Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Healthy Sense of Shame

Parra, Il Senso di Colpa
[In italiano]

Last week's post gave rise to a fantastic wellspring of negative emotions in the many people who commented. This week, rather than ignore or repress negative emotions, we are going to do the exact opposite: we are going to celebrate them. Sometimes it's the healthy thing to do.

There is a tendency to regard negative emotions as, well, negative: few of us particularly want to spend time wallowing in guilt, shame, embarrassment, feelings of insecurity or inadequacy, confusion and incomprehension. Cognitive dissonance, which is caused by having to simultaneously accept two contradictory notions, is painful, and even fewer of us like pain (and for those who do, it is not the sort of pain that we tend to like). And yet all of these negative emotions exist for a reason: they provide essential negative feedbacks to our behavior, allowing us to avoid, recognize, and atone for our mistakes. Without them we spin out of control, crash and burn.

Most people go through life trying to avoid negative emotions. We work and play well with others, we don't rock the boat or cause problems, we ask permission and apologize for trivial things. We do what others expect of us, and we hide parts of ourselves that might meet with disapproval. We avoid subjects that might trigger negative emotions, and when we can't, we avoid thinking things through and drawing conclusions. But most importantly we take license: society gives us license to think badly of those who differ or deviate from its accepted norms without experiencing guilt or shame even if we know full well that we are far worse than they are. No matter how negative our view of ourselves may be, we can always ignore it by hiding behind xenophobia. And no matter how vanishingly small is the likelihood of anyone else wanting to join you, you can always say “If you are not with us, then you are against us.” Our sick society provides us with a sick trick by which to take our guilt and shame and convert it into anger and pride.

Here is a specific example: I recently told an audience a few things about their own country (the United States). I pointed out that their country is number one among developed countries in quite a few categories, such obesity (Mexico is number two), divorce rate, one-person households, children being raised fatherless, child abuse death, sexually transmitted disease infection rate, teenage pregnancy rate, incarceration rate, depression and stress-related ailments. I pointed out that one-third of the children in the US are fatherless, that one-quarter of teenage girls in the US have at least one sexually transmitted disease, that a quarter of the women in the US are prescribed antidepressants at one point or another, that a third of all the employees suffer chronic debilitating stress and one-half experience stress that causes insomnia, anxiety and depression. I told them that they are killing themselves in record numbers, suicide being the leading cause of injury death, ahead of the also plentiful car accidents and gunshot wounds. I told them that the extent of their social inequality and societal neglect is worthy of a third-world banana republic. And I told that audience what they, according to numerous opinion polls, think of their government: their Congress is less popular than cockroaches, lice, root canals, colonoscopies, traffic jams, used car salesmen and Genghis Khan. And they took all that on board and even chuckled. Yes, it's all true.

Then I told this audience about a number of different social groups living in isolation in their midst, right here in the US, who have vastly better outcomes. According to every conceivable metric: alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, crime rate, suicide rate—you name it—they do not just a little bit better, but hugely, massively better. Their trick is to throw up a firewall between themselves and the surrounding society and to live by their own rules without consulting those around them even if it means periodically facing persecution. In fact, it is that persecution that gives them the strength to persevere. I explained that these groups are disparate: some are religious, others atheist; some settled, others nomadic; some are scrupulously law-abiding, others scoff-laws; some drive their children to earn advanced degrees, others deny them basic literacy; some embrace equal rights for women, others don't. I explained that each of these groups has its own ideology and code of behavior, and that the differences are such that there are barely any grounds for comparing them. On the other hand they have significant areas of commonality which look like the set of essential ingredients for their very different recipes for success. Finally, I said that the only things worth looking at are the commonalities, and explained what these are, because, you see, if we want to achieve significantly better outcomes for ourselves, we would ignore these traits, which are candidates for cultural universals among successful communities, at our own peril. And people generally took this on board as well.

But then there were a few in the group that went on a xenophobic attack. They started attacking some of the groups I described (they singled out the Amish for ill treatment) on the grounds that the way they treat women, or children, or animals, is not in accordance with the standards of progressive society. Which progressive society? The one I described above, the sick society, ruled by lice and cockroaches, presided over by Genghis Khan, where something like half of the population is taking mind-altering substances of one sort or another which allow them to not notice their miserable conditions and surroundings, their lack of security, loyal companionship, or hope for the future. That society. It's progressive, you see, and the Amish (who have none of these problems) apparently are not.

Now why on earth would someone who just heard that he doesn't have a leg to stand on try to kick someone who stands firmly on two feet? There you are, lying on the ground legless, and there he is, standing a few paces away smiling at you. He might even consider coming closer and helping you up, but you are cursing at him, plus your breath smells just a little too awful from holding in farts all your life. And, my goodness, did you just piss yourself in anger? Oh for crying out loud!

I can think of one reason why someone would behave so disgracefully:

Lack of Shame

Now, you might think that once the common principles that underpin all successful communities are abstracted away from their various potentially offensive specifics, these commonalities could be successfully implemented even by utterly shameless people. But I seriously doubt that this is the case. The ability to judge others more harshly than you are willing to judge yourself, or, on the other hand, the inability to limit your own behavior by remembering who you are and what your place should be—these are not the least bit helpful in forming close-knit, harmonious, cooperative, self-organizing and self-governing groups.

