Thursday, October 16, 2014

On Familial Disappointment as Social Regulator

The earliest social regulator -- found in tribes, and founding all of our social regulations -- is familial disappointment, which is extended to the extended family of the tribe as a whole (and relegated, in larger, more complex societies, to the household). Rituals are also adopted to aid in social regulation, since rituals allow people to enter and exit private and/or sacred spaces. The regularities of rituals allow social regulation by helping people understand what they need to do when. However, even with this, the rituals do not in and of themselves punish you for violating them. That falls to one's relatives.

We see direct familial interactions regulating social behaviors in the social mammals as a whole, but with humans we get the added element of disappointment. Disappointment requires language to clearly communicate it. The last thing most people want to do is disappoint their parents or other family members. That extends to one's spouse when one marries.

When a society (or a person) enters into shame as the primary regulator, though, familial disappointment fades fast. In the U.S., people tend to enter into shame as social regulator when they are 12 or 13. Have you ever met a 12 or 13 year old American who cared about whether or not he or she was disappointing his or her parents? Of course not. But they were concerned with what their friends thought. When they emerge into guilt and then responsibility, etc., they often loosen up on familial disappointment as a regulator (even if they do tend to more strongly reject the level they just emerged out of -- those who enter into guilt thus reject shame; those who enter into responsibility reject guilt; those who enter into collective guilt reject responsibility -- though this latter one, being egalitarian, also tends to reject all others in equal measure).

We would thus expect shame cultures to be more abusive toward family members, particularly spouses. And while we would not expect those regulated by collective guilt to be explicitly abusive, we would expect a weakening of family structures and perhaps an increase in divorce as a result. Those who feel guilt and responsibility are more likely to return to feeling familial regulations more strongly, so we would expect to see support for "family values" and stronger family structures in general.

We can thus see that these levels are not necessarily clear-cut and explicit. New levels contain the levels below -- those feelings don't go away once they emerge, though they may be suppressed to varying degrees. Healthy families likely have strong familial regulations in place, even if different members are at different psychological levels and thus use different social regulators.
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