Saturday, December 7, 2013

The origins of Northwest European guilt culture


 
Ruth Benedict first made the distinction between “shame cultures” and “guilt cultures” (source). Pervasive feelings of guilt are part of a behavioral package that enabled Northwest Europeans to adapt to complex social environments where kinship is less important and where rules of correct behavior must be obeyed with a minimum of surveillance. Is this pervasive guilt relatively recent, going back only half a millennium? Or is it much older?

 
As societies grew larger and more complex, it became necessary to interact with people who were less closely related. This new social environment was made to work by extending to non-kin the sort of conduct (trust, empathy, desire to cooperate, etc.) previously reserved for kin. To this end, language was manipulated: people would call each other “brother” and “sister” even when not from the same family. They also became more attuned to enforcement of correct behavior, either through external controls (shame) or through internal controls (guilt).

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.

The anthropologist Ruth Benedict describes how guilt differs from shame:

True shame cultures rely on external sanctions for good behavior, not, as true guilt cultures do, on an internalized conviction of sin. Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism. A man is shamed either by being openly ridiculed and rejected or by fantasying to himself that he has been made ridiculous. In either case, it is a potent sanction. But it requires an audience or at least a man’s fantasy of an audience. Guilt does not. In a nation where honor means living up to one’s own picture of oneself, a man may suffer from guilt though no man knows of his misdeed and a man’s feeling of guilt may actually be relieved by confessing his sin. (Benedict, 1946, p. 223)

The high level of guilt in Western societies is often attributed to various traumatic events like the Holocaust, the assassination of JFK, the heritage of black slavery, the dispossession of the American Indian, and so on. Actually, a pervasive sense of guilt can be normal and even healthy. As Baumeister et al. (1994) explain:

Guilt serves various relationship-enhancing functions, including motivating people to treat partners well and avoid transgressions, minimizing inequities and enabling less powerful partners to get their way, and redistributing emotional distress.

Historically, guilt has proven to be a useful adaptation, being part of a larger behavioral package that has enabled Northwest Europeans to adapt to a social environment where kinship matters less and individualism matters more. This package is widely believed to have come together over the last thousand years, with increased reliance on guilt going back only half a millennium. The conventional view among historians may be summarized as follows:

11th century onward – Throughout Western Europe, states pacified social relations by imposing the death penalty for murder and other acts of personal violence. People no longer had to rely as much on kinsmen for protection of life and property (see previous post).

14th century – The Black Death created a widespread labor shortage that increased labor mobility and led to the dissolution of feudalism. The rural population was no longer bound to the land in static communities of closely related individuals.

16th century onward – Most of Northwest Europe converted to Protestantism, which emphasized the individual’s relationship with God. Faith became interiorized, and behavior became regulated more through the workings of private conscience and less through acts of public worship. Guilt also assumed more importance because it could no longer be routinely purged through confession (Carroll, 1981).

16th century onward – The market economy expanded beyond the marketplace at the expense of domestic modes of production. Instead of growing their own food, making their own clothes, and manufacturing their own wares, families increasingly sold what they made and bought what they needed. The family ceased to be the main organizing principle of economic and social relations (Seccombe, 1992).

This conventional view is not wholly false. From the 11th century to the 20th, the individual became more and more important in Northwest Europe while kinship became less and less so. Meanwhile, the same region broke away from Catholicism to create a more individualistic and guilt-based version of Christianity.

Of course, we are left with the question as to why these changes happened more readily there than elsewhere. Moreover, if we go back to the beginning of the past millennium, we still see a tendency towards greater individualism and looser kinship ties. The market economy was already replacing kinship as the main organizing principle of society:

Recent work on thirteenth century manorial documents has uncovered a very extensive land market from at least the middle of the thirteenth century. There is rapidly accumulating evidence of the buying and selling of pieces of land by non-kin; the idea that land passed down in the family is now increasingly regarded as a fiction. Whether in Suffolk, Huntingdonshire, the Eastern Midlands, Berkshire or elsewhere, the evidence suggests that the supposedly free and the unfree were buying and selling land.

[…] It appears probable that in many areas of England in the period before the Black Death up to half of the adult population were primarily hired laborers. It was not parents and children who formed the basic unit of production, but parents with or without hired labor. This was only made possible by the widespread use of money. The work of Kosminsky and Postan has shown that commutation of labor services for cash was widespread by the middle of the twelfth century. Cash penetrated almost every relationship; selling, mortgaging and lending are apparent in many of the documents. Most objects, from labor to rights in all kinds of property, were marketable and had a price. Production was often for exchange rather than for use. (Macfarlane, 1978a)

Individualism was strong even within the nuclear family:

Probably from Anglo-Saxon times – and certainly from the thirteenth century – children had no automatic rights in a parent’s property. A child could be disinherited; there is no ‘family property’, nemo est heres viventis (no one is the heir of a living person). Maitland documents this in detail, showing that from at least the thirteenth century parents could leave their property to whom they liked – and by gift, sale or will disinherit all their children if they so wished. (Macfarlane, 2012)

This was before the Black Death and thus barely fits into the conventional timeline of the origins of individualism. Does the picture change if we go further back in time?