In fact, it seems like lack of shame is a good candidate for a litmus test. Those who fail to abide by the dictum “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) should be judged right out of the group. But what would be even better is if there could be designed a certain number of specific poisoned pills, if you will, which do no harm to the community itself, but are poisonous to judgmental outsiders. This would force them to self-select themselves right out of the community under their own power, saving everyone the trouble of kicking them out. And it might result in a healthy dose of persecution, which, as I have found out, is one of the key ingredients in keeping a community cohesive and healthy.

Taking a step back from this tempest in a teacup, What was my talk about? It was about “communities that abide”: separatist groups that have stood the test of time—five centuries in the case of the Anabaptist groups, ten or so in the case of the Roma (plus some more recent experiments). These groups are old-fashioned in their social order by virtue of the very criteria by which I selected them: their ability to abide. Their ability to persevere in an alien and sometimes hostile social environment and ignore to the winds of change that blow through that social environment are aspects of the same phenomenon. They are conservative, and they haven't found a sufficiently powerful reason to update their ancient customs, be it arranged marriage or gender segregation at the community mess hall or extending voting privileges to women, as well as many other things of this sort that progressives find offensive. But nobody ever suggested joining or emulating these groups! The discussion centered on the commonalities that make them successful, and there is nothing about these commonalities that is offensive to anyone. But to understand these commonalities we have to look at the communities that exhibit them, and to do so successfully we have to evaluate them in accordance with their standards, not ours. But among us there are found some heirs to the legacy of cultural, economic and military imperialism, and these people are apparently used to judging the entire universe as if it were created to suit their fancy and please their sensibilities. They may find it very difficult to suspend their judgment and to learn to see the world through the eyes of those who are purposefully and unapologetically different from them, and who have no place for them in their universe. But these are the only terms under which their participation in the discussion that will follow would be anything other than a waste of everybody's time.

As this dead horse hasn't been sufficiently tenderized yet, let me reiterate one last time: if you are one of the few people who is a member of a tight-knit, long-lasting community that provides everything its bretheren need from cradle to grave, everybody should want to hear from you and to learn from you anything that they can, no matter how “unacceptably” cult-like, old-fashioned or generally weird your people happen to be. Fear not that you will be judged, for the rest of us are in no position to judge you. If, on the other hand, you are one of the many, many people—far too many people, really—who are still thinking that maybe the US government or Wall Street or Fortune 500 corporations or the Department of Homeland Security will provide for all of their needs, then you are little more than a figment of your own imagination, and there's a new acronym with which you need to become comfortable: STFU. And to earn bonus points, hang your head in shame.


Glenn said...

Irrefutable logic, Dmitry.

Some animals will not leave their cages when the door is left open.

Some horses will run back into their stalls when their barn is on fire.

One necessity of being able to learn is being able to give up the idea that there is nothing left to learn.

The Americans I know are exactly these tiresome shameless creatures you describe.

Puzzler said...

Bravo! One of your best essays.

I love your retained fart theory -- it explains so much.

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Respect Dmitry. Really exceptional, high-grade work in all your posts these days. Jim Kunstler is right to call it so outstanding.

sstillwell said...

It would be interesting to know if the verbal attacker who criticized the Omish has had any contact with them. While visiting my father, who lives near an Omish community I had the opportunity to share an evening meal with them. I found the whole family to be excellent company and saw no evidence of child abuse. In fact, I saw happy, well behaved children. I was given a tour of their leather working shop, a buggy ride to see the fields, and talked with the men and the women about a number of topics. Much of their lifestyle is very appealing, although there are parts would take some getting used to for me, such as wearing long dresses and bonnets.

Wiglaf said...

Just for the sake of completeness, could you name the rest of your examples of communities that abide -- we have the Roma, the Amish, and who else?

Dmitry Orlov said...

The Anabaptist (adult baptism) groups are Amish, Hutterite and Mennonite. I also included, for the sake of extreme diversity, the Roma (who number over a million in the US and 12 million worldwide but do not figure in any census) and the Israeli Kibutz movement (which is the largest group of this sort, well into the hundreds of thousands).

Degringolade said...

Sounds like the meetings at the age of limits turned out to be less than fun than.

Keep your chin up, I, for one, think that you may be right.

In a very real sense, the kindergarten that the progressive movement has turned into is its own worse enemy. With folks like that, someone else has to be in the crosshairs.

You held yourself up well.

As always, the next time you are in Portland, the beer is on me.


(BTW) Sorry about the intusion

Robo said...

The conquest and consumption of the continent could not have happened the way it did if generations of Americans had exercised any common sense of shame. We have always acted like kids in a candy store, grabbing everything in sight without embarrassment, stuffing our mouths full.

Even now we do not seem to be ashamed of our cowardice and obeisance in the face of governmental and corporate crime and abuse, or of our own inactions in the face of obvious environmental predicaments. Most of us just run and hide.

Are we ashamed or proud of the latest whistleblower? He's willing to put his life on the line for an unselfish principle, just like our military heroes. Why does he stand alone? That is indeed a shame.

