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This content was posted on  22 Mar 20  by   Metamoderna  on  Blog
Another Kind of Freedom & The Spectrum of Judgment

There are a few different emotions that control and limit our everyday lives with different avoiding-mechanisms, these being:

  1. Fear
  2. Guilt
  3. Shame

and…

  1. Sklaven­moral; the “internalized envy of others” (which relates closely to what Nietzsche called “slave morality” in German; with the risk of bending the Niet­zschean term, I will use this word).

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

These four emotions target our self, or “ego”: “I could die!” or “I am a loser!” Each of the four has a corresponding emotion when they target someone else, the other, when they target “you” or “alter”—as you will soon see. In any society you are likely to have these emotions lying dor­m­ant as cont­rol mech­an­isms of different sorts—whether it is Mamluk Egypt in the 13th century or present day Denmark.

At the basic level, then, beyond all measures and constitutional diff­er­ences and changes of social norms, the reason we can say con­tem­po­rary Den­mark is “more free”, is that people are avoiding different sets of emo­tions in their everyday lives than in 13th century Mamluk Egypt. If you screw up in today’s Denmark, you get sha­med on an internet meme and people call you names. It’s nasty, yes, but you don’t get tortured and stoned to death. If you have stra­n­ge opinions and habits in Denmark today, people think you’re a weirdo and you might have trouble getting a job. In 13th century Egypt, however, you may have to deal with the pro­spect of going to hell—before being ostracized and/or stoned at the town square.

Emotions are always there, and they always play a part in every poli­tical and social reality. After all: it’s one thing wo­men get stoned in Saudi Arabia because of sharia laws—but who exactly does the stoning? People with strong emotions of anger and judgment cast the stones, not holy scriptures. If people didn’t have these feelings, would they remain just as eager about physically punishing women for violating dated chast­ity codi­ces? Probably not.

Is it a coincidence that homosexuals enjoy great­er free­dom to express themselves and on average have more freedom from verbal and physical abuse in the “happier” Nordic countries than in the troubled, post-com­munist societies of Eastern Europe? No it’s not.

The relatively higher freedom in the Nordic countries is closely related to a more tolerant and acceptant emotional regime than in e.g. Russia or Pakistan. For instance, beating up gay people or throwing acid in the face of young sexually active women is as illegal in the former countries as in the latter, but somehow the emotional regime in the latter is more prone to generate negative emotions leading to such actions. Our personal free­dom even often depends more on the prevailing emo­tional regime than on our legal rights. And the two develop together, or not at all. The free­dom to be gay, but without the freedom from shame, fear and physical abuse, is, after all, no freedom at all.

Luckily, history has taught us that we can develop and chang­e the emo­tional regimes that govern our lives, and that there is a progression in which we have managed to liberate ourselves from the extent to which negative emotions control us.

As seen in the following table, there are four different sets of negative social emo­tions, each being some form of “judgment” of the self or other:

Spectrum_Judgment

Hence, you can think of these emotions as the spectrum of judgment. It should be clear that the emotional development of a pop­ulation plays a major part in determining how free life de facto is: We can, collectively and (in)dividually, climb or descend this spectrum of judgment.

These emotional regimes regulate our behavior by making us avoid re­percussions from others: 1) fear impels us to avoid hatred and violent aggression, 2) guilt to avoid moral judgment, 3) shame to avoid contempt, and 4) Sklavenmoral impels us to avoid that others feel envious of us.

We normally don’t walk around actually feeling these emotions; yet we are, to differing degrees, controlled by them: Because we avoid them, we don’t usually feel them, but because we do avoid them, we remain in their grip.

They constitute the invisible machinery that lets every­day life in any soc­iety run smoothly; indeed, that makes any society funct­ional at all. Again: The avoided negative emotions are, as it were, hidden in plain sight.

Subtler and less grossly oppressive emotions are of course the most dif­ficult to detect and to understand. In the field of emo­tional psychology, there is relatively little work on envy, an emotion which is almost always hidd­en away, even to the person who feels it. Sklaven­moral (literally “slave mor­ality”) is the internalized envy of others; when we feel sub­tle shame, not for our shortcomings, but for our streng­ths, talents and aspirations. Sklavenmoral has, to my know­ledge, only been theori­zed in Jungian terms —often in “integral” and New Age circles—as the “golden shadow”. The golden shadow is an ex­pression of dis­owned great­er pot­entials within our­selves which can lead us to idea­lize others, or to envy their talents.

