Month: November 2013

Norbert Elias on Shame

From Norbert Elias’ The Civilizing Process. Useful re: group functioning and individual psychological processes of shame. Apologies for the gender exclusive pronouns. The feeling of shame is a specific excitation, a kind of anxiety which is automatically reproduced in the individual on certain occasions by force of habit. Considered superficially, it is fear of social degradation or, more generally, of other people’s gestures of superiority. But it is a form of displeasure or fear which arises characteristically on those occasions when a person who fears lapsing into inferiority can avert this danger neither by direct physical means nor by any other form of attack. This defencelessness against the superiority of others, this total exposure to them does not arise directly from a threat from the physical superiority of others actually present, although it doubtless has its origins in physical compulsion, in the bodily inferiority of the child in face of its parents or teachers. In adults, however, this defencelessness results from the fact that the people whose superiority one fears are in accord with one’s …

Not enough lifeboats

You cannot take even one breath without manipulating the common fabric of material existence. Everything manipulates everything else. Every action shifts the ground upon which everything else is built. There is no such thing as a fully autonomous project. The question is not whether but how to manipulate. How will you step into responsibility to consciously intervene for the common good? You did not make the world that you were born into, but now you are among its living makers. You are part of the social fabric. Yet you have agency to alter its shape. It is folly to feign or seek purity or neutrality; to pretend that you can somehow become separate from—uncontaminated by—the sins of society, structures, or the state. Do not run for the hills. Instead, study the apocalypse, map its terrain, and plan your intervention. It is selfish to jump ship when there are not enough lifeboats for everyone. We must conspire to take the helm.