Monday, July 24, 2017

Shame and Honor in Israel and Palestine

All human beings have a sense of shame. All human cultures are designed to help human beings to avoid shame.  

All human beings also have a sense of honor.  They also have a sense of pride. All human cultures are designed to promote and enhance both honor and pride.

Different cultures have different ways of dealing with shame. Different cultures define honor differently.

Some cultures promote the values of dignity, civility, decorum and politeness. They care about keeping up appearances, of presenting the most dignified face to the public. Cultures like those of Great Britain and Japan are generally considered to be shame cultures, for their ability to promote social customs that keep shame at bay.

Ruth Benedict wrote a masterful treatise on Japanese shame culture in her book The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Later theorists, Richard Landes reminds us, decided that shame-honor cultures were inherently primitive while guilt cultures were inherently more civilized. Since British culture is especially constructed to promote civility, in the name of national pride and national honor, one suspects that the analysis was skewed. To imagine that the West became great because it discovered guilt is to miss the point. 

True enough, guilt cultures are more individualistic. After all, when you are found guilty of a crime, you and only you are punished. Reputation, however, is shared. When your family name is tarnished or honored the shame or the pride is shared by all those who bear it.

Moreover, shame cultures punish people by shunning and ostracizing them. They avoid using shame as a weapon. The prefer not to humiliate people because they expect that free and moral beings will accept responsibility for their own failures. People who accept responsibility do not get thrown in jail. They offer a public apology and retire from public life for a time.

Guilt cultures inflict physical harm. They incarcerate; they execute; they chop off hands. They care more about the infliction of pain, as in, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and do not care they do not care about how it looks to anyone. They want to feel strong, not to look like honorable and decent people. They do not care if they appear to world to be barbarians or savages. They revel in their barbarism... on their ability to inflict physical pain on other people.

To call Middle Eastern cultures, especially Palestinian culture, honor-shame cultures is to miss the point entirely. Their salient characteristic is their inability to deal with experiences of shame. That is, to deal with them in terms other than those endemic to guilt cultures.

They are happy to mutilate people for petty crimes, to impose capital punishment for what they consider sexual dereliction, and murder their daughters for being seen with a boy. They call the latter honor killings and declare that they have restored family honor. Certain Western thinkers, their minds too addled with multiculturalism, take it all literally. They believe that these actions have restored family honor. In truth, the actions are disgraceful. They are no more honorable than terrorist actions.

These cultures masquerade as honor cultures because they have only a primitive sense of false honor. You recall that one can experience false pride. In my neighborhood they call it high self-esteem. It means that you can feel proud of yourself for participating, even if you lost every match. We should understand that the Palestinian Authority is happy to see people did for a false sense of honor. I realize that this sounds judgmental. So be it.

If someone beats you in a race or on a test, you do not restore your honor by beating his brains in or by refusing to accept the results. Such actions show a failure to accept the shame of defeat and an unwillingness to do what is necessary to improve performance.

Shame motivates. People who realize how they look to other people are most likely to change their behavior. Of course, this process is made more difficult when they are subjected to public ridicule. But in everyday transactions feeling shame about bad behavior most often opens the door to improved behavior.

If people live in a guilt culture, bad behavior is invested with meaning; it becomes part of a narrative. The feeling of guilt for having committed a crime can only be assuaged by punishment—often by self-punishment. Young girls who are murdered in honor killings are being punished for transgressing a law. It is a primitive form of justice, not an assertion of pride.

Guilt is a form of anxiety. It anticipates punishment and is not diminished by good behavior. It is diminished by actual punishment. People who are crippled by guilt tend to spend their time chastising themselves for their bad behavior. But then, they want to become the victim, not the perpetrator, the better to even the score by punishing other people. Retaliation becomes part and parcel of guilt culture. 

One notes that some tribal Middle Eastern cultures have started to care about how they look to the outside world. This is relatively new. One recalls a few years ago that when a Norwegian nurse reported her gang rape to authorities in Dubai she was thrown into jail for having sex outside of marriage.  Eventually, the story hit the international media the local authorities released her. They began to care about their reputation.

Last week in Saudi Arabia a woman was arrested for the crime of wearing a mini-skirt. In the past, one assumes, she would have been punished. Now that the Saudis have shown clearly that they want to join the modern world, she was released. Similarly, when a Saudi prince was caught beating up two people, King Salman himself made it known that he was outraged by the action. The prince was arrested.

Such concerns for reputations, for maintaining an appearance of civil and proper behavior, for being worthy of international diplomacy are relatively new and represent a movement toward a true shame culture.

The Palestinians, whose reputation consists in the appalling practices of terrorism, have nothing but a sense of false honor. Exactly what have they accomplished that would allow them to feel pride?

The Palestinians lack is a sense of honor, a sense of shame. They have been exposed to the world as grand failures. Instead of building a dynamic modern society they have chosen to put all their energy into undermining and deconstructing enjoyed by people they consider their nemesis.

After all, the Israelis succeeded where the Palestinians and other Arab states failed. We cannot explain it away by appealing to geography. The Israeli success puts the lie to Jared Diamond's effort to explain civilizational differences by accidents of geography. 