Anglo-Saxon times and earlier

Family structures

Further back, before the last thousand years, the evidence becomes sparser. Nonetheless, we still see signs of weaker kinship ties and greater individualism in Northwest Europe:

Most family systems take as their basic premise that the group is more important than the individual. This is both caused by and reflected in their way of conceiving how people are related to each other, how kinship is passed on or what anthropologists call 'descent'. The majority of societies are what is known as 'unilineal', that is, they trace their ancestors or descendants through one gender alone, usually male, but sometimes female. This allows them to form into 'descent groups' of relatives. This is the case, for instance, in most of China, India and Africa and it was the breakdown of these larger 'corporate' groups that Weber thought marked out the West.

In contrast, if we inspect our own thoughts about the family, we will probably find that they show that, unusually, we operate in what is known as an 'ego-focused' cognatic system. This is a way of tracing relatives simultaneously through the male and female lines and of taking as the point of departure the individual who is tracing the relatives. This is part of a European-wide system (with a few variations). What is most striking, is that in England, as in much of Europe, this system of reckoning kin has remained practically unchanged since at least the seventh century. […]

Such a system already predisposes a society towards flexibility, networks and the concept of the individual as more important than the group. Indeed, there are no groups, just ego-centred networks of people. Each individual's kin (except brothers or sisters) is different. This is a central underpinning of an individualistic way of looking at the world. Already, by the Anglo-Saxon period, the movement away from strong family blocks, Weber's de-familization of society, had begun to occur. (Macfarlane, 1992, pp. 173-174; see also hbd* chick here and here)

The antiquity of these flexible family structures is supported by the antiquity of a related phenomenon: the Western European marriage pattern. West of a line running from Trieste to St. Petersburg, marriage has long had the following characteristics:

- relatively late marriage for men and women

- many people who never marry

- neolocality (children leave the family household to form new households)

- high circulation of non-kin among different households (typically young people sent out as servants) (Hajnal, 1965; ICA, 2013).

This pattern used to be attributed to the effects of the Black Death, but recent historical work has challenged this view, as in this study of marriage between 1252 and 1478 in an English community:

The average age at first marriage in the Lincolnshire Fenland before the Black Death would be 24 years for the woman and 32 years for the man. The wife would die one year before her husband and the marriage would last for about 13 years. The couple could have six children, if their fertility was higher than average, of whom, judging by pedigrees, perhaps three would survive to become adults. After the Black Death the mean age would be 27 for the woman and 32 for the man. The husband would die three years before his wife and the marriage would last about 12 years. Again the couple could have six children, of whom perhaps three would survive to become adult. (Hallam, 1985, p. 66)

Hallam (1985, p. 56) also points to evidence of late marriage in 9th-century France. On the estates of the Abbey of St Germain-des-Prés near Paris, about 16.3% of all adults were unmarried. In Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the figure was 11.5%. Seccombe (1992, p. 94) cites a 9th-century survey of the Church of St Victor of Marseille, where both men and women appear to have married in their mid to late twenties. Going even farther back, Seccombe (1992, p. 94) cites the description by Tacitus (56-117) of Germanic women being “not hurried into marriage [and] as old and as full-grown as the men [who were] slow to mate.”

Guilt

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)

Frantzen (1983) argues that the penitential tradition first developed in Anglo-Saxon England and then was exported to the continent in the 8th century. It is thus inaccurate to see this guilt culture as something that Christianity introduced into Northwest Europe. Instead, an indigenous guilt culture seems to have modified the historical development of Western Catholic Christianity, eventually giving rise to Protestantism.

A possibly earlier witness to Anglo-Saxon guilt is the epic poem The Song of Beowulf. The hero’s “dark thoughts” come from private fears of having broken some rule, as opposed to shame over a publicly known wrongdoing:

That was sorrow to the good man's soul, greatest of griefs to the heart. The wise man thought that, breaking established law, he had bitterly angered God, the Lord everlasting. His breast was troubled within by dark thoughts, as was not his wont. The Song of Beowulf, 90

With Beowulf, we are entering the transition between paganism and Christianity. Indeed, a pagan underlay is already visible in the above quote by Aelfric. Why should Christians worry about their wrongdoings being witnessed by “hell-dwellers”? The word ‘hell’ seems to be used in the old pagan sense (abode of the dead) rather than in the newer Christian sense (place of damnation). 

Conclusion

Clearly, the last thousand years have seen Northwest Europeans become increasingly individualistic and guilt-driven. Nonetheless, this behavioral trajectory began long before the timeline of the last millennium. In fact, it seems to have begun before the dawn of history.

It looks as though Northwest Europeans had already become pre-adapted to conditions that would arise much later. They would thus be better able to exploit the potential of later social environments, in particular the market economy. 

This raises questions of how and why. How did Northwest Europeans initially make the transition to more complex social relations? Why did they adopt a mode of socialization that was so different from that of other complex societies? And why the greater reliance on guilt as a means of regulating behavior?
 

To be cont’d


References

Anon. (1900). The Song of Beowulf, London: J.M. Dent & Sons.

Baumeister, R.F., A.M. Stillwell, and T.F. Heatherton. (1994). Guilt: An interpersonal approach, Psychological Bulletin, 115, 243-267.