Scholars in this field sometimes make the distinction between “feel­ings” and “emo­tions”. Feelings are more a day-to-day business; they fluct­uate throughout the day, as we feel happy or sad, frustrated or calm and so on. The “emotions” I’m talking about here are more deeply layered processes within ourselves: we love our families, are ashamed of our posi­tions in society, are embittered by perceived injustices or disappoint­ments and so forth. When we talk of emotional regimes, we mainly mean these more durable “emo­tions”, even if “feelings” may also play a part.

An important side to this is that the ego-emotions (fear, guilt, shame and Sklavenmoral) all partly depend on their “alter” counter­parts (hat­red, judgment, contempt and envy). If my mind is full of con­tempt towards fat and poor people, then I’m more likely to target myself with these emoti­ons, feeling shame if I should become fat and poor mys­elf. If I am judg­mental towards the perceived moral flaws of others (justifiably or not), then I’m also likely to judge myself more harshly, feeling like an un­worthy piece of dirt. And the reason I feel such contempt and jud­gment is that I have interna­lized a shame- and guilt-regime and begun to avoid certain behav­iors. As you can see, the “ego” and “alter” versions of the emotions are inti­m­ately conn­ect­ed.[i]

All of this lands us in what might look like a paradox: On the one hand, all societies rely upon these negative emotions—and our elaborate, learn­ed, often subtle behav­iors to avoid them—on the other hand, they limit the freedom of each and every per­son and the expressions of our relation­ships in all aspects of life.

Yet everyday life doesn’t work without sanctions. Sometimes we do need to condemn people for their actions. The question, then, is not how to get rid of these negative emotions altogether, but how to develop them. The answer to the dilemma is, again, a develop­mental-sociological per­spective; the insight that freedom is a coll­ective good—that we are freed together, or not at all, and that this is a matter of collective, or rather “trans­person­al”, development.

So once the highest Freedom House rating has been achieved, we are left with the momentous task of increasing freedom by developing how people truly feel, and specifically how we feel about and relate to one ano­ther.

Look again at the many citizens frolicking about in Stockholm. Each of them goes about their business, saying hello to friends, getting a coffee on the go, hurrying to their next appointment. On the surface they look as if they are making autonomous, individual choices. But then look at the streets of Pyongyang in North Korea—can you really tell the diff­erence? Here people are also, by the look of it, moving around freely doing their thing. And still, we know that the people in down­town Stock­holm enjoy much greater freedoms than citizens of Pyong­yang. The in­visible shackles are heavier in Pyongyang than in Stockholm, but they are present in both places, just to different degrees.

Look at it this way: What about all the things these people aren’t doing or express­ing, all the hopes and incli­nations that are suppressed and never talked about? How many are driven to work to make money to buy ex­pen­sive clothes in order to feel more adequate and less ashamed of them­selves? How many are stuck in peer groups in which they are not respect­ed? How many are pressured to do things at work that don’t rhyme with their values and convictions? How many simply feel they aren’t good enough? If all of these people were free in a deeper sense of the word, wouldn’t they use this freedom to address these issues?

The lack of freedom is, in this sense, largely invisible. And yet it is there. Our shackles insert themselves even prior to our conscious tho­ughts, prior to our choices made, our values formed, prior to the form­ation of our per­son­ality and sense of self.

Freedom is a collective concern, yes, but it is also intimate and rela­tional. Hence: transpersonal.

Yet this is no reason to despair; rather, it impels us to ask for high­er freedom, for another kind of freedom. It’s good news, in a way, because it means that the great game for human eman­cipation is still on.

The Hierarchy of Negative Social Emotions

Before we go on to analyze the emotional constraints to freedom, we must recognize the hierarchy of negative social emotions of con­trol. The spec­trum of judgment follows a certain logic or order.