VyseLegendaire said...

My current theory about why people react defensively and emotionally in the type of situation you described is that they are simply overwhelmed at the prospect of having to accept what they have been forced to accept.

The more invested someone is in a particular mode or system of thought, the more they stand to lose from disavowing it, and the more they have distanced themselves from the earlier pain of having been coerced into adopting that particular paradigm.

I suspect the denial is regardless of how factual, valuable, or practical your presentation is to them, because it poses the same threat either way. Unless someone can accept how they were wronged, they cannot feel 'wrong' about having that particular view, even to the point of shamelessly bashing others over the head with it.

onething said...

There is so much that I am ashamed of in our society, and yet I do not and have never really identified with American culture. My family was always weird and different.

At the same time, I feel sad at the thought of being Roma or Amish, not because I think their lives are less enjoyable or important in the sense of soul learning, but because it seems that in order to maintain a group identity, you have to have your reality circumscribed by certain beliefs which when examined are silly. Of course, mainstream beliefs are often just as silly and just as unexamined, but are not necessarily essential and the thinking person can discard them.

Well, then, back on the first hand I suppose that on an individual level you would always find that the few who think for themselves probably quietly disagree with the consensus beliefs of their group.

It's sad, too, to realize that the reason beliefs such as the contamination of the Gadje persist is that it's very necessary to the continuation of the group...without it why bother being a separate people, and intermarriage and so on would be far more common.

Perhaps the game here is to transcend group thinking and be in charge of one's own reality.

k-dog said...

This is quite a bone to chew. I had to munch on it for a while but this is what I burped up.

Shame, as in "He has no shame". Not the shame that paralyses and brutalizes a soul or the shame which prevents effective living. Not a personal shame but a social shame produced by a particular social context. Interaction with group outsiders.

Glen started out this comment section with "Some animals will not leave their cages when the door is left open." I think that's a powerful statement. The animal feels that something is just not right if it leaves the cage. Raw animal shame. If a person can be made to feel that it is bad or shameful to interact with strangers then the one is not going to be exposed to corrupting influences. Strangers are avoided. Like an animal in a cage a barrier isn't crossed. Social context creates the barrier and prevents communication.

Ancient customs then preserve an identity free from corruption. The community maintains it's separateness and endures.

Degringolade said...


I have been spending an inordinate amount of time chewing on this one.

Rather than hogging up your comment space, I hope you wont be too offended if I just put in a link.



Anonymous said...

"... judging the entire universe as if it were created to suit their fancy ..."

I call plagiarism - Dmitry, I think you stole that line from the book "World Made By Adult-sized Children" - specifically, from the chapter titled: "Woe unto them" which details the crimes and punishment for questioning the tenets of Fairydustland.

Fairydustlandians are a fickle bunch. I have a feeling they will form intentional communities that succumb to unintended consequences of their own assbackwards design.

William Hunter Duncan said...

LOL funny.

In reference to this empire's insatiable desire to control everything - everywhere there's a devil, he laughs and laughs, every time he hears an American say, "I have nothing to hide."


Dmitry Orlov said...

Dave -

I've never heard of the book you mention. The thought is a sufficiently obvious one.

Susan Norris said...

IMO, the groups that separate themselves from wider society are separate as a response to the dysfunction of that larger society in which they are embedded. I see them as two sides of the same coin: each over-reacting and acting as dysfunctional codependent halves of the whole.

Have you studied the remaining indigenous groups? It might be that they are the more healthy role models for us, truly separate and not codependent or dysfunctional.

Custom Cutlery - Dewar Grady said...

Just wanted to say RIGHT THE FUCK ON. Keep telling this truth, because I suspect there are more and more of us out here in the hinterlands needing to hear it said out loud with eloquence and care. Shame is a concept no one I know wants to deal with, not for themselves (that's what anti-depressants/coke/weed/booze are for) or their precious offspring, because you wouldn't want to stunt li'l Johnny's self-esteem, now would you. I sometimes imagine Johnny's great-grandchildren (optimistic, I know), barefoot, dressed in rags, and spending their days picking through landfills for scraps. I shudder or smile, depending on the day. Thanks for all that you do, sir. eag

Anonymous said...

Dmitry - sorry, that was a joke (fails in text, sounded good in my head ;).

About those Amish... I know a young woman who left the local Amish, but is still on friendly terms with many if not all (including her family). She has interesting stories to tell... warts-and-all stories (the best kind).

They are a complicated people - and I think they are very much like the local industrials in that they too are like frogs in a crockpot.

The Amish have had to make a lot of compromises to their way of life over the past century, in order to co-exist with us industrials.

Sadly (?), like climate change, the rate of change/compromise for them seems to have increased this past decade.

I have no idea what will become of them - just like I have not any idea what will become of the rest of us.

But, from my perspective, it looks like they and their industrial-farmer neighbors are in the process of (accidentally) forming some sort of hybrid community. This might be one of those "under-the-radar" spontaneous communities in the making that you talk about, that might bloom as this decade progresses.

(oh yeah - I got your book - "Wonderful !" says my 19-year-old son. He is reading before me because I write in the margins of all my books... ;)

Dr. Doom said...


