Monday, March 28, 2016


This "embarrassment" is an illusion.  
Polar bears have nothing to be ashamed of.

Googling reveals lots of material defining “shame” versus “guilt”, mostly explaining that shame is something that is inherent in one’s being (“you should be ashamed of yourself”) sort of like original sin, but guilt is knowing you’ve done something wrong. You've broken the rules.  

Both will estrange a person from any community, because both are factors of culture, categories developed over time and meant to keep people (in the back-and-forth between culture and individual) under control for the good of the community.  Their game is blame, which imposes a stigmata like forcing people to sew a yellow star on their coats or, more drastically, branding the faces of runaway slaves.  it is an excruciating vulnerability affecting one’s worthiness, their sense of love and belonging.  They must always feel they are not good enough.

Dogs feel guilt -- cats do not.
Dogs are social -- cats are not.

If shame is something that the culture imposes on groups and individuals because of their perceived characteristics, like skin color or way of dressing or food choices or — worst of all — poverty; and guilt is something a group or individual sees as a rule broken, a bad behavior, then we express that in the idea that one can love an individual but hate their behavior.  Or sometimes that we hate the individual regardless of his or her appeal because of his or her behavior, especially if they are shameless and refuse to accept their guilt.  Because then what hold does the society have?

Global warming is starving polar bears.

I want to introduce a new factor:  bad things that happen that seem totally unrelated to either shame or guilt, but introduce both in such dynamic quantity that the whole culture gets involved in blame, wanting to sacrifice someone in order to restore order.  Hurricanes, tsunamis, famine, wild fire, and pandemics are natural events, but war, economic inequity, overpopulation are human group overwhelming events.  They are all full of shame and blame, from the New Orleans disaster to the children dying in the streets of our cities.  (You don’t see them because they try to diminish their vulnerability by hiding.)  Attempts to deal with all this seem ineffective.  In fact, even the most innocent and praiseworthy efforts, like providing food to starving people, become corrupted or objectionable.  We are facing helplessness, which makes us scared, which makes us angry, which is of major use for politics.

Queen Elizabeth II

In a time like the present, when the rules of the culture are changing and uncertain, individuals suffer.  Should one be shamed for not being thin, sexy, blonde and sixteen?  Should one feel guilty for wearing a headscarf while not being the Queen of England?  If one is either shamed or guilty, does that mean punishment, debasement, confinement, permitted penetration, exploitative research, is deserved and proper?   BLAME:  a way to discharge pain and shame.  It’s everywhere.  It wins elections.  It’s too scary to react in a sensible way.  Understanding is not a priority anyway — someone yells fire (the president has no birth certificate, vaccination will make your children autistic, drinking coffee will either give you cancer or save you from cancer) and we get so jammed in the exits that no one can escape.

A triangle forms:  shame, guilt, and I’m going to add frustration, being blocked.  Shame and guilt are tools of the predominant culture.  Frustration is what finally will break through to change.  I was surprised when I googled “penetration” that many of the definitions were about knowledge -- getting to the heart of things, I suppose.  Frustration and penetration are individual responses to oppression that trigger evolution, both social and personal.  Aggression, withdrawal, finding allies, artistic expression might also be responses.  “Find a way to cope or die”, is the message to the individual, but the message to the culture is “cut off too many of your people and you no longer exist.

Black "bottom"

The issue seems to be one of boundaries, often expressed physically by the places people live.  Stockton speaks of "bottoms" where blacks live, because in the South those are the jungly marshy places where diseases lurk.  In Browning the equivalent was called “Moccasin Flats”, built parallel to the school blocks, originally as 1900 log cabins for old people who had been living in scattered tents.  Over the decades the cabins became a jumble of lean-tos, derelict trailers, abandoned cars, and crooked TV antennas.  They were mostly cleared away after the Sixties drive to improve housing.  Highway patrol housing, three modern houses built near the top of Snowshed hill, were jokingly called “Moccasin Heights” and a sign was put up.

Stockton talks a lot about anal focus, which is, of course, about biologically discarding, but in other acts of sex (arousal), hygiene (enemas) or even rectal feeding -- which is to save an infant in Morrison’s book, but in real life done for torture and punishment to the Gitmo captives protesting by fasting.  These are the crossing of boundaries, social as much as physical (sphincters), meant to reduce captives to an infant’s involuntary existence.  Until our culture became so obsessed with medical and enforcement issues that it gave permission to meddle with bodies (coffee enemas, storing contraband in the rectum) no one would ever address these matters.  Even now people worry about smells and feel violated by a colostomy, a third “hole” no one finds attractive.

Cancer and trauma are phenomena that are entwined with shame and guilt and treated with denial or exploitation by the culture.  Our professions (medicine, law and clerical) have become corrupted by this, removing the dignity and solemnity that once marked them as consciously dealing with privileges that affected lives, such as cutting into them (penetration), incarcerating them, or shaping them into institutions.  But "Medicins Sans Frontieres" give new life to the concept of transcending limitations, even those of the culture. Out of the oppression of one big group, comes the transcendence of a small opposing group.

A doctor responding to need.
Some parts of all cultures value this.

All three professions are connected to a writing-based culture where the “pen” is the penetration.  (Laws, Bibles, Prescriptions.)  Writing that deals frankly and vividly with these three categories will often be stigmatized and destroyed as though they were the people instead of the synecdoche (metaphor) for them, only marks on paper.  Even this little discussion of shame and guilt may get me into trouble if it has as much penetration as I hope.

On where beginning writers are struggling and even seasoned writers are trying to monetize, I suggested that if there were authors’ discussion groups out there, they ought to devote an evening to discussing two movies:  “Authors Anonymous” and “Pinero.”  The first is not just culture-compliant but culture corrupted and stereotyped, presented as comedy.  The second is a confrontive portrayal of the life of a Puerto Rican man in New York (Newyorican) trapped by racial and nationalistic barriers plus poverty and early trauma.  Drugs, friendship, sex, are there aplenty and will attract people looking for scandal, arousal by misery.  These people ("trolls") are now interested in

If a writer is just writing for profit or good feeling, that’s fine, but maybe they have not earned the respect for dedicated penetration to “truth” as Pinero did.  Or did he?  Did he sell out to self-destruction?  Should he feel ashamed of himself?  Or should we feel guilty that gifted people are destroyed even as they may be leading to evolution that will save us all?

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