Bedingfield, M.D. (2002). The Dramatic Liturgy of Anglo-Saxon England, The Boydell Press.

Benedict, R. (1946 [2005]). The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Patterns of Japanese Culture, First Mariner Books.

Carroll, J. (1981). The role of guilt in the formation of modern society: England 1350-1800, The British Journal of Sociology, 32, 459-503.

Frantzen, A.J. (1983). The literature of penance in Anglo-Saxon England, New Brunswick (N.J.): Rutgers University Press.

Godden, M.R. (1973). An Old English penitential motif, Anglo-Saxon England, 2, 221-239.

Hajnal, John (1965). European marriage pattern in historical perspective. In D.V. Glass and D.E.C. Eversley. Population in History. Arnold, London.

Hallam, H.E. (1985). Age at first marriage and age at death in the Lincolnshire Fenland, 1252-1478, Population Studies, 39, 55-69. 

ICA (2013). Research Themes – Marriage Patterns, Institutions for Collective Action
http://www.collective-action.info/_THE_MarriagePatterns_EMP 

Macfarlane, A. (1978a). The origins of English individualism: Some surprises, Theory and society: renewal and critique in social theory, 6, 255-277.
http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/TEXTS/Origins_HI.pdf

Macfarlane, A. (1978b). The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property and Social Transition, Oxford: Blackwell. 

Macfarlane, A. (1992). On individualism, Proceedings of the British Academy, 82, 171-199.
http://www.alanmacfarlane.com/TEXTS/On_Individualism.pdf 

Macfarlane, A. (2012). The invention of the modern world. Chapter 8: Family, friendship and population, The Fortnightly Review, Spring-Summer serial
http://fortnightlyreview.co.uk/2012/07/invention-8/ 

Seccombe, W. (1992). A Millennium of Family Change. Feudalism to Capitalism in Northwestern Europe, London: Verso.

47 comments:

Luke Lea said...

"As societies grew larger and more complex, it became necessary to interact with people who were less closely related."

Not so much in China. They had a very efficient administrative structure for taxation and left almost everything else to local clans (I think).

Difference Maker said...

Reminds me of the account of one of the Arab travelers to the north, quoting a Viking chieftain speaking to his newborn son.

If memory serves:
"I shall leave you no property."
(Throws down sword)
"You shall have only what you can achieve with this weapon!"

Difference Maker said...

Luke Lea said...
Not so much in China. They had a very efficient administrative structure for taxation and left almost everything else to local clans (I think).


The early Qin, which created the empire, enacted meritocracy with draconian enforcement of the laws. Advancement was strictly through feats of production or the military, so that their country waxed strong and which enabled them to conquer all rivals..

The first empire collapsed spectacularly, with the following long-lived Han dynasty taking a lenient approach to the clans, and so they were left largely unmolested for the next 2,000 years

Sperging out for HBD said...

The word Hell is derived from the name of Loki's daughter Hel in Norse mythology. She ruled the underworld for people who did not die in battle. The Norse underworld was a horrible place. It's inhabitants were viewed as cowards in Norse religion. Only heroes who died in battle achieved a happy after-life in Valhalla.

The Norse religion emphasized individual deeds and not moral rules as the mark of good character. Men were great because they did great things, and not because they were great men. Also great men were not invincible.

For example, the Norse gods could die in the Norse religion. Norse gods were not these unbeatable super beings, but were supermen who could still die like normal men. The end times battle or Ragnarok in the Norse religion is post to kill most of the gods forever. Meaning they stop existing after the Ragnarok.

The Norse religion has many unique aspects of Western individualism and guilt in it's belief system. Even the gods were fallible creatures in the Norse religion. Now the Norse religion had many Uralic elements like the world tree, and was not purely European. So I am not asserting the Norse religion was a perfect of Western character. However, I have noticed some very individualist and guilt based aspects to the religion.

Bones and Behaviours said...

Alaric Hall suggested that the Indo-Europeans were somehow euhemeristic, and predisposed to the idea that great men were fluid with the gods - something predisposing them to adopt the saints of Christianity.

However he also seems to downplay the Uralic influence upon Scandinavian mythology by asserting an IE root for Norse 'seidr'.

Reader said...

To what extent is the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) related to this? Is it more common in guilt-prone individuals of higher intelligence?

I was once talking to a coworker about another person at work whose name I'd forgotten, and when I asked him if he remembered her name, he wanted to clarify who I meant, and his question to me was not the obvious one -- "Is she black or white?" given our demographics at work -- but rather "What color is her hair?". In an OCD-like attempt to avoid any suggestion of racism by uttering the word "black," he asked more delicately about the hair color of the person I was talking about. I thought this was a genuine OCD manifestation but the coworker probably never thought of himself as having OCD traits, he was following contemporary American manners.

Glossy said...

I don't know pagan Greco-Roman literature well enough to be able to say whether it described shame-based or guilt-based cultures. If I set myself the goal of investigating the origins of guilt, I would definitely look into pagan Greco-Roman literature though.