I think Dave forgot to encase his comment in sarcasm on/off signs.


Anonymous said...

"Have you studied the remaining indigenous groups? It might be that they are the more healthy role models for us..."

Hi Susan,

I went to school with Native Americans from 3-8 local tribes (depends who you talk too and how they define themselves). I work with Native Americans (of all ages) from those same tribes.

IMHO, the local tribes have been assimilated - physically, mentally, and culturally.

It has been an expensive lesson - mentally, emotionally, everythingally expensive.

Anonymous said...

The United States does not have the highest STD transmission rate. In the United States you can get free condoms and STD testing even without insurance. Countries where it's normal for men to stay married but cheat on their wives, have multiple wives, where illiteracy are high, or where condom used is unpopular have the highest STD transmission rates..

Dmitry Orlov said...

Daniel -

Those aren't developed nations. Apples and oranges.

Unknown said...

I suspect no large group of individuals have ever felt any shame as long as things
where going good. Shame comes up only upon hitting on failure.

Then you have the other kind of hypocritical shame liberals feel after the fact.
Like the shame they feel for almost obliterating the so called native americans.
Notice that it is now completely ok to admire their so called holistic way of life, their
harmony with nature and so on, but it's not ok to talk about giving them back their land.

This is all some bullshit mechanism to allow you to secretly feel good about yourself.
It's like saying: Yes, I did something horrible, or silently supported something
horrible but I now feel ashamed about it so clearly I'm a good person.

This I find to be the most shameful thing of all.

Unknown said...


Rita Narayanan said...

While talking about communities and tribes am glad that Dmitry restricted himself in number. In a country like India on the veneer of a "traditional" society are a group of people who havinf been accessing great social freedoms.

I find the highly educated western and Indian activists who work among our "deprived" championing all sorts of rights that just don't exist internally.

many of these activists some very famous and renowned jet set between the "dispossessed" and elite universities at an alarming pace.

the result is a very fractured and broken society which prides itself on being a democracy.

The political system has created satraps who have used "social liberation" to come up, build dynasties and fleece the exchequer usig every trick in the book and all this is termed as progressive "churning" :)

Kevin Frost said...

Poisoned Pills

Poisoned pills to serve a self selecting out purpose? Thinking about Gail, just as an example. What she didn’t want to get involved with was any togetherness ceremony and selected herself out of Dr. Baker’s story of the wife who consulted the shaman. Dr. Baker, interestingly, drew her own conclusions from this years event and went her own way to plan out how next year’s get together would go. She’s got ideas. What Dr. Baker would likely regard as a healing herb might to others look like a poisoned pill.

A passing thought. K: a few weeks ago one of your professed loyal readers had you on the carpet for citing Infowars. Must have rubbed him the wrong way. Just wanted to say that any information that can be found at that site can also be found at Global Research or Veterans Today. The latter website is interesting. Like the editors at Global Research the editors and jurnos of VT often get interviewed on Russia Today. Now Gail likes Pussy Riot but I’d venture wouldn’t have the time of day for people who talk about 9/11. Whereas the editors of Veterans Today don’t seem to take even the slightest interest in Pussy Riot but take lots of interest in 9/11 and they just keep talking about it all the time. I can’t imagine that Gail’s people are very happy about this. They worry about being scalped by bands of savage Iroquois in their sleep. During waking hours they worry about all those Tea Party patriots buying up assault rifles at Wal-Mart. And now they need to worry about returned vets, but also serving forces, officer class people who also read this site, and even serving War College instructors who read the site and are thinking unkind thoughts about the people Gail rubs shoulders with. Just think about it. And all the while she has her assets to worry about. I think Gail took a fancy to you, mmmm. She thought you were a cold fish just like her. Or, what? Well, I wasn’t there so I shouldn’t talk, but she at least seemed to regard you as .. .. an asset. Or a potential asset. Perhaps an asset that wasn’t being managed correctly. Well that’s what her people do; that’s their business. Or maybe she wanted you to protect her (and her daughters!) from those unspeakably savage and cruel abovementioned Iroquois bands. Or maybe it’s those folks who shop at Wall Mart who she wants you to protect her from. Hard to say.

But however these things may be I was deeply impressed with the fable/story that Dr. Baker told about the patient wife who was trying to hold on to her returned vet husband. If I can learn how to do links I’ll be sending one off to the eds at VT advising them of Carolyn’s talk. I think the folks who read VT would welcome and appreciate Dr. Baker.

To all: if we believe in putting ourselves into the shoes of others try putting yourself in the shoes of these returned vets. They go in because .. what else is there? They take the oaths, serve, get sent over to places where they see or participate in scenes like .. when villagers, that’s including old folks, women and kids, get machine gunned. The come back all stressed out, banged up (plenty of head injuries) DU poisoned, and other stuff. The scenes of women and children being murdered didn’t really sit well on day one and eight years later still doesn’t sit well. So maybe they start to wonder about what happened to them. They get on sites like Veterans Today where people like them openly talk about the political machinations that resulted in them being chewed up and spat out by the system. But if they bring any of this up in ‘civil society’ they get tagged as ‘wingnuts’ who really shouldn’t be allowed a hearing, people who constitute a dangerous threat to ... something.

