the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe)

peter frost has a really, really cool post up about how some societies are “shame cultures” while others are “guilt cultures” (i’ll let you guess which ones are which (~_^) ): The origins of Northwest European guilt culture.

this post is mostly going to be a response to — or a riff off — peter’s post, so, if you haven’t already, you might want to head over to his blog and read his post first. i’ll wait here.

oh! back already? ok! let’s get started…

peter says:

Shame is the primary means of behavioral control in most societies. If you are seen breaking a social rule, you will feel shame, and this feeling will be reinforced by what people say and do (gossiping, malicious looks, spitting, ostracism, etc.). Shame is much less effective if you break a rule without being seen or if you merely think about breaking a rule.

Guilt is more important in European societies, particularly those of Northwest European origin. It operates even when you act alone or merely think about breaking a rule. Behavior can thus be regulated in all possible situations with a minimum of surveillance.”

i haven’t read anything about shame vs. guilt cultures, so i don’t know if this division is correct or not (it certainly feels right), but let’s assume — just for now (i WILL investigate this further, because i think it might be a key point wrt any General Theory of the West) — that this is right and that northwest europeans (my “core” europeans) feel guilt more than most other peoples.

peter suggests that this guilt tripping of nw europeans goes right back to early anglo-saxon england and maybe even to pre-christian, pre-invasion continental germanic societies. he offers a couple of examples from anglo-saxon literature/christian writings: a passage from Beowulf and religious writings from the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries.

peter thinks that the passage from Beowulf might indicate that feelings of guilt versus shame go right back to pre-christian anglo-saxon (germanic) days. i’m a big fan of Beowulf, but its date is disputed — could be from anywhere from the eighth to the eleventh centuries — and parts of it could be earlier or much later than other parts. so it’s difficult to use Beowulf as an indicator of what was going on in the minds of anglo-saxons of any given period. i’m going to call it unreliable and stick to the christian writings which can be much more securely dated.

from peter’s post:

In Anglo-Saxon England, guilt already existed as a major means of behavioral control. The English abbot Aelfric of Eynsham (955-1010) described it as a special kind of shame where the witnesses to the wrongful act are divine entities or spirits of the dead:

“‘He who cannot because of shame confess his faults to one man, then it must shame him before the heaven-dwellers and the earth-dwellers and the hell-dwellers, and the shame for him will be endless. (Bedingfield, 2002, p. 80)’

“This argument comes up repeatedly in Anglo-Saxon literature, where it forms a ‘penitential motif’:

“‘The motif runs: it is better to be shamed for one’s sins before one man (the confessor) in this life than to be shamed before God and before all angels and before all men and before all devils at the Last Judgement. (Godden, 1973)’

Guilt thus played a major role in English culture at least as far back as Anglo-Saxon times. Furthermore, it seems to have been indigenous:

“‘One particularly interesting fact that emerges is the peculiarly Anglo-Saxon character of the motif. Not only did it circulate widely in Old English writings but the only two Latin works in which I have been able to find it were written by Anglo-Saxons — Alcuin and Boniface. Moreover an important element of the motif, the notion of three hosts present at the Last Judgement, is itself characteristic of Anglo-Saxon writers: the usual representation of the Last Judgement in continental works (as in Alcuin’s letter) has the angels and all mankind present, and sometimes the devil as prosecutor, but not the whole host of devils, whereas the concept of the three hosts, as in Boniface’s homily, is very common in Old English writings generally. (Godden, 1973)'”

to me it sounds as though these early christian anglo-saxon writers — boniface (d.754), alcuin (d.804), and aelfric of eynsham (d.1010) — were NOT writing about guilt, but rather about shame — albeit a rather special form of shame where, as peter said, the witnesses who would shame you were not living members of your society but “divine entities or spirits of the dead”. kind-of like how santa keeps a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice even though he spends most of the year up at the north pole. (how does he do it?!) somebody’s watching, so you’d better behave!

afaics, that’s still not guilt — i.e. when individuals check their own behavior simply because they’d feel bad if they did something wrong. this early anglo-saxon shame-guilt thing sounds like the beginnings of a transitional phase moving from a shame culture to a guilt culture. and this transitional phase seems to have been underway already in boniface’s day or the eighth century.

early anglo-saxon england was full of transitions. one big one that i’ve written about previously (see here and here) was the disappearance of the kindred which likely began in the early 900s (or possibly the late 800s). the overall trajectory of anglo-saxon society during the early medieval period seems to have been that of a move away from a more local-group-oriented sort-of society based upon kindreds towards a more individualistic society based upon the nuclear family. something similar seems to have been happening across the channel in the low countries (and, probably, northeastern france and northwestern germany — and kinda-sorta in parts of northern italy).