  • fear trumps guilt,
  • guilt trumps shame, and
  • shame trumps Sklav­enmoral (the internalized envy of others).

This hierarchy is far from obvi­ous; many of us have known severe feel­ings of shame and know how exceedingly painful and paralyzing they can be. But stop for a moment to think about it. If you had the choice of being shamed by everyone as an ugly, bizarre, stupid and smelly loser, or, living with the guilt of having pushed a toddler out the window from the tenth floor, which would you choose? Despite the intense pain of strong shame, most normally functional people would prefer shame over guilt.

But can fear really trump guilt? I offer you another gruesome example: the civil war in Yugoslavia of the 1990s. You had people torturing one an­oth­er, slaughtering innocent civilians with knives and degrading them in death camps. When lives and physical safety were at stake, people cir­cum­vented their feelings of guilt and apparently acted without consci­en­ce—not to mention that any trace of a sense of shame and propriety was sud­den­ly gone with the wind. Fear and hatred could easily overturn any moral order and turn society into a nightmarish slug­fest of abuses. When intense fear was activated under an intermittent reign of terror, notions of guilt went out the window.

These grim realities speak volumes about the dark side of the human soul: that our notions of guilt can be expelled if we are put under suffi­cient pressure of fear and if the normal order of everyday life breaks down. To this day, people in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo are still grappling with the trauma that people they knew and cared about could commit such atro­cities, inform on each other, refuse to help, or simply become pass­ive on­lookers to murders and crimes.

And shame certainly trumps Sklavenmoral; shame relates to feeling bad because of your perceived negative sides, lacks and weaknesses—Sklav­enmoral relates to a subtler form of shame, one that targets your stre­ng­ths, hopes and aspirations. Sklavenmoral is when you are ashamed of your own strengths and positive traits. Even if Sklavenmoral (and its corres­pon­ding “alter”-emotion, envy) can be incredibly corrosive, it is hardly as painful as feeling inferior or unworthy.

Another way of recognizing the hierarchy between the four families of negative emotions is by comparing it to Abraham Maslow’s classical hier­archy of needs. As you may know, Maslow argued there is a complex (not entirely straightforward) hier­archy in which people first seek out physical safety and survival, then seek to esta­blish membership and inclu­sion into a community, then to gain est­eem, recognition and self-confid­ence within that community, and then move on to higher needs such as self-realiza­tion, self-expression and even self-transcendence.

If you compare this to the four families of negative emotions, a clear pattern presents itself:

  • Fear relates to maintaining physical safety by avoi­ding rage, hatred and aggression, i.e. to the first, basic needs according to Maslow’s hier­archy of needs.
  • Guilt relates to being a worthy member of a community, to showing one’s moral worth and value, that one is qualified to participate in society in the first place—so it has to do with
  • Shame relates to being an esteemed and recognized member of our in-group; we feel ashamed when we do not consider our­selves worthy of respect, the opposite of which is pride and self-esteem.
  • And Sklavenmoral relates to our higher aspirations and longings, hold­ing us back from self-realization, productive self-expression and ultim­ately from self-transcendence.

This is the hierarchy of negative emotions: fear, then guilt, then shame, then Sklavenmoral. By collectively climbing this hierarchy, we reach higher freedom.

Freedom as Societal Development

I have suggested that the different emotional regimes correspond to diffe­r­ent stages of societal development, and that they follow the hier­arch­ical logic described by Maslow: During early civilization, security re­main­ed the main concern in most people’s everyday lives; hence the fear-regime was the most dominant. Then, as states grew stronger and increas­ingly mana­ged to protect the life and property of citizens, the need for belong­ing be­came a more prominent issue, in turn making the guilt-regime the domi­nant one. And in modern societies, where the majority enjoy the privilege of being considered good citizens and no longer worry whether they’re seen as sinners or heathens, self-esteem has become a greater con­cern in many people’s lives, which has opened the door for the shame-regime to take over.

And today, in the most developed parts of the world, a new trend to­wards greater acceptance of people’s differences and perceived flaws is increasingly making the shame-regime less prominent. As a result, a grow­ing number of people tend to be more concerned with the higher emotional need for self-realization.