In the Israeli/Palestinian standoff, the laboratory for cultural competition is precisely the same piece of land. On that land the Israelis have built a great nation and a great economy. Israelis have accomplished great things. In the Middle East, as I have often noted, Israel is the solution, not the problem. As the world flocks to Israel to do business and to trade, the Palestinian Authority has acted like an international pariah, not as an organization that can feel genuine pride in its achievements. When Palestinians celebrate terrorism they are asserting their false pride. Pride comes from building, not from destroying what others have built. It comes from contributing, not from detracting.

The Palestinians have produced nothing but terrorism. Their sense of false honor prevents them from acting constructively to build their own nation and causes them to want nothing more than to denounce, delegitimize and deconstruct Israel. They are playing a losing hand in a lost cause. The more than lose the more violent they become. They ought not to be encouraged or rewarded for their barbarities. They ought to be humiliated and punished. 

As the Sunni Arab Middle East becomes a real shame culture Palestinians will be left with nothing but their false pride.


Ares Olympus said...

I greatly appreciate the effort to explain this, but apparently however much I hear this topic, it never sinks in with any clarity for me. Any thoughts I may generate as a result seem to immediately be followed by my realization I don't understand.

I can call my self dense for this fact, although I don't know if I should feel guilty or ashamed by this lack of understanding, or whether it might be the topic itself is muddled and no one really understands, and nearly everyone who tries to speak about it is at least partly confused themselves.

Like my dad grew up in a hell&brimstone christian church as a child, and he said as a child he found the message of "original sin" as outrageous, seeing babies should come into the world completely innocent, and he generally followed the idea that humans are "innately good" and that preaching about our evil nature probably is the source of evil, because people who feel bad about themselves apparently stop trying to be good. Of course that's largely old testament thinking, while the Gospel of Jesus tried to turn things around, and said we should take the plank out of our eyes before we try to judge the speck in another.

I've considered that as an introverted only-child my dad never really learned about his darker nature, while I grew up with 2 siblings, and in the middle, so it was long obvious to me that kids can be cruel to each other simply because of competition for attention and jealousy and some kids want attention so much they'd rather act out and get negative attention than to be ignored. And of course kids do things they know they're not supposed to do, and yet they also want parents to set limits, and kids who act out, and are punished may feel more secure because they have clearer senses of personal boundaries.

So I see culture and religion and general up bringing are all interrelated in how we see ourselves, our "tribe", as well as others not like us, and we'll all come up with different ways face shame and guilt, and some lessons we learn are better than others, and one of the troublesome things we all do is project, so things in ourselves we don't like, we'll project onto others. And I don't know if projecting guilt or projecting shame are more dangerous, or confusing. Scapegoating might have both involved, while I'd guess it is more about shame than guilt. So people with homosexual feelings may hate homosexuals, even if they never act out those feelings. And if they do act them out, they can blame the other as seducer and consider the other guilty, even if an objective observer would see things differently.

Shame seems central to all expressions sexuality. And homophobia actually might be a good measure for how "regressed" a given culture or group or individual. And of course male efforts to control women's sexuality would seem a sign of regression as well, even if the feminists response, to deny the power of women's open sexuality to cause real cultural problems is equally confused.

Sam L. said...

The Palis can't emulate the Israelis' solution, because it's Jewish and therefore and thereby against Islam, as they see it. Besides that, their "leaders" won't have any of THAT. Seems like a double bind, and they can't win for losing.

trigger warning said...

I don't know about shame vs guilt, but I do know one thing:

give the Israelis a pile of rocks in the desert and they will turn it into a city; give the Paleostinians a city in the desert and they will turn it into a pile of rocks.

Ares Olympus said...

trigger warning said... give the Israelis a pile of rocks in the desert and they will turn it into a city; give the Paleostinians a city in the desert and they will turn it into a pile of rocks.

Yes, give the Israelis a pile of rocks and 80 billion dollars in military aid, and $31 billion dollars in economic aid.

But forget the rocks, its water that makes life in a desert possible. And their desalination plants are impressive, often enough surplus to sell water to their dry neighbors as well, or at least those with oil to sell. And I imagine they're already teaching the new technology to Saudi Arabia.
That water stress has been a major factor in the turmoil tearing apart the Middle East, but Bar-Zeev believes that Israel’s solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.

Bar-Zeev acknowledges that water will likely be a source of conflict in the Middle East in the future. “But I believe water can be a bridge, through joint ventures,” he says. “And one of those ventures is desalination.”

The water is cheap for drinking, costly for irrigation. although failed crops are much more costly when the rain doesn't fall. And with lots of sun and wind, perhaps it could even be made with renewable energy, and the gates of Eden may yet open again.
But desalination is not without its critics. Some environmentalists question whether the process is worth its monetary and environmental costs. One cubic meter of desalinated water takes just under 4 kWh to produce – that’s the equivalent of burning 40 100-watt light bulbs for one hour to produce the equivalent of five bathtubs full of water. Freshwater doesn’t have that cost.