Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shame and Contempt, Suicide and Genocide

In the second ring of the seventh circle is the Wood of the Suicides. As mentioned a couple of posts back, it is difficult for us to understand how violence against the self could be morally lower than violence toward others, so let's see if we can make sense of Dante's scheme.

Upton summarizes what is at issue by noting that "the ego did not create the soul and so the ego cannot destroy it; that is the problem with suicide." However, the ego also didn't create anyone else's soul, so this seems neither here nor there.

Dante and Virgil then come upon a fellow -- the particulars are unimportant -- "who killed himself because he couldn't endure the disgrace," and this gets closer to the heart of the matter, to what might be thought of as a lethal combination of shame and narcissism.

Upton elaborates: "Those who habitually scorn others have, in effect, built their whole lives upon scorn, which is why they can't stand being scorned; they have developed no other psychological or spiritual foundation."

As we all know, there are shame cultures and guilt cultures, the former much more psycho-developmentally primitive than the latter. Most people fail to draw a distinction between shame and guilt, but shame is developmentally prior, and hence, more problematic if it becomes dysregulated due to early trauma (i.e., damage closer to the foundation causes more weakness to the structure).

The problem with shame cultures is not shame per se, but dysregulated shame. What results is a mass of people who actually cannot tolerate shame, and therefore build their culture around that fact. The culture becomes, in effect, a collective defense against shame.

As an aside, our Judeo-Christian culture is -- or should be -- a guilt culture, which is developmentally higher and more mature.

But what is shame that we should be so mindful of it? How can something that arises in three year olds become so deep, persistent, and painful, to the point that one would prefer suicide to enduring it? A psychotically shame-prone person -- or culture -- would prefer to annihilate the eyes that judge him than endure their gaze. If he can't destroy them, then he'll destroy the self (but note that the gazing and judgmental eyes are just a projection of the shame-prone self).

All of this was brought home to me quite vividly in Max Hastings' Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. Because of the fascination with Hitler, Japan's enormities tend to be given less prominence, but on the scale of evil, they were every bit his equal.

But what could these very different cultures possibly share in common? Racism? Imperialism? Militarism? Yes, but each of these was in service to something much deeper: racial and cultural superiority, on the one hand, and its underground twin, intense shame. The superiority and shame are just two sides of the same narcissistic coin. Thus, it is no surprise at all that thousands of Japanese and Germans committed suicide in the wake of their loss of World War II. The shame was just unendurable.

One of the reasons why shame is deeper and more problematic than guilt, is that the former has to do with being rather than just action. Guilt pertains to merely doing wrong, but shame applies to existence itself -- to being wrong (or rather, wrong being). It is "existential," which is why so many Germans and Japanese simply could not endure the pain of a world in which they were not only conquered, but ruled, by their contemptible "inferiors."

The examples in both Armageddon and Retribution are far too numerous to catalogue, but one of the things -- perhaps the only thing -- that made Japan such a formidable enemy was their absolute lack of concern for the lives of their soldiers. Obviously, American GIs wanted to survive the war and go on with their lives, but this placed a sharp limit on what they were willing to do in order to achieve victory.

The Japanese had no such limits, except in scattered individual cases. For them, it was literally a suicidal war, and they knew it. However, they believed in their hearts that they could so impress and cow the allies with their suicidal displays of psychotic violence, that we would eventually back down. "Many shared a delusion that human sacrifice... could compensate for a huge shortfall in military capability" (Hastings). The commander in charge of kamikaze operations said that "If we are prepared to sacrifice twenty million Japanese lives in 'special attacks,' victory will be ours."

Well, yeah. In reality, *only* 4,000 kamikaze pilots are known to have died, about one in seven successfully inflicting major damage to an allied ship (Hastings).

In this regard, the Japanese were exactly like the Islamists, whose only advantage is their belief that they love death more than we love life. A corollary to this is that -- to paraphrase Golda Meir -- there will be peace in the Middle East when Arabs love their own children as much as they hate Jewish children.

Here again, the parallels with Germany and Japan are exact. For example, so unconcerned were the Japanese with individual survival, that they they didn't furnish life rafts on their ships (furthermore, if soldiers knew they could survive, they might not fight to the death). To be taken prisoner was completely unacceptable, again, an unendurable shame. It was assumed that fighting to the death and then going down with the ship was preferable to living with the shame of being taken prisoner.

Likewise, while Americans would go to great lengths to try to rescue downed pilots from the sea, the Japanese usually left theirs to perish, despite the high cost of training skilled fliers. And of course, this also explains their savage treatment of allied prisoners, whom they regarded as subhuman in their willingness to prefer captivity over death.

One of innumerable examples: "Thousands of Japanese civilians in Saipan chose to kill themselves, most by leaping from seashore cliffs, rather than submit to the American conquerors" (Hastings).

Japanese soldiers were routinely placed in situations in which death wasn't only probable or likely, but absolutely certain. We all know about the thousands of kamikazes, but the ground soldiers were just as bad. They knew full well that they could not prevail in places like Iwo Jima, and yet, they fought on to the last man (or last suicide).

