Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Happens When You Revert Back to an Old Social Regulator?

The Hippolytus/Phaedra myth relies on the movement from a common social regulator to a new social regulator, then a reversal to the common social regulator to trigger the tragic action.

In Euripides' version, Phaedra, who is in a shame culture, feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus. When she confesses (from feeling guilt) and then in turn feels shame from people knowing how she feels about Hippolytus, she writes the letter making the false accusation against Hippolytus and hangs herself.

In Seneca's version, Phaedra feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus, but then is encouraged by the Nurse to take responsibility for her feelings and actions. When, prodded by the Nurse, Phaedra denies responsibility by accusing Hippolytus, Theseus has him killed.When she returns to feeling guilt, she kills herself.

In Racine's version, Phaedra feels guilt about her feelings for Hippolytus because she wants to abide by the law of Theseus. Hippolytus equally feels guilt for his feelings for Aricia. When everyone thinks Theseus dead, the law is lifted, the reason for guilt is gone, and everyone enters into a responsibility culture. When Theseus returns, the law returns, and thus guilt returns. Hippolytus is killed and Phaedra kills herself.

In Robinson Jeffers' version, Phaedra feels responsible for her feelings. She develops feelings of collective guilt, causing her to waver between blaming and defending Hippolytus. Hippolytus argues she ought to take responsibility for her actions. She punishes Hippolytus for being a gay man who, by his nature, could never have a relationship with her. She then takes responsibility for having done so, and kills herself.

Each warns that we should not move backwards, but embrace the emergent social regulator.

We can see this in contemporary American culture. We are currently in a collective guilt culture; all of our institutions are controlled by people with this mentality -- egalitarian leftists and neoconservatives. They deny that anyone has or should have responsibility, and their bureaucratic institutions help ensure few people are held responsible for their actions. Social pressure of various kinds are the primary way our social actions are controlled -- accusing people of being racist, sexist, homophobic, privileged, etc. -- but the law is also there to help. Collective guilt is a kind of guilt, so we should not be surprised if we find those in the collective guilt culture working with those in the guilt culture within a society against the same things, even if they are for different reasons.

A great example of this is the art world, which is beginning to feel the "conservative" pressures of the collective guilt left. Those in the collective guilt culture hate the same art as those in the guilt culture, but for different reasons.

Those who believe in responsibility are mostly left yelling at the wind that people ought to be responsible for what they do. They are left acting in virtuous ways that nobody respects.

There are also shame cultures in the majority culture. Our prisons are full of people from our shame subcultures. That is because shame is in a real sense pre-law; the laws mean nothing to them, but rather how people think of them. And nobody particularly cares if you break the law, so that's not going to shame them into good behavior.

Our society would be worse off if it retreated from where it is. But the article on art shows that collective guilt culture may have played itself out, now that it's eating its own. I personally cannot wait for the  natural principles culture to finally emerge.
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