The war against shame has been proceeding apace. As best as I can tell, it began with Sigmund Freud’s notion that repressing our sexuality, keeping it under wraps and not allowing it to express itself, was making us sick.
People concluded that it was better to be rude and crude, decadent and dysfunctional than to be polite and decorous, modest and humble.
Today, Sebastian Faulks reviewed a new book about the wife of psychoanalyst Carl Jung, a man who was with Freud before he was against him. Reading about Jung, one understands why he was attracted to Freud’s radical theories.
As a husband, a father and a younger man, however, Jung appears to have been close to intolerable. He was physically large, selfish, bullying and loud of voice; he cheated at games, had a vile temper and appalling table manners; he thought men should be polygamous but that Emma should be his alone. He was also narcissistic and unbalanced, coming from a family with severe mental health problems.
Since that time, more than a century ago, the war on shame has scored multiple victories. Good manners are now, if not verboten, at least dépassé. Modesty and decorum are considered to be signs of sexual repression, most likely to cause mental illness, cancer and heart disease. We are strictly enjoined against shaming anyone’s bad behavior, against looking askance at women who have what used to be called loose morals, or of uttering the least peep about the shape of anyone’s body. No more slut shaming. No more body shaming. As for out-of-wedlock marriage and adultery, you cannot speak ill of any of it. Remember what happened when Dan Quayle dared to suggest that it was perhaps not the best idea to idealize Murphy Brown?
Among the casualties of this war has been good behavior. Everyone has been told to say what is on his or her mind, regardless of how anyone else will see it. But, why did anyone assume that one’s thoughts and feelings were always going to be considerate and loving. So, the war on shame has produced a world that is awash in rude, crude, offensive and insulting comments.
Since we no longer hold good manners to be of any value, we are reduced, according to a formula first stated by Confucius, to police bad manners. We do not say that they are rude; we call them microaggressions.
We no longer teach people to make positive gestures that denote politeness and respect. We tell them to overcome their sense of shame and to let it all hang out. When we do not like what is hanging out, we want to punish the perpetrator.
I have often opined on this subject. Today, Karol Markowicz offers similar thoughts:
The internet is full of examples of what we now call micro-aggressions but were once known simply as rude or nosy comments. Many black women complain of people touching their hair. I can’t imagine my 6-year-old touching even her friend’s hair, let alone a stranger or acquaintance’s head. How do college kids not know better?
Back in the old days, many of what are now considered to be microaggressions never crossed anyone’s mind… no less their lips. Thanks to our raised consciousness and enhanced self-awareness, to say nothing of our acute sensitivity to slights and slurs, we are forced to fill our minds with thoughts of rape and sexual abuse, of child molestation, even of the genitalia of the transgendered.
A photo-project GLAAD launched in 2015 chronicled comments directed toward the LGBT community such as asking a transsexual person how they have sex.
Parents need to be teaching their kids what is and what is not their business. How anyone else has sex is clearly in the “not” camp. So many other examples of bad behavior, like telling women to smile, assuming someone’s racial background, or asking personal questions of non-friends, should have been quashed well before someone is college-bound.
Thanks to Dr. Freud, we are not just curious to know how people have sex. We think it’s our right to know what they are doing between the sheets. And naturally, leading cultural lights, take Amy Schumer, feel a need to tell the world that they are having their periods. When they do, people no longer look away. They cheer.
Today’s young people have no real sense of propriety. They do not know what is proper and what is improper. They have been told by behavioral economists like Dan Ariely that they should ask each other, on their first dates, whether they have an STD or whether they have ever had an abortion.
If it’s true that kids this dense are really heading to college ready to embarrass themselves by asking inappropriate questions of people they don’t know, should universities be in the business of protecting them from it? Clearly, they’ve had a lifetime of protection from the fallout of their stupidity, why continue that? Shouldn’t the new classes be aimed at the person being micro-aggressed — the Asian student who is being approached to help with math homework, say — to teach them to point and laugh at the dolt? That will teach a quicker lesson to the micro-aggressor than any class ever could.
If we are really letting kids get to college without knowing the appropriate boundaries they need to have with other people then we are failing at a main component of child-rearing. There’s a range of bad behavior here, whether it’s students shutting down speech that makes them uncomfortable or making assumptions about others based on superficial information like race, and we need to start early to teach kids that they live in a world with other people and their experience doesn’t take priority.
Children need to learn the difference between what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. They need to learn to respect each other’s privacy and private parts. They need to learn good manners and decorum. And they need to learn that it is not a good thing to say whatever is passing through your mind, even when the topic has been discussed ad nauseam in the media.
And yet, as one writes those words it feels like a lost cause. The anti-shame warriors have been advancing unmolested through the cultural landscape. They are not going to stop just because you and I stop asking intrusive questions and start exercising good manners. Still, you have to start somewhere.