This is a development of increased freedom: first we liberate ourselves from fear of violence, then we liberate ourselves from the guilt of not being deserving members of society, and finally, as we’re seeing today, we’re liber­ating ourselves from the shame of not being perceived as good enough.

This doesn’t mean everyone in modern societies today never worry about violence or becoming moral outcasts. But most of us, most of the time, do enjoy the freedom to do and say what we damn please with­out risking physical abuse or social ostracism. And in a future, more listening society, most people will be free to be who they are without being ridi­culed or looked down upon.

However, at each stage, as we liberate ourselves from the constraints of the previous emotional regime, there will always be another kind of “un­freedom” as well.

Allow me to put this into a historical context.

It is commonplace within social science to see early state structures as local warlord enti­ties who uphold the social order by threats of vio­lence and physical dom­in­ance. The main emotional regime is hence based on fear. If you remove the fear of the warlord, or the fear of outside threats the warlord is protecting you from, society falls apart—as has hap­p­ened many times throughout history. The earliest state structures can therefore be said to be governed by the fear-regime. If you consider the gruesome dictates of early codes of laws, such as Hammurabi’s code (da­ting back to about 1754 BCE, in Babylonia), you find all sorts of grim cor­poral pun­ishment and death penalty for relatively small trans­gress­ions—the fear-regime in action. Grim as it is.

At the time of Hammurabi, fear simply remained the most efficient means available to governments to regulate people’s behavior. But as soci­eties grew larger and more complex, new social technologies came on­line—such as honor codes, ethics and organized religion. Fear and vio­lence as regulatory means thus got supp­lemented by abstract ideas of right and wrong, pure and impure. Beginning in the 1st millennium BCE, in both the Abrahamic religions in the West and the Buddhist[ii] and Con­fucian trad­itions in the East, we see an increased emphasis on moral puri­ty and hence upon guilt. Then, the heroes were no longer proud warr­iors and conque­rors, but saints and sages: those who are free from sin and who serve higher, often divine, purposes.

Supplementing a fear-regime with a guilt-regime offers notable com­petitive advantages to the governments who master it competently. Guilt is, first of all, more “cost-efficient” than fear. Coercing people into follow­ing the law and paying their taxes requires expensive weapons and sol­diers. Paying a priest to tell folks they’ll accumulate bad karma and go to hell if they don’t behave nicely can be done rather cheaply. In addition, since people generally do what they please if they believe they can get away with it, fear of physical punishment will only be efficient as long as the risk of being caught is sufficiently high. No spear, no fear. And since it’s impossible to survey and patrol all of society all of the time, there will always be areas and situations where fear is less efficient. A guilt-regime, however, doesn’t re­quire the continuous presence of soldiers to be effici­ent. If the social­ization process of a person has been successful, emotions of guilt arise automa­tically from the judgments of others whenever they do something pro­hibited—all without any direct interference by rulers.

The guilt-regime also has another perk up its sleeve: It can increase the likelihood of people treating each other better. Fear is a rather rudim­en­tary means of regulating behavior: “do this, don’t do that, or else!” Given the high costs of maintaining the trustworthiness of the “or else”, it’s only eco­nomically viable to limit its use to things such as ensuring that people don’t kill each other or steal each other’s property. Threatening people with force if they won’t treat one another kindly or help each other in times of need just isn’t very likely to work.

Rel­igious leaders like Jesus and the Buddha argued against the rule of sheer force and recast the theo­logies of their times in more egalitarian and forgiving terms: The God of the New Testament is less fear­ mongering and more forgiving than the one in the Old Testament—Yahweh was originally the deity of war in the pre-Judaic Hebrew pantheon. But the God of the New Testament is still more demanding when it comes to hon­est devotion and purity of intentions. And the Buddha places greater em­ph­asis on pers­onal responsibility for one’s own enli­ghten­ment. The fear-regime is thus supplemented by a guilt-regime, which partly diminishes the logic of fear in everyday life.

The guilt-regime can even be militarily advantageous. The traditional Japanese warrior code, the Bushido, let the minds and bodies of the Sam­urai be trained to let honor and loyalty trump the fear of pain and death. Such codes of honor and valor work by disciplining the mind and letting guilt (and shame) defeat the more basic emotion of fear. This leads to military strength and social cohesion, which makes for coll­ective compe­titive ad­van­tages.