Greco-Roman antiquity was like the post-Renaissance West in many respects. You mentioned individualism, for example. The Greeks were the first people on record to make likenesses of individual human faces. Art was always impersonal before them. The fact that modern Greek culture is shame-based is immaterial - the ancient Greeks were a different people - fussier, more rules-bound. I know that they wrote a lot about ethics. If one were to delve into that stuff, one would probably come away knowing if they had any use for guilt.

One could also look at the Norse sagas.

Jason Malloy said...

The GSS has a question (ASHAMED) that asks how many days you've recently felt ashamed of something you've done.

Differences were small but Jews and Asians appear to feel a little more guilt than average. The English, the Irish, and the Scottish appear to feel a little less guilt than average. Same for Eastern Europeans. No difference between Protestants and Catholics. The Dutch are off the charts, but the question was just asked one year, so the sample sizes are modest.

Since groups also differ in bad behavior, the numbers could also be adjusted based on questions like ARREST and TAXCHEAT.

Netherlands 1.92
Jewish .71
Asian .67
Sweden .53
Black .52
Mexico .52
Germany .51
Italy .48

White .45

France .45
Norway .44
Ireland .42
England .40
Russian .35
Poland .31
Spain .29
Scotland .23


Average: .45
SD 1.11

barakobama said...

This is a good article and I am sure it has a lot of truth in it. But I really dis agree with the assumption I see in this article and in many people. That nothing is instinct. Humans are not born blank Native Americans have guilt and shame just like northwest Europeans. Cultural things can cause people to take it more seriously but that's all. We don't act the way we do or believe in the morals we believe because of our culture we are born to live in human culture and think like humans naturally.

Ano said...

Excellent post, Mr. Malloy.

Peter, one thing that I really think is holding a lot of evolutionary thinkers back is a poor understanding of modern psychometric science, especially trait theory.

The current topic us an excellent case in point. Because guilt-proneness is strongly related to Hexaco Honesty-Humility, itself an excellent negative marker for psychopathy. Given low (East) Asian psychopathy rates, one would be surprised to find they were less guilt-prone than ethnic Europeans; and just as Jason points out, they do not appear to be less guilt-prone than Europeans.

In other words, while history and anthropology may be a rich source for hypotheses in the field of psychology, they aren't a reliable source of answers. If you're interested in investigating traits, you would do well to read up on trait theory, and to focus on what the numbers say, rather than relying exclusively on old texts and logical arguments.

Anonymous I said...

(Previous post is by "Anonymous I")

Bones and Behaviours said...

Given the flaws inherent in self-report and the fact that psychopathy measures are biased towards a life history of criminality, I would be sceptical of claims that East Asians are 'less psychopathic' as a population. Shame-based ethical systems would curtail destructive behaviour by psychopaths where morality based upon guilt would fail.

Anon II said...

DM: The early Qin, which created the empire, enacted meritocracy with draconian enforcement of the laws. Advancement was strictly through feats of production or the military, so that their country waxed strong and which enabled them to conquer all rivals.

You may know more about history, but we should note that this meritocracy did not happen in isolation, but as a consequence of searching for more and more efficient military forces during the time of Warring States, as well as the expansion of empires allowing many offices to be created (in a sense, elite underproduction). Qin was not the only state to move in this direction, but the one histories suggest moved most in this direction.

Once the country is unified though and the Warring States are over, this pressure is off and the elite niche is non-expanding.

The first empire collapsed spectacularly, with the following long-lived Han dynasty taking a lenient approach to the clans, and so they were left largely unmolested for the next 2,000 years

I think the "meritocracy" of Mandarins increasingly came back in government office though, informed by the Warring States behaviour as part of the Chinese emperors' successive quests to find an elite who would not form a strong and challenging aristocracy (see also the Chinese castrati-bureaucrats).

Whether successive governments made any attempt to crush or curb clans.

Jason Malloy: Differences were small but Jews and Asians appear to feel a little more guilt than average. The English, the Irish, and the Scottish appear to feel a little less guilt than average. Same for Eastern Europeans. No difference between Protestants and Catholics. The Dutch are off the charts, but the question was just asked one year, so the sample sizes are modest.

Ano: The current topic us an excellent case in point. Because guilt-proneness is strongly related to Hexaco Honesty-Humility, itself an excellent negative marker for psychopathy. Given low (East) Asian psychopathy rates, one would be surprised to find they were less guilt-prone than ethnic Europeans; and just as Jason points out, they do not appear to be less guilt-prone than Europeans.

In reference to both these topics, one interesting quality may be guilt relative to other emotions.

I could imagine Jews feeling more guilt, but also much more pride, compared to WASPs. I think on the GSS, where Big 5 proxies were involved Jews score high both neuroticism and extraverted dominance dimensions.

I could imagine Asians feeling more guilt, but also much more shame than WASPs. As part of a general neuroticism.

Peter's discussion has some focus on guilt relative to other emotional regulation, not just the cultural-gene evolution of guilt.
Rather than Europeans moving more towards guilt than other populations, they may have been moving more towards cognitive empathy and "agreeableness" (which would help regulate behavior as well, to some degree), but have not evolved as much towards guiltlessness as shamelessness, because guilt was still a lot more of a useful adaptation in their individualistic cultural environments.