Many years go I dodged the draft and can’t regret this. The guys who went and came back: 60 something percent homeless. Out on the street. Soon they’ll have lots of company.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, you're a little harsh on Gail considering you've never met her (I think). While her prejudices seriously colored her perceptions of the Age of Limits conference, I felt her heart was in the right place. She's programmed by society to see the world through an "Us versus Them" filter and in her case, the "us" was a small disenfranchised minority that have programmed to drown out discourse on important things by screaming "What about my political soapbox!!!" until no other discussions can occur (thank you Bernays).

The last thing the current system wants is people trying to create something different, to show by example that there can be a better way. I would love to see multiple intentional communities springing up, each one attempting to put into practice their vision of utopia. Not all will succeed, but I hope we're surprised at how many do make it.

We may disagree about our visions, but we should be willing to let each other try them out. That means there will be communities I could not tolerate, possibly near me, but so long as they leave each other alone, that's not a bad thing. We need to stop trying to influence the social decisions made by people we'll never meet and, as Dmitry put it recently, will never breed with.

To all: if we believe in putting ourselves into the shoes of others try putting yourself in the shoes of these returned vets. They go in because .. what else is there? They take the oaths, serve, get sent over to places where they see or participate in scenes like .. when villagers, that’s including old folks, women and kids, get machine gunned. The come back all stressed out, banged up (plenty of head injuries) DU poisoned, and other stuff. The scenes of women and children being murdered didn’t really sit well on day one and eight years later still doesn’t sit well. So maybe they start to wonder about what happened to them. They get on sites like Veterans Today where people like them openly talk about the political machinations that resulted in them being chewed up and spat out by the system. But if they bring any of this up in ‘civil society’ they get tagged as ‘wingnuts’ who really shouldn’t be allowed a hearing, people who constitute a dangerous threat to ... something.

Many years go I dodged the draft and can’t regret this. The guys who went and came back: 60 something percent homeless. Out on the street. Soon they’ll have lots of company.
~end quote~

I know a soldier who was in a village in Iraq when they came under fire, he still has nightmares. He asked me, "what do you do when a six year-old kids runs out of a house and picks the rifle up out of the hands of his dead father and points it at you?"

"He becomes a combatant the moment he picks up the weapon, so you shoot him. There is no shame in that," is always my reply. But it does little to help him sleep.

As for homeless veterans, that always bothers me, since (at least here in Central California) there is no need for that, there are resources and staff at the local VA center who's job it is to get vets the care they need and a roof over their heads. Over the last few years there has been a huge investment in mental health facilities to deal with the issues of returning vets. Battlefield medicine means that war no longer eliminates the surplus male population, it just turns them into wards of the state, so the math of sending the youth off to fight just is not there any more.

The government is aware that veterans are a major force in the states, and can be dangerous. That's why VA hospital guards are MP's, carry weapons and will shoot a patient on sight if they threaten a hospital staff member.

An incident like the Bonus Army, given today's speed-of-news on the internet, by social media as well as news outlets trying to make a name, would not go so well for the government.

GFranke said...

I'm not sure how this relates to the lack of a sense of shame, but it seems like the reaction you got at the conference may have been righteous indignation, the primary purpose of which is (frequently) to give its bearer the positive wash of feelings associated with righteousness. Slavoj Zizek talks about this, I think he may suggest it as one of the defining characteristics of liberalism? It seems like it would be very insulting to tell someone caught up in waves of righteous concern for some apparently oppressed strangers that what they are feeling/doing is actually all about themselves. If I recall, even Zizek has to dance around the topic for awhile before delivering the news.

That feeling of righteous concern seems to be addictive. You catch a wiff of it, then wander in and get carried away. Pretty soon it is a habit, indulged in by listening to NPR every afternoon or driving around taking pictures of dying trees and posting them online. But it is possible to snap out of the trance given the right conditions (ie. reading Zizek, or Dmitry). It's just that not everyone is ready for that, perhaps especially those baby boomers who shaped their lives around that family of emotions.

Mack's Track's by tom said...

Barnwitch! 90% of horse owners are women. Here is a video of a male horse trainer that as far as I know coined the term Barnwitch. http://youtu.be/8KfdcQzmrxs

Anonymous said...

I don’t understand the fear that some commenters have to the "communities that abide" presentations, that we have to abandon our "open" society (which I rather think is largely an unexamined myth in our heads, anyway) and BECOME Roma, or Anabaptists (interestingly, no one seems to be afraid of having to join a kibbutz!). I don't hear that Dmitry is saying that becoming part of such a community is a sine qua non of the future of humanity. Maybe it's one way forward, and it is noteworthy for preserving an identity and sense of meaningful life that transcends generations and the ravages of the "outside world," but the only way open to us? How could we know that?

