Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cross Posting with "Safe from Shame": Playing Semantic Games

Safe from Shame (a fabulous blog and project, one which Et in Arcadia Ego wholeheartedly supports) took some time to play with lexical semantics, an activity Et in Arcadia Ego engages in frequently. In that sense, let's throw some things in the hopper and see what sausages come out.

The following is based on some pre-conceived notions that, one hopes, will become clear as we proceed. Let's get those out of the way:

When we speak of ethics and ethical behaviors, we recognize a significant division:

There are those behaviors that tend towards the survival, fulfillment, and satisfaction (of the will-to-power) of the individual. Then there are those behaviors that tend towards the survival, propagation, and satisfaction of the group. Importantly, there are some behaviors (for instance, altruism) that are pro-group but not pro-individual (except in an indirect way).

For the individual, possible behavioral choices are judged against the individual's moral code. Those behaviors that are consonant with the individual's moral code are moral (from that individual's moral perspective), those behaviors that are inconsonant are immoral (from the individual's moral perspective).

The origins of a person's individual moral code are somewhat murky. The moral code of an individual is somewhat programmed by the cultural gestalt in which the person was raised and within, modified both by the individual's experience and by the individual's history of moral cognition and ethical thinking. Further, despite having been programmed by the cultural gestalt, a person's moral programming may be at odds with the given subset of society one finds oneself at any given time. That is to say, the individual's perception of pro-group behaviors may be inconsistent with the group's same perception of pro-group behaviors.

Some initial working definitions:

Moral behavior: This we describe as any behavioral choices that carry a deontotic aspect; that is, behaviors for which there is a question of whether they should or should not be done. We ignore for the moment any question of degree: immoral behaviors may be sins, crimes, or simply those which the group, culture, or individual disagrees with, and immoral behavior may or may not be met with any negative re-inforcement from the group and may be meet with a range of negative reinfrocement. We will for the purposes of this discussion ignore that range: for this discussion, belching in public and cannibalism will both be considered immoral behaviors in conventional Western society.

Guilt: This is the emotional sensation experienced by the individual upon engaging in behavior that one feels is at odds with one's personal moral code, particular when engaging in pro-individual behavior that is seen as anti-group behavior.

Shame: This is the emotional sensation experienced by a person who engages in behavior contrary to the moral code observed and enforced by the group. Importantly, shame here implies that the individual's behavior is consonant with the individual's moral code, but is at odds with the local group's standard of behavior. This leads sometimes to a situation where shame does not manifest itself until the individual comes to believe that he or she has somehow violated the local group's behavioral standards (whether or not such a violation has or has not actually occurred.

Under these definitions, it is possible for an individual to feel both guilt and shame as a consequence of the same behavior.

So, if there is an emotional experience labeled 'shame', then it would logically follow that there is an emotional experience ⌐shame, that is a lack of shame (we'll assume for a moment a bi-valued propositional logic, excluding both the middle and non-binary truth values. We'll also assume a non-constructivist classical logic with double negation. Formally, axion 1: ~(P +~P), axiom 2: (P v ~P), axiom 3: ~~P <=> P).

By natural English rules, ⌐shame could be expressed a number of ways:

  1. We could choose the semi-formal *'not shame'. This is problematic, as the noun phrase is a violation of natural English syntactic rules.

  1. We could choose 'shameless'. However, does ⌐shame = shameless given our intuitive understanding of English 'shameless'?

'Shameless' as used by native speakers of Western-American English carries a strong negative connotation. More specifically, it implies that the object of the phrase either ought to be experiencing shame, but is not, or is experiencing shame but is choosing to react against that sensation.

This may merit some further exploration. If the initial pre-conceptions about shame are correct, then it is entirely possible for the group to attempt to impose shame for what the individual feels is moral behavior. A concrete example: a person from a tropical culture where nudity and genital exposure is normal, accepted behavior is brought to a Euro-American city where such behavior is considered immodest and shameful. The transplanted individual not only fails to feel shame, he is unaware that he ought to feel shame. The prevailing Euro-American culture fails to impose its standards of moral behavior or induce shame. Is this ⌐shame? Is it shamelessness? Are there, perhaps, different kinds of ⌐shame?

Of course, the human psyche is complex and many-layered. It is possible for a person to consciously reject or appear to reject the dominant cultural values. Yet consciously or unconsciously, the psyche has not truly or completely repudiated those values. The psyche is thus in conflict with itself, and the person engages in behavior the dominant culture considers shameful, almost in defiance of those cultural values. The resulting sense of shame thus becomes repressed and a source of conscious or unconscious disquiet.

It is also entirely possible for a number of persons to collectively reject the values of the dominant culture in order to form a sub-culture (or tribe, as I sometimes use that word). This may come with or without the conscious and unconscious repudiation of the dominant cultural values. Future behaviors that are consistent with the values of the subculture may be inconsistent with the values of the dominant culture (or vice-versa). An individual engaging in those behaviors may thus experience shame in some sense and ⌐shame in some other sense simultaneously.

Then consider a person raised within the moral values of their culture. This person, perhaps by dint of self-exploration, self-discovery, and cognitive-behavioral modification, comes to reject one or more of the dominant cultural values (about which more later). They then begin to behave in a fashion that the culture would consider shameful, but the individual does not feel shame. Is this ⌐shame? Is it shamelessness?

It may make sense to reserve 'shameless' for situations in which the dominant culture attempts to impose its cultural values and fails. That is, when the dominant culture would require an individual to feel shame, but that individual does not (or refuses consciously to do so), the individual experiences ⌐shame, and the culture labels them 'shameless' with that word's disapproving connotation.

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