In the Hexaco, agreeableness splits out from honesty-humility. Agreeableness as the Hexaco describes it, as a quality, seems more Northwest European. Forgivingness, Gentleness, Flexibility, Patience, Tolerance - these are the most Dutch of all virtues. While Honesty-Humility perhaps not so much - Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance, Modesty, Low Creativity - more Asian?

As wiki says The Honesty-Humility factor represents a person's tendency for pro-social altruistic behaviors, while Agreeableness indicates an individual's tendency to forgive and to show tolerance. and we can see why forgiveness and tolerance of other individuals might a more salient beneficial characteristic in a social environment where unrelated individuals are rubbing up against one another, while pro-social people who were intolerant and all "Sympathy for Mr Vengeful" might have problems.

Anon II said...

Also, I would note that the guilt-shame dichotomy between East Asian and European nations, at least, is usually presented as not based on "old texts and logical arguments", but as supported by a large body of psychometric results that actually find this result. If this does not line up with overall trait theory that would not disconfirm this body of results.

Also, it's not clear to me that the ASHAMED question Malloy brings up actually distinguishes between shame and guilt very well.

The shame and guilt categories also have some issues - if persons frequently imagine what others "would think of them if they knew..." and feels ashamed, then the process is internal, but this is shame, not guilt, which relates to failing to meet internal expectations, or satisfy principles or moral laws but at any rate is not particularly predicated on external observations.

Bones and Behaviours said...

But Catholic Mediterranean and Celtic cultures are Europeoid shame cultures, and so are the Moslem Arabs. Shame culture is a kind of paraphyletic grade whereas increasingly guilt-based moral systems become instituted later for social control, made possible by the self-pacification of the gene pool.

Peter Fros_ said...

Sperging,

Germanic religious beliefs were less standardized than Christian beliefs, so there may have been variation from one place to another and from one period to another. It is generally believed that the pagan Hell was a place where both good and bad people went after death.

"In the Norse Eddas, Hel is a very complex place composed of several different places. There is Hel, which can be used of the entire realm, a place where the dead, both the good and the bad go. Then there is Nifolhel, where those that have committed evil go. And finally for the most evil there is the Norse abode of punishment, Nástrønd, a place where poisonous snakes drip venom on the evil dead."

http://www.englatheod.org/afterlife.htm

Morality and religion can be two different things. Anglo-Saxon morality may not be fully described by Anglo-Saxon "religion" which to some degree was a construct of Christian observers.

Reader,

From my research, guilt-prone individuals tend to be less prone to mental disorders. See:
http://temperamentmatters.com/2012/10/10/temperament-and-guilt-proneness/

Jason,

The distinction between "guilt" and "shame" seems to have eluded you. If one lumps the two together (as you have done), there won't be much ethnic or cultural variation. Nonetheless, these are two different ways of negotiating social relations in a complex society. Some cultures are more shame-based and others are more guilt-based.

Ano,

See my previous comment. Guilt and shame are not the same thing. A guilt culture can have a low level of mental pathology, and so can a shame culture. A lot dépends on the expectations that are piled on to a guilt culture. If the dominant discourse tells you that you are guilty of some unpardonable sin, and you cannot neutralize that discourse, you will become neurotic.


Anonymous said...

From my research, guilt-prone individuals tend to be less prone to mental disorders. See:
http://temperamentmatters.com/2012/10/10/temperament-and-guilt-proneness/


The paper presents very flimsy evidence for guilt proneness having any connection to mood - https://student-3k.tepper.cmu.edu/gsiadoc/wp/2012-E17.pdf and doesn't talk about anxiety or mental illness, except to say "Overall, these findings suggest that guilt proneness is key aspect of moral disposition. It has moderately strong relationships with a variety of individual differences that have been linked to ethical behavior. Moreover, it is uncorrelated, or negatively correlated, with indicators of poor mental health, like rumination and depression". Plus I can imagine that guilty or ashamed people might have a reporting bias against reporting mental problems ("I don't want to burden my community", the guiltards).

The honesty-humility trait anon 1 brought up earlier (as an indicator of guilt or shame proneness, perhaps dependent on culture) has no correlations with mental illness in either direction (mental illness relates more to the interaction of abnormally high and low levels of extraversion and neuroticism / emotionality, in trait theory terms).

Persons with a sense of guilt and shame do not really have "better" mental health. They may experience problems in their lives if they have too much or too little (which may drive them to suicide, or crime, etc.), but they are unlikely to be "classified" as mentally ill, as they are unlikely to have particular problems with mood or develop delusions (other than perhaps an unrealistically and disproportionately grandiose or humble sense of themselves).

Anonymous said...

If I have to choose between guilt, shame, and totalitarian state control, I'll choose guilt.

Peter Fros_ said...

Anon,

Fine. Do we agree, then, that guilt-prone individuals aren't more prone to mental disorders?

I suspect that guilt-prone and shame-prone individuals have about the same burden of mental anguish, although this burden may be distributed differently over time. Shame-prone individuals may feel more anguish when they slip up in social situations, whereas guilt-prone individuals tend to feel anguish whenever they realize they have done something wrong, regardless of the actual context.

staffanspersonalityblog said...

One way around the different measures of guilt is to ask what countries will take in large numbers of immigrants and give them money if they can't make a living.

