Category Archives: Shame

Talk About Daddy Issues

The argument I made in my last post “The Legitimate Liberal Process” elicited a strong reaction from certain circles both in its comment section and on other blogs. One reason the counter argument to the liberal system of government seems flimsy to me is because it only (as far as I have observed) attempts to poke moral and logical holes in liberalism. It never provides an alternative system as a replacement. It is fine to say that government which prioritizes the freedom and equal rights of its citizens (i.e., liberalism) is a bad form of government for this or that reason but doing this alone merely boils down to at best intellectual masturbation and at worst nonproductive whining and complaining.

One important aspect of liberalism that is often overlooked or dismissed is the adherence to the rule of law. The rule of law is important because if we are to temper the direct and arbitrary rule of men with legal structures in which they can become rulers and according to which they can rule it is necessary that these legal structures are respected and adhered to. Of course it can be argued that there are always instances in which these structures are violated in various ways. But as long as the legal structures provide an authentic system for dealing with and rectifying these irregularities then the system will hold together and maintain its integrity.

One argument made against this legitimate liberal process was that rules and regulations cannot replace actual authority. Specifically it was argued:

Rules, procedures, and written law are not capable of becoming transubstantiated incarnations of authority itself.  The crafting of positive rules, the writing of text onto paper, is not a sacrament. Bureaucracy … and formal decision procedures cannot become a substitute for kings.

I find this argument unconvincing. I assume the person making this argument includes legislatures, courts and executives (e.g., Presidents, Prime Ministers etc.) to be sub sets of the “bureaucracy” category. If this assumption is correct, I do not understand why democratically elected people in authority (limited in power by laws) cannot be adequate substitutes for kings. Clearly there needs to be people in authority to enact, interpret and enforce law. What difference does it make whether this power is defused into different branches or that the person in authority received their authority from the ballot, inheritance or a strange lady lying in a pond distributing swords? Come to think of it, no monarchy in history (to which I am aware) existed without a bureaucracy to carry out its will. It was the king who invested the bureaucracy with the authority to carry out its will in the same way that a modern electorate invests its elected officials with their authority who in turn invest the bureaucracy under them with authority. As long as there remains faith in the legitimate authority of this bureaucracy I fail to see why one system is any more or less valid than the other.

But the argument continues:

[T]he modern mind … desperately wants to believe that a politics with minimized authority is not merely coherent, not merely possible, but is the only moral state of affairs.

The argument as to whether a government can coherently limit its own authority has been debated previously and there is no reason to revisit it in this blog post. To argue whether such a government is possible seems to reflect a confused perception of reality. Self limiting government has existed (at least) ever since the Magna Carta. Not only is limited government possible but it has out competed the older forms of government which I assume this person believes were established on a more coherent foundation. As for the morality of limited government I would not argue that it is the “only moral state of affairs”. It it simply the overwhelmingly preferred moral state of affairs in the modern west.

As appears to be the case with a great deal of anti-liberals they are seemingly incapable of making an argument without launching an ad hominem attack against their perceived enemies. For example the same person went on to say:

Ultimately though reality doesn’t really care about the daddy issues of modernity. Pervasive commitment to an incoherent conception of authority doesn’t make authority go away as a feature of reality: it merely makes authority sociopathic.

The implication here is that a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is somehow anti-authority in general which in turn reflects an unresolved and maladaptive psychological hang up related to the person’s father (i.e., the familial authority figure). This seems to be a bit of a stretch to me. First of all, a person who prefers to live under a liberal system of government is not anti-authority but rather pro-authority of a specific type. Liberal authority however limited is still essentially authority. Second of all, it seems to me that the person who cannot seem to make an argument without attempting to shame someone who might disagree or question him is the one with “daddy issues”. As when a person is shamed by their parent they tend to want to vent this shame on those he perceives to be weak or incapable of defending themselves as in blogs, comment sections and the like. To project his own daddy issue on to his opponent seems entirely psychologically consistent and is certainly no substitute for a civil and reasoned debate.

 

 

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What Part of Me is Me?

FlowerWe start out thinking that all our actions and ideas are our own. Over time, however, this belief begins to erode under a mountain of evidence about which it becomes increasingly difficult to remain in a state of denial.

