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