Having recently finished the Five Stages of Collapse, it is clear we are moving from our large, impersonal society to a far more local form of life in which trust among our neighbors and nearby towns will play a critical role. Currently, our "society" is based on impersonal, commercial and long-distance relationships with complete strangers, made possible because of a general expectation that everyone will do the job they're "supposed" to do, supported by legal and administrative strictures and punishments that provide an alternative basis of trust in lieu of direct personal knowledge. We are willing to buy and eat blueberries from Chile because we believe the impersonal, rule-based system that reasonably assures us that these blueberries are going to be just as safe and good as if they came from a local farmer whom we have known and dealt with all our lives. Of course, this system also creates huge moral hazard, because the basis of anonymous, global trust it creates provides numerous opportunities for exploitation that are simply not possible, or not possible on a large enough scale to make them "worth the risk," if life were far more local. For example, Chinese manufacturers of infants’ formula substituting a cheaper chemical for sale far from home, or global financiers playing games with subprime mortgages that a local bank lending to people in the community and retaining the mortgages would never do.

However, there is ample evidence of what a localized world looks like in a pre-industrial society. Just looking at English novels, for example, gives you a sense of how important it was that people recognized one another by the families they are a part of and the towns and villages they "belong to." It is fascinating to consider the manners exhibited, in say, an Austen novel, in dealing with newcomers or complete strangers. People took great care in protecting their person and identity. People had to be formally introduced by a personal acquaintance; you couldn't just open up and "share" with a complete stranger. You didn't just give your name to a complete stranger. The massive hectoring and personal intrusion that we call "advertising" would never be possible in such a society, and would be considered an intolerable presumption and affront. Even husbands and wives were careful of what they could say to one another. There is a notable absence of "bossing around" or offering of unsolicited opinions and advice.

This older form of social organization is also a kind of separatism that draws boundaries between the community and strangers, albeit not as impenetrable as the communities that Dmitry discusses. This kind of world, this sense of identity, did not survive industrialization, but maybe we will revert to this norm once the industrial world is no longer an option. Assuming some scale of food production beyond the size of a nomadic tribe is possible.

Ultimately, I see these as important questions that deserve consideration, but I am not sure that any of us will have the luxury of foreordaining the kind of future we will get to live in. Still, we need goals to strive for, informed by knowledge of what has worked before.

Sam Holloway said...

Bravo, sir.

subgenius said...

@ henry

"He becomes a combatant the moment he picks up the weapon, so you shoot him. There is no shame in that," is always my reply. But it does little to help him sleep."

No, he becomes a defender of his nation against agressive assholes from the US operating in contravention of anything that can be considered moral or acceptable...

You don't get a pass on asshole/criminal behavior because you enlisted.

Black said...

Suicide inside suicide outside, suicide seems to be useful in both cases. It's life telling you: sorry buddy, it only gets worse from here, better not take every one else down with you. Off with YOU now.

That was the YOU that you are no longer bumping around in on this planet anymore. Off with you now.

Of course we have all considered suicide, because its in our DNA to do it. Also, sex.

Anonymous said...

@ Edmond Dusa

Re. Native Americans and the "hypocritical shame liberals feel"

I don't know of any non-native liberals who would fit that description - none that feel guilt over the past, or who admire the stereotype of Native Americans that you describe.

But I do know of many local, wealthy Native Americans who closely resemble that description.

My less-than-well-off Native American friends and neighbors tell me very interesting stories about them all of the time (literally - every wednesday and friday, when we get drunk and poke fun at the world together).

so fuck you and the hallucination you rode in on and tried to run me over with ;).

Butch said...

Most of Dmitri's laundry list of American #1s-- obesity, violence, STDs, etc-- are a result of social inequality. The book THE SPIRIT LEVEL (and forthcoming documentary) explain why this is so.

Dmitri should have pointed out that all of his "abiding" societies are radically egalitarian (even while being in some cases segregated): Mormonism, the Anabaptists, the Roma, the Amish etc, plus all hunter-gatherer societies, feature little or no social stratification. While gender and sexual roles are generally more rigidly defined in these societies than in "modern" societies, you do not have Roma leaders who make 500 times what their followers do, as is now the case in the U.S., one of many reasons why these "traditional" societies also have much better health happiness etc.

With regard to the über-critical feminist argument about female unhappiness in traditional societies, it should be noted that the very "choice" so central to feminist (and other) demands has been repeatedly shown to contribute to unhappiness. To put it crudely, when people have to make too many choices, or choose among too many options, they become unhappy. This is true of everything from shopping to choosing a husband/wife to finding a good show on TV (detailed in the book THE PARADOX OF CHOICE).

One of the reasons that Mormons, Roma etc are often oddly content despite the issues they face is that they don't have the perennial "who am I?" and "what should I do?" questions to worry about. As Sartre and Kierkegaard (and Simone de Beauvoir) noted, identity is a burden.

Kevin Frost said...

Susan. I don’t really know enough to offer a qualified answer. The closest I’ve ever come to native American community life was when a friend of mine and I spent an evening at the local Bingo parlour drinking a bit over on the reservation outside of Kamloops, BC. The place was big, dingy, full of smoke and smelled like stale beer. Looked like most of the community was there. And it looked like this was so because they had nothing better to do. Sociologically speaking, I suppose one could frame this as assimilation at the bottom end of the scale. This being the extent of my first hand knowledge I’m obviously not competent to answer your question. But I have enough general history to know that these people, and those like them, from the Arctic Circle down to Patagonia, have been through what Larry Mercuroff called ‘the great death’ and this has been going on for 150 years or more. Now according to Guy McPherson, it sounds like the rest of us are up for a great death to. If we look at things in that light, then I’d say that, yes, we really do have things to learn from these ‘actually existing Indians’. They lost everything: land, languages, lots of culture, lots of everything they had. But they still have each other, some of them. Susan, this is worth writing home about. If our people still have that much left in the time of our grandchildren then we should probably regard this is as a best case scenario. You have expressed a desire to learn; please keep going.