the amazing thing about these societies that became more individualistic is that they — seemingly paradoxically — became the very same societies in which collective behaviors work the best! BROADLY collective — like on a society-wide basis. strong majorities in “core” europe are oriented towards the commonweal in ways that many, if not most, other societies are not (there are exceptions — and there are no doubt more).

so northwest (my “core”) europeans can have these (so can the japanese!)…

vegetable stand - honor system

…or these…

newspaper vending machine

because most people in society would feel guilty — internally, all on their own — if they stole from somebody else.

i suspect that guilt does not go back to pre-christian germanic societies. if they had’ve had guilt proper, then the early christian anglo-saxon clerics wouldn’t have written these weird quasi-shame/quasi-guilt lessons for the people. they would’ve just talked about guilt and everyone would’ve understood it in an “of course” sort-of way.

feelings of guilt were probably selected for over the course of the middle ages in northwestern europe starting in the early part of the period. i would wager good money on it! (^_^) and it was thanks to The Outbreeding Project (imho) — to quote myself:

“think of it like a two-stage rocket:

“- FIRST you have either inbreeding or outbreeding (or any range in between those), and these mating patterns either focus or disperse ‘genes for altruism’ … within extended family groups, which …

“- THEN sets the stage for creating different selection pressures in that different social environments are created (egs. nuclear families, extended families, clans, larger tribes). it’s HERE in this second stage where the behaviors — either clannish or not (or any range in between those!) — are selected for (or can be selected for).

including guilt. i betcha!

look forward to part ii of peter’s post on this question. stay tuned!

(note: comments do not require an email. santa and friends! (~_^) )

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74 Comments

  1. Still on blog hiatus, but I couldn’t resist the title and stopped by anyways.

    1 potential challenge: the whole idea of a shame vs. guilt culture – including the definition Frost quotes! – was popularized by Ruth Benedict’s Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Which was about Japan and how they are a shame culture par excellence.

    So looking at our vegetable stands, one must conclude that either: 1) Perceptions of Japan as a guilt culture are wrong or 2) Guilt/shame is not the mechanism at play.

    Don’t know which myself!

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  2. Yup, I agree with your analysis. The fact that the early writings don’t quite make sense to us on our own ‘guilt’ terms supports their being transitional from shame to guilt, as you say. And I agree that the relative outbredness of the Saxon kindreds set the stage for this transition.

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  3. @T. Greer – what the Japanese feel seems to us more like shame than guilt, yet they are capable of self-shaming when there is no one else around. Could this then resemble the transitional Anglo-Saxon stage in NW European culture? Or is it just that they reached a similar culture stage through a different path than NW Europeans, like different genes that give the same adaptive result (lactose tolerance, high altitude adaption, malaria resistance etc), so the result looks similar but different?
    What seems clear to me is that the Japanese are not like the Chinese or Koreans, who have clear shame cultures, not guilt cultures. The Japanese feel bad about themselves in a qualitatively different way.

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  4. “This paper makes an empirical analysis of the effect of a common origin within a couple on fertility. We use the Bank of Italy’s Survey of Household Income and Wealth (SHIW) to examine the fertility of a sample of Italian women and find that those with the same origin as their husbands tend to have more children, even after controlling for several individual, family-level, and area-of-residence characteristics. We also find that the impact of homogamy on fertility is stronger for less educated women and for those residing in backward areas.”

    http://www.rivisteweb.it/doi/10.1427/74923

    http://www.answers.com/topic/better-wed-over-the-mixen-than-over-the-moor

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  5. We have one of those vegetable stands here in town.

    The first time I saw an unmanned food stand was in Maui, Hawaii. Of course, instantly I remarked what’s to stop people from just taking the stuff? Being from New York City, I of course was unfamiliar with the concept (newspaper boxes notwithstanding) :p.

    Interestingly, I didn’t see any of these when I lived in Connecticut. Perhaps trust is just not high enough there…

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  6. On a somewhat related noted, here’s a recent remark of mine you might appreciate:

    Here’s a thought: natural selection operates only on individuals and *very* close kin (the payoff of kin altruism falls off very rapidly as you go further out on the family tree). Hence, communities work because every member within them benefits individually from the cooperation. No behavior or trait arises because it benefits the community as a whole (if it comes at a cost to individuals within the community). With those considered, it is a truly remarkable evolutionary occurrence that some human groups arose who don’t prefer to associate (and mate) exclusively with people as closely related as is reasonably possible…

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  7. Japan is certainly a shame culture. It works because they monitor each other very strictly. People are in constant terror of being caught in bad behavior, and the few criminals you see out there seldom feel any sort of guilt. They don’t have a community or their community approves of what they do, so there’s no problem with it. See the Yakuza. NW Europeans don’t have Mafias, they can’t make them work.

    And popular parlance is full of references to shame, shameful, shameless. The very word for “guilt” is a recent coinage from the 19th century.