The transition to the third stage, the shame-regime, which is tied to the emergence of modern soc­iety, has been extensively described by the social theorist Norbert Elias (who never em­ploy­ed this terminology, but whose sociology certainly feeds into this model). When Elias lived in London as an exile (a German Jew who fled the Nazis), he sat down to work in the British Museum. There he came across a wide array of eti­quette guides from different epochs and noticed a striking patt­ern: The etiquette became increasingly refined as West­ern Europe modern­ized. Whereas the early guides contained rather crude sugg­estions, such as not wiping one’s nose in the table cloth and not burping in public, the later ones revolved around more subtle things such as the correct use of cutlery and how to entertain exquisite conversations.

From these obser­vations, linked to an analysis of the political develop­ments at the courts, Elias formulated his theory of the civilizing process (pre­sented in a 1939 masterpiece with the same title).[iii] What you see here is that modern life en­tails a transition into a behavioral self-regulation at the royal courts, into soph­ist­icated “manners” instead of knightly “valor”. These ideals later spread to the bourge­oisie (as these sought to emulate the nob­ility), and then to society as a whole as the middle class grew, empha­sizing qua­l­ities of personal propriety and a “dignified” or “cult­ured” or “civil­i­zed” demean­or of ordinary citizens in urban life.

Elias shows us how the strong norms of cleanliness (showering, show­ing up at work in a ironed shirt every day, eating carefully, avoiding to let out bodily sounds or odors, keeping our homes neat and tidy) make an en­trance and take root as modern society emerges. The fact that these norms hold people so firmly in their grip today can be seen as a result of this civilizing process. And the way we keep a polite distance, res­pect the priv­acy of strangers and generally keep our neurotic thoughts to ourselves can also be seen as outflows of this emotional regime.

If anyone breaches any of these codes without a good excuse (I’m a comedian; this is a bachelor party; this was a social media experiment or flashmob; you’re on Candid Camera!; this is a ther­apy session, etc.), they do so at the risk of being viewed as weird, creepy or at least very unrel­ia­ble. Inst­ead of fearing the warlord, or feeling guilty before God or the comm­unity, modern people self-regulate according to a large host of mechanisms of shame and emb­arr­a­ss­ment. The obsession we have with embarrassment, in every­thing from movie com­edies to reality shows to radio talks where people call in to share their embarrassing sto­ries, serves to underline just how pervasive the shame-regime is in modern society.

Of course, shame exists in pre-modern societies as well, but it does not have the same degree of pervasiveness and importance as a regulator of everyday life interactions. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that the great sociologist of modern everyday life, Erving Goffman, focused so much on the role of shame and embarrassment in our interactions—as have many of the contemporary students of the sociology of emotions, notably Thomas Scheff.[iv]

Again, it’s not that fear and guilt entirely disapp­ea­red; it’s just that they have been pushed further into the back­ground. Fear and guilt are still the means used by the justice system to prevent people from breaking the law, but this plays a minimal role in most people’s lives. In functional modern societies, violence and public con­demnation are simply minor concerns to the majority compared to that of being seen as a loser, a slob, a hypocrite, being fat and ugly, not being sufficiently refined and cultivated, etc.

That modern people spend so much time and energy on such concerns may appear petty and unnecessary, and to a large extent it is. However, the shame-regime does regulate a multitude of subtle behaviors that are needed for society to run smoothly.

Modern society depends on a much greater amount of daily interac­tions among a higher number of people than in any earlier society. For this high level of social complexity to be possible, it is re­quired that people interact with each other as little friction as possible, with little external regulation. In such a setting it is crucial to have a shame-regime that im­pels people to be more considerate: to treat one another with a mini­mum of respect and politeness, respect other’s per­sonal space, not saying offen­sive things, not to smell, not making a lot of noise, not showing anger, not throw gar­bage around, and so on.