Before the battle, soldiers were explicitly told that they should regard their foxhole as their grave, which they were to defend from the Americans who wish to desecrate it. Military handbooks warned that "The man who would not disgrace himself must be strong.... Do not survive in shame as a prisoner. Die, to ensure that you do not leave ignominy behind you!"

I might add that Stalin treated his own POWs the same way. Russian soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Germans were not only given no sympathy, but imprisoned in the Soviet Union long after the war ended.

It is amazing to think that one of the cards Stalin played at Yalta was the disproportionate number of Soviet soldiers killed in the war. But the only reason so many Soviet soldiers died is because Stalin couldn't have cared less how many Soviet soldiers were killed. As with the Japanese, they were routinely placed in situations in which death was a certainty. And anyone who resisted was shot or hanged on the spot. (The Japanese preferred the bayonet.)

The magnitude of the catastrophe resulting from Japan's dysregulated shame is beyond conception. By 1944 it was clear that they could not win the war, and yet, they fought on: "In the last phase, around two million Japanese people paid the price for their rulers' blindness, a sacrifice which availed their country nothing" (Hastings).

Because of the inability to tolerate shame, certain thoughts were literally unthinkable for the Japanese. Due to primitive defense mechanisms, their minds "couldn't go there."

As Hastings explains, "such habits of culture and convention represented a barrier to effective decision-making, which grew even harder to overcome as the war situation deteriorated." In such a psychotic atmosphere, unwelcome news is simply denied. It cannot be. "No one was allowed to say what he really thought," so it was impossible to "explore better ways to do things."

The Japanese also engaged in systematic rape of those they conquered, which in addition to everything else, involves a kind of psychic transmission of shame to the victim. This reflected the low status of women in Japan, which is again an artifact of shame. Anyone who is prone to shame is going to need others to devalue, and into whom they can project their own inferiority.

Hastings notes that "many Japanese soldiers took pride in sending home to their families photographs of beheadings and bayonetings." In the diary of one dead soldier, he "wrote of his love for his family, eulogised the beauty of a sunset -- then described how he participated in the massacre of Filipinos during which he clubbed a baby against a tree." As Hastings, observes, these types of incidents weren't just aberrations but the reflection of "an ethic of massacre."

So I think we can see the problems that arise when suicide becomes a collective virtue.

Immobilized by shame, paralyzed by suicide.

23 Comments:

Blogger ge said...

Filmmaker Jodorowsky had a real Japanese Zen master in Mexico city; whose mother had walked into a lake to drown and kill herself as a young woman---the reason? The first wrinkle had appeared on her renowned face

2/22/2011 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>"Thousands of Japanese civilians in Saipan chose to kill themselves, most by leaping from seashore cliffs, rather than submit to the American conquerors" <<

I could be wrong, but I think in this instance the Saipan civilians - many of whom were women with children - were told by the Japanese that the Americans would torture, rape, etc., them. Thus the mass suicides. I'm sure, however, that, due to their shame culture, the Japanese desired this outcome.

2/22/2011 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

True, but the Japanese projected into the Americans precisely what they intended to do to Americans -- just as the Germans projected into Jews and Arabs into Israelis.

2/22/2011 09:56:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Will, I was about to pick up the same quote, but for a different reason.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it strikes me that there's a key there in how the shame culture relates not only to outsiders, but to God, to goodness, and to life as such. It is a hard thing to acknowledge that there is truth greater than the egoic self, and to submit oneself to that truth. To do so, for one grounded in shame, is to lose face.

Re. the low status of women in Japan, I suppose that's part of the impetus behind their fondness for sadistic anime porn featuring little girls. As disturbing as that is, I guess it's better than an enduring cultural fondness for genocide...

2/22/2011 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Also, American GIs were aware of the reality of what the Japanese would do to them if captured. This naturally made them fight harder, but I doubt that many committed suicide.

2/22/2011 10:17:00 AM  
Anonymous Barry O. said...

Huh! And all this time I thought the reason we fought WWII against the Japanese was because of our inherent American racism towards the yellow man. At least that's what my beloved spiritual mentor/preacher always told me.

2/22/2011 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Back to the post,


Upton summarizes what is at issue by noting that "the ego did not create the soul and so the ego cannot destroy it; that is the problem with suicide." However, the ego also didn't create anyone else's soul, so this seems neither here nor there.


Hm.

I think I get what she's saying here; I'm not sure I understand why it should be immaterial.

2/22/2011 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

If he can't destroy them, then he'll destroy the self (but note that the gazing and judgmental eyes are just a projection of the shame-prone self).

It's all through Job who was tormented by suffering as well as by the shame of the suffering. He cried out for annihilation and regretted that he had ever been born. However, when his wife suggested he "curse God and die" -- i.e., kill his worthless self, he rejected her counsel as foolish.

I think most suicides understand at some level that they are, in effect, flipping God l'oiseau -- or rather, are attempting to do so.