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  8. @Jayman:

    I’ve heard estimates about the Yakuza being 1/3 Buraku and 1/3 Korean.
    Frost’s theory on the Buraku is interesting but many have been assimilating so there’s some survivor bias there too.

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  9. I get the sense that there was more migration in the prehistoric north. Slash and burn farming, cheap wooden houses, that sort of stuff. We know that the slavs kept this up longer, but I think that it is reasonable to assume that the proto-Germans did something similar. In such a world you might not see your 1st cousins much and maybe you’ll never see your 2nd cousins. In modern-day America how many people know their second cousins? I have dozens at least, but I only know a few of their names and could recognize none of their faces. I am certain that I have never set eyes on the majority of them.

    Perhaps the proto-Germanic elders arranged things such that their still children married their (previously unknown) cousins but in this scenario it wouldn’t matter. It would create new ties between branches of the family rather than strengthening existing ties.

    So we have people migrating around in low population density areas. How is shame going to work? Well some people are going to stop behaving. Their fitness ends up reduced, perhaps they get killed in a revenge attack. Other people are going to still feel shame, even without an audience. They will be shamed in a more abstract way, shamed to their not-present kin. This ability to feel shame without an audience will increase their fitness.

    This effect would be enhanced with a population replacement migration, such as the Anglo-Saxon invastion of Britain. The unstable transitional environment would violent (you never know when the Welsh will launch a raid) and require discipline to survive. England was the frontier for the Germans, in the same way that North America was for the Americans and Canadians.

    England again became a frontier in the Viking age and again during the Conquest.

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  10. Beowulf was written by an Anglo-Saxon for an Anglo-Saxon audience. Thus we can assume that Beowulf was depicted with the thought-processess and values of an Anglo-Saxon, rather than those of an authentic Geat.

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  11. This makes no sense to me. I’ve read a decent amount (in an amateur anthro sort of way) about shame and guilt cultures. And I’ve ALWAYS been under the impression that northern Euro Protestants are shame people while southern Euro Catholics (and Jews) are guilt people. Speaking personally, that’s how I’ve found things to be too. I’m 98% northern-Euro Protestant, and I experience not one bit of the “guilt” that my Catholic and Jewish friends often suffer from and yak about. The “guilt” thing is so foreign to me that I’ve had to learn very deliberately how to identify it and deal with it when my friends (and wife) go into their being-tormented-by-guilt behaviors and riffs. Meanwhile feelings of shame are something I’m very familiar with.

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  12. Calvinists operate on guilt. If they deviate from perfection they are not of the elect. Baptists and Quakers obey the voice of their conscience not societal pressures. I always understand catholic guilt to be a late arrival as the idea of protestant guilt, indeed protestantism, went into decline. We too can be guilty. Confession rather absolves one of sin. Why be guilty?

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  13. Jayman says:

    “Interestingly, I didn’t see any of these when I lived in Connecticut. Perhaps trust is just not high enough there.”

    I’ve also lived in Hawai’i and Connecticut. Were I to pin-point what I felt the biggest difference between the ‘feel’ of the places was, I would probably point to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Gini_coefficient

    This next comment is entirely subjective, of course, so do with it as you will: of the eight states in which I have lived* people in CT were more obsessed with money and outward appearance of wealth. More than any other place in America I have lived or visited. (Also an obscenely large amount of pornographic/sex toy stores. Moving from MA to CT was one of the most dramatic moves I have made…. even the topography is quite similar). If you asked me “of all the places you lived, where would you least trust the guy next door with your money, I would say CT. Without a moment’s pause.

    *Ok, really it is only 7. But since I was a ten minute drive away from the NH border it was practically like I lived there too. Esp. when it tame came to go shopping. ^_~

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  14. @T. Greer:

    “Also an obscenely large amount of pornographic/sex toy stores.”

    Was that the Hartford-Springfield area? That’s like a central nexus of that sort of thing in that area… :p

    “This next comment is entirely subjective, of course, so do with it as you will: of the eight states in which I have lived* people in CT were more obsessed with money and outward appearance of wealth.”

    Indeed. This is more of an issue, in my experience, in the Fairfield County area (the part of the state that is part of “New Netherland” according to Colin Woodard).

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  15. The bad things about shame cultures is that it’s okay to do bad things as long as you don’t get caught. In guilt cultures you have internal standards.

    And in shame cultures there is a decided tendency to go into a berserker killing rage when, ahem, “dissed.”

    The psychiatrist James Gilligan spent his career studying the violent result of shaming. What he found is quite enlightening.

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  16. A few interesting links from the guy who wrote the book I just mentioned: link, link, link, link, link. His main idea in his book is that the U.S. was always a shame and guilt culture, a mix of the two, but that until the 1960s were primarily a shame culture. During the ’60s (and a good bit of what the ’60s were), was the replacement of our shame culture by guilt culture (as Jews and Catholics ascended the ladders of power and success). He thinks, fwiw, that we’ve swung too far in the direction of guilt and that we could use some more shame. FWIW, I found the book completely convincing and very enlightening.

