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Viking ZX


Author of Science-Fiction and Fantasy novels! Oh, and some fanfiction from time to time.

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Apr
6th
2017

A Fantastic Quote Concerning Shame Culture · 6:41pm Apr 6th, 2017

This thought-provoking quote was brought to my attention this last Sunday at one of the LDS General Conference sessions, where it was quoted from a 2016 New York Times article on "Shame Culture." I'm sharing it because of its insightful look into why the current "shaming" trend doesn't work, and isn't a basis for a stable society.

“In a guilt culture you know you are good or bad by what your conscience feels. In a shame culture you know you are good or bad by what your community says about you, by whether it honors or excludes you. … [In the shame culture,] moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion. …

“… Everybody is perpetually insecure in a moral system based on inclusion and exclusion. There are no permanent standards, just the shifting judgment of the crowd. It is a culture of oversensitivity, overreaction and frequent moral panics, during which everybody feels compelled to go along. …"

“The guilt culture could be harsh, but at least you could hate the sin and still love the sinner. The modern shame culture allegedly values inclusion and tolerance, but it can be strangely unmerciful to those who disagree and to those who don’t fit in.”

—David Brooks, “The Shame Culture,” New York Times, Mar. 15, 2016

Report Viking ZX · 428 views · #Shame Culture #Quotes
Comments ( 16 )

I think we should bring this quote to the attention of aaaaall the folks in the West who are trying to perpetuate the shame culture. :pinkiecrazy:

If it's not to personal, are you LDS? I don't see too many references to General Conference in the internet wilds unless people are finding something to complain about. :pinkiehappy:

(This reminds me I neglected to watch. I should probably carve out some time because it seems there were a lot of good talks.)

4486350
Yay! Ironically just after I commented I decided to search for Mormon groups and found your name at one, so I answered my own question and finally found some groups to join. Brohoof from a fellow saint!

Shame culture makes disagreement with the (moral) authority the only measure of good and evil. What was once shameful may become accepted; what was once accepted may become shameful: there is no consistent or necessary logical standard.

This of course makes it ideal for authoritarian societies, which can define shameful anything they like, and need not worry about moral opposition. Why? Because if morals are externally imposed rather than originating from one's own conscience, then one cannot morally oppose the external moral authorities. By definition.

I don't understand the distinction. What, in this ontology, is the list of different culture types, and which type are various well-known cultures?

Hap
Hap #8 · Apr 7th, 2017 · · 1 ·

4486750

A guilt culture is like 1950s USA, in which X is wrong, and if you do X, you feel guilty, regardless of whether anyone knows about it, while Y is right and if you don't do it, you may feel guilty.

Shame culture is what's happening now. A shame culture is dominated by virtue signaling. Your moral status is determined by whether you're "one of the cool kids."

4487050 Why do you call what's happening now shaming instead of guilt? What would be a behavioral difference?

Saying "shame" vs "guilt" isn't a behavioral difference, because it looks the same. In both cases, society tells people not to do X, and shames them if they do, and maybe they feel guilty if they do X, but you never know.

D48

4487215 The difference comes down to internal vs. external motivation. If people are generally motivated by their own internal factors (what the quote refers to as guilt), their behavior will generally be consistent and they can expect a somewhat consistent response from society since everyone else will also be acting based on their own internal motivations and will accept divergent behavior as a result of those variations in internal motivating factors. If people are generally motivated by external social pressure (what it refers to as shame), they will have to radically alter their behavior based on larger social trends since divergent behavior will not be tolerated and so everyone will be under constant stress to maintain conformity since they know the crowd can and will turn on them at a moment's notice which creates a constant fear of rejection.

