Friday, September 2, 2011

Do you feel like shit or just look like it?

There's a lot of people who say that America has lost its moral center, and that we're a country of depraved heathens with no moral compasses.  Although many people who say this are the super-duper, Bible Thumping, Evangelical-type Christians who think that Christianity is the only way any morality can be achieved, they're sort of on to something.

I don't think America is facing a moral crisis so much as an ethical crisis, and it comes from the transformation of our culture from a shame society to a guilt society.

For those who don't know the difference, here comes the explication.  A shame society is much like America and the rest of the world was in the 18th Century.  Your actions, and your sense of right and wrong, were based on how people perceived you.  Your personal honor actually meant something.  The implication was that a man of honor would not do anything that would bring shame upon himself or his family.  There are some things that we consider to be "wrong," that are not necessarily illegal: drinking in excess (so long as you don't hurt anyone), insulting someone, or committing adultery for example.  A gentleman would not do these things lest his reputation suffer.

In a shame society, your behavior that might be licentious or salacious is mitigated or regulated because you don't want people to think you're a piece of shit.  This has a draw-back, though, as we know that duels were a part of life.  Look at Alexander Hamilton.  I'm no fan of his, but getting shot just because he couldn't keep his jackass mouth shut seems a bit extreme for me.  The ironic part is that no one really even viewed Aaron Burr as being an honorable man before that duel, so what was the point?

Then we have a guilt society, which is what America is today, for the most part.  Human behavior is based not on shame, a sense of one's peers rejecting the person, but rather it's based on the letter of the law.  As long as you are not guilty of breaking a law then there's no reason to bar yourself from a specific action.  Your sense of morality, your actions, are based on what you can be judged legally guilty of committing.

The upside to that is that even if people would think it's okay for you to do something "wrong,"--like going over the speed limit or buying and using fireworks where it's technically illegal--you probably won't do it for the simple fact that it's against the law.  The down side, though, is that if something is not against the law then you don't really give a shit whether or not it's moral or ethical, you're going to do it if you damn well please.

Of course, those are the extremes of shame and guilt societies on an individual level, but this is not so much about the individual as it is the society as a whole.  Modern America is a guilt society.  There's no such thing as honor anymore, so if you're not breaking the law then who gives a shit?  I don't think that's particularly a good thing, and I think that an overemphasis on rugged individualism is partly to blame.

"But Jack, rugged individualism is part of the American mind!"  That's a true statement, but moderation is always best.  Individualism, while healthy and good in a free society, leads to moral and ethical vacuums, the likes of which most people believe are not a good thing.  Fuck society, right?  We're not Marxist masses, nameless, faceless cogs in a machine, right?

But what is there to regulate our behavior if not shame?  For those of you who are religious, why do you follow Christian morality?  Is it just so that you can receive your eternal reward?  I think it's more that you've been taught to be ashamed of lecentious behavior, whether your shame is in the eyes of others or in the eyes of God.  I fear that shame is being bred out of our children, and what is to come of a society of people who feel no shame?


Peter McCullough said...

We've become guiltless, shameless, immoral but we still have our pride. On one hand we have the un and undereducated products of our full of pride puiblic schools driving by, guns blazing because someone was dissin' someone's ho; we have a muslim father hacking his daughters to death because some infidel saw her uncovered ankle while not in the company of a family member; we have high school athletes who couldn't have played on the tiddley winks team years ago pulling on there pants and touching where there privates would be if they had any after giving up a basket or a touchdown; we have the endless trail of high school graduates unable to read write or perform simple math functions raising their fists in unencumbered pride as they are handed that unearned diploma.(speaking of high school:let's not discount the pride felt when having your baby shower in the classroom and your baby in the high school day care) Surrenering our culture, social mores, guilt, shame, remorse, morality, in today's world of muticultured pride these things seem to be a small price cause we gots our pride and we all feels good bout' usselves yo.

Jack Camwell said...

Well said Peter. Pride isn't always a good thing.

Harrison said...

"Rugged individualism" always had its boundaries. Clint Eastwood movies are classic examples of this. He always had his moral compass even when he exceeded it (Unforgiven).

Shame society comes mostly from religion. The Puritans, for example. We don't live in a "guilt society" unless it is a Liberal trying to make someone feel badly for buying an SUV not a Toyota Penis.

I think now we live in a society where peoples' whims are enforced thru legal means which is sad.

Good article.

Anonymous said...

This topic is a bit odd for me. i feel compeled to respond though.

you actually have me thinking through a few layers here and im moving into territory that im unfamiliar with, so stop me if im running blindly towards a cliff.

What is there to regular our behavior? Empathy

I can VIVIDLY remember the day i made up my mind about this.. i was in kindergarden. i was 5. I told myself, and it wasnt a passing thing, i actually told myself and made my self remmber it every day. "i wont be mean to small kids when im bigger".

This happend after i had just gotten my ass handed to me by a 3rd or 4th grader. When they figured out that i didnt bring any lunch money to school, they stopped messing with me. ( i brownbagged until senior year of highschool).

Pritty much from that point on i lived my life in a way that would keep me out of trouble (with the exception of heat-of-the-moment beatdowns).

Senior year of highschool i remembered a good freind of mine growing up. I had made an offhand comment i haddnt realy ment. It happend just before i swiched school districts and haddnt seen her again after that.

i found her, called her and appologized.

I dont know if it was guilt, or shame, or just a "distrubance in the force".. but i had to make it right, and it was for noone but myself.


Anonymous said...

In my never humble opinion we need neither guilt nor shame. What we need, instead is to inculcate consideration for other's needs and limitations, empathy for the plight of others, and above all the kind of love and affection that's based on The Golden Rule - i.e. "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you" or more simply stated: Treat other people the way you wish they'd treat you.

Easier said than done, but as The Christophers say, "It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."

We can't change the world, but we can improve our own outlook and do whatever we can to make the world a better place.

There really are no other good options.

All that aside, people who get their kicks out of hurting or depriving others should be locked way from the rest of society.

~ FreeThinke

PS: Jack, were you aware that the guy standing in front of that weather map just below this item looks like he's pointing his huge yellow and orange dick straight at central Pennsylvania? Boy! What Freud would make of that! WOO HOO!! - FT

Jack Camwell said...

FT: Why else would I have used that picture?

Silverfiddle said...

Excellent article, Jack.

I'd never thought of it this way, but make excellent points. Shame has value, but it's not just from Christianity. Human being seem to be deontologically-wired.

Grow up or live in a small town and reputation is everything. You refrain from doing bad things because you don't want to shame your family's name.

Jack Camwell said...

Glad you enjoyed it Silver. I think compassion and empathy, guilt and shame, are learned things.

If a child grows up without ever being made to feel those emotions, then would the person ever feel them?

It could also be a combination of learned and intrinsic behaviors. For example, psychopaths are actually physically incapable of feeling empathy and remorse.