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  17. @t.greer – “So looking at our vegetable stands, one must conclude that either: 1) Perceptions of Japan as a guilt culture are wrong or 2) Guilt/shame is not the mechanism at play.”

    one thing i’d like to know about the japanese vegetable stands before thinking about this further is: do you find them in remote rural areas?

    many of the ones that i’ve known of in the western world have been in the middle of frickin’ nowhere where there really was just no possibility of shame coming into play. they must work because the people making use of them don’t steal since they, themselves, feel (or think) that to be wrong.

    the article that i linked to there about the japanese vegetable stand is in tokyo(!) (or the greater tokyo area). plenty of room for shame to happen there.
    _____

    as a total aside: another thing i’d like to know is — are “honor system” payment thingies (like vegetable stands) present at all in villages/rural areas in places like afghanistan? the reason i ask is, i know that in some rural areas of afghanistan, the local women don’t have to wear a burka because all of the local men are relatives (everyone’s from the same clan). it’s only when they go into a town or more urban area that they need to cover themselves.

    so, can they have honor system payment schemes in these regions where everyone is the member of the same clan? or would they still cheat each other?

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  18. @t.greer – “the whole idea of a shame vs. guilt culture – including the definition Frost quotes! – was popularized by Ruth Benedict’s *Chrysanthemum and the Sword*. Which was about Japan and how they are a shame culture par excellence.”

    what simon in london said:

    “what the Japanese feel seems to us more like shame than guilt, yet they are capable of self-shaming when there is no one else around. Could this then resemble the transitional Anglo-Saxon stage in NW European culture? Or is it just that they reached a similar culture stage through a different path than NW Europeans, like different genes that give the same adaptive result (lactose tolerance, high altitude adaption, malaria resistance etc), so the result looks similar but different?”

    someone in the comments on peter’s blog (don’t remember their name!) very sensibly suggested that, if we want to work out who feels shame or who feels guilt (or who feels other ways altogether!), we ought to be looking at some hard(er) data like cross-cultural personality type distributions. excellent idea!

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  19. @jayman – “With those considered, it is a truly remarkable evolutionary occurrence that some human groups arose who don’t prefer to associate (and mate) exclusively with people as closely related as is reasonably possible…”

    yes! it’s really freaky if you stop to think about it.

    (^_^)

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  20. @spandrell – “The very word for ‘guilt’ is a recent coinage from the 19th century.”

    in japanese, do you mean? interesting.

    my (shorter) oed has guilt going back to old english — “gylt.” the online etymology dictionary says the same.

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  21. @t – “I get the sense that there was more migration in the prehistoric north. Slash and burn farming, cheap wooden houses, that sort of stuff. We know that the slavs kept this up longer, but I think that it is reasonable to assume that the proto-Germans did something similar.”

    yeah, but they were migrating together as “clans” (really kindreds or sets of extended families allied together in “tribes”), so they knew who their first and second cousins were. for the most part. these are the people who would take up a blood feud on your behalf, after all.

    @t – ” In modern-day America how many people know their second cousins?”

    i know ALL of my second cousins. all 88 of them. (^_^) not very well, mind you — but i have met all of them on at least one occasion. (ya’ll will be happy to know that they’re all back in The Old Country — or in various other european countries — so my kindred poses no threat to anyone here. (~_^) ) i don’t know all of my second cousins-once-removed. maybe i’ve met half of them? or a third? really not sure. this is the point when it gets hard to keep track of your extended family.

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  22. @t – “Beowulf was written by an Anglo-Saxon for an Anglo-Saxon audience. Thus we can assume that Beowulf was depicted with the thought-processess and values of an Anglo-Saxon….”

    yes, but which anglo-saxons? that’s what i wonder. seventh century anglo-saxons or eleventh century anglo-saxons?

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  23. @paleo retiree – “This makes no sense to me. I’ve read a decent amount (in an amateur anthro sort of way) about shame and guilt cultures. And I’ve ALWAYS been under the impression that northern Euro Protestants are shame people while southern Euro Catholics (and Jews) are guilt people. Speaking personally, that’s how I’ve found things to be too. I’m 98% northern-Euro Protestant, and I experience not one bit of the ‘guilt’ that my Catholic and Jewish friends often suffer from and yak about. The ‘guilt’ thing is so foreign to me that I’ve had to learn very deliberately how to identify it and deal with it when my friends (and wife) go into their being-tormented-by-guilt behaviors and riffs. Meanwhile feelings of shame are something I’m very familiar with.”

