own realm of inquiry.

But note that one can and should dip into different fields. The natural sciences require math; so do the social sciences, though less so (and in different ways). Literary studies require the social sciences and psychology (a realm between the social sciences and the natural sciences -- something we can also expect to find) and philosophy.

There are not just two worlds. There are many worlds. But these many worlds are quite interdependent on each other.