This is quite important when millions of strangers with different beli­efs, values, social status and interests must go about their daily business with one another in a hectic and stressful urban environment without ending up in quarrels and fights all the time. And it is something the fear- and guilt-regimes just aren’t suitable for. After all, sending in the cavalry or issuing a fatwa every time someone burps or says something offensive simply isn’t feasible.

So once again we see a clear progression: fear is capable at regulating the most fundamental behaviors needed for society to function (pre­ven­ting murder, theft, etc. make people pay taxes), guilt can make people treat each other in more benign way, and finally we have shame which can make people more considerate towards each other. Again, we also see how the later emotional regime is more cost-efficient than its predecessor: from the very expensive monopoly of violence of the fear-regime, over the less costly religious institutions of the guilt-regime, to the almost free-of-charge social norms of the shame-regime.

The transition to the shame-regime became much more pronounced in the general population during the 20th century. Shame and em­barr­ass­ment may ultim­ately be less powerful than guilt and fear, but they are cer­tainly easier to elicit in people in a world of mass media and an on­going debate in a public sphere. During World War One, for instance, there was a clear difference between the propaganda posters of the Germ­ans (em­pha­sizing loyalty, honor and sacrifice) and those of the slightly more modern British and Americans (emphasizing the shame of being the only man not at the front, being a girlish coward “Gee, I wish I were a man, I’d join the navy!” or asking “Are you a man or are you a mouse?” or showing a picture of people contri­buting to the war effort, asking the viewer “What are you doing?”). These examples all speak to the esteem of the self, to shame. The British propa­ganda proved especially efficient, and there was even a prob­lem with young boys preten­ding to be older than they actually were so that they too could go to war. As a result, whole cities and villages all over Britain were emptied of young men at the beginning of the war even though conscription had not been introduced yet.

The way the British government used the shame-regime to bolster its military capabilities during the First World War is actually sim­ilar to how modern companies make us buy their products. Comm­ercials often rely upon an elaborate balance between eliciting desire and shame. Because self-esteem is such a prevailing concern in the lives of most modern peo­ple, we’re flooded with commercials targeting our insecurities and emoti­onal need for social recognition by tuning into the prevailing shame-regime. We’re thus taught to feel ashamed about a bit of dandruff, being a little fat, having unfashionable clothes, even our hairy armpits (if you’re a wo­man).

And with that, we enter the new battlefields of modern society: the many struggles to recon­stitute the shame-regime; to change which behavi­ors and identities can and should be shamed, and which to be liber­ated from it.

You see, the strugg­les for “freedom” change at each stage. Initially, the fear-regime was contested by various monopolies on violence that chal­l­­enged each other in mortal combat to determine who should be fear­ed, who’s freedom should prevail: the independent Greek city-state or the Per­sian Empire, Roman law or Attila the Hun, the Islamic caliphate or Genghis Khan—at stake is the kind of “freedom” that Mel Gibson yelled about at the top of his lungs in the movie Braveheart (disregarding the fact that Braveheart is notorious for being one the most historically incor­rect movies of all time).

Then, as the fear-regime waned in favor of the guilt-regime with the great world religions and wisdom traditions, the struggle began to define and redefine what kind of guilt-regime should prevail: who does God con­demn, what should be seen as sin, whose moral teachings should we foll­ow, and so on. This is where we find the great schisms between Sunni and Shia Islam and the Roman Catholic Church and its Greek Orthodox counterpart, the many conflicts between Christians and Muslims, the bru­tal crackdown on heretics during the Middle Ages, and the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics.

Today, as we’ve killed God and freed ourselves from sin, the great struggles for freedom revolve around the issue of defining the mecha­nisms of shame and stig­ma: enter the queer movements, feminism, the recent #metoo phenomenon, in which women cast off the shame of revea­l­ing sexual abuse, campaigns against slut-shaming, fat-shaming, stigmati­zation of people with dis­abilities, you name it. They all seek to alter the everyday games of shame and acceptance.

The struggle for freedom has thus shifted from what society ought to con­sider crimes, to more subtle and intimate aspects: not being shamed as a slut, being fat, having hairy armpits. That the gay parades gather under the bann­er of “pride”—the opposite of shame—is a telling sign of it being an attempt to redefine and overthrow the shame-regime.