The best example I can give to illustrate this point is the remnants of shame a I feel on a daily basis. When I was young I thought this shame was a defective part of my personality. I had a low self esteem and this was essentially my fault because I felt that I am responsible for my thoughts and feelings. This belief is reinforced by the general attitudes of society and by the beliefs propagated by social institutions. This system seems to make sense on the surface but the more it is probed the less convincing it becomes. At a certain point in my life I came to realize that the reason I felt shame was because my parents felt that shame and I adopted on a very basic and unconscious level their energy. They in turn adopted this energy from their parents just as I have to some extent passed this energy down to my own children. But if this energy has been passed around from generation to generation I cannot very well say that this energy is me. The best I can say is that I am a vessel who is currently holding that energy. So then, if these feelings are not me (even though most of the time I feel like they are) what part of me is actually me?

Another connected example is addiction. When a person is addicted the addiction will think for the person who is addicted. The person believes or feels these thoughts to be his own but in reality it is the parasitic addiction generating these thoughts in order to feed itself. Like the energy of shame the pull of addiction is a foreign entity disguising itself to its host as the host himself. But despite the fact that at times the feeling that the addiction is the host can be very convincing, it is not the host.

I suppose it is reasonable to ask if there even is a me in the first place? In other words am “I” merely a vessel who thinks I am what other forces have poured into me? If true, then everyone else is also a vessel who thinks he or she is what other people (other vessels) poured into them. In other words most people in this world are walking around and interacting with each other under the illusion that they are something they are not.

But surely the vessel of self has some intrinsic qualities unto itself. For example, it has the ability to hold thoughts and feelings, it has the ability to think on its own to some extent, and it has the ability to believe certain things are true (whether or not they happen to be true). It then becomes a question of ratios. How much of me is composed of my intrinsic qualities and how much me is composed of these foreign elements which have been put into me? There is no way to measure this but it seems to me that the vast majority of what I consider to me is not really me.

One consequence of this realization is its twin realization that most of the crimes my shame accuses me of are not really my (i.e., my true self’s) fault. This is dangerous territory because it undermines our whole system of criminal justice and morality. Perhaps it is easier from a societal standpoint to continue on with the belief that all these alien, parasite thoughts are our own and our responsibility. The alternative seems highly susceptible to the malfeasance of bad actors.

The last thought on this subject I have is that meditation seems to be the means by which a person can get in touch with the real self. The simple technique of watching the thoughts swimming about in the mind and returning the mind to center when one realizes that he as identified with these thoughts brings about a separation from these thought. Whatever is left behind is the true self.

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The Argument Against Shame

BridgeShame is the feeling that you have done something wrong. But more deeply, shame is the feeling that you are wrong as a person fundamentally. As a society we tend to think that shame is necessary and even a force for good because it keeps people in line and prevents them from acting badly. It is my contention that shame is completely unnecessary, often harmful and is in no way a moralizing principle.

It is supremely unfortunate that our society feels that shame is a moralizing principle. Imagine a kid caught stealing a pack of gum from a store. When he is caught he is made to feel ashamed of himself by whatever authority figure caught him. Our society feels that it is then appropriate to shame this kid because it punishes him for the crime committed. Moreover shame also prevents him from stealing gum in the future because he will not want to feel the shame of getting caught a second time. But this is not morality. Morality would be choosing not to steal the gum in the first place because he knew in his heart that stealing was wrong. It is not moral to refrain from stealing merely out of a fear of being punished.

Our society also tends to feel that feeling shame is connected to being responsible. The argument goes that if the kid did not feel shame after stealing gum then he would go around stealing gum all the time unhindered. But this is not responsibility. In fact the argument assumes the kid is intrinsically irresponsible and requires shame to make him act responsibly.

Our society also tends to feel that shame is a just punishment for the crime. The kid steals the gum, gets caught and feels shame. We clearly see the crime and the punishment. This would be fine if this is where it ended but shame tends to linger far longer than it is useful for the purpose of punishment. To illustrate the point, how many people reading this post feel regret and embarrassment to this day for situations that occurred years and years ago? Do you honestly feel that punishment fits what ever crime you committed so long ago?

In truth, shame is a virus. I say it is a virus because it spreads from person to person as people who feel ashamed of themselves tend to want to make other people feel ashamed of themselves. Consider the following example. A boss yells at his employee for making a mistake at work. That employee feels ashamed and frustrated. He goes home and sees that his house is a mess and yells at his son for not cleaning up after himself. His son feels ashamed and frustrated. He then finds his younger brother and yells at him for taking his book without asking permission. The younger brother feels ashamed of himself and because he has no one smaller than him to shame at home, he goes to school the next day and bullies a smaller kid. This is how shame operates. Notice how none of the crimes committed were the real reason why one person chose to shame another in this chain. Notice also that shame tends to be cowardly looking for weaker victims upon which to vent. This illustrates the deceptive nature of shame to both the shamor and the shamed. Each shamor cloaked his shame with the veneer of morality by accusing the shamed of a crime. From the perspective of the shamed, he will operate under the belief that if only he did the right thing he would not have to feel ashamed anymore. But even a little bit of thought about shame will confirm that this belief is false. Shame lingers as long as a person buys into the notion that shame is a legitimate moralizing principle.