    this is so funny, because i’ve always had the reverse impression! (^_^) i haven’t read much about shame and guilt cultures, though — a new project to add to The List for the new year.

    i was raised a roman catholic (it didn’t stick), and i always felt that the point was about shame. there was always somebody watching (kind-of like how these anglo-saxon religious writers described it): baby jesus was watching! the virigin mary would cry if you did something wrong. my guardian angel would know because he/she/it was ALWAYS with me. and never mind the end of time — the JUDGEMENT DAY when EVERYBODY from ALL TIME — all humans and angels and whomever — would be there to watch you account for yourself and your actions. eeek!

    and when you went to confession, if you lied to the priest and failed to tell him ALL your sins (which almost nobody ever does, of course), GOD WOULD KNOW!

    and most of the catholics i’ve known — or a h*ckuva lot of them anyway — seem to me to behave according to shame — and if you wanted to do something and could get away with it, you would. otoh, the majority of protestants that i’ve known seemed to be behaving just ’cause … yeah … they genuinely felt bad about behaving badly. they feel guilt.

    thus you have all of the piigs of europe behaving badly — even though four out of five of them are roman catholic nations — and the protestant nations are just not corrupt or cheating … and have “honor system” vegetable stands. (^_^)

    i need to read more about shame vs. guilt, though. thanks for the links! (^_^)

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  24. @philip – “Calvinists operate on guilt. If they deviate from perfection they are not of the elect. Baptists and Quakers obey the voice of their conscience not societal pressures. I always understand catholic guilt to be a late arrival….

    yes. that might be it right there.

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  25. @bob – The bad things about shame cultures is that it’s okay to do bad things as long as you don’t get caught. In guilt cultures you have internal standards.”

    exactly!

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  26. @chris – “Also, where does so-called ‘Catholic guilt’ fit into all of this?”

    speaking as a (VERY) lapsed catholic, i don’t think that “catholic guilt” really is guilt. not in the sense of an internal, innate behavioral trait. i think it’s really shame — or, perhaps, a shame-guilt hybrid like maybe they had in early medieval anglo-saxon society. -?- dunno. very confused! (^_^)

    see my response to paleo retiree above.

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  27. @t.greer – “Still on blog hiatus….”

    yeah. speaking of this (and speaking of guilt (~_^) ) — who gave you permission to take a blogging break?? i don’t recall seeing the ten page time-off request form — the one that needs to be filled out in triplicate and submitted to all the relevant…peeps — filled out by you passing across my desk. who authorized this time off?!

    (~_^) (enjoy your break!)

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  28. Are Judaism and Christianity guilt cultures? They certainly teach and preach guilt, yet you would think an Eastern European shtetl would be more of a shame culture. Or would you?

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  29. @anonymous – “Better wed over the mixen than over the moor.” [source]

    meaning: “It is better to marry a neighbour than a stranger.”

    look at where this proverb was found (the reference to a moor is kind-of a giveaway):

    – 1628 in M. L. Anderson Proverbs in Scots
    – 1661 T. Fuller Worthies (Cheshire)
    – “Better wed over the mixen as over the moor, as they say in Yorkshire.” [1818 Scott Heart of Midlothian III. vi.]

    i’ve come across another expression like this from a remote corner of ireland (from the 1970s!): “‘Marry on the dunghill and choose a sponsor from the mountain’ is a local proverb meaning that it is wisest to ‘marry in.’”

    cool! thanks. never heard this mixen/moor saying before! (^_^)

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  30. “I get the sense that there was more migration in the prehistoric north. Slash and burn farming, cheap wooden houses, that sort of stuff. We know that the slavs kept this up longer, but I think that it is reasonable to assume that the proto-Germans did something similar.”

    Yes, the Germanic culture may be broadly perceived as an adaptation of the original Indo-European life on the steppes to a more forested environment. Contrary the Mediterraneanised economies in Thrace or Gaul, where there were ‘oppida’ and proto-states earlier. There is a reason why the kinship of even the Anglo-Saxon English was Iranian.

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  31. perhaps shame & guilt are 2 overlapping circles/Venn diagram – one can feel shame with or without guilt — i’m not so sure about guilt without shame. so draw guilt entirely in shame, but allow shame to have some unique space above & beyond guilt… perhaps i’ve got it arse-backward. another way to think about it: the opposite of shame would be pride? the opposite of guilt is feeling righteous? i don’t like these touchy-feely vague concepts, they run through one’s hands like water :(wahh! wahh!)

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  32. @HBD Chick:

    “thus you have all of the piigs of europe behaving badly — even though four out of five of them are roman catholic nations — and the protestant nations are just not corrupt or cheating … and have “honor system” vegetable stands.”