2/22/2011 11:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Masayuki said...

The Japanese are not yellow, but white or pale brown.

I don't know of any people who are yellow. Brown is more like it.

Even most black people are brown.

Even most white people look pretty brown for the most part.

Let's be objective please.

Now as far as racism goes, back in '05 Teddy and Taft figured the Asians couldn't even govern themselves, let alone make war.

Wrong and wrong. Ouch.

2/22/2011 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Corn Flake Blizzard said...

Teddy R. was a culture of shame unto himself with his muscular Christianity and fear of being seen as foppish and effete.

But generally your observations about guilt are well taken. Guilt produces a neurotic but not a savage soldier.

2/22/2011 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

For what it's worth, Germany and Japan are the only two major nations that boasted of governing male archetypes - the Fatherland and the Land of the Rising Sun.

I have to say, however, that Japan has become a mirror image of the USA in many respects, a kind of shadow partner. If China were to someday overwhelm Japan . . . that would be terrible. But, who knows, maybe the karmic birds of the Rape of Nanking must eventually fly.

2/22/2011 12:06:00 PM  
Anonymous spirit of fergus the cat said...

*Ditto about Japan, but Goma the Cat is pretty cool.

http://mycatgoma.com/

(*TM catsmart translater)

2/22/2011 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Aloysius said...

I lived in Japan and frequently heard right wing militaristic Gunka (war songs) played by right wing demonstrators through large speakers on sound trucks. They are very stirring. I finally broke down and bought a cassette that had the lyrics enclosed. I translated a few and noted that they were all extolling the virtue of dying for the emperor etc. I can't imagine a US soldier singing about dying. More likely singing about killing.

2/22/2011 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Apropos, Japan's WMD program.

2/22/2011 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Powerful post, Bob. Top 10'r.

These two clips seem to fit a little closer together:

"Obviously, American GIs wanted to survive the war and go on with their lives, but this placed a sharp limit on what they were willing to do in order to achieve victory.
...while Americans would go to great lengths to try to rescue downed pilots from the sea, the Japanese usually left theirs to perish."

The American GIs were limited in one way but not the other. Compare what each side was willing to do. Who was willing to risk lives in order to save lives and how this "generated" an advantage.

2/22/2011 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Because of the inability to tolerate shame, certain thoughts were literally unthinkable for the Japanese. Due to primitive defense mechanisms, their minds "couldn't go there."

This recalls Gil Bailie's book where he mentions I believe the Cook expeditions to a primitive tribe still practicing human sacrifice. When Cook explains to the King that back in "his world" the King would be considered a murderer for killing an innocent human being, and that he would be judged and executed for the crime. The King literally demands that Cook "not say another word!"

2/22/2011 02:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Tea with Scones, very Nice said...

After committing suicide one must go before the Lord and answer questions as to why the game was thrown.

By that time, the excuses sound lame and tawdry. It isn't pretty.

One's chances of another stint on the field get dicey. You may be benched for awhile.

It takes stomach to live. But that's where the glory is, and that's why everyone wants a shot at it.

Newbies, shocked and dismayed by the crudeness of it all, forget the objective and opt out prematurely. Everyone gets one or two of these flinches but then after that they better fly right or they get cut from the team.

2/22/2011 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Ming said...

What's wrong with China overcoming Japan? A larger, more deserving nation dominating a small island of syncophants and yes men? Not a problem here. An improvement.

Maybe then those bastards can pay down their Nanking debt. Late. With interest. Good.

2/22/2011 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have mostly thought of suicide as deliberately stalling oneself on the path to (possible)salvation. When I look back on my life and see what I was like at age 20 or 30 or 40 (I am 63) I cringe. I also thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ and the salvation freely offered. If I had killed myself at any age (I don't doubt I will look back at age 63 and see myself as considerably less than righteous) I would, at best, be frozen in that time with no hope of salvation as I would have made a deliberate choice to halt any advance toward such a state. Maybe that figures in Dante having the suicides rooted in place.

2/22/2011 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Japanese projected into the Americans precisely what they intended to do to Americans...

Speaking of projection, Taranto:

It's quite striking the way almost every lie the left ever told about the Tea Party has turned out to be true of the government unionists in Wisconsin and their supporters

2/22/2011 03:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Sal said...

Sir, since we're on the topic, you might find this of interest:

http://www.psr.edu/earl-lectures-2011-keynote-lecture-shaykh-hamza-yusuf

2/23/2011 04:58:00 AM  
Anonymous sehoy said...

Wow. Job. Dante. Concentration camp survivor memoirs.

Who knew that thirty years later I'd get some explanations and some relief.

It was Job who saved me. He knew something I did not. "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

You know what my first thought was when I saw the towers go down?

"That which I have feared has come upon me."

2/23/2011 06:49:00 AM  
Blogger Sal said...

Excellent, Bob.
Thanks for an excuse to screen "Bridge" one more time:
"Mom, are you watching that again?"
"It's research into shame-based cultures, dear."

2/23/2011 07:11:00 AM  

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