The answer must be to reject shame as a moralizing principle because it simply is not. When a person rejects shame in this way he will begin to notice an awareness of the dynamic of shame and a compassion for the people deceived into thinking shame is a necessary force for good. In the example where the boss shamed the father and the father shamed the son, no one in this chain was aware of their true motivation. With awareness, however, a person caught within the throws of shame who is about to pass their shame on to another person can catch themselves in the act. They can ask themselves if this is the right thing to do. That would be an act of true morality and responsibility.

Here is my challenge to the reader of this post. The next time you feel yourself caught in the throws of shame, stop yourself. Gain an awareness of your true motivations. Have compassion for the person you are about to pass your shame onto. Have compassion for yourself for most likely being the previous recipient of someone else’s shame. Know that shame has no compassion or awareness and the true shame of it all is that our society feels shame to be a moralizing principle when it is anything but.

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The Meaning of Life and the Three Ways the Ego Folds in upon Itself

TreesWhat is the meaning of life?

It seems to me that this is a question the ego asks out of a desire to affix a label upon and categorize existence. This desire is rooted in the survival instinct. That is, in order to survive in the material world the ego must make sense of it. It makes sense of the world in part, by overlaying it with a complex system of labels and categories. In a sense the ego is putting creation in its place in order to tame it and survive within it. When the ego asks the question “what is the meaning of life?” it is categorizing life as something that must have a meaning. It then seeks for this illusive meaning with the goal of slaying the dragon by definitively labeling and categorizing life once and for all. This of course is probably an unattainable goal but this goes unrecognized by the ego.

The ego is obviously not comfortable with the notion that life might have no meaning. The fact that a meaning is not immediately forthcoming from life suggests that this is a possibility. But the ego is unwilling to consider this and so it wants put life in its place rather than letting life abide in the place it is already in. In truth, the ego has no power to put life in its place. All labels and categorizations are illusions in this sense. Because the ego is largely ignorant and unaware of its own motivations these labels are illusions it uses to trick itself. This is the first way in which the ego folds in upon itself.

I suspect that to ask the question “What is the meaning of life?” is really to ask “Am I meaningful?” By recognizing this I can see the desperate yearning of the ego to survive and reach immortality. I further suspect the ego (on some level) knows that it is mortal but does not want to admit this. The ego wants to survive above all things. Ultimately this is irrational because nothing of the material world survives in the material world forever. And the prospect of mortality brings with it the possibility of meaninglessness. But irrationality and dishonesty are the essence of the ego and so the ego goes on denying its own mortality and inventing meaning.

When I think about it I see two sides to the ego. There is the self-serving side and there is the judgmental side. When self-serving side acts through greed and indulgence it will inevitably feel shame. This is the work of the judgmental side of the ego. The judgmental side judges the self-serving side causing the feeling of shame. This shame must be then passed onto another person by judging them. In this way I can see that the ego and shame are intimately intertwined. This act of self-judgment is second way the ego folds in on itself.

The only way past the ego is through non-judgmental awareness. When one becomes aware of the ego he can observe it, separate from it and by doing so stop unconsciously doing its bidding. In this way when one feels the need to ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” he can be aware that it is really his ego who is asking this question. He can then separate from his ego and no longer require an answer to this question. In this sense when one stops looking for the meaning in life he becomes liberated because he is abiding in his true self or spirit which is intimately intertwined with God.

There is, however, a trap here. When one starts to become aware of the ego he may then praise himself for avoiding the ego or judge himself when acts unconsciously and does the ego’s bidding. Both this praise and judgment are also the work of the ego. It is ironic that it serves the ego’s purpose to punish the self for following the will of the ego. This is the third way in which the ego folds in on itself. It makes sense when viewed through the lens of survival. The ego wants to survive and be in control. It wants to steer the ship of self. One way it takes control is through shame. Shame is punishment and atonement for breaking the rules of life. These rules of life are created by the ego through all the labels and categories it affixes to life. In a sense they are the illusory meaning of life the ego has given to life and for which it unconsciously seeks.