The fact that rest of the world is exploiting the Western guilt in this way is a sign of pathological guilt. Sure some promote immigration as a blessing, but when they want to really make their point they will go for some sob story. At least where I live the MSM will do this over and over - present a little 9 year old girl preferably with a disability and ask why can't she stay? Or implied: what kind of person would not let her stay?

This guilt game only works in Norhtwestern European nations and their descendants.

But one thing I don't understand is how these countries have not already collapsed if they are so easily exploited? Geographic isolation perhaps?

staffanspersonalityblog said...

As for OCD, there is a meta-study on anxiety disorders that found a higher incidence in "Euro/Anglo cultures."

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8877582

Anonymous said...

Peter: Do we agree, then, that guilt-prone individuals aren't more prone to mental disorders?

Yes, sure, I wouldn't argue with that claim at the moment.

People get classified as mentally ill when they are mentally disturbed and seek help, or disrupt other people and are forced to get help and people with a stronger sense of guilt don't do this more.

Whether or not they really have more or the same "real" mental pathology, but there is likely no significant difference, from what we know.

Staffan: As for OCD, there is a meta-study on anxiety disorders that found a higher incidence in "Euro/Anglo cultures."
http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8877582


One of the elements of this is that these rates do not correlate well with suicide rates, or subjective impressions of nations as anxious very well.

So there are large reporting rate differences, probably driven by some populations having a higher sense of shame and so not wanting to reduce their "face" or to burden others.

...

Re: shame and guilt, one of the elements that can make shame self defeating is that populations of humble people with a strong sense of shame can have difficulty themselves shaming other people, particularly high status persons, who may have a lower sense of shame to begin with, if it's mostly psychos at the top. If you're a person who gets ashamed, you may think "Who am I to judge?". Shame doesn't really solve the free rider problem that much better than guilt, although in small group contexts where people don't move around very much (or break their ties), there might be some superiority.

Shaming doesn't work unless other people are willing to shame you, although as I say, people who can imagine others possible mental states can feel shame even without a shaming other around.

Mossid said...

And why the greater reliance on guilt as a means of regulating behavior?

Why NW-Euro guilt is there doesn't matter much to some. They're just glad to exploit it:

Britain's top rabbi warns against multiculturalism

[Jonathan] Sacks said Britain's politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment. The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been "inexorably divisive."

"A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others," he said. In an interview with the Times, Sacks said he wanted his book to be "politically incorrect in the highest order."

Steve Sailer

Peter Fros_ said...

Staffan,

"one thing I don't understand is how these countries have not already collapsed if they are so easily exploited?"

In the past, those societies were highly prejudiced against outsiders, perhaps more so than other societies were. That prejudice against outsiders disintegrated in the late 20th century when it was shown to be irrational and/or immoral.

"there is a meta-study on anxiety disorders that found a higher incidence in "Euro/Anglo cultures."

That meta-study is based on studies published between 1980 and 2009. This was a period when victim groups were expanding exponentially. Victimhood status was being granted to people who, not so long ago, would have been treated with scorn.

"Shame doesn't really solve the free rider problem that much better than guilt, although in small group contexts where people don't move around very much (or break their ties), there might be some superiority."

I would say that shame is less effective than guilt, since the wrongdoing has to be witnessed in order to produce shame. Guilt is effective with or without a witness.

Both guilt and shame seem to have developed in larger, more complex societies where most social interactions are no longer with close kin. This is something I need to research more, but my take on the literature is that small band societies have much less shaming and much less guilt-mongering. The pressure to do the "right thing" comes directly from close kin who are recognized as being close kin. In any case, if you antagonize your close kin, the negative conséquences are obvious and immediate.

Things are different in larger non-kin societies where it is easier to evade both detection and retaliaton.






Mirco Romanato said...

My theory is "guilt" is an effect of the neurotic trait.
People feel guilty when they believe or feel they have not done what they believe was the right thing to do.

The neurotic trait is useful in northern, colder, climates because push people to worry about the future and act to prevent possible bad outcomes. For example accumulating wood and food for the winter.
Guilt is an useful emotion because it gives the drive to make right what was done wrong.
A person feeling guilty would be more prone to confess her wrongdoing to his kin or neighbours. In an harsh habitat this would increase the coping ability of the group, because it would allow the group to fix problems earlier and prevent greater problems later.

Anonymous said...

Is everyone in this thread proposing group selection? Because no one has explained how guilt benefits the individual feeling this emotion. Unless the risk of being found out is too high, why would people feel bad about things, it seems they have gotten away with?

I am an Englishman, I have researched my family tree and all my known ancestors are English and I have traced all lines back to the 18th century. But it seems I am a very unusual Englishman. All my known ancestors come from the centers of out breeding and individualism. But despite having An IQ much higher than average, I am very ethnocentric and racist, have strong emotional bonds with my cousins, like to have as many family in my house as possible. And now I realize that I mainly feel shame where most feel guilt. In fact I feel quite good about profitable crimes I have gotten away with, as society becomes more diverse I feel less attachment to it.

Anonymous said...

@ Mirco -

The trait neuroticism, doesn't have too much of a connection to guilt. It doesn't link to guilt-proneness as honesty-humility does.