    Hey, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying: ;)

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  33. panjoomby
    12/13/2013 at 7:16 AM
    “perhaps shame & guilt are 2 overlapping circles/Venn diagram – one can feel shame with or without guilt — i’m not so sure about guilt without shame. ”

    Oh, you definitely can – the man accountable only to himself – the myth of the Hollywood Old West gunslinger, or Dirty Harry. or Wolverine – all those ‘man alone’ heroes. Hyper-individualist, but not amoral.

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  34. paleo retiree:
    “The ‘guilt’ thing is so foreign to me that I’ve had to learn very deliberately how to identify it and deal with it when my friends (and wife) go into their being-tormented-by-guilt behaviors and riffs. ”

    Could you explain more about these riffs? I’m not sure what this is about – some sort of semi-ritual behaviour that seeks a status-gain through extravagant displays of ‘guilt’ over minor failings, perhaps? What sort of things do they feel ‘guilty’ about, and how do they show it?

    My understanding of (Protestant) guilt is the thing that makes you feel bad if you fall below your self-imposed standards. Related concepts are ‘honour’ and ‘integrity’. Eg I feel guilty if my wife has failed to return a library book. I will go to great efforts to get that book returned to the library (possibly including attempts to shame wife). I would feel guilty if I took farm produce from one of those stalls without paying. I would not enjoy eating the stolen food, so no point taking it. In neither case would I engage in displays of how guilty I felt.

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  35. It’s decades ago, but my father once remarked to me that Britain was run on the premise that everyone was at least middling honest until shown otherwise; the US was run on the premise that everyone was a crook.

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  36. I don’t think shame is a question of “It’s OK if no one sees it”, but that people in shame societies don’t place a huge degree of value on their personal judgement, so acts are in kind of a limbo status where they don’t feel too strongly about it, in either a positive or negative mode, until it’s bought into public view.

    There’s no secret, private guilt, but also no secret, private pride.

    “It’s OK if no one sees it” implies that they really, privately, know that x is right or wrong, but want to conceal it due to concerns over social status. It sounds like a bit of an autistic “If someone doesn’t think like me, it’s either to help them lie, or they do think like me and they’re lying” kind of judgement or idea.

    But it seems just as likely that people in more shame type societies just don’t make moral judgements individualistically and personally and everything is in an uncertain, shadowy area until it’s in public. They don’t feel bad about things that only they’ve made a judgement about because, well, “what the hell do I know? I’m just one guy, right? but if Mom and Dad and the grocer all say something’s wrong, that means something.”.

    You could see this as well in the way shame societies in the East also tend to have a low level of divergent overestimation of their own capabilities and importance over that which observers attribute to them, and how people in shame societies try to both impress and conform to one another, because the collective judgement matters.

    The main current of Eastern ethical philosophy (the Confucian school) also has this deep skepticism of the individual’s ability to work out what is right and wrong through individual ratiocination without depending on tradition and the community’s judgements. As opposed to what seems to me the main current of German ethical philosophy where other people at best give you rules, but then you use your own sense to derive further rules and make judgements with little input from others.

    Shame might be combined with elements of low mind reading social skills, where there might be a bit more of a slight autism like “mind blind” tendency to take everyone literally and to assume that someone has said or feels something, it must be true rather than a subjective and limited perception that has to be personally checked (although perhaps autistic people can just as easily go the opposite way and believe everyone is lying all the time, so nothing is true except what comes through internally – or to combine both perceptions in an all or nothing fashion).

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  37. Thought this might be relevant:-

    “Introducing the GASP scale: a new measure of guilt and shame proneness.”
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21517196

    “Abstract
    Although scholars agree that moral emotions are critical for deterring unethical and antisocial behavior, there is disagreement about how 2 prototypical moral emotions–guilt and shame–should be defined, differentiated, and measured. We addressed these issues by developing a new assessment–the Guilt and Shame Proneness scale (GASP)–that measures individual differences in the propensity to experience guilt and shame across a range of personal transgressions. The GASP contains 2 guilt subscales that assess negative behavior-evaluations and repair action tendencies following private transgressions and 2 shame subscales that assess negative self-evaluations (NSEs) and withdrawal action tendencies following publically exposed transgressions. Both guilt subscales were highly correlated with one another and negatively correlated with unethical decision making. Although both shame subscales were associated with relatively poor psychological functioning (e.g., neuroticism, personal distress, low self-esteem), they were only weakly correlated with one another, and their relationships with unethical decision making diverged. Whereas shame-NSE constrained unethical decision making, shame-withdraw did not. Our findings suggest that differentiating the tendency to make NSEs following publically exposed transgressions from the tendency to hide or withdraw from public view is critically important for understanding and measuring dispositional shame proneness. The GASP’s ability to distinguish these 2 classes of responses represents an important advantage of the scale over existing assessments. Although further validation research is required, the present studies are promising in that they suggest the GASP has the potential to be an important measurement tool for detecting individuals susceptible to corruption and unethical behavior.”