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Looking Back on New Years Resolutions

NYEIt is interesting to see how much I can change in one year. Last year I wrote a piece about making New Years resolutions. It sort of makes me cringe to read it now. At the time I wrote it I was very interested in dissecting and deconstruction the emotion of shame in an effort to better understand it and by doing so, liberate myself from it. The fact that reading this post now makes me cringe (which is a physical reaction to shame) whereas I did not cringe (presumably) when I first wrote and published the piece suggests that I am indeed now in a different place psychologically. I am aware that imbedded in my cringe is a judgment of my former self. There is a sense that I am now better informed or that I have matured and am now in the position to look down upon this former me. On the other hand, I do not think that me judging my former self is any better than me judging another person. It is essentially criticism and comes from a negative and egocentric place that uses criticism of the other to make myself feel superior.

In that post, my former self began:

So you have decided to make a New Years Resolution and you feel ashamed for various reasons a good deal of the time. Here is what I recommend based upon my life experience dealing with shame issues.

Reading the phrase “[s]o you have decided to make a New Years Resolution…” makes me feel embarrassed. It has an amateurish quality to it. Perhaps this suggests that I have matured as a writer. The embarrassment comes in part from my current self judging my former self but it also comes from me assuming how other people reading this paragraph might have read it and thought that I was acting like a douchebag. This presumes these readers had the maturity then that I have now which may or may not be the case. On the other hand, I am aware that my writing last year comes from a place of compassion for other people who might be dealing with the same shame issues I had dealt with. The fact that I am now judging my former self in this way suggests that maybe I have regressed in terms of my relationship with shame. I am not sure about that because I feel pretty good about myself right now.

My former self continued:

First of all, do not make a New Years Resolution out of a sense of guilt. Only make New Years Resolutions for your own benefit. Of course, your shame ego will tell you this way of thinking is selfish and something to feel ashamed about. Remember that the shame ego is the same thing that will convince you that maintaining the resolution you made out of guilt is too difficult to keep up and then once you stop maintaining the resolution will then tell you that you are weak for giving it up. Of course this requires awareness of when your shame ego is sabotaging your efforts and looking for reasons to feel ashamed (but that is a topic for another blog post).

What I was referring to with the term “shame ego” is that negative, critical, internal voice that probably most people experience to one degree or another. I believe this voice is the result of bad programing and is passed down from generation to generation through the line of fathers. It results from the combination of shame and misplaced loyalty. A person is shamed by his parents. Because they are his parents he must internalize this feeling of shame or else he will be disloyal to them. Being disloyal in turn brings on more shame. When this person becomes a parent, if he remains unaware and has not achieved autonomy from this dynamic, he will shame his children in the same manner because it feels good to his ego which is really in charge. This dysfunctional ego is the source of shame, judgment, jealousy, racism and all the other sins.

Making a New Years resolution seems to me to be an attempt to strive towards some perfected version of the self. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what the motivation behind this striving is. If the striving comes from a whole hearted place, an honest and loving place then it is good. If it comes from an egocentric, shameful, judgmental place then it will always be dysfunctional and will end in harming the self and others. It is ultimately doomed to failure.

My former self continued:

I recommend your resolution should either be to stop performing some self-destructive behavior or to take up a behavior that improves yourself. It should be something you are capable of doing with your whole heart. That is, it should be something you want to do. People with well-developed shame egos have a hard time knowing what they truly want because they have bonded to the message that what they want is wrong.

I think this last point is important. I believe a person cannot be successful in life if he is incapable of articulating what he wants. If he believes what he truly wants is wrong he will sabotage his efforts to achieve this secret goal. If he pursues goals that are not in line with what he truly wants he will not be satisfied when he has achieved them. Shame teaches a person that his desires and needs are selfish and wrong and to the extent he is aware of his true desires he should feel shame. So he buries them and they remain unconscious. The only entity this dynamic serves is the ego which revels in this morass like a pig in its own excrement.

My former self continued:

A good way to tell if something is what you want is to pay attention to how it makes you feel. If it makes you feel good then it is (most likely) good and something you like doing. If it does not make you feel good then it is (most likely) not good and something you do not like doing. Be careful. Some things feel good in the short-term but are destructive in the long-term, like addictions. Addictions are another trap of the shame ego. At first addictions seem like an escape from the shame ego’s constant criticism. That of course feels good. But eventually the addiction becomes self-destructive and gives the shame ego another reason to criticize you.

I would imagine that this last paragraph might irk a person who self identifies as conservative. Perhaps I should clarify that feeling good is an indicator that one is acting in accordance with his true purpose or indeed God’s will. It has been my experience that true purpose is almost never in accordance with the ego and acting in accordance with the ego gives rise to anger, resentment, jealousy, racism and hate.