It is probably necessary for empathy to some degree, as a person who is in some ways honest and humble and agreeable, but has never felt pain you'll have a hard time understanding it in others, and you'll misattribute the actions of people to malice, etc.

Trait neuroticism doesn't seem to be higher in Northern groups, however trait extroversion is lower.

People with lower extroversion tend to be more cautious and to be less high on positive feeling in response to pleasant stimulation. So low extroversion may be a way to do as you've described and arrange for caution towards the future, etc.

hbd chick said...

a couple of thoughts -- well, one really:

"this early anglo-saxon shame-guilt thing sounds like the beginnings of a transitional phase moving from a shame culture to a guilt culture."

great post! thanks! look forward to the next one. (^_^)

Peter Fros_ said...

Mirco and English Anon,

People feel guilty when they break a prescribed moral rule. This is not the same thing as breaking the law (i.e., your profitable crimes), since the law may fall into disrepute. A person can feel guilty about apartheid, even though it had the backing of the law. Conversely, many people have no problem with apparently heinous acts (murder, bombing, etc.) if such acts are perceived as being morally justified.

It all comes down to the dominant narrative. People may have an innate need to comply with moral rules, but the actual wording of those rules is far from innate.

Yes, we might be looking at a form of group selection, specifically the haystack model.

Hbd chick,

I will discuss this in my next post, and it's important to keep the word "trajectory" in mind. I'm fairly sure that the Western European Marriage Pattern is part of this same behavioral complex, i.e., high social interaction with non-kin, relatively strong tendency towards individualism, etc. If so, we're looking at something older than Anglo-Saxon times.

Sean said...

"Is everyone in this thread proposing group selection?"

Not just on this thread.

"SO if we’re such moral animals, why all the strife? Joshua Greene’s answer is appealingly simple. He says the problem is that we were designed to get along together in a particular context—relatively small hunter-gatherer societies. So our brains are good at reconciling us to groups we’re part of, but they’re less good at getting groups to make compromises with one another. 'Morality did not evolve to promote universal cooperation,' he writes."

Greene (Harvard's morality expert) has a solution: transcend our biological programming and attain metamorality. Some have a head start, or do they?

HAIDT found the liberal and highly educated don't care about the ingroup purity. So are elite liberals transcended their biological programming? No, they are playing the most primordial game there is.

Here: babies few months old can use third party interactions, to work out who is 'good'. The liberal competes to be thought 'good'. So they are not at a higher plane of morality than group selection: the 'global'; quite the opposite, liberals actually operate at the lowest level possible, which is the individual competing for a good reputation.

Shame presupposes a certain sort of social order characterised by a recognised hierarchy of functions.

Guilt does not.

Sean said...

The basic narrative never changes. Following Kant, it insists the facts about human psychology should not constrain an ethical effort to reach the higher morality. Promising to replace a discordant collection of sectarian interests with a harmonious wider community, and taking morality to a plane where conflicts of interest will be forgotten; so everything will become serene. To articulate the narrative it helps to be an ethnic outsider (Austrian in Germany ect). There are abundant opportunities for personal aggrandisment for those who know how to get on the bandwagon of the narrative. And Europeans (above all the Danes and populations descended from them, like the English) are like lambs to the mint sauce. Just like the Germans were.

Anonymous said...

The liberal competes to be thought 'good'. So they are not at a higher plane of morality than group selection: the 'global'; quite the opposite, liberals actually operate at the lowest level possible, which is the individual competing for a good reputation.

Aren't you then suggesting that guilt isn't really involved here? If they're driven by what other people think, then wouldn't that mean they're more driven by something similar to the "external sanctions" of shame cultures?

Anonymous said...

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.

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:

Is guilt operationally any different from shame with extensive or pervasive enforcement, as in a panopticon?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticism

Bones and Behaviours said...

Peter, do you have any comments on this explanation of brachycranialis ation?

http://rokus01.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/evolutionary-tales-behind-otzis-mesocephalic-skull/

Sean said...

If NW Europe has a guilt culture and 'guilt is effective with or without a witness' then Germans ought to build great cars! A lot of people say the Protestant work ethic goes back to Luther. Heidegger 'knew Luther's works better than many a professional theologian' (see here). Internally generated guilt causes the cultural self-abasement of NW Europeans; a gallery politicians have to play to.

Anonymous said...

Sean,

Were you responding to my comment at 12 December 2013 18:54:00 GMT-5?

If so, I don't understand your comment. Can you explain?

Jason Malloy said...

The GSS question 'how many days have you felt ashamed of something you've done' is obviously describing guilt. The question 'how many days have you felt embarrassed' (EMBARRSS), on the other hand, is describing something more like shame.

Many groups with higher guilt also have higher shame (Swedes, Dutch, Germans Jews, and Asians). Similarly, the English, Spaniards, and Eastern Euros have low levels of both. Blacks feel somewhat higher guilt, but lower levels of embarrassment. Scots and the Irish are lower guilt/higher embarrassment ("shame cultures"?), while Italians are lower embarrassment/higher guilt ("guilt culture"?). Once again, not much difference between Protestants and Catholics.