I'm not a fan of the way the quote puts it since it limits the scope of it to purely religious rules rather than the larger discussion of society and human motivation as a whole it really is (not surprising given the source), but the fundamental principles are right on the money. A good example of this is the shift away from technical fields across the United States which stems in large part from the social shaming of people with technical interests though a combination of small-scale labels/insults and large-scale presentation of these people as undesirable through mass media (just think about how scientists, engineers, and computer programmers are usually portrayed in movies, TV, games, ect.). A more immediately obvious and straightforward example of how nuts this kind of social pressure can be is Caitlyn Jenner who first became the darling of the shame culture by being a famous person who underwent a gender change, but was quickly turned on for being a Republican because that is considered unacceptable by the shame culture.

P.S. Viking ZX, did you see my comment on Beyond the Borderlands?

4487329 So far, this seems like a distinction without a difference. You say your side is the guilt culture and the other is a shame culture, but the other side can just as easily say they are the guilt culture and you are the shame culture, because there's no observable difference. Both types reprimand people for acting against the rules. There is no way to distinguish guilt reprimands from shame reprimands. In no case can you tell whether someone is motivated by guilt or shame.

4487571
The issue I see, Horse, is that you're distorting guilt-based culture by substituting one of its most important tenants for that of shame-based culture, and conflating the two. You're arguing from a stance of moral relativism, the idea that nothing is right or wrong, that all things are equally good or bad and only society makes a differentiation between the two.

Hence, your view of guilt-based culture is distorted, because you, as explained, have defined guilt as something built by society, with no real trappings of right and wrong.

Guilt-based ideology, however, does not subscribe to moral relativism. Guilt-based culture holds that there are intrinsic, universal elements of right and wrong, unlike moral relativism's approach that "everything is right and wrong at the same time, and you just pick what sounds good." Guilt-based beliefs hold that there are certain things that will always be right or wrong, such as murder. Guilt-based ideology holds that someone committing murder will always feel guilt, because the act of selfishly taking a human life is universally wrong. Even if there are two people on an island, and one kills the other in selfishness, the remaining individual will feel guilt for their actions, because they are universally wrong, and nothing can change that.

Shame-based ideology, however, disavows the idea of universal right and wrong, instead holding the idea that nothing is universally right or wrong, and that society only makes its own distinctions (as well as often "and such distinctions must be controlled for the greater good," a vague term that causes lots of problems). Are there immediate problems with this philosophy? Well, absolutely, in fact most intelligent philosophers have pointed out that it is a straightly nihilistic ideology that conflicts with its own tenants ... but that's an issue for another time. In any case, believing that there is no universal right and wrong, shame-based ideology holds that the society should chose. In the aforementioned desert island scenario, murder is only wrong if the "majority" says it is. The individual who killed in selfishness, by the tenants of shame-based culture, will not feel guilt, as there is nothing wrong with their actions unless society has decided it.

See the difference, now? One belief holds that there are universal notions of right and wrong, while the other holds that there is not right and wrong outside of what "they" decide is right and wrong. What results with shame-based culture, then, is a populous movement of ethics, a system where everything must be judged by the majority, who will then publicly hunt one another looking for "right" and "wrong" labels to apply.

In a guilt-based society, and individual can commit a wrong and feel guilt for it without anyone else every knowing or even commentating on whether it was right or wrong, because of the idea of universal concept of right and wrong. Where this comes from is open to distinction; some argue it is based in religion, others in science and evolution, a set of communal ideals that are hard-wired into the human body.

In a shame-based culture, there is not such thing. One is only to feel guilt if they are told to feel guilt, told that they are wrong by the society at large. Society decides what is "right" and what is "wrong" by polling the majority—a move that results in horrific amounts of populism, and ever-shifting moral morass that is unstable at best.

For example, looking historically at the difference: A guilt-based culture that holds selfish killing is wrong would balk at the idea of killing a human being simply because "one can." However, during the rise of the populist Nationalistic Socialism movement in Europe during the 1930s, this group, which was heavily reliant on shame-based concepts, decreed that it was "okay to kill someone who was Jewish." Suddenly murder of Jewish people was okay, because it "wasn't wrong," as the majority had decided that it was okay, and if you weren't with the new majority, you found yourself under terrible pressure until you agreed.