    Reply

    1. @chrisdavies09: thank you for that!
      i wonder what the relationships between the guilt scales & the shame scales were… (given the 2 shame scales seem relatively independent of each other, & the 2 guilt scales strongly positively correlate, i wonder what the li’l correlation matrix between the shame & guilt scales looks like!)

      Reply

  38. OT (and I really shouldn’t because this is a fascinating topic and discussion!) However I just picked up a copy of Plomin’s Behavioral Genetics. For an old coot like me whose brain leaks like a sieve it is the perfect refresher. A great introduction for beginners too. I just wanted to recommend it — and to remind JayMan that, yes, all traits are heritable but nearly all traits are also all environmentally influenced as well, often by as much as 50%.

    Reply

  39. I’ve read about primitive societies — the Trobriand Islanders if I remember correctly — in which if certain taboos were broker the guilty individual was shunned to such an extent that they would often commit suicide. Not sure if this is shame or guilt but, whichever, I wonder how it relates to Muslim suicide bombers, of which there seems to be an unlimited supply.

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  40. Speaking of Catholic guilt (up above) it just dawned on my while talking to woman raised Catholic how powerful the institution of confession was as an instrument of mind control on young children: revealing your most intimate secrets to the man behind the screen! Scary! 1984 and Stalin had nothing on the Catholic Church in that regard.

    Reply

  41. What about so-called “white guilt” — the idea that white people are somehow responsible for all the evil things done by their ancestors (assuming everybody else’s ancestors didn’t do equally evil things — or worse). It seems this kind of collective guilt needs to be distinguished from personal guilt of the kind we have been discussing. In fact it is an attempt at ethnic shaming of one ethnic group by another. It really rings hollow if you ask me; but then as a white southern male of Protestant descent I was born with an intellectual inferiority complex: just assumed everybody up north was smarter than me (not such a bad generalization as it turned out btw!). What I didn’t have like a lot of other SWMP (Southern White Male Protestants) was a moral inferiority complex like the one that caused LBJ to go completely overboard in his attempt to atone for past racial sins.

    Reply

  42. re: JayMan’s ” it is a truly remarkable evolutionary occurrence that some human groups arose who don’t prefer to associate (and mate) exclusively with people as closely related as is reasonably possible…”

    I wonder how much of it was a result of past military conquests in which the victors deliberately mixed the various conquered ethnies as a way of cementing control. You read about such things in history both ancient and modern: the Syrians did it to the ten tribes of Israel, Stalin did it to various nationalities, etc.

    Reply

  43. @Luke Lea:

    “I just wanted to recommend it — and to remind JayMan that, yes, all traits are heritable but nearly all traits are also all environmentally influenced as well, often by as much as 50%.”

    You have read my post All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable, yes?

    The heritability of behavioral traits is typically on order of 50%. However, what’s left (after you subtract the “shared environment”, which is generally 0, but more on that soon) is just the “unexplained variance.” We don’t know what that is. Much of it, perhaps a good deal, is measurement error. Evidence suggest that that is actually missed heritable influence.

    However, what’s left over, after you’ve accounted for “attenuated heredity” may be what’s known developmental noise. This is “environmental” in the sense that it’s not inherited, but is essentially random and not subject to controlled manipulation.

    Or we think it’s random. See Kevin Mitchell on it:

    Even developmental noise appears to heritable, to a degree. Whether or not this is “on purpose” or an evolutionary accident is unclear.

    And finally, and this is an “advanced” topic, impact of the “unique environment” – what makes identical twins raised together different from one another – could itself significantly genetic in nature, because identical twins aren’t actually genetically identical, but have different de novo mutations.

    You see why I’m a little hard on the “nurturists” out there. Broadly, the evidence has not been kind to “environmental” influences. Note that this is not to say that they don’t exist.

    Reply

  44. Augustine certainly seems to have been motivated by guilt rather than shame. He was hardly NW European. The Desert Fathers can hardly be understood if we attribute their actions to shame rather than guilt (or to take the positve spin, to pride rather than joy.)

    It is puzzling. Christianity includes guilt as a replacement for shame from the time of Christ himself: the woman taken in adultery, or the “whoever hates his brother in his heart” verses, for example. Yet it seems again that the NW Europeans were the ones who took this to heart and insisted on it, hundreds of years later, when the others had only half-heartedly adopted it. Why there? Why then?

    The blogger Neo-Neocon used to cover this topic quite a bit. Very good comment discussions. I don’t know if she still does.

    Reply

  45. @assistant village idiot – “Yet it seems again that the NW Europeans were the ones who took this to heart and insisted on it, hundreds of years later, when the others had only half-heartedly adopted it. Why there? Why then?”

    (*hbd chick raises hand and frantically waves it around*) oo! oo! i know! i know!