And when modern societies hold their leaders responsible for sc­an­­dals and misuses of power, it is the role of the media to publicly shame them. This form of behavioral sanction is more common than outright legal pro­secution. Officials avoid social and political faux pas and gett­ing “in­vol­ved” with the wrong people, as these things can end promising careers overnight. Shame controls our leaders, even the rich and powerful.

Hence, there is a progression from fear-regimes, to guilt-regimes, to shame-regimes. At each stage it can be argued that the degrees of personal freedom grow. But at each stage you also get another struggle, another playing field—another kind of freedom.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Another word of analytical caution, before we go on. There’s of course more to these emotions than this simple scheme suggests. For instance, we can be embarr­assed on behalf of somebody else, or we can feel moral indig­nation (being judgmental) without recognizing our own corres­ponding faults, and so on. And feeling hatred towards someone can some­times be pleasurable. But I am looking at a basic pattern of how these emo­tions connect to each other, and in this simple sense, I believe the patt­ern holds: You have four families of negative social emotions and they all play a part in social life, being latent, staying in the background in most everyday situations, but always creeping up and making themselves kn­own sooner or later.

Let’s take an example of such an “emotional regime”: What about the per­petrators of “honor killings”—for instance, when the daughter of a traditional Muslim family living in a Western country is killed by the fath­er because her sexual liberation, in their minds, has brou­ght “shame to the family”? Mustn’t these honor killers be driven by unima­ginably intense emotions of shame, contempt and moral outrage in order to feel com­pelled to (and justified in) killing their own daughters? It’s less likely these fathers of traditional families walk around full of guilt and shame every day of their life. Rather, the extremely negative emotions emerge and manifest themselves only when the traditional family system is challenged by the daughter’s lifestyle choices and boyfriends. Up until that point these emotions lay dormant and simply excluded a lot of possible ways of acting and thinking.

When the taboos are breached, the negative emotions surface and erupt: first you shame your daughter, and when that doesn’t work, you guilt-trip her, and when that doesn’t work, you threaten her—and when that doesn’t work, you feel completely helpless and frustrated and kill her. Because of the cultural-psychological lim­ita­tions of the traditional Muslim father’s rela­tion to sex, sexuality, reproduction and femininity, freedom is under­min­ed. Lacking emotional development limits free­dom. This is of course not to point out Muslims in particular, it’s just an exam­ple of how emotional issues feed into the lack of real freedom in people’s lives. Many other groups have problematic relationships to female sexual­ity too.

But the point here is that we are all, in some sense, like the violent Muslim father: All of us have issues that we just cannot deal with without feeling shame, with­out feeling contempt and guilt-tripping others and, ultimately, without being afraid, vulnerable and even threatening. We may not be killing our daughters for perceived insults to our family honor, but we are all intermeshed in a complex emo­tional economy in which we envy, shame, guilt and subtly threaten one another—and we always feel justified in doing so. If there is an apparent developmental difference between the traditionalist Muslim and the liberal parents who support their kids’ sexual educa­tion and encourage explor­ation and independence, can there also be yet high­er developments of free­dom? Are we emotion­ally lim­iting ourselves and one anoth­er in other, subtler, ways?

Up until recently homosexuality was such an issue. There was some­thing shame­ful, disgusting and ridic­ulous about the homosexuals. Today, issues of being fat, being cool or not (being a nerd), being ugly if you’re a woman, general social status at the workplace and being successful, offer examples of toxic topics. Other examples are animal rights and the abuses of industrial farming, gender equality issues (of the feminist or masculist brands). All of these still remain subject to intense shame, guilt and fear ­mong­ering. If you scratch the surface of these issues in almost any social setting, people tend to freak out with strong negative emotional reactions. The machinery is there: controlling us and shaping our every interaction, even when it comes to what we allow ourselves to think in the privacy of our own minds.

[ii]. Yes, even traditional versions of karma can in many ways be viewed as a guilt scoring system, even if there are other and more charitable interpretations.

[iii]. Elias, N. 1939/2000. The Civilizing Process. Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Invest­igations. Revised edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

[iv]. Scheff, T., 2003. Shame and Self in Society. Symbolic Interaction, 26, 239-62.

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