That's the core difference you're missing. Guilt-based ideology is dependent on the idea of universal concepts of right and wrong. Someone who does something wrong will feel guilt regardless of whether or not someone is around to point a finger at them and say "that's wrong" because human beings have a basic inclination of good and evil.

Shame-based culture, on the other hand, subscribes to the idea that nothing is right or wrong except what "we" say is. Someone who does something "wrong" will not feel any guilt whatsoever unless society is around to tell them so. This makes good and bad nebulous, concepts that can be shifted at a moment's notice based on whatever the ideals are of the populist individual with the most attention at the moment. It encourages a society where everyone watches their neighbors rather than themselves, always worried that they might be the next target of what's "wrong" and made a public example.

One last note: Look at the difference someone doing something wrong is handled in guilt-based cultures versus shame-based cultures. In a guilt-based culture, if an individual does something wrong, it is on the individual to acknowledge this and seek restitution for their deeds as a form of absolution. Others around them may never know. In the case that it is known, the matter is usually handled somewhat privately (not always, but in most examples) between the affected parties.

In a shame-based culture, however, individual merit is frowned upon, and when someone does something wrong, it is up to the majority to acknowledge this and inform everyone so that the maximum amount of social penalty can be brought to bear. Everyone must know of the individual's failings, everyone must see them, and agree that yes, this person is bad for doing this. Everyone has to acknowledge the "wrong" and degenerate the individual who committed it, after which a public "penance" is ascribed and the individual is ostracized until "someone" decides they are back in the groups "good graces." Which may never happen.

Guilt-based ideology holds that there exists, in some form, a universal (for humans, at least) right and wrong that people have a basic inkling of without any social instruction.

Shame-based ideology holds that ideals of "right" and "wrong" are just trappings of culture, and whatever the group decides is best is "right," while all other things are "wrong," then ruthlessly enforce those ideals through public shaming.

4487706

The issue I see, Horse, is that you're distorting guilt-based culture by substituting one of its most important tenants for that of shame-based culture, and conflating the two. You're arguing from a stance of moral relativism, the idea that nothing is right or wrong, that all things are equally good or bad and only society makes a differentiation between the two.

This is a fantasy on your part. I am not arguing from a stance of moral relativism. That has nothing to do with the discussion so far.

Hence, your view of guilt-based culture is distorted, because you, as explained, have defined guilt as something built by society, with no real trappings of right and wrong.

Sigh. You, and the people you call shame culture, both actually claim to possess absolute moral truths. The culture you're complaining about says racism is always wrong, oppression is always wrong, sexism is always wrong. In effect, both claim to be the guilt culture, and can point at the other and call it the shame culture.

One last note: Look at the difference someone doing something wrong is handled in guilt-based cultures versus shame-based cultures. In a guilt-based culture, if an individual does something wrong, it is on the individual to acknowledge this and seek restitution for their deeds as a form of absolution. Others around them may never know. In the case that it is known, the matter is usually handled somewhat privately (not always, but in most examples) between the affected parties.

That's not a distinction. In both cultures, people very often try to get away with things, and people sometimes acknowledge their mistakes on their own, without being caught.

In a shame-based culture, however, individual merit is frowned upon, and when someone does something wrong, it is up to the majority to acknowledge this and inform everyone so that the maximum amount of social penalty can be brought to bear. Everyone must know of the individual's failings, everyone must see them, and agree that yes, this person is bad for doing this. Everyone has to acknowledge the "wrong" and degenerate the individual who committed it, after which a public "penance" is ascribed and the individual is ostracized until "someone" decides they are back in the groups "good graces." Which may never happen.

Again, not a distinction. You've just described the Puritans, who would be a guilt culture by your earlier definition.