Unknown said...

@Dave S. Nottier

Clearly I hit a nerve there. ;)

Why would wealthy native Americans even feel shame over what the white man did to them?
Makes no sense to me.

My point again is that liberals are fake and disingenuous. They pretend to feel empathy
when in reality they are simple massaging their own egos.

If you really feel ashamed over what you have done you would try to rectify the situation.
But no liberal is doing that. They are just mumbling on about how we should respect and
understand each other, and other such meaningless bullshit.

You want to do a truly ethical act? Well, there is a very easy to do that. Just give them
a substancial piece of land and allow them to live there on their own terms using their
own rules.

Unless you are willing to do that, you should just shut the fuck up with all the respect
and understanding talk. I call bullshit on that whole scam. In fact I respect someone
who is willing to state the obvious.

We fucked you native americans because we wanted the land and we could take it. We honored
no treaties and did everything we could to marginalize you and make you into a small and
insignificant minority. Now that you are that we are cool with that and wish you no further
harm. As long as you follow our rules and respect our customs.

Anonymous said...

@subgenius - I disagree (and Harry is not short for Henry). The soldier is the weapon, bound by oaths to serve and trusting that the person giving him the orders has the moral and legal authority to do so.

Theirs is not to question why...

You're applying civilian logic to military people in a military situation, where the world is seen through, and only through, the military paradigm. That's kind of like looking at an Amish community through the eyes of ... liberal feminists ... to pluck a random example out of the air.

Soldiers go though a initiation into the life of the military, it's called basic training. I use the term initiation in the sense of a death and rebirth experience, that of the old civilian life is mercilessly destroyed, and a new personality, one with the values of the military firmly implanted, especially the virtue of obedience to the chain of command.

They are not given the same "programming" when they come back, so it takes years to stop seeing the world though the paradigm of a soldier, some never do.

Please do not let your anger be misdirected at those who are part of the 'collateral damage' of the so-called war on terror. Many of those soldiers are victims too, as they they try to reconcile what was acceptable in the service with the view on civvie street that this was "murder".

I don't need to blame the soldier for the actions they did on behalf of the American people. They do that to themselves every time they close their eyes.

The blame lies with those who made the decision to put those troops, and those citizens, both military and civilians of other sovereign countries, in harms way. It is those people who are subject to the civilian paradigm that you are applying to the situation.

Those people are easy to hold accountable. If you live in a country that sent troops to the middle east in the last couple of decades, all you need do is look in a mirror.

There again, I do not blame Americans for keeping silent, it's scary out there. Confronting those in power is frightening and largely ineffective.

I hide my cowardice behind the fact that I'm a resident alien, not a citizen, and thus the government is not subject to my opinions.

One of the reasons I refuse to take American citizenship, even though dual citizenship has some advantages, is what it means to be American these last few years: to be party to indiscriminate human rights abuses every day.

That's not the life most Americans were born into.

"Why are you here then?" is a common response from the black/white programming of most of the people around me. My answer is simple: I stay because of the relationships I built with the people around me, as I watched the American Dream became a nightmare of slow, grinding collapse. I arrived on these shores to hear the last echoes of those freedoms your forefathers died for.

Being here means bearing witness to how a once proud people did in fact, go silently into the night.

Anonymous said...


I need to read Slavoj Zizek, my theory is that it's not so much the "righteous concern" is as the subconscious response to mentally putting yourself in the shoes of a person you can identify with, being discriminated against. The wellspring of emotions and thoughts, what would I do in that situation, what would I do? is going to trigger a rush of chemicals in the brain, not much different from any other perceived danger.

The more empathic the person, the more they can see themselves in the other person's shoes, the more the experience of identification becomes a roller-coaster addiction.

When the motive of is to get another adrenalin rush from feeling indignant, cleverly hidden by the subconscious behind that "Righteous Indignation", is it any wonder their minds jump on any opportunity?

Righteous Indignation is an addiction, one I fought and beat. I think giving up nicotine was easier.

Anonymous said...

@ Edmond Dusa

I get it now - I apologize for the friendly fire. I've been especially paranoid lately (but I've earned it, really, I have) and clearly read into your post things you did not intend.

I do like your idea for ethical land re-distribution, but here in the USA ethics, like Facts, are considered "stupid things" and are too inconvenient for consideration.

Again, my apologies for my wrong assumptions the intent of your post, and thank you for thoughtful and courteous response.

Anonymous said...

Re. Native Americans

Preface - There are a lot of positives we can learn from Native American culture - both past and present.