I believe most people make New Years resolutions because they find themselves lacking and they want to improve. A person’s motivation to improve, his plan to improve and his execution of that plan can always run afoul of the wants and needs of his true self. To right the course of the ship of self, I think it is always a good thing to increase awareness of the self and the ego’s attempts to undermine the self. Awareness of the ego brings about a separation from the ego. In a sense the self becomes autonomous from the ego thus allowing it to act more fully in accordance with its true purpose.

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Religion and Politics

When people argue about religion and politics I get suspicious. This is especially true if they are overly defensive or overly critical of people who do not share their point of view. When they do this  I suspect that their true reason for wanting to argue has nothing to do with the logic or persuasiveness of their point. I think it has more to do with their desire to feel better about themselves by making other people feel bad about themselves. This is the shame dynamic I have blogged about in many other posts. The notion that shaming their opponents is their true motive tends to impeach the validity of their point of view in my mind.

It does not seem likely that anyone can prove that their political point of view or their religion is any better than any other political point of view or religion. However, there does seem to exist a drive and desire to convince other people that we are right. It seems we want to our ideas to be correct. It seems we want to validate ourselves. This drive has nothing to do with the correctness of our views except to the extent that we hold the correct view in relation to the person we argue with.

The holders of correct views are better and then the holders of incorrect. This is the ego’s line of thinking. But the thoughts are disguised as a logical or philosophical debate. And there can be enjoyment in this space. There is fun to be had. But let’s be honest about what is going on. It’s not about trying to convince someone else that we are right. It is about trying to convince someone that we are better and they are worse by comparison. And why do we want to convince these other people that we are better? So that we can convince ourselves that we are better. And why do we want to be better? I think it is partly because the better people get to push around the less better people. It is probably partly because the better people fear exchanging places with the less better.

In this respect the better people are afraid of the less better people. This applies to me right now as I write this blog. Part of me wants you the reader to think that I’m witty I want to think that I am intelligent. Part of me is afraid that I’m a nobody and that I have nothing important to say and nothing to offer.

I find that when I am in a political or religious debate if I can remain aware of this dynamic I can stop myself from taking it personally. If I am not taking it personally I am less apt to demonize my opponent and become angry with them. If I am not feeding into this negative energy then I suspect my opponent will be less apt to do this as well. Some people cannot help themselves however. There is the temptation to judge them for that. Probably best not to give into that either.

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The Ego: Shame, Rinse, Repeat

I think of the ego as a special program that runs in the physical mind of the “reality spacesuit” our true self wears in order to live and make its way within material reality. This reality space suit consists of both the physical body and mind. This physical mind thinks for itself (analogous to a computer) independent of the true self. Unless practiced, the true self has difficulty distinguishing between its own thoughts and the thoughts of the physical mind. The ego (as I said) is a special program running in the computer-like physical mind and was originally a tool designed for self-protection. Unfortunately, like HAL in Clarke’s / Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ego became a tool that superseded its usefulness.

There is a point in childhood when a person abandons his true self ceding control of the physical mind to the ego. The child does this strategizing that the ego will provide greater protection from the aggressive forces of physical reality. At some point the young adult realizes that the protection the ego offered was illusory or came with too high a price. Much of adult life then becomes an effort to reclaiming his true self back from the ego (perhaps analogous to the astronaut Dave shutting down HAL in 2001). This process always begins with the realization of the ego’s true nature. Along with this realization comes the awareness of how deceptive the ego can be, how it operates through shame (and pride), and how ultimately self-defeating its methods truly are. The most important realization in this process is that the ego’s thought are not the true self’s thoughts.

One stumbling block standing in the way of this realization is loyalty. Because the ego dominated / shame based mind feels the need to remain loyal to the forces that keep it imprisoned it takes a supreme amount of effort for it to cast this loyalty aside. To do so feels immoral, irresponsible, undisciplined, selfish and brings about more shame. This usually works to create and repeat a cycle of lashing out and then feeling remorseful. Within this cycle the physical mind does not progress past its egoic confines. The cycle itself is the prison the ego creates for the true self and is the mechanism by which the ego maintains control. This is not to say that loyalty is a bad quality, indeed I believe it is good. However, the ego uses loyalty as a means of control and manipulation of its host mind.

Finally, the ego is self replicating. It performs this function through shame. By being shamed, a person feels the need to protect himself and thus creates his own ego (or perhaps cedes control of his physical mind to the ego). Then, having been shamed himself, the ego convinces him that the only way to feel better about himself is to seek out other people to shame. Once he does this new egos are then spawned in the shaming victims’ physical minds and the process repeats itself over and over.

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