    (~_^)

    Reply

  46. @bones and behaviour – “There is a reason why the kinship of even the Anglo-Saxon English was Iranian.”

    did the iranians (persians?) at some point have bilateral kindreds? they certainly don’t have now.

    Reply

  47. @simon in london – “I would feel guilty if I took farm produce from one of those stalls without paying. I would not enjoy eating the stolen food, so no point taking it.”

    yes. this is what i meant/was thinking of when i used the word guilt. maybe i was thinking more of “pre-guilt” or something like that. NOT feeling guilty AFTER having done something, but feeling … something … that would make the person check their behavior beforehand. all by themselves.

    this morning i was wondering if the roman catholics feel all this guilt all the time BECAUSE they’re behaving badly (see: the piigs). (~_^) (i’m half joking, but i am being serious here, too.)

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  48. @dearieme – “It’s decades ago, but my father once remarked to me that Britain was run on the premise that everyone was at least middling honest until shown otherwise; the US was run on the premise that everyone was a crook.”

    (~_^)

    that’s certainly true of large parts of the u.s. — nyc, chicago(!), l.a. (watch your wallet) — but in other parts, like the midwest (outside of the big cities like chicago), it’s really run on the premise that everyone is middling honest. the dreaded flyover states — great places to live!

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  49. @luke – “OT (and I really shouldn’t because this is a fascinating topic and discussion!) However I just picked up a copy of Plomin’s Behavioral Genetics. For an old coot like me whose brain leaks like a sieve it is the perfect refresher. A great introduction for beginners too. I just wanted to recommend it….”

    all interesting/informative/funny as h*ll OT comments are welcomed! (^_^)

    hmmmm. maybe i should have another look at it, too.

    Reply

  50. @luke – “revealing your most intimate secrets to the man behind the screen! Scary!”

    imagine the local priest knowing the secrets of everyone in the town/village. even scarier!

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  51. “Christianity includes guilt as a replacement for shame from the time of Christ himself:”

    What I find interesting about that is that shame comes before guilt in very young children.

    That leads me to the myth of the Garden of Eden, in which Adam and Eve are ashamed to be naked. There is not a word about guilt.

    Later, Christianity added guilt to that story.

    Which in why in the West we are both a shame and a guilt culture.

    My experience has been Asian culture is more shame-oriented, which is why I’ve seen, right before my eyes, Asians in the U.S. literally hallucinate that some American was trying to shame them in public.

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  52. yes. critically important imo

    “Christianity includes guilt as a replacement for shame from the time of Christ himself:”

    I don’t think it needs to be a recent evolution. It could be a long-standing low frequency random mutation which only spreads more widely when conditions made it adaptive e.g. (slightly off-topic but easier as an example) say you have a clannish society where people only feel guilty when they do wrong to a close relative but then that society changes to a less clannish one. Who can you trust if the majority are only wired up to feel guilt towards close relatives – the minority who feel guilt more widely maybe?

    In most environments it might not be in your genetic interests to feel guilt towards any but close relatives but under some circumstances it might be in your interests to marry someone who does – so it can spread anyway even if it’s not individually adaptive on the surface (because it is under the surface if it makes you a more attractive mate).

    Reply

  53. […] saxons, the anglo-saxons, and america 3.0 – the importance of the kindred in anglo-saxon society – the transition from shame to guilt in anglo-saxon england (and “core” europe) – going dutch – “core europe” and human […]

    Reply

  54. Throwing something in. Myers-Briggs theory distinguishes two types of “Feeling” function (related to morality), Fi or Introverted Feeling and Fe or Extroverted Feeling.

    The best description I found was http://www.cognitiveprocesses.com/Cognitive-Functions/Introverted-Feeling.cfm and http://www.cognitiveprocesses.com/Cognitive-Functions/Extraverted-Feeling.cfm

    People differ in whether they are Fi or Fe. Fi people seem to develop a moral sense over time and based on comparing internal feelings to experiences. Fe people seem to get a sense of morality by copying and mimicking what others around them express.

    Fi = more individual or maybe genetic (if you believe moral feeling have an hbd basis). Can be collective if a group of people with similar feeling dispositions (ethos) are gathered together (a moral community, if you will).

    Fe = more social. Collective in the loose sense of copying whoever happens to be around. Assimilation to whatever is the pop/dominant culture. Can be a good survival strategy (submerging the inner self to fit in “wherever”), but lacks an inner compass.

    But in a nutshell: Fi=guilt, Fe=shame.

    Societies/countries vary in whether they tend more Fi or Fe. Arguably, American pop culture encourages Fe and discourages Fi when private feelings don’t match whatever is on the boob tube lately.

    Reply

  55. @bill – “There are lots of unmanned shops and vegetable stands in Japan, and they tend to be more common in rural areas, as one would expect.”

    oh, excellent! thank you.

    Reply

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