1. Like the Amish and the rest of us, they have and continue to make compromises. And as a rule, those compromises tend to favor sticking their hands, heads, asses etc deeper into the industrial monkey trap (there are some possible exceptions worth keeping an eye on - e.g. 1st nations canada vs the sick pink apes in the occupation government)

2. The "compromises" are usually decided in favor of "jobs" and "economic development" ( ... in the old days whiskey and trinkets did the trick...). And it is usually the Wealthy Leaders that make the compromise, and benefit the most, and who should be stoned first (I am collecting small, fist-sized stones... nice collection so far).

3. This creates divisions within the community and the Wealthy, "Triune-God Fearing" are usually the victors in any disputes (ask the Navajo about their oil...).

Watching this closely for a very, too-long time first-hand - and from afar for natives living elsewhere - it resembles very much the usual tactics used by our governments to get at Other People's Resources.

One of my friend's grandmother said (very close paraphrase):

"The elders and leaders used to give away the most, now they have the most - new cars, big houses, big money."

IMHO, again, very few tribes have "Elders" - most have frauds like Obama (pigs with lipstick who know-not-who-they-serve).

The good news - there are "underground" leaders in some tribes who are not on industrial dope and who might be able to salvage some of those "positives we can learn from Native American culture - both past and present" that I mentioned above.

(this is a deep subject and I hope i did not do a grave disservice to it with this pitiful comment ;)

Unknown said...

who provided the art work for this post? I like it!

KL Cooke said...

"Dmitry - sorry, that was a joke (fails in text, sounded good in my head ;)."

No, it works. Dmitry is himself a satirist, so this is an example of the shoemaker's kid going barefoot.

Kevin Frost said...

Poisoned Pills Cont.

The rules for a bhikshu number about 250. All the obvious ones: no killing, lying, stealing, senselessness and such but then when you get down the line it’s things like ‘don’t wash your bowl in a rapid flowing stream’. One time this happened, bowl was gone (gate gate). Word got back and the Buddha said don’t do it. So it just got added on. Things come up along the way and in response to the evolving situation a way of life takes shape.

Here we’re considering the logic of abiding communities in the wake of universalist criticisms of specific communities which are judged not by their own logic and significance but from the vantage point of a certain civilisation which disdains to empathise but rather presumes to judge from above. This presumption is backed by an old notion of teleology, formally discussed by Aristotle and recycled ever since. It basically holds the we come from disreputable beginnings (unlike Plato who believed in a long term decline from a distant golden age). Aristotle, perhaps tongue in cheek, said that the remote ancestors of the then contemporary Greeks were the Cyclops that Odysseus tangled with on his way home from sacking Troy. Modest beginnings, but it gets better, progressive history in a nutshell. More recently the teleological logic has been refined to conceive our present condition as subsuming the past, the present overcomes and goes beyond the past but nonetheless retains it. From this proceeds an influential school of anthropological thought to the effect that ‘primitive’ folks are just like us but at an ‘arrested’ stage of development. These are the ones deemed suitable for plantation labour and mining activities without pay. But the point of the developmental logic is ‘look within’. You don’t have to know the other, the other is within but at a lower stage of development. So actually, the real business of anthropology is self discovery. Napoleon Chagnon went to Brazil looking for Man in a Perfect State of Nature, found what he was looking for, confirmed that human nature is fallen just like Augustine and Co. said it was, went home and wrote the book that fleshed out what Marshal Sahlins calls ‘The Western Illusion of Human Nature (available free online) and got a chair in anthropology at an American university. Academics have their bit to play in the overall scheme of things and are accordingly well endowed to provide suitable explanations for things the economic, political, and military folks are going to do anyway. Therefore putting yourself in the others shoes is out of the question; there is no other but that already affirmed by selfsameness. Case closed. Don’t bring it up again.

We thus arrive at ‘do unto others,’ ‘judge not,’ and our colloquial ‘put yourself in their shoes’. These sayings have a dialectical edge to them. Reciprocity is telling Judgement from Above to fuck off, sort of. But it’s interesting. Reciprocity threatens Judgement from Above because of it’s very nature and thus Judgement keeps its distance .. from love.

The rest is ritual. But now we run into more problems. I don’t like those new age ritual thingies either (but don’t tell Dr. Baker this.) I probably would have hung out with Gail to. We could talk about the Iroquois. Her take on them is pure Napoleon Chagnon. Like Conrad. (What she doesn’t know (?) is that the leading prophecy of these people (Handsome Lake) was to do with the time of changes that would be heralded by the trees dying from the tops down.) But anyway, this poison pill theory brings us up to date.

Last point. This won’t take long. If we’re clear that Pussy Riot is the problem then it ought to be obvious that Dixie Chicks is the solution. OK?


Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Harry J Lerwill believes that there's no shame in imperial mercenaries shooting six-year-old children in an imperialy-aggressed country. Is that right? Seems a pretty shameless idea.

Unknown said...

If the pivot of righteous indignation is the judging of others by own presumed better standards, then learning shame might be helped by contemplation of own true ignorance and hypocrisy.

While some doleful head-hanging is in order, it surely can also be a rueful and hilarious exploration rather than just selfflagellation. Theres a sort of radical disarmament of the heart that can lead to weeping tears of laughter at our own foolishness, and that might be a hidden gate thru the selfrighteous walls many live behind. Works for me anyway, betimes.