Scotland 1.16
Mexico .89
Sweden .87
Netherlands .84
Asian .78
Jewish .71
Germany .66
Irish .61

White .61

England .53
Italy .51
Black .49
Norway .48
Russia .48
France .47
Spain .32
Poland .31

Average .61
SD 1.23

Anonymous said...

Jason,

The distinction you've drawn between those questions doesn't seem obvious to me at all. It seems incorrect.
The ashamed-embarrassed distinction in speech relates to a moral-social convention distinction.

People who are embarrassed do not feel that they have committed a moral wrong. They feel they have committed a social faux pas. They don't feel shame or guilt but embarrassment, a distinct emotion.

It's a distinction between a sense of moral transgression where the origin of the sense of transgression is internal or external which is the subject of discussion here.

Anonymous said...

It's a distinction between a sense of moral transgression where the origin of the sense of transgression is internal or external which is the subject of discussion here.

It's not clear to me that the "origin" of the sense of transgression differs in guilt and shame. In both cases it would appear to ultimately derive from external moral or memetic programming.

Jason Malloy said...

People who are embarrassed do not feel that they have committed a moral wrong. They feel they have committed a social faux pas

All shame without guilt can be is a "social faux pas".

That's the whole point here: that "shame cultures" have primitive "it's only wrong if you get caught" morality.

Anonymous said...

But one thing I don't understand is how these countries have not already collapsed if they are so easily exploited? Geographic isolation perhaps?

Probably because guilt itself has nothing to do with it. There's nothing inherent in the notion of guilt that demands feelings of guilt over what contemporary political correctness demands. In the 1930s, racialist and nationalistic sentiment was common in Sweden and other Nordic countries, countries which today dutifully conform to contemporary politically correctness. When Louie Armstrong visited Sweden in the 30s, he was literally described in Swedish newspapers as being like an animal, a monkey and as being a destructive cultural influence. Had Nazi Germany won WWII and Europe were dominated by Nazi Germany today, countries like Sweden would be good little Nazis, rather than good little Cultural Marxists like they are currently under American dominance. They would feel guilty about not being good enough Nazis, not about not being good enough Cultural Marxists, like they are today.

Anonymous said...

Embarrassment and shame are distinct emotions.

Embarrassment is a feeling on inadequacy, etc due to a breach of social convention with no belief that any moral wrong has happened.
Shame, as being used by Peter and the guilt-shame dichotomy literature, is a sense of moral wrong that occurs where awareness of moral wrong has its origin in the mind's eye of others. This is rather different than simple embarrassment or "it's alright unless you get caught". Guilt, as being used by Peter and the guilt-shame dichotomy literature, is where it occurs due to an internal trigger.

The GSS embarrassment question is irrelevant to shame, for this reason. You can't easily conflate them as you have done perhaps in order to avoid the obvious that your understanding of this linguistic distinction is less than that of a Yahoo answers user.

Linguistically, for what it's worth, I don't think the shame-guilt distinction as used in the literature is actually well observed by our language at all times, which is why experiments and surveys and cultural analyses with this distinction in mind are necessary, rather than trying to use the GSS for what it is not made for.

The GSS data is good for identifying which groups are liable to feeling they have morally transgressed (even though the Asian samples are odd and small) or are liable to feeling they have made a social error, but it is not good for the purposes you are trying to turn it to. Actual papers on the experiences of guilt and shame in Asian Americans and European Americans would be more useful.

(Side note: I feel like I detect some attempt to downplay Northeast Asian and Jewish cultural primitivity here.)

Anonymous said...

You can detect both in this thread and similar discussions: Attempts to downplay Asian and Jewish (or some other out-group's) "cultural primitivity" and attempts to emphasize Asian and Jewish (or some other out-group's) "cultural primitivity." This is a dynamic you see generally in "HBD" discussions.

Anonymous said...

"I am an Englishman, I have researched my family tree and all my known ancestors are English and I have traced all lines back to the 18th century."

What region out of curiosity?

.

"Is everyone in this thread proposing group selection? Because no one has explained how guilt benefits the individual"

One indirect mechanism would be if it made you more attractive as a mate.

Anonymous said...

"But one thing I don't understand is how these countries have not already collapsed if they are so easily exploited? Geographic isolation perhaps?"

You need exploiters to exploit it so I'd say yes to isolation. The question then becomes is there time to adapt to this exploitation or not.

.

"For example accumulating wood and food for the winter."

Interesting thought.

Guilt over laziness might be more adaptive in colder climates with guilt towards others being simply a side-effect.

You'd have thought that would make Eskimo very guilt-prone? Although perhaps not if it's about internal pressure to do work *in advance* of when it's needed as the Arctic is fairly static.

Anonymous said...

"If I have to choose between guilt, shame, and totalitarian state control, I'll choose guilt."

Yes. Guilt sucks but not as much as the others.

Taira Asuncion said...

Wow. No wonder NW Europeans have high concept of right and wrong; hence, fair justice for all. Their guilt culture also I think gave way to their enlightenment since they learned how to self-reflect. But it is really intriguing that they are the only people who developed that kind of culture, whereas most of the world deal with what other people say, which results in external sense of shame only without true self reflection.