If you can point to some measurable behavior that will distinguish a shame culture from a guilt culture, then please do. But if the answer is, "The guilt culture has the right morals, and the shame culture has the wrong morals," that's worse than useless.

D48

4487571 Did you even read my comment? I clearly separated it for you based on the source of motivation (internal vs. external) and clearly explained what the difference is.

4487977

Sigh. You, and the people you call shame culture, both actually claim to possess absolute moral truths.

Not at all. While the quote argues from a religious basis, there are tons of other ways to get to basically the same fundamental rules using hard logic. The simplest is simply following the logic by exploring the consequences of a society where a given rule isn't in effect (e.g. if murder is allowed, the society will generally kill itself off), but there are plenty of other ways to arrive at a system of morality which usually all wind up looking relatively similar to one another. I recommend reading up on the subject in the link below to get a better understanding of the subject matter.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_morality

The culture you're complaining about says racism is always wrong, oppression is always wrong, sexism is always wrong.

Assuming you are talking about the American political left like I am, you are wrong. The current trend there is to rank groups based on past victimization which is naturally discriminatory on the basis of those categories. It holds that a white man is inherently worse than a black man (a racist position) or a white woman (a sexist position) which is functionally an attempt to use past discrimination and inequality to justify discrimination and inequality against different groups. That is textbook racism and sexism, and is being used to oppress innocents, especially if they actually speak up about a desire for equality and judgement based on who they are rather than what they look like.

4488143 If you'll read my reply to Viking ZX, you'll see I don't consider that response helpful. I can't observe whether a motivation is internal or external, nor can social criticism be categorized as relying on shame or guilt the way you seem to think it is.

The shame vs. guilt culture distinction has nothing to do with secular morality or moral relativism. Islamic cultures are called shame cultures, but they're not secular cultures or moral relativists.

I would say--based on my own experiences--a better contrast would be with contemporary India and China. There is a strong attitude of "it is only wrong if you get caught." This caused many problems when I taught Indian and Chinese students, as so many of them took advantage of the university's honor code that we had to change our approach to students to be much less trusting. You can see the same phenomenon in the extensive security measures now in place every time a student takes the GRE.

Assuming you are talking about the American political left like I am, you are wrong. The current trend there is to rank groups based on past victimization which is naturally discriminatory on the basis of those categories. It holds that a white man is inherently worse than a black man (a racist position) or a white woman (a sexist position)

You're technically correct, but my point was that the American political left is not actually morally relativist. They have their own moral axioms.

D48

4488162 Just because you can't observe motivations directly doesn't mean you can't observe the effects and deduce the root cause. I laid out two clear examples of this in my first post, and my discussion about the American political left is a third. It's very easy to tell if the behavior of a group is driven by the internal desire to do something or the external fear of social retribution. The prior gets you the Apollo program, and the latter gets you witch hunts.

As for those students you mentioned, they are very clearly motivated by an external fear of failure, most likely enforced by their parents. Their goal is to get good grades borne out of a fear of the consequences of failure, not an intrinsic desire to learn, so their actions follow suit with cheating to get good grades. That contrasts strongly with what I did in college where I deliberately neglected my homework to spend more time on websites like Wikipedia because I was more interested in learning than getting good grades. You may not be able to directly see the motivation, but you can definitely see the actions it results in and it's not hard to deduce the motivation from that.

Also, I'm not really talking about morality here because the real subject is the much bigger issue of the normal source of motivation for members of a society. The quote falls into the common trap of organized religion to try to look at all external problems as stemming from the lack of their particular brand of organized religion, and in doing so narrows down the situation and hides the true scope of the problem. I also prefer to avoid talking about this in a religious framework because of the inherent hippocracy in saying that the solution to following externally imposed social motivations is externally imposed religious motivations. The externally imposed religious motivations might make for a more stable society since they don't change with the whim of the crowd, but the fundamental problems of constantly living in fear of being considered to be outside social norms are largely the same and will stifle creativity and innovation just like externally imposed social motivations do.

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