Why Are Shame Cultures So Shameless?
Shame is not a healthy or adaptive emotion around which to organize a culture, any more than it's a good idea to organize your personality around being easily shamed. Vulnerability to intense shame is a biological marker of psychopathology, whether individually or collectively. It is the sine qua non of what I call a "mind parasite," or internalized pattern of disturbed interaction with early caregivers.
Shame is an important social emotion that was selected by evolution for a very useful purpose. That is, it tempers our narcissism and helps to socialize us. Remember, evolution selected humans as a group animal first--our individual identity is a very recent historical development superimposed upon our primordial "groupishness." Shame is one of the evolutionary mechanisms for inhibiting certain kinds of undesirable behaviors that the child might otherwise find quite pleasurable.
Shame and embarrassment are completely absent in the infant up to the age of at least 12 months, and are generally first observed between 14 and 18 months. By 15 to 16 months, the toddler is particularly susceptible to narcissistic "deflation." Think of the ecstatic, hyper-aroused baby looking into its mother's face for mirroring and confirmation.
Shame first arises in this intersubjective space, depending upon the mother's response to her baby. A rejecting or neutral response leads to a sudden "decrescendo" of affect that feels subjectively like a downward spiral, as if the floor as been pulled out from under one. Shame throws a social "flood light" upon the individual, causing a desire to bury one's face or disappear from view.
Shame is actually a biological state that becomes hardwired in, a sudden switch from sympathetic arousal to parasympathetic dampening. It can be observed outwardly in the infant through such "end products" as loss of social smile, averting the eyes, loss of muscle tonus, and blushing (caused by sudden vasodilation).
We do not come into the world with the ability to autoregulate shame. Rather, it is one of those things that will achieve a "set point" depending on the quality of early attachment experiences. Ideally, shame will be experienced only gradually and in small doses, so as to not overwhelm the child's ability to deal with it. But early and frequent experiences of shame can be a source of transmission of severe emotional disorders associated with the under-regulation of aggression.
When we talk about "shame cultures," we are actually talking about cultures that have failed for whatever reason to produce people who can autoregulate shame. In other words, we are dealing with shame dysregulating cultures. Our own culture has a subculture of such individuals--they are called "narcissistic personalities."
The narcissistic personality is exquisitely vulnerable to dysregulated shame, and therefore builds a personality around the attempt to avoid shame and humiliation at all costs. That is, they cannot have the experience of shame in its regulated state. Rather, it immediately becomes dysregulated, plunging them into existential despair, depression, and confusion. Things like grandiosity, exaggerated self esteem, and a sense of entitlement are all designed to undercut the catastrophic emergence of shame.
Thus, the shame-prone narcissistic personality often becomes the shameless personality, because his shame is just too painful to experience. It cannot be tolerated, so it is simply bypassed or otherwise avoided. These are very brittle personalities. They always show a preponderance of shame over guilt (which is a later and more sophisticated developmental emergence), and they are quick to experience narcissistic rage in response to any narcissistic injury. They are extremely vulnerable to humiliation, and may respond to even a hint of it with self-righteous rage or "humiliated fury."
Now I ask you, whom does this remind you of? What kind of person--what kind of culture--would go ballistic with narcissistic fury at the rumor of a cartoon that insults one's narcissistic ego ideal?
Let us bear in mind that the dysregulation of shame is ultimately rooted in psychotoxic parenting, characterized by an insecure, depressed, angry, or otherwise emotionally unavailable mother. In the Arab Muslim world, women are third class citizens, while boys are elevated to the status of godlike little tyrants with an abundance of unearned self-esteem. In other words, they are valued for doing nothing, just for being boys. These boys are raised by adoring, doting and narcissistically disturbed mothers who project their own idealized, unrealistic ego ideal into their male children, producing an unbridgeable gap between the child's actual self and and their impossibly idealized self.
Voila! Through the systematic denigration of women, the culture self-replicates by churning out grandiose, narcissistic, entitled, angry, and brittle men who project their own devalued, degraded self into women and infidels. In this manner, the cultures of the Muslim Middle East are largely shameless culture filled with men who are disoriented by a world that doesn't mirror the bizarre entitlement they feel is their birthright. This wrong and disappointing world must be angrily torn down and destroyed, replaced with one that will properly mirror their inherent greatness.
We look at the external squalor, backwardness and barbarism of much of the Arab Middle East, and are naturally shocked. But truth be told, it is simply the inevitable objectification of their disordered and dysregulated internal state. That sorry state, my friends, is a caliphate worse than death.
UPDATE--From Little Green Footballs today, with my translation of the unconscious message:
“Defending the prophet [read: regression to infantile rage] should continue worldwide,” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, told the crowd. “Let Condoleezza Rice, Bush and all the tyrants [read: our projected tyrannical superegos] shut up: We are a nation that can’t forgive [read: we are unbearably ashamed of ourselves], be silent or ease up when they insult our prophet and our sacred values [read: when we are narcissistically injured].”
“Today, we are defending the dignity of our prophet with a word [read: we are defending ourselves from our own shame], a demonstration but let George Bush and the arrogant world [read: the real world that painfully reminds us of how pathetic we are] know that if we have to ... we will defend our prophet with our blood, not our voices [read: we will react to our unbearable shame with dysregulatred rage],” Nasrallah added.
Another nugget from LGF:
NEW YORK - Muhammed Zahny is upset - and not about the cold wind that is keeping customers away from his store on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. “If I lose money, I don’t care,” says Mr. Zahny, who owns “Islamic Fashions.” “But if I lose respect, then I have nothing left.”
Correction. To quote that great philosopher Muddy Waters, "You can't lose what you ain't never had." You are so brittle and your shame is so dysregulated that it just makes you feel like nothing.