Life at № 42
This has been on my mind for a while: How do the anthropological notions of Shame Society and Guilt Society – and the newer term (for a very old behaviour) Victimhood Culture play a role in modern politics?
If you don’t know those terms (in this context) here’s a summary:
“Guilt is private, while shame is public. Guilt is intrinsic and endogenous, while shame is extrinsic and exogenous.
Hester Prynne (The Scarlet Letter) felt shame without guilt, while Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) felt guilt without shame (for the first half of the book).
Your sense of guilt at committing an act is independent of your situation or what country you are in, while your sense of shame is highly dependent on the social situation around you. A castaway alone on an island could commit an act that would make her feel guilt, but nothing she could do would cause her to feel shame.
Paul Hiebert’s book (Anthropological Insights for Missionaries) adds a confounding religious twist to the definition in that guilt is supposed to be the internalization of sin (not shame), as well as an anxiety-ridden expectation of future (divine) punishment. But other authors (including E.R. Dodds, who formulated the distinction in 1951) take a more secular view of guilt societies as those driven by adherence to an internal moral code; the ‘higher power’ that has been violated may be an ideal residing in one’s conscience rather than (or in addition to) a divine being.“
Full text here
Much has been written on these topics- stating that, for example, Mediterranean Catholic, Islamic and Anglo-Saxon English cultures are Shame Cultures. Modern Christianity is (allegedly) a guilt culture. Victimhood Culture, made popular by none other than early Christians themselves, is making a comeback. Whereas in Shame/Guilt cultures being a victim was a demonstration of weakness (particularly in Shame cultures)- victimhood is now enjoying a renaissance as a legitimate social role- across the spectrum. Lines have blurred.
How do you think that’s played a role in current party politics and did it have an effect in the Trump election? Consider what we hear in his message now in comparison to what Secretary Rice (of the same party) was saying a few years back: