In a previous thread on contraception I had an issue with a semi-stalker who followed me from the comments section of another blog to my own. He accused me of being desirous of “self-annihilation” because my wife and I use contraception. I pointed out that we both still exist and we reproduced twice already. But in his mind (I assume this person was male) any use of contraception is equal to “self-annihilation” without exception. This individual also accused me of posting in the comment section of the other blog for the sole purpose of confusing right thinking Christians who were seeking the truth. I find this behavior fascinating.
I recognize a bit of my old self in him. It is a mixture of close mindedness, judgmental-ism, obsessive compulsion and denial. The mere fact that I believed something contradictory to his beliefs seemed to threaten him. This feeling of being threatened motivated him to blast my blog with comments. I ended up having to delete some of his comments because they were verging on inappropriate. What I find so fascinating about this behavior is it displays how powerful the urge to lash out becomes in a mind dominated by a shame ego. He made personal attacks presuming to know not only my conscious but also my subconscious thought process and motivations. His tone was very angry and aggressive.
As I said, I recognize this state of mind because I have experienced it personally. It is the same state of mind that caused me to obsessively bait a conservative bully on a Star Trek message board. I have described this state of mind as a separate entity called a “Shame Ego” that takes control but sort of masks its true identity by convincing its host that it is the host. In other words, the shame ego thinks for the host and the host believes the thoughts of the shame ego to be its own. This shame ego is the result of bad programming early on in life and divided loyalties. The source of the programming is typically the host’s parents. The host feels bad while running the program but also feels loyal to the source of the programming. As such, he cannot reject it. Often he will turn it around the other way and vehemently defend it by lashing out at those people who question the truthfulness of the programming or whether the programming serves a useful purpose. This is what I believe happened to the person I described earlier in this blog post.
The only way out of this mindset and the misery it generates is to give up defending it. This is difficult because it feels disloyal and wrong to the host. But to continue on with it is not desirable both because it makes the host miserable and because the host tends to spread the virus that is the bad programming on to other people. This bad programming is spread through shame. I have written a lot on shame in other blog posts so there is no need to get into that now.
I was involved in a comment section discussion for another blog post entitled “Breaking Sex.” The blog itself is a community for conservative Christians so it follows that they have a strong anti-contraception philosophy. Basically the author argued that contraception goes against the natural order of rolling the dice every time the urge to have sex is acted upon. Because the use of contraception goes against the natural order it is illicit and immoral. As evidence of the immorality of contraception the author points out the negative impact contraception has on the fertility rate and how a population that uses contraception will naturally be replaced by a population that does not use contraception and this is all indicative of God’s will.
It is always a little dangerous for me to get involved in comment section discussions, especially ones involving religion or politics. Although not my intent, people often interpret my view-point as hostile and accuse me (directly or through implication) of trolling. Once this happens it is easy to fall into the back and forth flame war type discussion. I used to relish this type of interaction but now I do my best to avoid them.
As I have stated many times before on my blog, these types of interactions are seemingly never about the actual ideas being discussed. They seem to always be about passive-aggressively shaming the other person. Of course this is always denied by both sides.
The Christian conservatives seemed to be arguing in favor of using shame as a means of enforcing morality on an otherwise immoral population. Specifically as to contraception one commenter argued life was better in the 1950’s when the use of contraception was outlawed both legally but also through shame and public opinion. I argued that shame is a poor means of motivating people to act morally because they will only do so grudgingly and with resentment. Further, when a person is shamed they tend to want to shame other people and it spreads like a virus creating a population of unhappy, repressed, dishonest and angry people.
This conversation does raise an interesting question. Is shame ever justified?
In his book Healing the Shame that Binds You author John Bradshaw argues that there is healthy shame and toxic shame. Healthy shame is normal and occurs when a person acts wrong and is repentant for acting that way. Toxic shame generally results from abusive situations and results in people carrying shame around with them wherever they go. They feel shame all the time in other words. I tend to overlook the healthy kind but I suppose there is a place for that. In my opinion most of the shame I see is the toxic variety so I have adopted a more sweeping anti-shame philosophy than probably John Bradshaw would espouse. Perhaps my situation is unique and my mindset is biased.
It is my observation that conservatives tend to be pro-shame as a glue that holds society together. Liberals use shame as well but generally to argue for freedom from an oppressive societal forces like religion or oppressive morality. My general feeling on the subject is that shame creates and spreads misery. In this respect I do not view shame as a fair trade-off for a well-organized society.
Have you ever argued with someone who makes you feel crappy about yourself for the views you espouse? I call these types of people “Admiralbills.” Admiralbill was my old nemesis from the now defunct message board called “Sistertrek.” He had a personality type I have observed in all corners of the internet, talk radio and conservative cable news.
Typical examples of the Admiralbill personality type include Ann Coulter, Michael Voris, Anchormom, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. This personality type is almost always conservative although there are some liberal examples. Bill Maher comes to mind. The liberals tend to be atheists interestingly enough. The conservative ones long for a return to a more virtuous era, blaming change and liberalism for the downfall of civilization.
The reason the Admiralbills of the world make you feel crappy is they make their points by shaming their opponents. They label their opponents weak, lazy, stupid dishonest with the implication that you are possessed by these same qualities if you agree with them. Admiralbills are bullies and try to intimidate their opponents into admitting they are correct or otherwise giving in to their point of view.
Admiralbills are unforgiving. They will use any olive branch their opponents offer against them as evidence of guilt.
Another interesting trait shared by many within this personality type (mostly the conservative ones) is that they talk in clichés. They typically have a snappy, prefabricated phrase always at the ready with which to label their opponents. Perhaps this technique makes it easier for them to remember their arguments. It seems a little intellectually lazy; almost a technique to avoid thinking in an Orwellian sense. Once an opponent is labeled they become that label and cease to be a person deserving respect in the eyes of an Admiralbill.
Admiralbills subscribe to a shame based morality structure. They believe shame is what keeps civilization intact. If someone is not pulling their weight or otherwise acting immoral they deserved to be shamed. What the Admiralbills of the world do not seem to realize is that their motivation to shame other people is not virtuous as they would like to believe but is really only a replaying of the shaming they received when their own morality structure was imposed upon them. They possess a loyalty to this system of shame and often become enraged when this system is challenged. Challenging this system touches the very core of their sense of self and has to be protected at all costs. They view the people who challenge this system as literally trying to destroy their world. This is why there can be no compromising with Admiralbills. Compromise destroys their world and the people who seek to compromise are traitors and terrorists.
This system of shame is passed on to others by shaming them. When a person is shamed they will instinctively want to shame other people because this lessens their own shameful feelings momentarily. It is a primitive, dominating instinct like dogs humping dogs and prisoners humping prisoners. But like an addiction the desire to shame other people can never be fully satiated. In this way shame repeats itself over and over and spreads like a virus from one host to another.
How do I know all this? Because I was once one of them. I was trapped in the shame dynamic. I was miserable but I did not want to see past it because shame had convinced me that to challenge shame is disloyal and treasonous. Breaking out of this dynamic was an eye-opening and liberating experience. It all starts with awareness of the cycle. With awareness the burning desire to pass along shame begins to diminish. There is more to it but that is the start.
I have been practicing scales on guitar as a meditation technique for the past few weeks. For twenty minutes a day I typically play one scale over and over up and down the neck of the guitar. My intention is to simply play the scale as best I can. Of course my ego pops in from time to time with thoughts of how my technique will improve if I keep doing this every day. I have, in fact noticed improvement in my technique and my ego is always quick to take the credit. Sometimes my ego dwells on the question of whether this practice ultimately benefits me in any way. My ego tells me I am bored and suggests new ways to liven things up, typically by encouraging me to play other scales or licks. My ego does not seem to want me to be free to do something pointless for twenty minutes a day. It seems my ego thinks everything I do must serve a purpose and create further improvement towards some future goal. My ego keeps checking the clock to see how much time remains and worries that I will not have the endurance to stick it out for the full twenty minutes. My ego judges me when I make a mistake and (illogically) becomes frustrated when I give in to my ego’s distractions. When there are outside distractions in the form of noises or people coming in and out of the room. My ego wants to become angry or irritated.
In a way, this practice is a trap I set for my ego to get it to come out from hiding so that I can observe it in action and maintain awareness of it. But I also intend to lose myself in the playing. This can only happen when my ego recedes into the background. I do not think my ego recedes through any effort on my part except to focus my attention on what I am doing. When this happens I feel I abide in my true self and there is a sense of peace and release. Perhaps my true self is allowed to emerge in this environment. Of course my ego tries to make the emergence of my true self a goal as well but when this happens I simply try to non judgmentally observe my ego in this effort. If distractions arise that is simply my experience of what is happening. I do not need the world to be a certain way. I can let it be what it is. That requires less (or no) effort. If distractions do not arise that is fine as well.
My ego wants me to think about the future consequences or comparisons with my past or future self. My ego wants me to evaluate my performance. Following my ego (although easy in the short term) ultimately drains my energy. In the face of this I simply try my best for twenty minutes and concentrate on playing the scale. There is no goal other than that.